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I've seen (and written) plenty of posts which have been edited by others to correct typos, broken URLs and so on. I think everyone can agree this is a good thing.

How about editing for poor/broken English? I'm a bit of a stickler for correct grammar and spelling (my mother was an English teacher, poor me), but I can foresee this being a sensitive issue.

There is also the issue when changing the actual wording/spelling of things and inadvertently altering the meaning of the question...

Is this acceptable? Thoughts?

I'd particularly be interested in the views of any users who have learned English as their second/third language and do not know it terribly well. Would you be offended if I edited your post so it uses correct grammar and so on?

Update

The consensus seems to be that editing for grammar/spelling is fine and to proceed. Thanks to everyone for their input.

P.S. Also thanks Greg Hurlman for pointing out the shortcomings in my own question :-)

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You should have made it a community wiki so we could edit your grammar mistakes ;) –  SoloBold Oct 27 '08 at 23:09
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I'm not a native English speaker and I think especially for people like me it's even good if someone improves our posts, because I'm constantly trying to improve my English. –  Georg Schölly Jan 4 '10 at 20:38
    
I guess you can accept an answer now ;) –  mafutrct Jul 28 '10 at 12:10
    
@Georg: improving your posts is a good thing, because you can compare your post, and the edited post, and see where you went wrong, or a better way to say something, etc... –  studiohack Nov 30 '10 at 1:26
    
I'd say that making a post easier to understand benefits everyone - fewer headaches for readers, more chance of a good answer for the OP. That said, as a native en_GB speaker (with hints of en_US and en_CA), edits for grammar alone are probably overkill, and rules shift with geography. –  Phil Lello Apr 26 '11 at 17:00
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Aug 21 '09 at 16:34

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17 Answers

As someone who learned English as a second language, I absolutely wouldn't mind spelling and grammar corrections, and I believe it to be perfectly acceptable.

Especially if it means others would have an easier time understanding my posts.

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Totally agree. I'm here to get answers and ask questions, and if my english is bad or wrong here and there I would be glad if someone corrected it. –  Stefan Nov 7 '08 at 3:33
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I agree too. I think that when people are looking for help or asking a question, anything that helps get valid, useful answers/responses would be welcome. When I post questions in Japanese on the ruby site, I don't find it offensive at all to be corrected. –  Jason Coco Nov 19 '08 at 23:58
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+1 Me too. I've learned a lot from people correcting me. What I don't like is when they change the meaning of the question ( I accept it, sometimes is my fault, because the question was poorly written in first place ) So as long changing "nigth" by "night" and things like "write/written/wrote" etc it's just fine. If the question is does not make sense or is not even a question in first place, it should be remain unchanged and ask in a comment to clarify what the intention is ( and suffer from downvotes in the process ) But not make a wild guess and ask something else. –  OscarRyz Aug 21 '09 at 16:49
    
( oops I should have written "as long AS" above ... see what I mean ? ) –  OscarRyz Aug 21 '09 at 16:50
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In general, most communities are adverse to correcting grammatical and spelling mistakes, not only because it would enrage the original author, but it would be a false portrayal of the author's personality. However, Stack Overflow is primarily a Q&A site; therefore I feel that it is perfectly acceptable to edit a post to correct spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Even so, there should be strict guidelines on what can/cannot be edited, for instance:

  • basic meaning of the post
  • style of the writing
  • misspellings in code

I think it's a good idea to send an automated email notification to the original author if somebody has edited his writing.

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This seems to suggest that there really shouldn't be usernames, rep,or anything else though ... –  BobbyShaftoe Dec 13 '08 at 2:15
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I think you mean averse? Oh, the irony :) –  MarkJ Jul 28 '10 at 11:38
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I speak English as a second language, spanish being my native one. I wouldn't really care if you corrected me; in fact, I'd love it.

The problem is: some people do not like that. I guess you have to live with it.

We might want to clone StackOverflow and call it: "Desbordamiento de Pila" (in Spanish). Spanish speaking users can go there.

P.D.: But given the current state of some young (and not so young) spanish speaking people, I think that editing for broken spanish written by spaniards (and other Spanish speaking people) will also be a must :)

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I wouldn't go there :P ... Don't get me wrong, but is likely I don't get the right answer, or at least it will limit my options. Wound't it be great if everything were like StarWars, where everyone speaks its own language and everyone understands??... –  OscarRyz Nov 20 '08 at 0:20
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@Oscar: You're thinking of the Babel Fish from "The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy", perhaps? –  Jonathan Leffler Jan 4 '10 at 20:47
    
@Jonathan Leffler: Does it work for written text too? (Just read it the second time a few weeks ago, but I can't remember.) –  Georg Schölly Jan 5 '10 at 10:29
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I think it's fine, but, by "English", do you mean American English or British English or both? Things like spelling differences, the different rules for using "an", and treating a company as singular or plural come to mind. We should probably just leave that area alone and never consider the other type broken, but I bring it up just in case.

Also, how do those with English as their second language answer questions that use contractions? In this case, doesn't a question deserve to be edited if it causes confusion on how to answer?

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English is my second language. Even though I started learning English in grade school, I don't use it away from my computer or TV nowadays.

Even if in your first language, you can make mistakes. So no, I wouldn't feel offended at all if someone corrected my grammar on spelling mistakes. But that task should be taken seriuosly and responsibly, since I see how some extremely sensitive person could get offended.

Since it's for the common good of SO, and to keep a certain quality on the content, I think it should be considered.

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I find it perfectly acceptable to edit for clarity, regardless of whether English is the primary or secondary language of the original poster. Bad grammar and spelling errors detract from the value of the site because it becomes much harder to understand the question or answer.

I think you should leave a "Edited by name for reason" at the bottom of the post. If the poster doesn't like your changes, then the change can be rolled back.

Edit: I agree that leaving a public mark is needlessly embarrassing. If an edit is needed, then the edit reason can be left in the history as others have stated.

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English is my third language. So yes, I make quite a few mistakes, and I absolutely don't mind people correcting them.

On the other side, I've had a few of my questions edited where the meaning was changed by the corrections. In this case I would have preferred them not edited. So for the correctors: yes, please correct all mistakes you find, but try not to second guess too much what the initial question was if you don't understand the question.

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I would say that if you are sure you are preserving the meaning, it should be fine.

I think if I were putting a question up on a French language site I would prefer that someone unobtrusively makes a few small changes to fix the grammar, than people ignore it because the question doesn't immediately make sense (some people will not read a question that they could otherwise answer if it seems too much trouble to get to the meaning).

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Just do it. If somebody is insecure about grammatical errors they can always edit it back (???).

However, I wouldn't make it a noticeable edit (noting it in the post). Don't embarrass the individuals whom tends to make errors all of the time.

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I believe it's a good idea to expect from people posting at least minimum of effort in writing and expressing a question properly and grammatically. If I ask for help, I want to indicate proper attitude, that I do not just throw a question out of myself but I give a minimum effort to help others to help myself. It's also a matter of respect.

For example, if I see question asked this way Working thru sample code:

trying to work thru some sample

Working thru? What's that? It's a clear indicator I'm too lazy to type the word through, inappropriate attitude I believe. What's next? Posting questions in SMS language? I would really wish that users of StackOverflow and sister sites keep their attitude as well as content on minimal professional level.

I'm a bit surprised I've been bawled out by some users because of my harsh comment.

p.s. I'm not a native English speaker myself, but it's not a problem for me to have English dictionary and spell checker installed in Firefox, and use it.

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While I agree in general with bad spelling/grammar being useful metadata meta.stackexchange.com/questions/25/… , isn't "thru" just an emerging usage in American English that existed before the web and SMS became popular? –  Andrew Grimm Jan 31 '10 at 22:25
    
In this question you refer to, there is this "thru", and that's all, rest of question is quite clear, and the poster is even polite in it (less in his comment after, though). We should of course avoid questions which are asked with so many shortening that this becomes painful to understand, but seriously, in this case, you really complain for not much. If this is hurting your eyes so much, edit it or go away from it, that's as simple. –  Gnoupi Feb 1 '10 at 13:37
    
@thru@ is idiomatic nonstandard English: I find it a bit lazy, but I would not complain because it is perfectly readable. The title of the question is awful; it does not help anyone to understand what the question is about: titles should be something like "Two problems understanding C# code for drop-down lists". –  Charles Stewart Dec 9 '10 at 9:58
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Yes, it helps improve the overall quality of the site. If I sound like a dummy, many TIA for helping me sound literate and competent.

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English is my third language and I wouldn't mind if someone would correct my mistakes. It's still kind of embarrassing when it happens.

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I think that it's totally acceptable to edit questions to help make them more understandable. English is my first language and sometimes I have trouble articulating my question, so I don't mind when people clean it up a little. I also participate in Japanese forums and I never have a problem with people correcting my grammar or suggesting more useful ways to phrase questions/posts. Especially if it helps me get useful, valid answers/responses!

I think it's a shame that anyone would get offended by this, as long as the edit itself isn't offensive. For instance, if someone added something like:

EDIT TO CORRECT CRAP ENGLISH

that would be bad and useless, IMO.

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Editing answers is fine, editing comments is unnaceptable. Some people say there is no distinction between the two. I disagree. For example, THIS is a comment.

There was a discussion about this but it got deleted.
http://beta.stackoverflow.com/questions/286/

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IMO, if a question's grammar is so bad that it needs editing to be understandable (rather than just needing some clean-up for ease of reading), then the only person qualified to do that is the original question-asker.

They're the only one who knows what they meant.

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I think you should leave a "Edited by name for reason" at the bottom of the post

The Stack Overflow revision history page shows edits and comments already. I'd probably just put something like "Corrected Grammar/Spelling".
It is however not directly visible - you have to click through from the question to see it. Whether or not it's worth putting a note in the actual text of the question itself is probably debatable. I don't think I'd bother.

@Kevin:
Other than your obvious personal disagreement, why exactly is it acceptable to edit answers but not comments?

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Other than your obvious personal disagreement, why exactly is it acceptable to edit answers but not comments?

Answers are objectionable pieces of information. Comments are just opinions that can be interpreted in different ways.

I think I would be embarrassed if I ever edited someone's post because of a typo.

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