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This answer is half incorrect (as of this post), but I don't like to edit other people's answers, since there's always the chance I misunderstood something, and it seems quite ham handed to just barge in on other people's posts.

Should I just go ahead and delete the poster's first incorrect point leaving behind only the second and correct point, or should I add a comment and wait for the poster to do it themselves?

In this case, even the poster seems to admit in the comments that they are wrong.

What is the threshold for editing answers?

Should I just go ahead and edit, and assume that if I'm wrong / misunderstood something, it'll be rolled back or edited again?

This question is about a specific post, but I'd also like to get a handle on the general guide lines of editing answers for content (as opposed to grammar, emoticon killing, etc.)

The FAQ definitely seems to encourage the editing of questions and answers:

Like Wikipedia, this site is collaboratively edited, and all edits are tracked. 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.

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On a related boat: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/19477/… –  random Aug 12 '10 at 23:15

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

If the error appears to be an inadvertent mistake or omission, then fix it if you can.

If it appears that the author intended to write what he wrote, then leave it be. Down-vote it. Maybe leave a comment. But don't correct it - if it turns out that he was right, you'll have just sabotaged his efforts, and even if he is truly wrong, he may be fond of his ignorance, and his example may prove instructive to others who hold similar notions.

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You mean that if an incorrect answer gets down voted and commented on, then others with that same incorrect view will see that the view is incorrect (and hopefully why, through the comments)? - That's a really positive way of looking at incorrect answers. –  Peter Ajtai Aug 12 '10 at 23:01
@Peter: yeah, I'm a horrible optimist. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 12 '10 at 23:02
This assumes you can spot an "inadvertent mistake". For technical answers, you are just as likely or more likely) to be wrong about the "inadvertent mistake" as the answerer was in making it. So don't do that - always point out the possible error in a comment. –  nb69307 Aug 12 '10 at 23:23
@Neil: yes, it does assume that. Fortunately, there's a handy "rollback" feature if you're wrong... Comments are extremely limited: I'm sure you've more than once watched an asker struggle to understand a change summarized in a comment that would have been immediately obvious if actually applied to the post it was left on - it's the equivalent of trying to understand changes by reading diff files. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 12 '10 at 23:37
@Shog9 But if you edit an answer most people reading it will assume that the content comes from the original answerer. Most SO users don't get the nuances of SO editing, and editing their responses is ath wrong thing to do, IMHO - commenting is much friendlier. –  nb69307 Aug 12 '10 at 23:45
@Neil: commenting is... almost broken. By design. It works for what it needs to do, but it's a lousy way to present detailed or important information. Nevertheless, you're right - it is likely that even experienced users will fail to pick up on the edit: that's why I suggest avoiding changes unless reasonably confident that you're acting to improve the communication between answerer and asker. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 12 '10 at 23:53
@Sjog9 No-one is suggesting writing a new answer in a comment - that's why in my answer to this question I said don't edit, post a new answer. But posting a comment like "I think you meant malloc rather than realloc" seems eminently sensible. –  nb69307 Aug 12 '10 at 23:59
@Neil: if someone writes an adequate, accurate, helpful answer, save for using realloc instead of malloc, then posting a new answer seems like overkill. He's only passing one argument in - is there a version of realloc that takes only a single, integer argument? If not, I think you can safely say that he did indeed mean to write, "malloc" and just make the change. If you're wrong, he can correct it when he returns; if you're right, you've saved everyone reading the frustration of seeing code that requires what is effectively an unanchored footnote to make sense. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 13 '10 at 0:04

Always leave the meaning of the post as it was.

Minor edits to content-related things are okay, as long as the above is adhered to. For example, the author might have missed something minor/trivial like ending a line of code with a semicolon.

Editing for grammar... well, it really depends on the post. If it's generally unreadable/ununderstandable, go ahead and clean it up -- in the case of a question, that really can be the difference between the question being answered and it being closed as NaRQ.

Editing for spelling I think is fine, but I wouldn't worry about minor things like a missed apostrophe. The goal is to make the post understandable.

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The last category is editing for formatting, which I would definitely say is fine; it's pretty much the only time I find myself editing answers –  Michael Mrozek Aug 12 '10 at 22:51
That last sentence is key, I think: for good or ill, edits should help the author get his point across. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 12 '10 at 22:52
I'd be very wary about editing code except for formatting if the question is effectively "why isn't my code working/not doing what I expect", as it may well be that your 'correction' hides the fault and stops the people viewing help correct it. I've seen it done in the past. –  MrABC Aug 12 '10 at 23:22
@MrXexxed: We're talking about answers here, not questions. For questions, I agree - you shouldn't add or remove from the code itself apart from whitespace (in whitespace-agnostic languages) for formatting purposes. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 12 '10 at 23:44
@MrX: Yeah. Obviously considering the context of editing is pretty key. At the same time, it's subjective, so all the guidance we can give is "be nice, and use your best judgement." –  Jon Seigel Aug 13 '10 at 0:00

For technical errors I usually let the OP know, so he can fix it himself. The comment will also alert other readers of the problem.

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