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Does anyone read the edit descriptions? The diffing feature works so well, I generally don't read them — I don't trust the editor so much to fill it out correctly, and the diff is perfectly accurate, clean, and easy to glance at.

So, what are good reasons to put text in the edit description?

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Most of the time it is of no use and as diff shows what you have done. However sometimes it is very nice to be able to put in the reason for the edit. –  Ian Ringrose Jun 8 '11 at 8:22
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Consider checking out this post on how edit summaries should be why, not what. Certainly, the diff makes the changes obvious, but sometimes an obvious change still makes no sense. –  Grace Note Jun 9 '11 at 20:10
    
Not quite a dupe of meta.stackexchange.com/questions/91769/… but that one may well answer this question. –  Adam Davis Jun 9 '11 at 21:49
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If you give a nice edit summary, I often don't even need to look at the diff - which I find very helpful. (@Grace is a great role model :-)) –  Hendrik Vogt Jun 11 '11 at 9:16

2 Answers 2

up vote 18 down vote accepted

It's useful for notations as needed. For instance, if you are correcting an old answer that was once correct but now out of date, it would be nice to make a note of that.

Other reasons might be leaving breadcrumbs for users who really need an answer to "Why was this edited?" .. which might include:

  • Formatted code (helpful for new users)
  • Removed profanity (helpful for new users)
  • Removed broken link (helpful for the OP)
  • Removed password user accidentally posted in code (helpful for the OP and for devs to spot for removal)
  • Added another resource (perhaps when editing a CW answer)

Or any other reason why the edit doesn't fully explain the reason behind it.

It also lets someone see what each edit was for, especially on heavily edited questions without having to examine each version / diff.

Most questions and answers are not heavily edited, so I do agree that fixing typographical or grammatical errors doesn't require much explanation beyond the diff.

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Use the edit description to summarize what you did, so that one can quickly glance through the revision history and know what happened.

For edits that only changed the form of the post, I use a one-word description, e.g.

  • title: I improved the title (either to reflect the content of the question, or to be readable)
  • tags: I fixed the tags, typically from a poor attempt into something that follows the site's usage
  • formatting: formatting fixes, often code blocks but possibly other stuff
  • grammar or English: general language improvements (includes spelling as well, I see no point in making finer distinctions)
  • hyperlink (or sometimes added hyperlink or fixed hyperlink): I added a link to a reference site, or fixed a broken link

For edits that changed the content, I describe the changes in a few words. Here are examples from my recent edit history:

  • show how to use a temporary file
  • formatting; s/zshrc/zprofile
  • tweak to only display headers since we don't care about the rest
  • formatting; show how to get more readable output from cmdline
  • removed signature
  • added simpler strategy if starting with a minimum-sized stick

I like that the length of the edit summary is an indication of how much the code changed.

Here are a couple of counter-examples: edit descriptions that are not useful. (I still approved these suggested edits, but I'd have edited the description if it was possible.) These are from my recent history of reviewed suggested edits; I didn't find an example of a content-changing suggested edit that lacked an edit description, which makes me happy.

  • some code is not in block so i want edit,,,,,, [!!!! Just write “formatting” or “code block”]
  • Adding concurrency tag [Too much detail, or too little. Either just leave it at the automatically generated “edited tags”, or explain why you added that particular tag if you feel it wasn't obvious (here, it was).]
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