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Yesterday, while trying to debug my own code, I came across a Stack Overflow answer which contains a factual error. I suggested an edit to the answer. Because I don't have enough reputation, the edit had to be peer reviewed.

My suggested edit was rejected.

The answer does contain a factual error which, like I commented in my edit, is poorly documented even in the original documentation. This was a great source of trouble for me (cost me more than an hour trying to figure out what was wrong) because the answer does not mention a very important "exception behavior" of the suggested code usage.

Nonetheless, my edit was rejected with the message:

"This edit is incorrect or an attempt to reply to or comment on the existing post."

When is it suitable to edit an answer?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Edits should not change the content of an answer. Good edits must always keep the integrity of an answer intact - even if the answer is inherently incorrect. The goal of editing is to make posts better by changing their formatting and wording, but very explicitly not the content.

As such, factual errors should not be edited out of answers. The proper response is to downvote the answer and leave a comment telling its author why the answer is incorrect (hence the canned "this should instead be a comment" edit rejection). Then they will, perhaps, edit the answer.

If you want, you could post your own answer instead, as a corrected version of their answer.

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2  
In this case, I'd say the suggested edit is OK, since even the author of the answer commented the same content. It should be edited into the answer for clarity. –  nhahtdh Jan 21 '13 at 7:58
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@nhahtdh Then it would have helped if OP had used this as part of their editing reason, mentioning that it was already a comment on the answer. =) –  J. Steen Jan 21 '13 at 8:07
    
@nhahtdh I did not know that at the time of posting (edit link was recently edited into the OP) but now that I do, I agree. –  Emrakul Jan 21 '13 at 8:07
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This is not correct the goal of editing is to make the answer better, make the Internet better. If the answer is incorrect change it. –  Toby Allen Jan 21 '13 at 9:02
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@TobyAllen No, I'd say if the answer's incorrect, downvote it. That's what downvotes are for. Of course, leave a comment about why it's incorrect as well, otherwise the downvote just isn't constructive. =) –  J. Steen Jan 21 '13 at 9:56
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While I don't necessarily agree (especially because it's a corner case and a detail to what is already an overall correct answer), it seems this is the rule in StackOverflow and I have to abide by it. In any case, just like Telthien seemingly also agrees, I just thought I'd perfect the answer rather than try to get the OP to fix it him/herself. If the OP never comes back to SO, then we will be left with an answer that's not 100% correct because of this policy. Just my $.02 anyway. Thanks for the clarification. –  Tiago Espinha Jan 21 '13 at 14:31
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If an answer was right & has 10 votes but is now wrong due to version change etc, then a down vote is useless. I have enough rep to make an edit without needing others to approve it, so I will make that change, like I would with a question. That's why we can edit other people's answers, to make those answers better. –  Toby Allen Jan 25 '13 at 22:20

Edits are meant to-

  1. to fix grammatical or spelling mistakes
  2. to clarify the meaning of a post without changing it
  3. to correct minor mistakes or add addendums / updates as the post ages
  4. to add related resources or hyperlinks

In case of your edit, I can see that you have provided a necessary condition(Though I dont have much knowledge about it). Still if you think that the condition despirately needs to be added, then you can anytime comment on the post to have that condition.

  • Then its on the OP to add that condition, if he thinks it is really necessary.
  • Nevertheless, anyone reading the post can also read your comment providing the condition. So it would help anyhow.

I have seen many of the great questions being constructed with some beautifull and usefull comments.

Have a look at this question Sending Email in Android using JavaMail API without using the default/built-in app. Though it is really a great answer, but it still lacks one thing. Along with answer, A permission for Internet is required, which is clearly mentioned in the comments. Also, this condition was so important part of the question that a user has itself provided it as an answer.

So, if you really think that the stuff you are adding is really helpfull, then you can

  • Add a usefull comment to it or ask the OP to add that stuff.
  • Still if it so usefull, then why dont answer the question with that stuff(If the edit is meant for an answer).
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1  
I don't really like some small detail being added as a separate answer - it doesn't make an answer on its own. Edit or comment is much more appropriate. –  nhahtdh Jan 21 '13 at 12:56
    
@nhahtdh Yes I mentioned, its good to comment the usefull detail, if it is small. but if it is quite usefull(without it the real answer might be insufficient, just like the one provided in the link above), then there is no harm to post it as an answer. –  Sahil Mahajan Mj Jan 21 '13 at 12:59
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I am actually referring to the example. It makes things fragmented. –  nhahtdh Jan 21 '13 at 13:01
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"Also keep in mind that the person approving or rejecting the suggested may not necessarily have the knowledge of what you have added. So they cant approve the thing that they dont think will be necessary or not." well, if they don't know, then they shouldn't touch it either to approve or disapprove ;-) and rather leave it to someone who knows. –  Tiago Espinha Jan 21 '13 at 14:33
    
@TiagoEspinha Point noted.:) –  Sahil Mahajan Mj Jan 22 '13 at 5:14

I think this was a fine edit since it fixed an omitted detail. I would happily have approved it.

I don't agree that edits are only meant to fix formatting and spelling, and I definitely don't agree that leaving a comment and letting the original poster take care of it is a good solution. Why put burden on others when you can just as easily do it yourself? Much care must be taken to make the edit correct, though, because you don't want to destroy an otherwise good answer.

I even think it is valid to add some clarifying example or such to another answer, so long as it illustrates the original intent of the post. Just be careful not to edit in another answer.

Leaving a comment is not a good substitute. Comments are just noise and should not need to be read. All relevant info should be in the post (both for questions and answers). Comments are just a place to discuss the content in hopes of finding a way to make it better, but I believe a comment discussion should eventually end up in an edit to the original content.

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Use Comments

You need to be a little extra careful with accepted answers and highly upvoted posts. Content edits are more likely to be rejected if the answer was already clearly sufficient to answer the question.

Generally, the correct thing to do when you want to add information to an already-accepted answer is to comment on it. While there are certainly exceptions, edits should generally be reserved for improving the formatting, grammar, or syntax of a post until you get a better flavor for what kinds of content edits are acceptable within the community.

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