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I've seen a case on a site currently in beta where a single user is perhaps editing too much. I obviously don't want to name names or call someone out here, so I won't be too detailed. The edits are generally small, and most are good - typos, spelling corrections, and such. Unfortunately, I think some are too trivial - changing straight quotes "" to slanted/curly quotes “”. Some may even be wrong - analogous to changing "colour" to "color" in a post from an Australian on English Language & Usage. The user has long had enough rep to edit without approval, and at this point has many times more edits than questions or answers; it's enough that (on a relatively low-traffic beta site) the edits can crowd the home page.

I'm sure the user means well, but I think a bit of a change might be in order; my general attitude is that small improvements are improvements, but it's possible to go far, and it's better to edit others' posts too little than too much. What's a good way to address this, preferably something other than a post on the site's meta that obviously calls out a specific user?

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I don't think that editing too much is the problem. If some of the edits are wrong, it has nothing to do with the quantity. –  Dennis May 2 '12 at 15:56
@Dennis: Like I said, my general attitude is that it's possible to go far. There are two general ways. One, too many trivial edits (especially to valid but unnecessary ones to old questions) makes the front page useless. (Perhaps this is a problem with the front page implementation, but I obviously do not want to include that in the scope of my question.) Two, an editor can be overzealous in editing others' posts to conform to their style ("I would have said it this way") when the original was okay; the edit is not "wrong" but it is unnecessary. –  Jefromi May 2 '12 at 16:04
I agree. Still, addressing users who make (many) trivial edits* may be more fitting. If all edits were good, there wouldn't be a problem. –  Dennis May 2 '12 at 16:06
@Dennis: I aimed for brevity in the title. "Too much" can easily also be in the sense of "making too many unnecessary changes as part of an edit"; I think "many trivial edits" misses some of the point - but feel free to edit (ha ha) the title if you like. –  Jefromi May 2 '12 at 16:25
Editing, for the irony. –  Dennis May 2 '12 at 16:31
Ad two: like adding links to Wikipedia for well-known terminology, or specific spelling/formatting that I feel is wrong. Also, many more users seem to like adding the [tag:tag] syntax or the evil <kbd>, which I feel both are useless. (Some even admit that their edit make things bad, but still do it...) –  Arjan May 2 '12 at 16:33
Why oh why are straight quotes exchanged for curly quotes...that is never the right thing to do. –  user7116 May 2 '12 at 16:38
Is this French Language, by any chance? This has already been raised on our meta. I don't feel that his edits were too trivial or too numerous. Our front page moves very slowly as it is. –  Gilles May 2 '12 at 18:18
@Gilles: I don't really want to say yes or no to that, but I can say that this is definitely not an attempt to escalate that meta post. (Front page issues aside, I think it's still a useful question, because unlike most other things with stackexchange, there's not an upvote/downvote mechanism for good/bad edits, so it's not obvious how to respond to ones that seem to need feedback.) –  Jefromi May 2 '12 at 18:24
Straight quotes to curly quotes is a no-no. To French quotes on the French site, is probably defensible... (if the text is in French) –  Benjol May 3 '12 at 8:10

5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I'm one of the top editors on Board and Card Games, which is also relatively low-traffic. I often edit questions for typos, blatant grammar errors, or missing question marks. I do occasionally make single character edits. I don't worry about things like commas, or obscure points of grammar. I'm a pedant, a little obsessive, and mistakes in text grate on me, so probably quite similar to your target user.

Let me try and untangle some of the things going on in your post here.

  • Trivial edits are discouraged for users without editing privileges. However, I think the main rationale here is to dissuade rep farming via "bare-minimum" edits, and the consequent burden of a large, trivial edit queue. In many cases, there is more that can be improved, and we want to encourage editors to ideally fix the whole post, if they are going to bother editing at all.

  • Different people have different standards for what feels "trivial". You're obviously a little more laid-back, and you probably have lower blood pressure. Great! However, it strikes me as a little odd to be surprised that you have one or more extremely detail-oriented editors (pedants) on a site dedicated to questions of language exactness (pedantry), implemented in a system that encourages and rewards obsessing over details (Stack Exchange). To some extent, we all need to live and let live, even when we disagree.

  • Some edits are unambiguously incorrect, and should be rejected or flagged. For example, I don't think it's ever acceptable to change spellings from British to American English, or vice versa. Similarly, some edits for content can cross a line into putting words into other's mouths, or changing the intent of a question, and should clearly be reversed.

  • Rollbacks are always an option, and a rollback by an original author should under normal circumstances always be honoured.

  • Edits do affect the homepage, but this is clearly by design. It helps draw attention to older questions, and changes to questions and answers, which is valuable in itself. Editors are also rewarded, with badges like Archaeologist, for editing old questions. I'm not sure why "cluttering" of the homepage is a serious problem, but maybe this comes down to individual workflow. I usually just use the Questions tab, so I don't normally see the edit bumping.

  • In general, most edits make the site better, and not enough users edit. Anything that discourages edits or users willing to put effort into editing should be weighed against the benefits that such users bring to the site. If 95% of a user's contributions are great, then the site is better off for their presence, even if 5% of the time they could do better.

  • Sometimes, heavy-handed editors can come across as domineering and controlling, and that's not ok. If edits are regularly crossing into that territory for you, or you think there's abuse going on, then that's not acceptable and you should get in touch with a moderator.

So my advice would be: relax! It's not a big deal. Let them get on with it, if it makes them happy and is largely positive, and flag edits that strike you as wrong or inappropriate.

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Thanks for the answer! I do think that the home page is a bigger deal than some make it out to be; if you're not a person who knows all the answers already, you might be interested in reading new answers to existing questions, so the home page is great. I also think that in some cases, the problem is a lack of distinction between pedantic edits (new version is more correct) and useless edits (new version is just different style). But I think you've done a great job covering all the possibilities here! Big +1. –  Jefromi May 2 '12 at 17:02
@agf, trivial edits are only 'bad' if you leave bigger problems untouched. If the post is already approaching perfection, the last final touches are fine, in my opinion. (If minor edits are cluttering the home page, that is a problem with SE, not the edits.) –  Benjol May 3 '12 at 8:09
@Benjol I was quoting the "edit questions and answers" privilege description, not giving an opinion. –  agf May 3 '12 at 13:56
@benjol it's not a problem with SE; if your edits aren't substantive, they aren't worthy of cluttering the homepage. Any pushback from the community here is by design. So make those edits count! Edit the greatest hits to make them more awesome, don't stack a ton of trivial edits on top of trivial questions very few people will see. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '12 at 8:34
@JeffAtwood, we'll have to agree to disagree on that one. One-character changes are not necessarily 'unsubstantive'. I just don't buy the axiom that 'there is always something else you can improve', at some point you start making stuff up (or making stuff worse) just to get past the hurdles. You also have the case where you arrive after someone has done the big edits, and they've just missed a capitalisation, or something like that. –  Benjol May 8 '12 at 9:02
That aside, I agree, they aren't worthy of cluttering the homepage, so don't clutter the homepage :) –  Benjol May 8 '12 at 9:03
@benjol you can bet on the "this post is nearly perfect, therefore changing one character is acceptable"; it's a risky bet. One in a thousand times, that might be true. For most people's posts, there are at least three things I see that need improving at any given time. I urge you to dream bigger. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '12 at 17:18

A good way to address this? I would suggest, if the user has edit-everywhere privileges, flag the specific post and bring it to a moderator's attention. They'll sort it out from there. If they don't, then reject their edits due to them lacking actual substance.

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If the edit is to a fresh post, just leave it. I myself do this often--I piggyback on an existing homepage-bump to make minor edits (note that it is good to wait for the 5-minute grace period to be largely over before doing this)

If not, then you should ask a mod--whether via flagging, or chat (if you don't want to be discreet). First, it is better to try notifying the user--you can @notify any user in the revision history, though the autocomplete only works on t tcommenters. If the user persists, then go bug a mod. On smaller sites, I guess it's OK to just bug a mod first (or ask their opinion on chat without naming names)

Also, you ought to swoop in on the trivial-edit-bump and make it into a substantial edit wherever possible.

Note that trivial edits should always be rejected for users without edit privileges. ALWAYS! ....THEY MUST LEARN!!! {*}

*IIRC, opinion is actually divided on this issue--just wanted to push mine ;-)

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@Arjan I try to, it sometimes escapes me.. Added a note in post, thanks! –  Manishearth May 2 '12 at 16:52

I think your issue is not really with the quantity of edits. I think you believe that this particular user may have their personal threshold for what constitutes a worthwhile edit set too low. This is manifested both by a large quantity of edits (which by itself is not a problem) and by some inappropriate edits (which is a problem).

If you flag the inappropriate edits, and this happens repeatedly, that should act as a brake for that user. If it doesn't, well, at least the moderators have been warned.

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It can be partially an issue of quantity: there's the home page crowding with bumped questions, and the fact that if it were just one in a thousand of dubious quality, they could be swept under the rug (or fixed), without any need to address the user's behavior on the whole. –  Jefromi May 2 '12 at 16:22

What's a good way to address this, preferably something other than a post on the site's meta that obviously calls out a specific user?

I don't think there is a better way than to open a question on the meta site. Instead of making the question focused on that single user, you can make it focused on those type of edits, but still using the edits of that user as example. In this way, other users would learn what they should be doing.

Changing the style used in the question, such as when merely changing it from American English (where the comma following a quote is written inside the quotation marks), to British English (where the comma is written outside the quotation marks) or vice versa, is not what I consider a primary edit. Still, if the edit doesn't pump too much old questions on top of the front page, there is few damage done.

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