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Here's a question that seems to have annoyed a handful of SO users.

The OP asked a question and didn't include enough code for any users to be able to give him a good answer. (All anyone did was point out that the code as posted should work.) He then came back and revealed that he had figured out the problem and explained what had really gone wrong.

Now, from my perspective, there was a real problem here, as well as a real explanation that could benefit the community. So I'm actually tempted to edit the question to reflect what the OP should have asked, and possibly even add an answer that provides the correct solution to this question.

What does the community think of this? It seems like the alternative is that the question just lies around and proves relatively useless to people, or else it gets closed. In the interest of SO being a community resource, I'd rather the question get finessed into something useful. But I also wonder whether this would be considered bad etiquette, for whatever reason.

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Not that this is a bad idea or you are a bad person... but there's something about editing questions and posting answers that doesn't pass the sniff test. Maybe make your answer a community wiki or something? –  Patrick87 Aug 11 '11 at 19:31
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Since it doesn't provide enough value as an answer by itself, here's a link, though humorous in nature, that shows how late-editing a bad question with lots of answers dealing with the bad question can turn out: urlybits.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/… - after the edit, the answers are still there, referring to the original content. –  Lasse V. Karlsen Aug 11 '11 at 20:44

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I would not reword/rewrite this question. Even though the intentions are good, with the answers and comments given this might become confusing as a whole and perhaps remain fairly invisible because of downvotes.

If however you think that there is a decent question at the base of this which has not been answered yet on SO, perhaps you could "ask" this question and self-answer it? But I would only do that if it's of considerable value to the "community" as a whole.

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No. I don't think that a question should be "totally reworded" to match what you think the OP was really asking or - after time has passed - reword the question to match the OP's own answer/solution to the problem.

The comments posted in the mean time and the answers provided until then would seem way out of context to people not inclined to actually review the edits to the question.

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That's a good point. –  Dan Tao Aug 11 '11 at 19:48

It's already gathered several answers all talking about the original "problem". The real problem seems to have been significantly different. Rather than invalidating all the answers, and having a downvoted question that doesn't need to be solved, you should leave it (and probably ask for it to be closed).

Outright changing of content is generally discouraged for these reasons. You'll note what the editing page says (emphases mine):

How to Edit

► fix grammatical or spelling errors
► clarify meaning without changing it
► correct minor mistakes
► add related resources or links
► always respect the original author

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You've misquoted that page: these are “Some common reasons to edit”. There isn't a blanket prohibition on changing meaning. For example, correcting minor mistakes is changing meaning. –  Gilles Aug 12 '11 at 1:03
    
@Gilles No, I copy-pasted. That's exactly what I still see now. Fixing minor mistakes isn't changing the intended meaning, and your post agrees with mine that this major change should not be done, so I don't see what the problem is. –  Matthew Read Aug 12 '11 at 1:34

That question should be closed as "too localized". He didn't post enough code, and the problem was elsewhere.

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Once a post is on the site, it doesn't belong only to the asker, it belongs to the community. From the FAQ:

Other people can edit my posts?!
All contributions are licensed under Creative Commons and this site is collaboratively edited, like Wikipedia. If you see something that needs improvement, click edit and help us make it so! (…)
If you are not comfortable with the idea of your contributions being collaboratively edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you.

This doesn't mean you should rewrite a post (question or answer) to mean something completely different. In particular, for a question, do not edit the question in such a way that existing answers would become irrelevant or meaningless. (This goes whether you are the original author of the question or not.) It's usually a bad idea to edit a question's code, but there are very occasional exceptions.

A few examples of cases where it's ok to rewrite a question:

  • The question was partly off-topic, and you're restricting it to the on-topic part.
  • There were many questions in one, and you're removing some questions that weren't yet addressed in answers.
  • The question was ambiguous, and you've made it more precise in a way that didn't invalidate existing answers.
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