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Once in a while I find a question that asks how accomplish a single task, but in several different contexts. For example, this question asks, "How do I prevent web browsers A, B, and C from automatically moving my cursor to another field?" Another question asks, "How do I insert a single but differently-oriented page into a Word document for Office 2007 and later?"

As for answers to these questions, at one end of the spectrum are those where the context doesn't matter. For example, changing the orientation of a single page can be done following the same basic steps in the four latest versions of Word. At the other end are answers that may require several parts to address each context, such as if the OP with the Word question were to include Office 2003 which requires different steps due to lack of the Ribbon menu system.

How should we decide when to close these questions as too broad? Is that decision based on the content of the question alone, or should we invoke some prejudgement about the nature of the potential answers?

I admit my approach to this point has been based on my foreknowledge of potential answers. It seems silly to close questions that can be answered with a one-size-fits-all answer. Doing so suggests we want what would amount to four questions asking the same thing, each for a different version of Word, but each with basically the same answer. But I wonder if this strategy is too subjective and therefore flawed. Suppose I think the browser question will require wildly different answers for each web browser, but I'm wrong and a one-size-fits-all solution exists? This seems like a guessing-game I should avoid...pushing me back toward the position of closing questions that even dare to ask about more than a single target context.

Where and how does one draw the "too broad" line with these sort of questions?

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    “How should we decide when to close these questions as too broad?” - I typically use the fact there are multiple potential unique solutions to the problem described in the question. If the question is asking multiple questions but they really have nothing to do with one another that’s another indication I use – Ramhound Dec 11 '17 at 4:33
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    @Ramhound for your first point, IMHO if a problem can be solved in two different ways it doesn't necessarily mean that it's too broad. – Andrea Lazzarotto Dec 13 '17 at 10:33
  • @AndreaLazzarotto Read my entire comment. I use it as a guide to determine if it’s too broad. It’s not my only consideration. Even if it was I would be justified in doing so. – Ramhound Dec 13 '17 at 13:50
  • @Ramhound I did read your entire comment. I just added that I do not agree on "typically" using that as an indicator of broadness. – Andrea Lazzarotto Dec 13 '17 at 18:56
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    I disagree with multiple solutions = too broad being a suitable test. Case in point: This question's usefulness is vastly improved by the broad number of solutions it has attracted. Imagine if the only answer it had was one of the lower-voted ones. – I say Reinstate Monica Dec 14 '17 at 4:54
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Whether or not a question is too broad is based on the nature of the required answer.

In very general terms, a question should be a single issue. However, there is a gray area when you get into closely related, multi-part questions.

In some cases, multiple parts are best handled as separate questions, either because:

  • a comprehensive answer would be too long, or
  • other people may also have one of the component questions, and a composite thread makes it harder to find the component questions and answers.

On the other hand, a question may be requesting a comprehensive explanation of a single issue, and the multiple parts outline aspects to be covered. It may be easier to understand the answer when all of the information is in a single thread.

There is no hard and fast general rule. Whether a multi-part question should be a single question or broken up (i.e., too broad), is a judgment call to be determined by subject matter experts who also understand the site norms for what makes a good question and the intended scope of answers.

Understanding the site norms is the reason for setting rep thresholds. By the time a user earns the VTC privilege, they are assumed to understand, and trusted to use their best judgment. Is a specific question too broad? Bottom line: it is whatever you (and four other people) think it is.

Just because someone has the VTC privilege, it doesn't mean they need to use it on every problematic question. If unsure about a specific question, it can be left to other users. The issue for a specific question can also be raised here for input.

So guidance boils down to the following.

If you are a subject matter expert:

  • If you recognize that the pieces are closely related, the entire question can be answered within the intended scope of an answer, and think that it would be best handled as a single thread, then it isn't too broad.
  • If you recognize that the pieces should be separate questions, then it's too broad.
  • If you aren't sure or can't decide, pass.

If you are not a subject matter expert:

  • It is probably best to simply pass on the question. Many questions are more simple or more complex than they may appear to someone who is not a subject matter expert, so you are likely to get it wrong.

What if you make a mistake?

  • All anyone can expect is that users approach the VTC task responsibly and in good faith.
  • In many cases, there isn't a clear right or wrong; it's subjective. That's why five people need to agree.
  • Sometimes five people get it wrong. In that case, there is a mechanism for five other people to reopen it.

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