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Stackoverflow enjoys a diverse community coming from different walks of life, and different academic backgrounds. Many of us are used to using abbreviations for various technologies and practices. Many others simply have a more complicated vocabulary as a result of working in particular environments that shaped us that way.

If we see users providing answers that are almost esoteric in their clarity, should we edit them to simplify the message for the general public? While their answers may technically be correct, is it justifiable to rewrite portions of them (potentially resulting in making them wiki's) in attempts to improve their overall intelligibility amongst the general public?

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I know I'm kind of an ass, but if someone edited my response in order to dumb it down, I'd probably roll it back. –  devinb Aug 31 '09 at 21:26
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@devinb: And we would report it to the mods as an abusive roll back. Learn to be a part of the community. –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 21:30
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@Rich: I take pride in what I post. I'll admit that some of it isn't perfect, but in general I take time to try and ensure that all of the words I'm using are the right words to describe exactly what I want. If I've articulated myself accurately and someone else edits out all the big words, and substitutes imprecise approximations, I'd consider that an abusive edit. –  devinb Aug 31 '09 at 21:38
    
@Devinb: "If you are not comfortable with the idea of your posts being edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you." –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 21:41
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@Rich: I trust that those users aren't editing frivolously or perniciously. –  devinb Aug 31 '09 at 21:46
    
(-1) for the reasons in my answer. –  devinb Aug 31 '09 at 21:51
    
@Devinb: Expanding your post into something that is easier to understand by a beginner is not abuse. –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 21:53
    
I'm not arguing about expanding. I'm arguing against replacing. –  devinb Sep 1 '09 at 15:12

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I don't know about everyone else, but I take pride in what I post.

I'll admit that some of it isn't perfect, but in general I take time to try and ensure that all of the words I'm using are the right words to describe exactly what I want. If I've articulated myself accurately and someone else edits out all the big words and substitutes imprecise approximations, I'd consider that an abusive edit.

If you are editing someone to add some links that they missed or to correct grammar or spelling, that is all amazing and great for the community. I've done it myself, although not as well or as often as others.

However, if someone reads my answers and decides to remove my language and entirely replace it with coarser, simpler approximations, I would roll their edit back.

In that case, I would welcome a comment that says "Could you clarify XYZ, I'm not sure I understand" so that I could delve back in and see if I could possibly elucidate more carefully. If they chose to simply add some extra explanations, that would be appreciated.

However, because choice of words is a matter of opinion, I would consider it edit-abuse for someone to change my answer by substituting their choice of words in the place of mine.

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Principle or practicality: What if the edit helped someone looking for an answer - perhaps even the person who asked the question that prompted your answer in the first place - to understand what you were trying to say? Still edit abuse? –  Shogging through the snow Aug 31 '09 at 21:46
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I would eagerly and thoroughly edit my own response to clarify anything that was unclear. But, I wouldn't be seeking to 'dumb down' the answer, I would be making it clearer. If you don't understand, you can ask, but not edit. "You" just admitted that you don't know what that part of the answer means, so how could you make it simpler while maintaining the meaning? If you DO understand, then why are you assuming others won't? –  devinb Aug 31 '09 at 21:50
    
@devinb: And we would report it to the mods as an abusive roll back. Learn to be a part of the community. –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 21:54
    
@Devinb: "If you are not comfortable with the idea of your posts being edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you." –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 21:55
    
@Rich: Thanks for the edit btw, you're right, I was out of line with that. As for learning to be a part of the community, should we edit out all sarcasm from responses because people might not get it? –  devinb Aug 31 '09 at 21:57
    
@Devinb: Expanding your post into something that is easier to understand by a beginner is not abuse. –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 21:57
    
@devinb: Absolutely. All fluff was deemed to be removed whenever possible. –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 21:58
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Wait, what? I got sidetracked elsewhere; i'll ask again by way of example - would you consider this abuse: stackoverflow.com/revisions/1349717/list (i understood the answer, the OP did not, i clarified the answer for him) –  Shogging through the snow Aug 31 '09 at 22:25
    
@Shog9: Very nice edit. –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 22:26
    
@Shog9: That edit was perfect, because you did not remove anything. If you are adding clarification, that is fine. If you are taking out content and replacing it with 'simpler' content that is what I'm arguing against. –  devinb Sep 1 '09 at 15:11
    
So re-writing is fine, provided you ultimately add to the answer. (note that i reworked a paragraph that implied the answer into one that explicitly stated it) –  Shogging through the snow Sep 1 '09 at 16:52
    
Yes. If you feel the need to add extra information or clarification, that is GREAT. I would LOVE people to do that to my answers. If you are removing something from an answer because it needs explaining, that is not okay. –  devinb Sep 1 '09 at 16:57
    
That seems fair. –  Shogging through the snow Sep 1 '09 at 17:06
    
@Shog9: does my answer not convey that? perhaps you could help me fix it. Which parts need improving :p –  devinb Sep 1 '09 at 17:34
    
"However, if someone reads my answers and decides to edit it to dumb down the language, I would roll their edit back." - that's the line that prompted my original comment/question. If I understand your language and see that another user does not, I wouldn't hesitate to clarify it, whether by expanding jargon or simply restating something in alternate terms. I think perhaps you're drawing a distinction between these two methods, but IMHO, which is appropriate would depend entirely on the scenario (if "dumbing down" a passage sacrifices meaning, then it's probably worth keeping both). –  Shogging through the snow Sep 1 '09 at 21:14

I think the nomenclature should reflect the target community. A community of programmers ought to be able to tolerate a higher degree of specialization and greater use of acronyms than one for the general public. Brevity has value as well and increasing the wordiness of an answer to appeal to a wider audience is not necessarily a good thing.

I'd say keep in mind the site's target audience when deciding whether a particular question/answer should be simplified and/or expanded with regard to the language. SuperUser, for example, may require a longer, more detailed and less abbreviated answer than StackOverflow.

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Did you just call SU-users stupid? :) Joking, of course. But what about the wave of teenagers who arrive at SO every day that won't understand 75% of a veterans vocabulary? –  Jonathan Sampson Aug 31 '09 at 21:18
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I'd say that if you want to be a programmer, you're going to have to pick up the language. If an acronym is not particularly prevalent in the community, then yes, elucidating it can be helpful. On the other hand, I'm not going to write out Model-View-Controller in every answer I contribute in that tag. If you want to do MVC, you need to first figure out what it is. –  tvanfosson Aug 31 '09 at 21:20
    
As to calling SU-users stupid, no, obviously not. I'm just saying that it's ok to write differently based on the audience. If I'm writing a paper for a technical journal, it will be very different than one for a business magazine. In the former case I can expect familiarity with the technical terms, in the latter I have less confidence that they know the jargon and need to avoid it or explain it when I do use it. –  tvanfosson Aug 31 '09 at 21:24

For sites like StackOverflow and ServerFault I would say that maybe, but I would not be as gung-ho about it, because despite the backgrounds of the users, the subject matter is pretty rigid and I would imagine that if you are looking for programming help, 90% of the time you are going to understand the terminology associated with it (or if you don't, you'll quickly learn it along the way). I don't think it's necessary to have to go out and define all the acronyms, initials, and industry buzz words. But in a general sense, improving the readability of any post is desirable.

On SuperUser I would be much more agreeable to going out of your way to fix things, simply because there's no telling who is going to be looking for answers about why their printer is freaking out, or how to get this dang-blasted Internet Explorer doohickey to work properly. If it's not clear enough that your mother could understand, you should wonder about how to improve it (if possible).

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I thought about that too - perhaps using the standard names forces the reader to become better at what they do, by mandating further study and familiarity. –  Jonathan Sampson Aug 31 '09 at 21:19
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I would, at most, add links to where they could find out more about a particular word. ( On SO & SF ) –  Brad Gilbert Aug 31 '09 at 21:48

Yes, you should always edit whenever it might benefit someone who might read the post later.

This is not always an easy task, since you must keep the original author's intent and content, but it is beneficial to make the post work for the lowest common denominator.

This usually involves making difficult terms into links to Wikipedia articles, or expanding TLAs into their actual meanings. Sometimes you might need to completely reword the post to make it easier to understand. Not all programmers are good at communicating after all.

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What's a "TLAs"? Mayhaps you could provide us a link? –  devinb Aug 31 '09 at 21:25
    
(-1) Appealing to the lowest common denominator is a moving target because it will always get lower. –  devinb Aug 31 '09 at 21:45
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I'm ok with editing for clarity and adding links if the terms are obscure, but I'd have to say that we need to be careful with the "lowest common denominator" aspect. The LCD on Stack Overflow can be reasonably high compared to, for instance, Yahoo Answers. If I have to write my answers so my kids, who are very smart, but not developers, can understand them, then I think we've set the LCD too low for SO. –  tvanfosson Aug 31 '09 at 21:48
    
@tv: Then I don't think you understand the LCD idea. LCD has to be according to context, that is obvious. –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 21:59
    
@Rich B -- if you had only provided a link to the definition you were using... :-) –  tvanfosson Aug 31 '09 at 22:01
    
@tv: I don't think I need to. It is a pretty universal term. Do I now need to supply a link to the definition of 'universal'? –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 22:06
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Since we're arguing over the definition of "lowest common denominator", wouldn't that automatically mean that it can't be included in any answers? –  devinb Aug 31 '09 at 22:10
    
sigh Not everything is black and white children. Curb the emotion. –  GEOCHET Aug 31 '09 at 22:13

Community editing is part of the SO contract ('If you are not comfortable with the idea of your questions and answers being edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you'), so yes, editing in this sense is OK. That said, I would still start with a comment suggesting to the answerer that more detail or a clearer answer, for the sake of the community, would be a good. Otherwise your edits will most likely ruffle feathers. This might seem too soft an approach, but the goal here would be to train the answerer to provide clear answers so that you wont find yourself rewriting his/her posts over and over again.

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