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Why we should avoid asking multi-question questions

Asking multiple questions in one post, or multi-question questions, was raised at meta.SE One post with multiple questions or multiple posts? with the answer (uncontested, +70 score):

TL;DR: Why should we avoid them?

  1. Difficulties identifying duplicates.
  2. Inhibits searching.
  3. Inhibits answering.
  4. Leads to incomplete answers.
  5. Inhibits voting and accepting answers.

What can we do instead?

    • Ask one specific question.
    • Wait for an answer.
    • Upvote and accept appropriately.
    • If something is not addressed, ask another specific question.
    • Link back to the earlier question, explaining how it does not address the new question.

Split them and ask multiple questions. -- Nifle, 2010


The wording throughout the StackExchange sites should make it clear that StackExchange is designed for one question per question.

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I personally tend to be strict when asking questions, highlighting the exact question, and refraining from posting multi-question questions even if I have more to ask. It helps the answerer:

As I read questions I am always looking for that single question mark that lets me focus my attention on what precisely the asker is asking. -- PolyGeo, 2015

This matter arose here on meta.Islam.SE. It's arisen on the various StackExchange metas, and I'll quote from them throughout this post (to indicate that they're widely discouraged).

There's an argument for keeping together "closely related" sub-questions. I don't usually see a need for this; if they're that closely related, the answer will cover it anyway.

It's always a judgement call. stuff like "Are there bows/arrows in Fallout? If so, where are they located?" should be fine, whereas "Are there bows/arrows in Fallout? and how do I defeat Super Mutants without Power Armour?" should not be. -- Robotnik ♦, 2015

Multi-question questions may be closed

Multi-question questions may be subject to closure as "too broad" (someone is trying to get a two-fer...). The too broad close reason was recently changed to reflect this:

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.


The problems...

1. Duplicates

Subsequently posted question supersets.

  1. Alice posts question A.
  2. Then Bob posts questions A, B, and C jointly.

If Alice's question were posted after Bob's question, it could be closed as a duplicate. Do we likewise close it as a duplicate despite being posted first? It seems unfair to expect Alice to predict Bob's subsequent post.

Union of previous questions.

... Is the question a duplicate? Not literally, but each of its sub-questions is a duplicate. To my way of thinking, that means the question should be closed. ... -- George Stocker, 2010

  1. Alice posts question A.
  2. Pei Pei posts question B.
  3. Naomi posts questions C.
  4. Bob posts questions A, B, and C jointly.

Should Bob's question be closed as a duplicate? And of which question? This problem was raised at meta.SE here, where the two answers suggest "close as too broad" and "close as duplicate of one, and comment about the others".

Difficulty writing titles.

If Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly, how can we convey the three questions within the same title? Unspecific titles ("questions relating to [something]") inhibit the identification of duplicates.

Overlapping questions.

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Bob posts questions B, C, and D jointly.

While neither is truly a duplicate of the other, Alice and Bob's posts overlap significantly.

2. Searching

Searching among multi-question questions.

By packing too many varied topics into one question, that can make it harder for someone to find the topic they are looking for -- gnostradamus, 2009

Most likely would be looking for an answer to one of the questions and it would be more confusing and difficult for them to look for answers intermixed with answers to multiple questions -- Nifle, 2010

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Pei Pei posts questions A, C, and E jointly.
  3. Naomi posts questions B, D, and E jointly.
  4. Bob searches for question D. He can't tell if his question is contained in one of the previous posts, so he gives up.

3. Answering

The goal of questions on Stack Overflow is to be clear, concise, and answerable. A multi-part question is none of these things. -- Jeff Atwood ♦, 2010

Users only jointly know the answers.

... users ... might feel like they shouldn't answer if they can't address all of the questions adequately... -- gnostradamus, 2009

A single question containing many questions can be quite daunting and will deter people from providing answers - anyone answering will feel required to provide an answer to every part of your question in an attempt at giving the correct solution. -- Nifle, 2010

Some potential answerers may not answer because they feel unable to answer one or more of the questions, so what they could bring to the other question(s) is lost -- PolyGeo, 2015

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Toby can provide a useful answer to A, but not to B nor C, so he doesn't post anything.
  3. Ali can provide a useful answer to B, but not to A nor C, so he doesn't post anything.
  4. Andrea can provide a useful answer to C, but not to A nor B, so she doesn't post anything.

Ain't nobody got time for that.

... users may not want to write such a long answer ... -- gnostradamus, 2009

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Muhammad knows the answers to A, B, and C.
  3. Muhammad calculates it would require too much effort for little reward to answer, so moves on to answering single-question questions.

Moving goalposts.

A single question sets a precise goal. Answerers can be sure that if they give a useful answer to that question, they're done. Their commitment to the question can end.

When there is a single clear question asked, it is so much easier to provide a single clear answer -- PolyGeo, 2015

There appears to be uncertainty with multi-question questions:

It makes it almost impossible and/or very frustrating to actually answer the question, especially in the case of "After reading your answer, I want to add the following additional question / condition to my original question list." -- Phira, 2012

4. Incompleteness

Incomplete answers.

If the list consists of several separate questions, answer one question and ask the OP to repost the rest as new questions. -- Phira, 2012

If they're tightly connected topics, sometimes it works out okay, but in general, answers get too long and it gets too muddled as people only answer some parts of what was asked and not others. -- Ash ♦, 2015

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Khalid spends time writing a useful answer to A.
  3. Alice complains that Khalid didn't answer B and C.

Khalid makes a good-faith attempt to help, yet it's poorly received.

5. Voting and accepting

Voting for subsets of questions.

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Bob wants to upvote questions A and B, but downvote question C.

And for answers too.

Some answers may correctly address some of the questions but be quite wrong with respect to the others making it hard to decide whether an upvote or downvote is appropriate -- PolyGeo, 2015

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Santos answers A, B, and C.
  3. Rita wants to upvote Santos's answer to C, but not to A nor B.

Voting for all the questions.

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Gabrielle wants to upvote questions A, B, and C, but can only upvote once.

Or:

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Red wants to downvote questions A, B, and C, but can only downvote once.

Which answer to accept?

If you ask several questions in one question you risk having answers that are both correct and wrong at the same time. -- Nifle, 2010

Askers are likely to be reluctant to accept partial answers, and in the process of waiting for the last question to be answered, end up not accepting any of the answers -- PolyGeo, 2015

  1. Alice posts questions A, B, and C jointly.
  2. Khalid provides a useful answer to A.
  3. Aya provides a useful answer to B.
  4. Godfrey provides a useful answer to C.

Alice has now got her answer, but is unsure which answer to accept.


And a problem with the bounty system was mentioned here.

  • What if the second question is relevant to the first? – Casanova May 5 '17 at 7:40
  • Writing something like "in [this question], we learned [XYZ]; now I'm interested in [ABC]" should be okay ordinarily. – Rebecca J. Stones May 5 '17 at 7:45
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    I really agree with this. I know I am guilty of posting many subquestions to some my questions, which then tends to get a bit broad. At least I spitted one question into three today, – Kilise May 11 '17 at 12:43
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The GIS.SE tour page goes so far as to be one of the first things you see:

Your most important question is important to us

Asking one, and only one, important question within your Question helps attract prompt and clear Answers.

Your other questions are just as easy to research/ask separately!

This gives an indication as to how important it is to ask one question per question.

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