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Just as the title says: is it appropriate to reword questions to make them more generic?

I've seen a lot of questions that ask the same thing; however, the titles aren't related and the average user might not know how to search for them. It reminds of this Alice in Wonderland quote:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.” 

If people don't know what their problem is then how can they search for it?

A set of questions that comes to mind is: Cant boot to Kali linux, My windows disappeared from grub after I installed Fedora and Cannot boot Linux Mint after installing Windows (First) and Linux Mint (Second). All of these questions are about the same thing: a messed up bootloader where an entry is not showing at start up.

If you read the other first two questions listed, it doesn't seem that the askers know what they really need help with. They may have an idea, but aren't certain how to go from there.

Can I rephrase the third question as: "I just installed linux and can no longer boot to windows" and hope someone marks it for community wiki?

I think if I were to do that then when a user is typing in their title it'll pop up. It assumes that people search for their question first and pay attention to suggestions, but it might help.

EDIT

The alternative is to write a new question and with the purpose of having it be community wiki owned so the original asker doesn't lose reputation.

Let me know which would better suit the community.

  • By rename I assume you mean reword. I don't think rename is quite the right word here. – Faheem Mitha May 6 '15 at 0:53
  • @FaheemMitha I think you're right. :) – SailorCire May 6 '15 at 1:01
  • I agree, it's in everyone's best interest to rework the title in addition to the body of the Q. – slm May 6 '15 at 1:03
  • @slm should I do that or make a new question with the purpose of it being community\wiki owned? If I write a new question then the original asker doesn't loose any reputation. – SailorCire May 6 '15 at 1:07
  • 3
    @SailorCire - I wouldn't highjack a Q, for that purpose, start a new one if that's your intent. I'd ask in chat for guidance from the rest of the community before hand though. See what others think, and try and get a consensus. – slm May 6 '15 at 1:21
  • @slm I'll let this question fester here for a little longer. I think it currently shows up as a "hot" meta post which should attract some more attention. I reckon if I can get 50 votes then that should count as a quorum. – SailorCire May 6 '15 at 14:38
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You can make many improvements to questions, but you should leave the intent of the OP as is. And diversity can be of interest as well.

What you might consider as "The OP doesn't know what their problem is" might be because of you and the OP having a different background. I, e.g., tend to use the word directory and tend to think of Folder as some beginner (wrt U&L) makes when coming from Windows. However I realise I am no good judge for that, and I am too lazy to research whether Folder is used in documentation of modern Unix/Linux (desktop) distributions.

A better approach to rewrites is @slm's suggestion to make a generic question and answer it yourself. I would specify that you are making a generic post, provide links to the other posts that are now duplicates of your posts and flag (or close by the time you have the rep for that) any non-duplicate posts as being a duplicate of your new entry.

That kind of clean-up takes some time, but in general is highly appreciated. You also should look at Let's compile a list of canonical Q&As if you haven't already done so.

  • I'm actually suggesting it because of our other cleanup question. So it seems like this idea has been around for a while. If I get the quorum then I'll look at making those suggested questions real ones over on U&L so a dup flag can be made easier. If this happens, I'll add a community-wiki-me tag or something similar so someone with the rep can make the changes. – SailorCire May 6 '15 at 14:49
  • @SailorCire If intend to be active, please show yourself on the chat site at least once with a comment. Then we can reach you there with @SailorCire if we have suggestions, in addition to/instead of commenting on posts. Especially commenting on edits is better done there, as other things that (should) have a more transient nature. – Anthon May 6 '15 at 15:34
  • +1, except he doesn't have to answer it himself. Writing a good canonical/generic question would be good enough. There are plenty of people who can answer it once it is written. – Faheem Mitha May 6 '15 at 16:40
  • @FaheemMitha Yes he doesn't have to, but if he wants to flag/close the others as duplicate an answer is needed, because IIRC you cannot mark a question A as duplicate of B if B has no answers. – Anthon May 6 '15 at 17:26
  • @Anthon that's true. – Faheem Mitha May 6 '15 at 18:03
  • I'm not sure where to stick this comment so I am putting it here. I like this answer, but I urge everyone to keep in mind the perception that a closed as duplicate is a big "FU I don't have time" flag. It's true that 80% of all questions are going to be repeats of general questions, but that doesn't mean the perception is still not there. In a lot of cases I think U&L comes off as "unfriendly" and "last resort" compared to SO or Ask Ubuntu etc, in part because we are quicker to flag off topic or duplicate (even though it is technically correct to do so). Just keep in mind when cleaning. – coteyr May 14 '15 at 13:21
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Yes, it can be appropriate to make questions more general so as to bring them to a wider audience, and use them as duplicate targets. As it says in the Stack Overflow blog post “The Wikipedia of Long Tail Programming Questions”:

It is OK to edit a question to make it more general.

However, don't go overboard. Sometimes it's difficult to make questions really general, because it obscures the issue. If there are irrelevant details in the question title (e.g. mention of a distribution for something that isn't distribution-specific, doing something “in bash” when the purpose of the question is just to do some basic scripting, …), please do edit them. But don't edit too many details out of the question.

I've usually found it difficult to properly generalize specific questions to make them widely applicable and suitable duplicate targets. There are usually too many specific details to edit out, and that often reduces the helpfulness of the question. Instead, if a topic comes up often, it's usually best to write a new question and write a detailed answer (which often goes beyond covering a specific problem, and also discusses how to recognize the symptoms, the limitations of the approach, etc.). We call such questions canonical questions.

Canonical questions are good candidates for closing other questions as a duplicate of them (even older ones). Sometimes the canonical question addresses only 90% of the issue; in these cases it's best to write a short answer that explains how the question relates to the generic problem, or how to implement the general solution in this specific case, and refer to the canonical Q&A for detailed explanations.

If you write or find a canonical question, please add a link to it in the relevant tag wiki(s). That's the best way to find canonical questions on a topic. If you're unsure whether a question is worth listing, ask in chat.

There's absolutely no reason to make the questions community wiki. If you write an answer that you intend to be collaboratively edited, make it community wiki; if you write an essay that you expect to stand on its own, don't make it community wiki. (A couple of examples from me: collaborative vs. essay.)

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Renaming the definitive question strikes me as a good idea; not only does it make it a better search target, but when someone finds their question closed as a duplicate, it makes a lot more sense if the title of the duplicate is generic enough so that the connection is immediately apparent.

  • While I like the idea of generally pointing duplicates to the right place, there are some times when it comes off as "rude" or "cold", mostly when the target question "seems" only generally related, and not specifically related. Maybe a question re-word could address that scenario. – coteyr May 14 '15 at 13:13
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I think you need to be very very careful in doing these kinds of edits. I would suggest the default be to create a new question. The reason is pretty simple. Looking at your example, Kali Linux and Linux Mint may have different methods for recovering GRUB. One OP may have efi the other BIOS. Sure you can (and should) make a general question (like "What do I do after install Linux to dual boot Windows?" or such), but you do not want to loose the original context just so you can get the question into the community wiki.

A better example would be the same question between Debian and CentOS. The basics may be the same, but paths, mount points, package installs, etc are all going to be different. This fact doesn't reduce the need for a general "what to do" type question, but a user could still need the more specific instructions based on a specific distro. This is even more true for an inexperienced user, or in new "edge" cases (i.e. installing Linux next to Windows 8.1 can be very different then next to Windows 2008)

I still think it's worth a community wiki question and answer(s), but if your really trying to help someone new, then giving them generic instructions or a question with 1 answer per major distro is way more confusing then a question and answer based on their specific distro.

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