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Here is one example (maybe not the best) of a question that morphed, through editing, from one question to another, as people tried to answer it.

That does not help SE or its users, as it discourages people from helping (answers).

Should it be a reason to close a question? (Yes, it is a judgment call, because some morphing is reasonable (and helpful), as a user tries to clarify a question.)

Or should it be handled only by downvoting (because the question was not very clear)?

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This is a difficult one. Thanks for posting it.

The question you refer to was certainly asking a different (though related) question in the subsequent development than was posed in the title. I asked for clarification from the OP, but others assumed one or the other of the questions to be intended, and gave an 'answer' to one, the other, or 'answers' to both. Some tried to give a single 'answer' covering both possibilities.

After these answers had appeared, OP changed their enquiry to a third related question, which I 'answered', but which rendered the previous 'answers' inappropriate. As you say, this does little for the reputation of the site, or the moods of answerers.

I think that 'answers' should not be offered until it is clear what the OP is really asking.

Fine; but who decides when that has occurred, and polices over-hasty 'answers'?

  • Yes, it is a judgment call, by everyone weighing what to do (case by case). But if the call is made by enough who judge, should the Q in question be closed, or should this kind of thing be handled only by downvoting? That's really the question. Downvoting allows for more votes than does closing. The aims should be to (a) encourage clearer Qs and (b) not discourage people from answering, even though Qs sometimes become moving targets. At some point, some kind of negative consequence should come into play for such Qs. On the other hand, the final Q might be a good one. – Drew Oct 4 '14 at 16:29
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    +1 particularly for I asked for clarification from the OP. If those who answered the "original" question had done the same, instead of rushing to answer, I can't see there would have been any reason to cite it in this meta post. Premature pre-emptive answers are no benefit to the site, so I can see any problem with them being downvoted if they don't answer the "final, clarified" question. If nothing else, this might discourage those hasty answerers from leaving what eventually amounts to "litter" on the site. – FumbleFingers Oct 4 '14 at 17:47
  • @FF Another for my set of stock comments. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 4 '14 at 19:30

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