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What general advice can you give me about editing an answer?

I am still a little new to the Stack Exchange and have not edited an answer before. The person did an excellent job answering the bulk of multi-part question but did not have an answer for a small sub part. Should I put "edit:..." or "edited by..." before the answer or is it customary to contact the answer-er (who happened to put in substantial effort)?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Should I put "edit:..." or "edited by..." before the answer

No. The system marks you as an editor below the post, and anyone interested can click through to see what you edited. Strive to achieve a coherent, consistent tone with your edit, in keeping with the style of the original author when possible.

or is it customary to contact the answer-er (who happened to put in substantial effort)?

You can leave a comment below the answer, if you so desire. But most importantly, leave a detailed description of why you made the change in the "Edit summary" field provided to you when editing.

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When you edit an answer, you see a block reporting the following text:

  • fix grammatical or spelling errors
  • clarify meaning without changing it
  • correct minor mistakes
  • add related resources or links
  • always respect the original author

From your question, I get that you are asking about adding the answer to the small sub part, which would change the meaning of the answer itself. It would be fine, if the answer is a CW answer, but in the other case, I would not think that adding an answer not given from the OP is correct. I would rather comment, saying that the answer is missing the answer for the sub-part, eventually.

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What's an 'OP'? – John R Jun 27 '11 at 5:11
@John R It's who wrote the answer you are editing. – kiamlaluno Jun 27 '11 at 5:22
@John: it's the acronym for "original poster". This could mean the asker or (here more likely) the original answerer. – Paŭlo Ebermann Jun 28 '11 at 0:25
@John R: see What does “OP” mean?. – Peter Mortensen Jun 28 '11 at 7:48

The cardinal rule when deciding whether to edit is: Will my edit make the Internet a better place?

If you have a small correction or addition that improves an answer, go ahead and do it. Leave a clear explanation of why you made the change in the edit log; never put “edited by” or “I needed to fix this line” inside the answer.

“Did not have an answer for a small sub part” sounds like a valid reason for editing a priori (of course, it then comes down to each individual case). Some more guidelines:

  • Do not edit if you're not absolutely sure your edit is more correct than the original. Comment instead.
  • Do edit if you're adding an objective piece of information to an objective answer, where that information is a complement that's generally useful for the audience (e.g. to add a link to a standard reference for a library that the answer mentioned in passing, or a Wikipedia link if you had too look up a concept to understand the answer).
  • Do edit if something in an answer is wrong, but it's only a small part that's easily fixed (e.g. a syntax error in code that was obviously typed directly into the browser).
  • Do edit if something in an answer is dangerous (e.g. an SQL injection) and can be fixed locally (i.e. by adding a few quotes or a function call in the right place).
  • Do respect the overall tone and style of the answer.
  • Do not edit around a subjective judgement or recommendation.
  • Do not edit if a fundamental premise of the answer is wrong; instead, comment, downvote and write a competing answer.
  • Do not edit just to add a complement that would be useful only to very few users, or that isn't directly related to the question and answer (e.g. “I had to install jQuery first, but then it worked”).

(For example, feel free to edit this answer if there's a spelling error. But if you disagree with my guidelines, which are subjective, comment, downvote if you disagree enough, but don't edit it. Don't edit it if the boldface abuse bothers you¹, it's part of the style.)

¹ Though to be honest I do feel I've overdone it.

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Good grief. That is an absolutely ridiculous amount of boldface abuse. You should ashamed of yourself, utterly ashamed. – McCannot Jun 27 '11 at 23:54

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