Please avoid asking multiple versions of the main question all in the same posting.

Sometimes we want to clarify a question by asking it in slightly different ways. Unfortunately, this frequently results in radically different questions being asked all at the same time.

The following are three recent examples of questions with this problem. Three links, but nine distinct questions are asked. (I am linking the the original question, and then directly quoting "rephrased questions" from the body of each linked question.)

  1. Do Christians believe in Ethical Relativism, in other words, that good and bad are determined by culture, society, tradtions, etc?
  2. "Do Christians believe that a rational moral code is possible or do they believe that without god a good universal moral code is impossible?"

Ethical/cultural relativism is not the same as developing a system of ethics using reason. At all.

  1. Without God is there only evil?
  2. "What does the bible say about good and evil coming from mankind?"
  3. "Are people actually capable of good without God" ...
  4. "or would there be only evil in the world if God took a vacation?"

(1) deals with the atheistic non-existence of God, (4) deals with a deistic "set in motion and then stop interacting" notion of a god, (2) deals with good/evil being of human origin, (3) deals with human dependence on God for doing good

  1. What effect does baptism have on a non-believer?
  2. "what happens to a non-believer when they die?"
  3. "Is there any difference for a non-believer who has been baptised compared to a non-believer who hasn't been baptised?"

(2) might be asking what happens in general for a non-believer upon death, (1) deals with immediate effects, (3) deals with the "ultimate" effects.

The issue is not with asking multiple clarifying questions. Asking questions that clarify or expand on the main question is perfectly fine. For example, the following is perfectly fine:

The problem is with re-phrasing the "central question", especially when there is a difference between the title and the last question in the posting. It should be easy to not ask the same question in different words: just use the same words. Strive to ask once, but clearly. And if the same words are used at the start and the end, then one can be more sure that the question hasn't "drifted" while it was being asked.

(Of course, there is no problem when the re-phrasings do turn out to be the same question. And there is no problem with editing a question in order to clarify it.)

What is the right way to ask good background questions that frame, expand, or clarify the intent of the original question?


I disagree.

The heart of any question is a restatement of the title in different words. Further information in the question should clarify what the OP is asking about, why it's important, and what doctrinal frame they expect answers to come from. It's often rhetorically useful to state these as questions that a good answer should also answer in addition to the headline question.

Let's look at your examples:

  1. Not touching this one. The question is a mess, is closed and will not be reopened any time soon.

  2. To be perfectly honest, that set of questions in the middle here is a hot mess. The question in and of itself could be good, and the set of questions in the middle provide some context (or an argument could be made that they do), but they aren't really helping it much. The hypothetical questions provide a framing for the argument to some degree or another.

  3. This one has been trimmed down to ask just one question. But yes in it's original form it was kind of scattered.

Q&A works best when there is one question asked. However, asking further questions to frame and clarify the intent of your original question is OK and should not be discouraged. But you do have a good point that sometimes these further questions can change the scope or confuse the issue.

Let's find a good example of questions used as a rhetorical devices to scope a problem.

How should Reformed Christians deal with homosexual marriage of individuals prior to their conversion to Christianity? here is one of mine. I'll go on the spot here. I ask a question in the title, provide a lot of scope and then ask a different question in the body. This question is not ultimately a different question, but it clarifies the intent of the question.

Caleb does it too: Who do mainline Protestants believe an "archangel" (such as Michael) to be? He's asking one main question, but invites more detail in answers and narrows things down by asking further clarifying questions. He isn't changing the intent of the question, but he is qualifying what makes a good answer.

We want complete answers, and these clarifying, narrowing questions provide a framework on which a good answer can be hung. Obviously the examples you picked out had bad examples of this device, but it's not a device to be discouraged.

  • I edited the question to ask how to use the device properly. I don't think it's a bad device either, but it can be problematic if you don't do it carefully. – Alypius Feb 27 '13 at 18:55

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