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Occasionally I ask a question which I think is about one thing and it turns out to be about something totally different.

For example I just asked "Use of ただ after a plain/continuative form verb" and it turned out to be about use of ただ before counters.

I think the question title should reflect the actual problem, for obvious reasons. So what is the etiquette? I see three options:

1) Leave everything as is.

2) Amend the title, but that often involves editing the question body for consistency, But then those changes can make the answer seem strange or irrelevant.

3) Delete the question. It's often a case of "I can't believe I didn't see that", but there may be value in the answer for other users.

Any thoughts?

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In this case, I'm of the view that editing the title (and tags if needed) without changing the question is the best way to deal with this type of thing.

If we were to introduce a policy of editing question bodies, it not only risks invalidating answers, but adds significant confusion regarding context, and the reader's understanding. It also changes the raison d'etre of the question itself. If it's something that the asker thought was complex but was actually something you learn in your first week of Japanese, it's not up to the question to reflect this, but rather for the answers to point it out.

This follows the general rule that answers are for the answers section, and questions are unique to the asker. If we start mixing the two and making answers apparent in questions, it just doesn't work, and the whole trail of logic that you can normally follow from a question disappears (also making it harder for other people to answer if they have better answers to contribute).

Rather than this, I believe that editing the title is the best course of action. Firstly, this legitimately does help with classification, which is important, but it also doesn't change the actual question itself. Unless the question is in the title (which it shouldn't be -- it should be at least repeated in the question body), editing the title should have negligible impact to the question. If it would impact the question, then we can move the original title text into the question body, and leave it at that.

From another classification standpoint, editing tags makes sense, and also doesn't change questions at all. This plus editing titles, not questions, makes classification tidy without damaging the Q&A of the site.

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I think the question title should reflect the actual problem, for obvious reasons. So what is the etiquette?

Do not try too hard to keep a question clean. If you think that a question is already answered adequately, editing it to perfection does not probably add much value for future readers, given that we do not know what those future readers will be looking for for sure.

Trying to make a question useful for future readers is probably a nice thing, but please think of its cost and benefit. In particular, if you are asking answerers to update their answers to keep them consistent with the question, you are probably going too far.

1

We can edit the question, and leave a footnote if necessary if there is an answer that references the part that was edited away. Also, you can view the edit history of the question to find out what had changed.

If the misleading point is not central to the question i.e. the question is not about it directly and it was just an accidental misdiagnosis of the problem then I think we should edit the question.

We can try to edit the question such that it goes up one level of generalisation. For example, "Use of ただ after a plain/continuative form verb" can be renamed "Is the use of ただ postpositional or prepositional?" or "Postpositional or prepositional ただ"

We could also edit the answer to make it consistent with the question, but it may be better to leave a comment on the answer to prompt the answerer to update his answer.

  • This one is tricky because editing it makes the title more correct (so people who know the answer will be able to reference it later), but at the same time other people might be under the mistaken impression the original poster was and not find the already-answered question. – Troyen Dec 2 '15 at 8:51
  • We have to be careful not to edit posts in a way that invalidates existing answers, though. That's a general principle on Stack Exchange. If an edit requires updating an answer, it usually means that edit should be rolled back. Is there some way we can solve this problem without that sort of edit? – snailcar Dec 2 '15 at 17:57
  • I came up with a title that hopefully makes it easier to find in the future, but doesn't require editing the answer. What do you think? – snailcar Dec 2 '15 at 19:55
  • Cunning. That works for me. Thanks. – user3856370 Dec 2 '15 at 22:36

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