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Background

I was looking at a question posted by agaitaarino. He posted a comment in regards to his follow-up question being a duplicate. As this isn't the first follow-up question I have seen on this StackExchange website, I feel it might be prudent to clear up what calls for a follow-up question.

Question

When should a question be combined into a single question and when should a question not be combined into a single question?

Thoughts

As stated by agaitaarino:

I think we should be thinking in terms of future users and in terms of search engines (and also in terms of present users, taking care to not alienate them/us/each other). Not as a rule-of-thumb but as a gut-feeling: what do we want people to find?

In these terms, I feel we should go for questions & answers that are complete, but not complex (as in: not reducible to simpler-yet-complete questions & answers).

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James Wootton provides a good summary of the issue, but I think I'd like to add a few points.

  1. Follow-up questions are perfectly allowed.
  2. For the most part, unless the follow-up is exactly the same, it's probably not going to be a duplicate.

Follow up questions can, for example, ask for clarification of a point in an answer, ask for a specific example, or application of the point to an experiment, or what have you.

But you ask for a simple rule of thumb. Consider mentally, if the two questions were combined, would it be closed as too broad? If so, then they should be separate questions. Or, another rule of thumb: do they ask two different things? Does one merely help provide context? Then they are two separate questions.

Hopefully this helps add a little more context to James Wootton's answer.

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I agree that this question is not a duplicate.

As for what the rules should be, I think we should try to act only when a question is ‘obviously’ a duplicate. The sub is a bit young to be tying it down with rules.

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Let me give a slightly 'stronger' suggestion: when in doubt, make more questions, not less. I think that almost always when you could decompose a question into two good questions, you also should.

Of course, a question should be such that the answers are 'complete', but whenever you think that you have follow-up ideas or thoughts merely tangential to your current question, I think these are best served on their own.

I have a few arguments in favor of this idea:

  1. We are not in the business of writing an encyclopedia. When someone visits a page on this site, they should get a good answer to the clear question stated on the page. They shouldn't get a survey of some topic (unless that is the question, of course) or barely related comments.

  2. Asking questions is free. As long as the question is a fine independent of its 'inspiration', asking it does no harm.

  3. Asking several related questions has the advantage of being more useful for 'future visitors' in the end. Suppose you ask the closely related questions A,B and C. If these are all asked and answered in a single question, a future users who only wants to know C might have a difficult time in understanding the answer (perhaps there is an easier way to explain C in the case that A and B don't have to be explained) or at least needs to filter irrelevant information. If the questions are asked separately, but still linked properly, we satisfy both the user that only wants to know C and the user who wants to learn A, B and C.

Of course, this doesn't mean that each posted question should have strictly one 'actual question', but I am in favor of decomposing questions into the 'least postable unit' (what this is depends on both the user asking the question and the community!), to ask many small questions rather than one big one.

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