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On the beta sites, if I spot a typo I want to correct it. Sometimes that may only be one letter. But I can't because:

You do not have edit privileges. Your edit will be placed in a queue until it is peer reviewed.

This is a pain because I do have rights on other sites but, OK, I can live with it. So I make my correction and add the Edit Summary as "Typo". Then I see:

Comment must be at least 10 chars long

OK, so I change the Edit Summary to "typo this is a 10 character comment" which is not the best comment ever but by now I'm getting frustrated that fixing one letter is so hard whereas in other software (e.g. MediaWiki on Wikipedia) I would be done by now.

Then I see:

Oops! Your edit couldn't be submitted because:

  • Edits must be at least 6 characters; is there something else to improve in this post?

Oops!?! I just want to make the post more readable and I've spent several minutes trying to jump through all the hoops and it still isn't changed! Aargh!

So I looked on meta and found the question had been asked: Why are trivial edits discouraged? The highest voted answer starts with "I think this is an excellent question and I'm unsure about the answer myself."

So to my question - actually a feature request. Please can we allow fixing trivial edits?

In the case I was looking at, the word "no" was typed when it should have been "not" and it took me a few reads to figure it out. For people who find English difficult, it might confuse them further.

(I think concerns about bumping posts or posts becoming "Community wiki" could be dealt with, e.g. by introducing a "this is a minor edit" button - again, like Wikipedia.)

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It is making me nervous that I cannot fix the typical "it's" vs "its", "they're" vs "their" etc due to the 6 character restriction. –  donquixote Jul 1 at 2:35
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2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Yes, the trivial edit restriction should be removed from all sites, not just betas. All helpful edits should be encouraged and welcomed.

The number of characters is not a good metric for the constructiveness of an edit. Some small edits are very important. Some large edits are not. As long as the edit is improving the quality of the site's content, who cares how many characters are involved? Should we also ban edits that only consist of numerals? That would be equally arbitrary.

In fact, the How to Edit box next to the edit window encourages exactly these kinds of changes:

How to Edit

► fix grammatical or spelling errors

► correct minor mistakes

It's pretty hypocritical and counterproductive to ask users to make such contributions and then reject them after they try.

Some argue that reputation is awarded for making edits, so people could use spell-checking bots to "game the system" and gain rep without doing any work. True, but that's not solved by banning small edits. It's solved by not rewarding rep for small edits.

Others argue that the small edits contribute to community wiki status or bump topics to the front page unnecessarily. Again, this is not solved by banning small edits. It's solved by not counting small edits towards CW status and not bumping when they are made.

Others argue that there's always something that can be improved in an answer, so the small edit limitation is not actually a limitation. This is false. While there are often additional things to be fixed, there aren't always. Forcing users to make additional changes can actually harm answers through changing the meaning of the original poster or by confusing people with nonsense edits to meet the quota. Encourage people to look for further changes that need to be made, sure, but don't mandate it. Pop up a window asking them to look for more things that need changing, make them click a button more than once, but don't reject their help if they've looked and can't find anything else to improve.

These are all flaws in the site's design, not in the person going out of their way to improve the quality of its content. Don't punish people for trying to help.

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Who's being punished here? Editing is a privilege, which you're expected to use judiciously; if anything, the current system is extremely generous - you can submit edits without even bothering to create an account. –  Shog9 Nov 21 '12 at 19:22
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@Shog9: Users like Wikis are being punished when they try to make helpful contributions to the site and the site rejects their work and wastes their time. I've experienced this many times and it's pretty infuriating to spend time improving something and then have your efforts rebuffed. –  endolith Nov 21 '12 at 19:26
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@Shog9: And how is editing a "privilege"? Users are volunteering their time and effort to improve other users' answers for the benefit of all. Editors should be thanked for their work. They're not benefiting directly in any other way. –  endolith Nov 21 '12 at 19:33
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At 2k, you can edit without approval or any length restrictions - that's a privilege. Prior to that, you're potentially wasting three other people's time - that's a privilege. You can argue that it shouldn't be a privilege, but the way editing is implemented here it most certainly is. –  Shog9 Nov 21 '12 at 19:51
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@Shog9: The system is currently designed to waste the time of editors who go out of their way to make small fixes, and then, when the fixes are rejected, to waste the time of thousands of readers who encounter the unfixed errors. Editing is work. Low-rep users are restricted from editing because they haven't proven themselves trustworthy yet, not because editing is a super-fun game that they aren't yet cool enough to play. –  endolith Nov 21 '12 at 20:03
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@endolith The system is designed to "waste" the time of users who don't take the time to learn how the site is intended to be used and who subsequently propose edits that aren't up to the site's quality standards. The idea is that by rejecting their edits they will learn what is and isn't appropriate and suggest more appropriate edits in the future that can be more productive. If you find the guidelines for suggesting edits unacceptable then you aren't forced to use the system; simply don't suggest edits. You already think that it's work. –  Servy Nov 21 '12 at 20:07
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@Servy: Right, and the problem is that 3 character edits are considered "not up to the site's quality standards". Why? There's no logical reason. That's the whole point. There's no relationship between edit length and quality. This is an arbitrary rule that doesn't serve any purpose and wastes the time of people who are trying to make positive contributions to the site. Any edit that improves the content should be welcomed and accepted. –  endolith Nov 23 '12 at 1:32
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"There's no relationship between edit length and quality." I disagree. There is indeed a correlation between the two. While it's theoretically possible for an edit to be significant but only touch a few characters, such cases are quite rare. Most edits that involve a significant improvement end up touching quite a bit more than 6 characters. Additionally, most of the edits that just touch a few characters tend to not have significant value. Is it a global rule that no 5 character edits are helpful, no, but is it an appropriate general guideline, yes. –  Servy Nov 23 '12 at 3:18
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@Servy: You haven't provided any evidence for your hypothetical correlation, but even if it's correct, it doesn't follow that small edits should be banned. If you agree that some 5 character edits are helpful, then you should agree that it's harmful to unconditionally reject 5 character edits. –  endolith Nov 24 '12 at 2:57
    
" If you agree that some 5 character edits are helpful, then you should agree that it's harmful to unconditionally reject 5 character edits." I agree to no such thing. The harm caused by all of the harmful or unhelpful edits outweighs any help that would be provided from the very rare possibly helpful edit, especially considering you can still leave a comment or have a 2k+ user make the 5 char edit if it's that important. Also note you're the one proposing a change to the system; the burden of proof lies on you to demonstrate your case, not on me to prove mine. –  Servy Nov 24 '12 at 3:52
    
@Servy: Keeping good edits and rejecting bad edits, as I've proposed, is obviously better than rejecting both good and bad. And no, the burden of proof is on those who claim that there's a correlation between edit size and quality. The null hypothesis is to assume that there is no correlation. There has been absolutely no evidence presented that small edits are more harmful or unhelpful than large edits. Repeatedly stating something doesn't make it true. –  endolith Nov 24 '12 at 17:04
    
@endolith Assuming that reviewers will reject bad edit suggestions has proven, time and again, to be something that doesn't happen. Too many people rubber stamp poor or even abusive edits. If they can be suggested, they will be approved, poor or not. If I were proposing this feature be added then the burden would be on me to show it's needed; that has already happened when it was first introduced. If you feel that it should be removed it is not up to anyone else to justify why it shouldn't be removed. As for actual evidence, I have my past experiences showing very few quality minor edits. –  Servy Nov 24 '12 at 19:06
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Your link to the question English Language & Usage is important, and demonstrates well the harm and confusion caused by this absurd policy. Perhaps you should highlight it a little more somehow? –  TRiG is Timothy Richard Green Dec 7 '12 at 22:08
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@Servy: I disagree that possibly-helpful edits are rare per se. They are rare now because they are effectively disallowed. I cannot just change a post's two spelling mistakes or remove stupid ungrammatical apostrophes. Worse, I get a very unhelpful error message the first time or two around, as the question states. If trivial bad edits are truly a problem, which nobody has demonstrated yet, then disallow them for low-reputation people. Problem solved. –  Matthias Urlichs Jan 22 '13 at 15:34
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So to my question - actually a feature request. Please can we allow fixing trivial edits?

Nope. In fact, trivial edits (by low-rep users) are explicitly discouraged:

Sam was against making this stricter, but I am going to overrule him on this and implement more strict checking myself; I would rather be too strict and reject some edits than have to deal with a continal stream of character-twiddling edit suggesting users.

-- Jeff Atwood, Should tiny edits be accepted or rejected in review?

Remember: someone - usually three someones - has to review your edit after you've made it. Lots of tiny, inconsequential typo-fixing just ends up making loads of tedious, mind-numbing work for the volunteers who do this. Don't waste their time: make your edits count!

(I think concerns about bumping posts or posts becoming "Community wiki" could be dealt with, e.g. by introducing a "this is a minor edit" button - again, like Wikipedia.)

Implicit in this suggestion (and it's been suggested many times...) is the notion that minor edits don't change anything important (and hence don't need peer review). But if you're changing something that doesn't matter, then why change it at all?!

Now, I understand how irritating one little typo can be. Heck, it's part of why I strive to get the full editing privilege on any site I'm actually interested in - so that I can scratch these little itches...

But we must look at them in perspective: it takes mere seconds to make such an edit. It takes just as long (if not longer!) for reviewers to review and accept them: there's an amount of overhead involved in this regardless of how trivial the actual change is. And that's assuming the post is actually 100% perfect following your edit: if the reviewer has to go in and fix ten other problems anyway... Or the post is utter trash and gets deleted... Then what was the point of your little edit?

The frustration you feel should be a motivation to gain full editing rights on the site you care so much about. For now, do your best to become a better editor.

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this does not solve the problem. Wikipedia has a solution which works. Why can't Stack Exchange? –  Wikis Mar 12 '11 at 18:38
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@Wiki Even ignoring the fact that editing on Wikipedia isn't really the same as editing here, I'm pretty sure Wikipedia's solution creates far more work; I can't imagine the amount of time lost by people reverting edits, but it's got to be a lot –  Michael Mrozek Mar 12 '11 at 18:43
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@Wikis: the problem isn't going to be solved. Approving trivial edits creates a bigger problem. If you absolutely must make trivial edits, accumulate 2K reputation points and have at it - but in the meantime, try finding other issues with the posts you're fixing... If they're that close to perfect, just let them be (or flag a moderator down if the problem is truly critical). –  Shog9 Mar 12 '11 at 18:44
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Ironically, the so-called "trivial" edits are permitted on Beta sites. Which is a good thing! –  Wikis Oct 13 '11 at 7:47
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@Shog9: Yes, we "absolutely must" make them. A single character wrong in an answer could destroy one's entire operating system. All edits should be encouraged, no matter how small. The ban against small edits is insane and purposeless. –  endolith Nov 21 '12 at 17:38
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By that token, we should disallow low-rep / anonymous editing entirely, @endolith. If a single character change can be that destructive, then what are we thinking allowing just anyone to go in and edit? –  Shog9 Nov 21 '12 at 18:13
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@Shog9: Huh? That's why edits from low-rep users need to be reviewed before going live. That applies to edits of any size. Has absolutely nothing to do with banning small edits. –  endolith Nov 21 '12 at 18:36
    
@endolith: of course not. So let's leave "if we don't do this OPERATING SYSTEMS WILL BE DESTROYED" apocalyptic rationales out of this. If an edit is that critical, there are numerous avenues to make sure that it happens, including just writing a small explanation for why the difference is that critical along with the change itself. –  Shog9 Nov 21 '12 at 19:18
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@Shog9: So you agree that small edits can be just as important as large edits. Then why ban them? There is no logical argument for it. –  endolith Nov 21 '12 at 19:21
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@Shog9: The number of characters has little or no relationship to the beneficialness of the edit. Surely you can understand this. Some small edits are very important, others are not. Some large edits are very important, others are not. So why distinguish between them? Should we also ban edits that only consist of numbers, or edits that only involve rearranging words? You should read through all of the linked questions to see the number of people who run into this flaw while trying to fix something, and the number of users who support removing the restriction. –  endolith Nov 21 '12 at 19:41
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Sounds like a balance fallacy, @endolith: you're arguing that because the potential for small, useful edits exists, they are as frequent and therefore important as large useful edits. I don't believe this to be true, but welcome evidence to the contrary. –  Shog9 Nov 21 '12 at 19:56
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@Shog9: The null hypothesis is that there's no relationship between edit length and quality. Why are you arguing from the premise that small edits are bad? It's an unwarranted assumption. I'm not even arguing that they're all equally good. I'm arguing that it's stupid to unconditionally ban small edits when everyone agrees that they can be valuable. If someone makes a small edit, pop up a box encouraging them to look for other things that could be changed. If they've been prodded to look over the submission again, and still don't see anything else to change, let them submit it. –  endolith Nov 23 '12 at 2:12
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There you go again: everyone agrees they can be valuable. All sorts of things can be valuable on occasion. Listen - visit Stack Overflow, watch the questions rolling in, hang out in the suggested edits queue for a while, and then come back and tell me there's a pressing need for shorter edits, with examples of posts that simply cannot benefit from more than a couple characters changed. –  Shog9 Nov 23 '12 at 2:37
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I would suggest that tiny edits are not a problem. One glance at the edit, one click good/bad, done, go to the next one. What's time-consuming are the larger edits which you actually have to think about. If there truly is a mind-numbing problem, then lower the number of reviewers necessary for small edits. Or give them their own edit queue; some reviewers probably won't mind. –  Matthias Urlichs Jan 22 '13 at 15:37
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Only time this is a but frustrating is when you review posts from new users using the review link. Sometimes you just want to make the code have the correct format since it's unreadable otherwise but if it's one chunk of code you are not allowed to fix it due to the "6 changes" limit. Maybe make "review" edits pass even with smaller changes. –  Qben Oct 16 '13 at 10:59
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