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On this question, the original question read:

Does css used other than browser environment?

Pretty bad, and in need of an edit. So it was edited by someone else to read:

Is CSS ever used outside the environment of web browsers? Does it have any applications outside of the web?

Fair enough. Makes sense to improve it like so.

Then finally, it was edited to read by a third person:

Just curious - apart from its ubiquitous use in specifying the presentation of HTML in modern web browsers, do any programs or standards utilize CSS?

Despite having the same meaning, this just sounds like putting words into the asker's mouth, and could also confuse some non-native speakers.

I don't have edit privileges on any site, so I'm particularly interested on hearing the opinions of those who do have them. I personally feel that the third edit was going to far, considering it was fine in the second version. Would others consider it going too far/is it too far?

Another example (this is the one that made me think about asking the question but I had an answer in, so I tried to find another one for the main example): This question was edited by someone first to tidy up the code (fine), but then edited again by someone else to make some sort of ascii representation of the table at the top (which didn't help understanding, and just added visual clutter to the question IMO).

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lol, that edit is hilarious. –  Nathan Koop Sep 22 '09 at 18:41
    
I think the edit goes too far, and reduces clarity. –  Dave Newton Jan 4 '12 at 2:11

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

For the record, when I set out to edit the first question you cite it had one comment asking that it be expanded, and no one had yet edited it. Seeing that it was a reasonable question, I obligingly edited it to clarify what I saw as the intent of the original author.

There's nothing wrong with this. Plenty of decent questions get asked on SO by people who, for numerous reasons (poor language skills are a big one), are unable to ask clear questions by themselves.

From the FAQ:

Like Wikipedia, this site is collaboratively edited. 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.

Note that if the original author disagrees with any edit, he can roll it back with a single click... or edit the revision to correct any misconceptions on the part of the editor. IMHO, editors should therefore be zealous in their editing, striving to do as much as possible to create good questions - there's no danger that any information will be irretrievably lost in the process.

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Was that post the victim of an edit conflict -- two editors hitting it simultaneously, and yours simply being the later one submitted? –  John Rudy Sep 22 '09 at 20:09
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@John: yes. Actually, i think Welbog submitted his edit just a few seconds after i started working on mine... Would have been a good scenario for some sort of pop-up notification. –  Shog9 Sep 22 '09 at 20:21

I think a general rule of thumb is: the worse off a question is, the more editing should be expected. If your question is very poor, extensive editing should be expected. If your question is reasonably well put-together, editing should be minimal.

The first example was really bad, and Shog9 made it intelligible. Sure it may feel like we are putting words in the OP's mouth, but that's because the OP didn't post enough information to make a judgment about his or her intent one way or the other. So it's fine.

The second question is not as bad, but these were clearly good-faith efforts to make the question more easily understood. Whether they succeeded or failed is a judgment call, but I see nothing wrong with the motivation of the edits.

Remember, the editors usually have nothing personally to gain from attempting to help bad questions become better. Sometimes they make edits that don't help, but that's okay, they're (for the most part) only human. Overall, the site benefits from their time and efforts.

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If it triggers Community Wiki, its too much. :)

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I am aware that this is not exactly what was asked, but is what I thought when I read the title. –  perbert Sep 22 '09 at 20:27

I try and edit as little as possible, instead focusing on spelling & grammar issues. However I know in some cases (such as your example) the whole question needs to be re-written. In these cases, I just try and rephrase the exact question using correct grammar. In this case, I would not have included the second question (Does it have any applications outside of the web?)

EDIT

I should have looked at the question before I posted my answer. It appears to me as though Shog9 probably accidently overwrote Welbog's edit.

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Regarding your edit: yes, I accidentally stepped on Welbog. –  Shog9 Sep 22 '09 at 18:50
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@Shog9: That's just so easy to do, seeing as how he's just a disembodied head. –  gnostradamus Sep 22 '09 at 19:11
    
Shog, you accidentally the whole Welbog? –  Thomas Owens Sep 22 '09 at 19:34

I think the first went to far when it changed it from a straight-out question to one that showed a certain attitude (not a bad attitude, but one not expressed by the OP).

The second example should have put the PK in parentheses next to the ID.

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