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Question says it all: Should users edit other users' posts to correct grammar and spelling problems?

I've seen arguments both ways, and lean toward yes...but...

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18 Answers 18

up vote 100 down vote accepted

I vote for yes. And yes I know the counter-arguments. But it makes posts more readable. And I, as a non-native English speaker, like to learn from my mistakes.

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s/And I as a/And I, as a/ –  Brad Gilbert Jun 28 '09 at 15:29
    
Is that better, Brad? –  Ladybug Killer Jun 28 '09 at 15:44
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And don't start sentences with "And". But that doesn't mean you should start them with "But" either (although it's a bit better). –  dbkk Jul 1 '09 at 10:27
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Thanks dbkk, but that's a habit I cannot break in German either. –  Ladybug Killer Jul 1 '09 at 10:46
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Brad, if he puts a comma after "And I", then there also needs to be one after "speaker", as the phrase "as a non-native English speaker" is parenthetical: the two commas act like a pair of parentheses. Sometimes it can read more fluidly just to leave both commas out, which (in my opinion) is fine too. –  Paul Stephenson Jul 7 '09 at 10:25
    
You are right, Paul. But I leave it as it is. It would appear on the main page again after editing. Someone could misinterpret this as begging for more upvotes for this old post. –  Ladybug Killer Jul 8 '09 at 17:55
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@John Smithers: Your answer is precisely why I think downvotes to questions (as opposed to downvotes on answers) should be commented on. It helps the OP understand why the question is invalid, wrong, off-topic, etc. –  Matt Davis Dec 16 '09 at 0:13
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OMG its an english orgy –  Stingervz Jan 27 '11 at 12:27

Fixing spelling/grammar errors makes a post objectively better. That falls into the same category as fixing broken code formatting. Posts are made better this way and everybody wins.

If it's not an error, just a matter of taste, then this is different. Subjective changes to a post should be done with care and only with good reason.

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If it makes the question better, makes it more readable etc, then yes I think it should be done. Where I have a problem is people editing the posts but adding no benefit, and even starting edit wars, for example changing a UK English spelling of Colour to the the US English spelling Color, there's no need to do that, it adds no value, everyone knows they meant colour, its just going to cause arguments.

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Wow...has a colour/color edit war actually happened? Some folks clearly have too much time on their hands, and are not getting enough sex. –  Stu Thompson Jun 28 '09 at 13:45
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no comment on this –  Jeff Atwood Jun 28 '09 at 13:56
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I have had 'realise' changed to 'realize' in one of my questions... Thats how we spell it in Australia! –  brass-kazoo Jul 6 '09 at 6:45
    
@brass-kazoo: The Oxford English Dictionary says that the proper "English English" (and therefore Australian English) spelling is -ise, but THIS IS AUSTRALIA!!! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_spelling –  Andrew Grimm Jan 30 '10 at 11:06
    
@brass-kazoo: Really? I didn't realize... ;-) –  MikeSchinkel Sep 1 '10 at 17:52

Yes they should. I am not a native English speaker and I would really appreciate it if someone who knows better corrected me. This is one fine and free way to learn and become better.

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Your English is good. But what do we do when the English is so bad that we can't tell what's intended? –  John Saunders Jan 30 '10 at 11:59
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@John Saunders: if the English is so bad that you can't tell what's intended, it is probably best left unchanged. That said, I have edited posts on occasion where I could fix up all except one or two sentences, and then my edit notes point that out. The question is (IMNSHO) better after I'm done -- I recognize that what I did was not sufficient to make the question perfectly intelligible. –  Jonathan Leffler Jan 31 '10 at 3:59

One additional reason to correct spelling: Search

I tend to correct spelling in technical terms, especially in the question title and the question itself, so that the post will be matched properly in searches (site search and web-wide searches). I am less vigilant with other posters' answers, but I think the reason still stands.

[ When I wrote this post, I did a search on this page to see if anyone else mentioned "search" but I didn't find a match. Of course, someone could have mentioned it but had misspelled "search" :-) ]

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Question title says it all, really.

... other user's post

should be

... other users' posts

A common grammatical mistake, and one I wish I had enough rep to fix.

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A common punctuation mistake, you mean. ;-) ducks and runs –  T.J. Crowder Feb 8 '10 at 14:04
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Where did that diarrhetic duck go?! –  Assaf Lavie Mar 18 '10 at 11:37
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It must have eaten, shot, and left. –  Andrew Grimm Oct 24 '10 at 1:50

Everything that enhances a post and improves legibility for the googler who steps on it, should be done.

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Yes, especially if you fix all the it's used instead of its. It really makes my eyes bleed, and I'm not even native English speaker.

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I even have a standard edit description for this: its = possessive, it's = "it is" or "it has" –  mmyers Jan 30 '10 at 14:45

Yes. Next question.

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YES! I completely agree with editing posts for grammatical errors or to help the flow of the question.

HOWEVER, editing a question to the point that the OP's question has been changed completely should not be acceptable behavior on SO.

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Editing a post just for fixing grammar and spelling could be effective, if done properly and responsibly. However, there's always the slight chance that editing the post changes the question or answer, or at least the spirit of the it. The English language has subtleties that can easily be overlooked, especially by non-native speakers, that can cause confusion, or increase confusion.

I think editors should think twice before rushing in to 'fix' posts. If you're not sure about what the original writer meant, leave a comment or just resist the urge to edit.

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I'd like to see people enter a reason in the cases where it's a judgement call. I've seen some edits that I'll call "drive-by" edits that make me say "Huh? How is that better?"

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I really loathe the "The question says it all" statement, its really really redundant. And not the good redundant, the bad type.

Generally, there are a thousand ways to do it better than that, ie: simply by rephrasing the question in a more verbose way.

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Bad spelling and grammar (at least of native English speakers) may serve as useful metadata - it could indicate that the question asker didn't put a lot of effort into the question. See, for example, the question quoted here.

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Personally I'll just fix the obvious typos - particularly in the title. Any change I might make to fix the grammar might obscure the intent of the OP. If something's not clear then I'll post a comment.

I will always fix the formatting of code though.

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My similar question was just closed as an exact duplicate of this, but I think I've got something to contribute, so I'll post it here as an answer instead.

To answer: I support editing; I do it all the time. But I have a concern that I haven't seen expressed elsewhere. When we edit grammar, typos, punctuation, and the like, we are altering readers' perceptions of the OP. This could affect their likelihood of answering (why bother helping out a poster who doesn't care enough about his/her question to get the punctuation right?) or, more importantly, could affect the nature and quality of their answers. This I mean specifically in the case of non-native English speakers' questions; if they are edited to look like they were written by a native speaker, answers might be written at a higher "grade level". If we leave the grammar alone, answers might be written to be more easily understood by the OP.

I think the benefits of having better questions and answers, as a reference for all readers, not just the OP, outweigh this cost, but I'm slightly concerned about the harm we might be doing.

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See also Andrew Grimm's post –  Pops May 13 '10 at 18:29
    
Thanks, @Popular; I had missed that. –  Carl Manaster May 13 '10 at 18:34

Just to play Devil's Advocate here, since nobody else said no, and the OP wrote:

I've see arguments both ways

Some people might not like having anybody edit their questions, and they might see it as a personal affront. This should be used with care.

For the record, I edit a few posts a day for grammar, spelling and formatting, and I don't mind at all when somebody edits mine, since it's usually for the better (brian d foy, here's looking at you with all the Perl questions I asked that you fixed up). I just thought I'd bring up another side here.

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Anyone who doesn't want their post edited should not use SO. –  John Saunders Jan 30 '10 at 12:00
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I wish I could edit this because my name doesn't have an apostrophe in it. :) –  brian d foy Mar 19 '10 at 8:24
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@brian: Fixed :) –  Nathan Fellman Mar 21 '10 at 14:39

Question says it all: Should users edit other users' posts to correct grammar and spelling problems?

I've seen arguments both ways, and lean toward yes...but...

They should, but they should not! make a fuss about it. Many users are not native speakers and their usage of English is greatly influenced also by their usage of their native language. (Besides, it's not like native English speaking users know how to use proper English either; not many classical literature students here.)

These forums are first about technical issues, then language and grammar issues.

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