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I'm getting pretty close to the reputation where I can start to edit others' posts, and I'm wondering what the etiquette for when (and when not) to do so.

I figure that I should edit in the following circumstances:

  • Grammatical or spelling errors.
  • Clarification where the meaning is not changed. For instance if the title does not describe the question very well.
  • Where the user has made a very minor mistake that doesn't justify a full post to clarify.
  • To add related resources or links that will help someone answer the post, or provide context

Before the commenting feature was added, I noticed that some moderators edit posts in order to insert a reply or extension to the post. I feel this isn't good etiquette (but I could be wrong) because I don't know what to do with their changes when I come to re-edit or respond.

I also feel that I should be very careful not to change the meaning of any question or answer, even if that meaning is misguided.

What other rules would be best practice?

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Jeff posted some more guidance on the Stack Overflow blog: blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/03/the-great-edit-wars –  Patrick McElhaney Mar 4 '09 at 13:29
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Related: "When should I make edits to code?" –  jmac Oct 31 '13 at 23:41
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jul 31 '09 at 19:08

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3 Answers

up vote 65 down vote accepted

I've noticed that some moderators edit posts in order to insert a reply or extension to the post. I feel this isn't good etiquette (but I could be wrong) because I don't know what to do with their changes when I come to re-edit or respond.

You've provided a great list that matches well with my expectations of our community. You edit to make things better, clearer, more effective -- never to change meaning.

Of course all this will be codified in the FAQ.. when I get to that..

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How ironic that the accepted answer to this question is one that was edited and then rolled back. –  lkessler Dec 6 '08 at 20:33
    
Yes it is ironic. The editing rules should also apply to answers as well as questions. –  Cameron MacFarland Dec 23 '08 at 23:00
    
Yeah, Patrick and I disagreed slightly, he's more editorial whereas I preferred to let the original stand. In this case he edited out references to a practice that was common during the closed beta, but much rarer (and less relevant) now. I felt that too many answers' context was lost by the change. –  Keith Dec 24 '08 at 9:46
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I think the types of edits that are acceptable can be summed up as copy editing.

The “Five Cs” summarize the copy editor's job: make the copy (i) clear, (ii) correct, (iii) concise, (iv) comprehensible, and (v) consistent; that is: make it say what it means, and mean what it says. Typically, via the publisher's house style, copy editing ensures the use of correct spelling, consistently used terminology, accurate punctuation, correct infelicities of style, i.e. grammatical and semantic errors, and formatting of text in accordance with the house style headers, footers, headlines, etc.

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Good point, but I'd be careful in this environment. It would be quite acceptable for a sub-editor on a coding magazine to change all { } blocks to be on new-lines if that were the house style, I don't think we should be doing that sort of thing. –  Keith Aug 5 '09 at 9:08
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I was focused more on the 5 Cs. We don't have a house style. If anything try to honor the style of the original writer. That, and I'll delete "hi" / "thanks" because Jeff said to do so, /if/ I'm already editing for another, better reason. –  Patrick McElhaney Aug 6 '09 at 18:14
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The first thing I want to say is that I am no longer inline editing posts. I wanted a way to respond to people's questions directly, and there is currently no built-in way to do this (though Jeff mentioned that "annotations" are coming soon). In a way I was following Jeff's example. But I think now there is consensus that this isn't a good practice, so thanks, Keith, for setting me straight.

Now to jump in with my thoughts, edit to:

  • Fix grammar / fix spelling / improve formatting.
  • Make the post clearer or more effective.
  • Linking to other resources related to the post.
  • Add a warning if the post is dangerous (ie. recommends solution with a security vulnerability)
  • Add new relevant information missing from the post.

But do not:

  • Change the meaning of the post.
  • Add inline conversation.

I want to point out that Jeff has explicitly told us that Stackoverflow is going to be wiki-like, and is not a discussion forum. Those with edit ability who have something important to add shouldn't feel bad about doing so—it's the whole point of the site.

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Yep - I definitely think formatting changes should be allowed. Someone edited my Code Golf (12 days of christmas) post to put a CR before the code! I never knew that. –  Lucas Jones Dec 31 '08 at 16:27
    
@Lucas Jones: Code Golf seems to have different editing rules than normal questions so that longer solutions can be replaced by shorter ones. Perhaps there should be a question about etiquette for modifying code golf posts, but I have a feeling it'll be closed into oblivion. –  Joey Adams Aug 17 '10 at 5:48
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