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Should users be prompted to explain edits rather than merely describe them? Or, to steal the catchphrase about code comments: say why, not what.

The current text explicitly asks for description:

briefly describe your changes (corrected spelling, fixed grammar, improved formatting)

I often ignore this advice when I feel it's obvious, especially for spelling and grammar.

However, it is important to explain some edits. This is where the issue is a community one, and that's actually more important than the technical help text. Most users will probably end up taking the lead of others and copying the formats they see. In order to "steer" this mechanism, we need to have some awareness of the issue on Meta, but also not provide bad examples to users.

Conversely, it is noise to have generic summaries that contain no information—worse than the generated "deleted XXX characters in body; edited tags". (I've been guilty of this myself too.) I've seen users apply the exact same "summary" on every edit, such as "Minor edit: grammar/spelling/case/punctuation/etc." It's often used when several of those don't even apply, and there's no benefit.

I'd suggest posting an FAQ entry with guidelines (or just addressing it in one of the current FAQs) and changing the given text above to:

briefly explain your changes

I would not give examples, so no one is prompted to use them exactly; the previous examples aren't any good anyway. An additional link could be used to provide more information (including examples), if desired. (But I don't see the need for a link, myself.)

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2  
my favorite generic-edit-summary: "tax, title & tags" –  quack quixote Jun 1 '10 at 9:18

3 Answers 3

Of course the other problem is many of the final reasons are typo when the first edit in the five minute window was described updated because I realise foobar was baz.

Edit: I've just noticed this is a known bug.

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I see that less often, but yes, that's another bug/feature-request. I've learned to just not put any reason when doing within-5 edits, or know that it will replace the whole reason. –  Gnome Jun 1 '10 at 7:08
    
Ugh, I just ran across that description clobberification the other day. +1 to you both. –  Pops Sep 24 '10 at 19:19

This seems unnecessary to me. The important thing to remember, in my opinion, is that you're not supposed to change the OP's intent when you make an edit, so most of the time, there is no "why" to explain.

The vast majority of my own edits, and other users' edits that I have seen, are just for grammar, formatting and/or retags. I don't think those need more descriptive summaries than "grammar," "formatting" and "retag," but I also don't think it's noise to have those one-word summaries.

The exceptions are, for example, when you edit your own post to add information, or someone else's to mention that some relevant thing has changed since the question was originally asked. But I find that people are usually pretty good about explaining why in such cases already.

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If there is no "why" to explain, it really doesn't matter what you put. That might as well be "grammar" as "added 1 characters in body". But a canned response ("Minor edit: grammar/spelling/case/punctuation/etc." example I gave, which one particular user used everytime) certainly doesn't help either. Other times, saying "why" is important. –  Gnome Sep 24 '10 at 19:37
    
My point was more on shifting focus to saying "why" when it really might matter, or could be useful to the OP/others (e.g. I include Meta urls when appropriate). Leading by example so the other SOians follow suit. –  Gnome Sep 24 '10 at 19:39

Well, I'll meet you halfway -- changed it from

briefly describe your changes (corrected spelling, fixed grammar, improved formatting)

to

briefly explain your changes (corrected spelling, fixed grammar, improved formatting)

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