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After conducting a few searches, I failed to see this on MSO.

When is it proper to edit someone else's post? And when is it going too far to edit, when a question should instead be closed?

I am asking this for several reasons:

  • I have seen edits that I believe went too far.
  • I have made edits that I believe were appropriate, but were rejected for changing too much.
  • Many people seem confused on how much to edit.
  • I could not find this elsewhere on MSO (note: I did not go through all 400+ pages on each search I made, so I may have missed one).

So, in what circumstances is it appropriate to edit someone's post, and what constitutes as going too far?

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marked as duplicate by gnat, hims056, Lance Roberts, Martijn Pieters, Toon Krijthe Mar 2 '13 at 8:30

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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@random, yes, that question is similar, but it does not discuss the proper applications in which to edit, but rather if a certain edit went too far. I disagree with your choice to close as a duplicate. –  Grammar Feb 28 '13 at 17:26
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What doesn't the first link, FAQ, address that your searches didn't turn up? –  random Feb 28 '13 at 21:24
    
@random, I did 8 searches, and found nothing within the first 5 pages of each –  Grammar Mar 1 '13 at 20:54

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There are guidelines in the FAQ:

Best of all — edit and improve the existing questions and answers!

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!

We can see two things:

The relevant content in that page was contributed by Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange founder Jeff Atwood, so it's as official as it gets.

When should I edit posts?

Any time you feel you can make the post better, and are inclined to do so. Editing is encouraged!

Some common reasons to edit are:

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

Try to make the post substantively better when you edit, not just change a single character. Tiny, trivial edits are discouraged.

There's been considerable debate here on Meta about the phrase “clarify the meaning of a post without changing it”. Do note that this is only one of the reasons to edit. A distinct reason to edit is “to correct minor mistakes or add addendums / updates as the post ages”. As you can see, it is allowed to correct errors, including errors in code; and this is even encouraged by the general guideline to improve.

You are making a good edit when:

  • You make the post easier to read: improve the quality of the English, expand abbreviations, add explanations of concepts that may be unfamiliar to readers, fix the formatting (code formatted as code, non-code not formatted as code, etc.).
  • You correct factual errors in an answer.
  • You make a thread easier to find by editing the question: choose proper tags, add likely search terms, make the title more descriptive.

You should not:

  • Correct errors in a question, most of the time. An asker's misconception is generally something that should be clarified in an answer.
  • Modify opinions. If the author of an answer makes a factual mistake, fix it. If you disagree with the answerer's opinion, write a competing answer or explain why you disagree in a comment.
  • Change so much material that the answer is no longer primarily the work of its original author.

As a rule of thumb when editing, ask yourself: would the author have written this if he'd known better? If the answer is yes, your edit is probably good. If the answer is no, your edit is probably bad.

Keep in mind that sometimes, you should ignore all rules. If following the guidelines would lead to making the site markedly worse, go with what makes the site better. This is exceptional: if you think you're in an ignore-all-rules situation, think again. Here are a couple of examples of exceptional situations where the best thing runs contrary to the guidelines:

  • A dangerous recommendation in an answer — stick-your-fingers-in-a-socket dangerous. If the danger is not apparent, edit away.
  • A question with an accepted answer where both the asker and the answerer have left the site and the answer has become completely obsolete and must be significantly rewritten. It's better to have the up-to-date content in the accepted answer where it's visible to visitors who won't go through the thread's history in detail.

Again, these are exceptional cases. Generally speaking, improve the post while respecting the author, and you'll be good.

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What I currently do:

When the poster has:

  1. misformatted code.
  2. not used grammar correctly.
  3. Posted a link to a picture (instead of embedding it).
  4. Not made his question clear.
  5. Not updated his question to reflect information posted in comments.
  6. Added a signature (saying "thanks in advance", "thank you", or *insert greeting here*)

I will:

  1. Format the coding correctly (using code blocks).
  2. Fix any grammatical mistakes, typos, rephrase potentially confusing sentences and questions.
  3. Embed the photo, and remove the link (when I can access the website, I am usually on a public, filtered connection that does not allow me to visit many websites categorized as 'entertainment' (or *.stackexchange.*, for that matter. And yet they left SO/U/F alone)).
  4. Clarify the question, and place the question at the bottom of his post.
  5. Update his question to reflect current information.
  6. Remove the signature and unnecessary items.

Going too far

I believe that you are editing too much when you:

  1. Edit the poster's code to change what it does (adding comments is not bad, but I don't do it personally).
  2. Change the meaning of a post, especially after comments or answers have been posted.
  3. Change where a link points to, altering the meaning of the post.
  4. Removing large, sensible parts of the post.
  5. Removing code (really, there's no reason to do this, unless you are a mod or the OP)
  6. Rephrasing words to make them sound better to you (unless the poster has trouble writing English, then assume that they meant to type it like they did).
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What is "not used me correctly"??? (number 2 on the first list) –  Wesley Murch Feb 28 '13 at 18:27
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I disagree with some of these the way you have them worded, in particular "Going too far: Removing code - (really, there's no reason to do this, unless you are a mod or the OP)". Sometimes it's a huge help to remove code (if you know what you're doing). (bear in mind I frequent the css, html, javascript, and php tags). –  Wesley Murch Feb 28 '13 at 18:29
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@wesleymurch, what is my username? –  Grammar Feb 28 '13 at 21:12

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