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How should cases be handled in which a complex question is posed that is composed of several topics which could each warrant a separate consideration in the forum?

I have been struggling for the past few days to try to develop a helpful reply to this question:

Preoperative thrombocytosis may identify patients who are at greater risk or risks of x, y, and/or z?

There are several risks. Should it be risk or risks?

This is a much more difficult question to address than appears to be the case at first glance. The problem is that more than one question is hidden within. I think, at a minimum, the question needs to be broken down into these separate components:

Should it be

(1) "risk of (possible outcome)" versus "risk for (possible outcome)" (1), (2)

(2) "risk of (list of possible outcomes)" versus "risks of (list of possible outcomes)"

(3) "at risk of" versus "at risks of"


  1. In a case like this in which splitting up the question seems advisable, does a suggestion to make a split first need to be raised in a comment to the original post?

  2. Does a contributor just take the liberty of modifying the original question and starting new threads for separate discussions? Does a moderator need to do the splitting?

  3. Is the question first put on hold so that the original poster can modify the question (what if s/he does not return?)?

  4. What happens to answers that may already have been posted to the original question but that are no longer relevant after the original question is modified?

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    You just basically asked multiple questions in one. ;) – NVZ Sep 29 '17 at 22:12
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Personally, I don't think this question needs to be split up. It is phrased as one question:

Should it be risk or risks?

I see no reason to interfere with the OP's choice of phrasing that as one question. Splitting it into multiple posts could become confusing, and some of those sub-questions might wind up being closed as duplicates of other existing questions.

However, speaking generally, if a question is on-topic and there are multiple factors that could be relevant, it's valid to address each in your answer. I would outline those aspects similar to how you broke them out in this question and then address each aspect. There's nothing wrong with providing a detailed, lengthy answer to a question when you believe it is worthy of detailed analysis. That's why one of the reasons that can be selected for posting a bounty is:

The question is widely applicable to a large audience. A detailed canonical answer is required to address all the concerns.

In cases where a question is phrased in a way that is too broad to be answered, the appropriate course, although probably not satisfying if you want to answer the question, is to close it as too broad and ask the OP to be more specific. In this particular case, I see no reason to close the question as too broad, since a specific portion of the text and a very specific question is posed.

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In the case you linked to, the basic question is simple: at risk vs at risks.

Since you've found nuances that the OP wasn't asking about, you can either note the nuances when you post an answer, or ask one or more new questions of your own.

Regarding editing:

Any time you see a post that needs improvement and are inclined to suggest an edit, you are welcome to do so. - help pages

The guideline to bear in mind when editing is to preserve the OP's intent. If you can't preserve the OP's intent, it's fine to ask your own question. This also addresses your Q4 - if your editing preserves the OP's intent, it shouldn't invalidate existing good answers. If it does invalidate an answer, then either you're not preserving the OP's intent, or the existing 'answer' doesn't really answer the OP's question.

  • I completely agree with your conclusion that "risk" is invariably singular when risk is used in phrasing along the lines of "at risk." However, I am not sure that the OP's intent was to focus on that particular phrasing. My impression was that his or her primary question may instead have been whether to use "risk" vs "risks" when dealing with a list of several possible outcomes rather than just a single outcome, and that his or her choice of "at ... risk" was incidental. If that was the case, then the answer is much more nuanced than simply declaring "risk" must be in the singular. – Shosht Oct 1 '17 at 0:27
  • @Shosht There's not much else in JuanTamad's question. It consists of a quote (in the title and in the body of the question), followed by "There are several potential risks. Should it be risk or risks?", and nothing else. As such, I don't see that the OP had any other focus in mind. In that case, it would be completely fine for you to ask a separate, more nuanced question (perhaps linking to JuanTamad's as a courtesy), but it would seem to go against the OP's intent to edit the OP's own question that way. You can, however, ask the OP whether he wanted to modify his own question that way. – Lawrence Oct 1 '17 at 0:38
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In a case like this in which splitting up the question seems advisable, does a suggestion to make a split first need to be raised in a comment to the original post?

Of course, explaining to the OP why it's better asked separately is a good start. Perhaps they'll return to make it separate questions.

In the meantime, if you believe the question is too broad and cannot be answered properly as it is currently presented, flag or vote to close it as well.

Does a contributor just take the liberty of modifying the original question and starting new threads for separate discussions? Does a moderator need to do the splitting?

No, not a good idea usually. If there are 3 or 4 things OP asked, and each answerer chooses to remove any random one of those, that's a problem.

Let the OP improve the question, make it focused on one thing. Until then, close it, and guide the OP in the comments on how to improve it.

Is the question first put on hold so that the original poster can modify the question (what if s/he does not return?)?

OPs can modify the question anytime they want. But we put the question on hold to avoid it getting answered before OP edits it to clarify the question. Broad questions tend to invite broad answers, which is not a good fit for the SE's Q&A model.

If they don't return, the "on hold" status gets renamed to "closed" and that's it. If you have a better question you can ask separately. This "unclear" or "too broad" question will be later deleted by the system. (Conditions apply, though)

What happens to answers that may already have been posted to the original question but that are no longer relevant after the original question is modified?

If improving the question implies invalidating existing answers, then that question didn't deserve to be answered in the first place. That is why we are required to vote to close as early as possible, and thereby avoid such a confusion.

CLOSE the broad question > IMPROVE it > REOPEN it. -- That's the best way.

If there are just minor changes, then simply notifying the answerers of the update is enough. But totally changing the question is not allowed once it has received a number of good answers. It would be better to ask another one.

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