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One common situation on this site is that someone will ask an off-topic question and before it can be closed one or more answers are written. One example is What is an overview of Christian viewpoints on the eternal destiny of individuals who die never hearing the Gospel? which originally asked "What does the Bible say about those who die without ever hearing the gospel? Can someone who dies never hearing about Christ go to heaven?" Five answers were deleted when we reopened it, one of which was then edited and undeleted.

Most questions which we close don't get edited. That's fine. The question and their answers can stay if they're not offensive and might possibly be helpful to someone even if the question is too subjective to stay open.

But sometimes people do edit their questions into an acceptable on-topic question, which is awesome. That's what we want! But it leaves the tricky question of what to do with the existing answers which are no longer valid.

There are two main paths I think we can take, and so far I don't think the community has really settled on which it would prefer. I'm not even sure which I personally prefer!

  1. The first option is to reopen the edited question, deleting all existing answers which no longer answer the question. If the answers are edited they can of course be undeleted.

    This is the option I'd more naturally take, but it can feel quite unfair to the answers that were deleted. Some of them are well written and informative. On the other hand, often they're not. They were posted to a question which was probably overly subjective, and subjective opinions is not the purpose of this site. It's unfortunate if a new user's answer is deleted, but I have little sympathy for experienced users who get upset after posting answers to questions they know are off-topic. (Hopefully they do so knowing that their answers may be deleted in the future.)

  2. The second option is to say to the question asker, after they've gone to the effort of editing their question into an acceptable shape, that they need to now ask it as a fresh new question. After they've done that (or if they decline) we'd probably need to rollback the edits so that the existing answers make sense.

    (This option won't be possible in one situation: when someone is under the automatic question ban. If someone is under the question ban and they've actually fixed their old problematic questions, then we really need to encourage them to continue by reopening the question, even at the cost of deleting all the existing answers.)

Those seem to me to be the two main options here. This is not an uncommon situation so it would be really good to come to a consensus on what this site should do. What do you think?

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Yes, an off topic edited question should be reopened and all the existing off-topic answers should be deleted.

There are two reason for this:

  1. It discourages answering bad questions. Nobody likes their answers deleted. If the question is bad enough to be closed and remain closed the angst of having something you poured your soul deleted from the Internet is worse than a rep hit. This is the only kind of stick moderators can yield against bad-question enablers.

  2. It really gets bad questions off the site because even though they're closed, they're still semi-justifications for the continued asking of bad questions.

I asked the first question on the site, it got closed even before there was a consensus on what made a good questions, I had to go through quite a few iterations to get it into something even semi-workable for the site. It may have been a waste of time, but I think the collaborative revision process makes getting to the truth better and that's what we're after.

If we take a "whole page" view and collectively claim ownership of every page, we know we've got a primary responsibility to make every question as good as possible.

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  • Quite sound is this answer, Peter.
    – Ken Graham Mod
    Nov 12 '20 at 16:27
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I believe this is one of the few cases where invalidating existing answers is permissible, but it depends on the situation as it is a somewhat grey area.

Sometimes newcomers have directly asked the help of the community in editing their post and in this case their is obviously no problem. One may have to ask for additional insight, but again that is OK.

If the OP directly or indirectly clarifies the questions, through editing, comments, or accepting an answer, then it is perfectly acceptable to edit the question to ensure that it is perfectly clear. It would be good of the editor to politely give notice to the other answerers to inform them of the change so they can correct or delete their own answers, prior to being deleted by a moderator.

One thing I personally would avoid is making an off-topic question valid too readily, if the OP has accepted an answer.

For these kinds of questions, if the OP has accepted an answer, which answer they chose is a clue about what they intended the question to mean. Some moderators on other sites have edited questions to clarify them in the light of this kind of check box announcement.

In any case, edits of valid questions, should never be done that invalidate already existing valid answers. A new question should be posted then.

For more clarity on this subject the following may be of interest:

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On this site, it is quite possible to provide a good answer to a poor question.

My own thought is that what is being provided is an archive of information which is of use to anyone in the world who is able to access it.

And if a good answer has been provided, which, in itself, has corrected the inappropriate emphasis of the question, then why delete it ? Better for the questioner to move on and try another question, in my own opinion.

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