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I had an incident recently where another user decided my answer was wrong, and simply edited my answer to change it, and commented on the question that it was previously wrong, without any explanation why. Because there was no comment on my answer, I didn't get any message to indicate what had happened, I only noticed by chance.

Frankly, I feel it's more than a little inappropriate to change the substance of someone else's answer without any prior discussion; am I right in thinking the user in question should have commented on what the problem was in his opinion, and/or posted his own answer rather than simply changing mine? I can probably see why he felt it was wrong, but depending on the context of the OP's question, my original answer could well have been exactly what he was looking for.

Hence my question; I've edited questions myself purely for formatting or spelling, but never to alter the substance of the content, but aside from making a question/answer easier to read, I can't see any other justification for it. Is it poor etiquette to modify another user's answers in this way, especially without qualifying your reasons?

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Can you provide us with a link to the question? –  George Stocker Feb 24 '11 at 14:54
As a rule I don't like to 'name & shame' unless there's a compelling reason to do so; I deliberately made it a more general question for that reason. –  Flynn1179 Feb 24 '11 at 15:00
Normally, if your posts are edited, the envelope in the top header should highlight and tell you that a revision has been made. Did this not happen? –  Grace Note Feb 24 '11 at 15:03
I couldn't say for sure, but I don't think so. It might have gone before I had the opportunity to see it, as I had looked at the question again anyway. –  Flynn1179 Feb 24 '11 at 15:06
@Flynn1179: This is not about pointing fingers, but about helping you answer your question. By looking directly at the answer and the edit we can easier judge why it was changed and how to answer your question. –  Time Traveling Bobby Feb 24 '11 at 15:15
The question was stackoverflow.com/questions/5089096/… and I edit the answer. –  user150068 Feb 24 '11 at 18:15
@Shog9: This is more apropieate since it was an accepted answer meta.stackexchange.com/questions/24322/… –  user150068 Feb 24 '11 at 18:17
Frankly, I disagree that this makes it more appropriate, but that's not the point. Anyway, I obviously didn't make this clear enough: This was intended to be a general question about the etiquette of editing questions, not a specific question regarding one incident. That's why I quite deliberately didn't single out why I asked this question here. The question on SO may have been the catalyst, but is not the subject of this question. –  Flynn1179 Feb 24 '11 at 20:58
@Flynn1179: I think it's better to discuss about specific cases in the same way we ask questioners to provide well defined questions. –  user150068 Feb 24 '11 at 22:24
Related answer here: "Aggressive edit: You are simply using the edit tool to insert completely new material, rather than updating anything currently extant. A better choice would be a comment or a new answer." –  Benjol Feb 25 '11 at 6:19

6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Edits should never change the content of a post, just its readability.

If your answer had an error, a comment should have been left alerting you to it so that you could fix it.

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I also would accept extending of the content (without changing it), because that would add additional information and makes the answer better. –  Time Traveling Bobby Feb 24 '11 at 15:12
@Bobby: I wouldn't edit for that reason. The answer still looks like it's from the original answerer; edits aren't expected to make particularly significant changes. What if your information is incorrect, and makes the answer worse? What if that causes people to downvote that answer? If you've got additional information, put it in comments or your own answer. –  Jon Skeet Feb 24 '11 at 16:42
@Jon Maybe it would be alright if you know that your additional information is, at least, correct. –  ChrisW Feb 24 '11 at 16:59
@ChrisW: It's amazing what people "know" to be correct which turns out not to be. I would rather stay on the safe side, and add a comment/answer instead of effectively putting my words in someone else's mouth. –  Jon Skeet Feb 24 '11 at 17:01
@Al Everett: You wrote "Edits should never change the content of a post" That's a strong sentence. The content of a question can be edited: rephrasing a duplicated question to improve it as alternative entry point, transforming a not real question into a real one, etc. We can think in questions as detached from the OP. I think that the same holds for answers, because the goal is finally get the right content. And that's backup by the creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5 –  user150068 Feb 24 '11 at 18:47
@Alejandro: If someone can help me say what I'm trying to say more understandable, then I'm all for it. If someone is changing what it is I'm saying, that's dirty pool. –  Al E. Feb 24 '11 at 19:45
@Jon This case might have been the opposite, i.e. knowing that the thing-to-be-corrected was incorrect. –  ChrisW Feb 24 '11 at 20:05
@ChrisW: Again, you may think that someone is incorrect, but actually be wrong yourself. That's happened to me dozens of times. Simply put, don't put words into someone else's mouth. –  Jon Skeet Feb 24 '11 at 21:29
@Jon Skeet: One of my highest up-voted answers on SO is an example for a successful edit by someone else who added information. He extended my answer without adding much different information, but it was improved considerably. –  Time Traveling Bobby Feb 25 '11 at 8:21
Edits should be allowed to change the contents - this is why answers edited by lots of people get changed to community wiki. If we were just editing the formatting, there would be no need for this auto-wikifying... –  Konerak Mar 27 '11 at 19:52

Another occasion when it may be correct to edit another user's answer (not changing but adding content):

I sometimes edit other people's answers by adding content.

If it feels that the answer is generally correct and adding another answer does not seem right (as it would only duplicate most of that corerct answer) and there is a point where that answer can be improved, or some content can be added, I just add it.

Example, the edit of zerkms' answer here: Update an entire row in MySQL

It may appear wrong to some but I haven't got negative feedback on such actions. And if the answerer really thinks that the edit inappropriate or wrong, he can always rollback.

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Accepting your request to move our thoughts here, I think you could have just mentioned the PostgreSQL syntax in a comment, the same way you mentioned the Foreign Key dependency point for REPLACE statements in my answer. I think it's only ok to make additions to a user's answer AFTER it becomes a Community Wiki. –  AlienWebguy May 13 '12 at 23:44

Some folks seem to think that it is never appropriate to change the content of an answer. I would suggest that there is one (and this is the only time I've done it): When an answer is unequivocally and dangerously wrong.

A few weeks ago I came across an answer that was blatantly against Apple's documentation. It was accepted and upvoted. I provided citation and changed the answer. IMO, in this case it's the right thing to do because the question was factual, not subjective, and the existing answer would have led inquisitive programmers into very bad situations.

Yes, perhaps I could have downvoted it, and provided my own answer, and hoped it got upvoted. But in the meantime, how many developers would have been receiving and acting on incorrect information? That's much more important to me than someone getting their feelings hurt.

My point is, I think there's a line somewhere after which it's not only okay, but the responsible action. For argument's sake, what if someone on driving.stackexchange.com asked "Which side of the road should I drive on in the US?" and the accepted answer was "On the left" with 50 upvotes, is it okay then?

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I agree with @Al Everett, in that an answer should only be edited for readability.

There are examples where plainly incorrect answers get upvoted.

But over time, its easy to see what the best answer is.

I'm confused why @Alejandro thought he knew the correct answer, but decided to do an edit instead.

Either way, I think its funny that I asked something along these lines a while ago...

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Over time yes, but what if the answer is factual, not subjective (ie, "What is the value of PI?") and the accepted, upvoted answer is wrong? Should we let learning architectural engineers use the wrong value for PI while we wait for things to work out? Anyway, I think in general you are correct but there are exceptions IMO. –  DougW Oct 16 '11 at 16:12

I don't know XSL well enough to understand what the change was.

In general: occasionally, if someone's answer is mostly right but has a small mistake in it, I'll just correct instead of causing a fuss. An example of a "small mistake" might be maybe a syntax error in a C++ code sample.

I wouldn't want to edit it so much that it becomes a different answer, though.

I'm less likely to add to an existing question: I'd more likely do that (e.g. if I want to add a caveat, or mention a special case, or something ) as a commment, than by adding to the answer text.

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+1 I agree with this, but it doesn't address the part that the answer was accepted. –  user150068 Feb 24 '11 at 18:59

Looking at the exact example: How to show a character n times in xslt

I would have to say this was poor etiquette. Instead he should have just commented on your answer with his concern and you could choose to address it or not. He could have also added another answer of his improved version that explains why he things the changes are needed and let the community decide.

Lastly, commenting on the question was pointless, it should have a least been on the answer and should have given a reason why.

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Reasons for editions are in the revision history. The OP accepted a wrong answer (as it was), we should be warning him. The only mechanism for notification was a comment in his question. I wouldn't down vote so quickly because answerer can correct his answer. But a comment has "less power" than a checked answer for others visitors. –  user150068 Feb 24 '11 at 18:57
@Alejandro, if you added another answer it would have sent the OP a message just like your comment. The OP could change the accepted answer once he discovered your correction. Also you can down vote and then change your vote later if Flynn fixes the issue. –  jzd Feb 24 '11 at 19:54
The primary intention wasn't to add an answer that would be just a correction to another. I think that we have the edition mechanism for this purpose. –  user150068 Feb 24 '11 at 22:17
@Alejandro, the editing mechanism is for correction, but not so much that the original author has to rollback. If you don't want to enter a competing answer then commenting on Flynn's answer would be the best course of action, rather than changing the meaning of his post. Changing his post directly does not allow much change for him to learn nor does it provide much oversight into whether the changes are appropriate. –  jzd Feb 24 '11 at 23:26

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