I'm an English teacher first (30 years' experience - 14 of them with scientists and engineers) and developer second, so I often find it relatively easy to grasp what a non-native speaker is trying to ask without always feeling confident enough to answer the technical points posed in the question. In these cases, my most useful contribution is to improve the way the question is phrased in the hope that some whiz kid out there can provide the technical answer. What is involved in the review process, and how long might it typically take?

  • Start by reading How do suggested edits work? Jun 16 '12 at 8:22
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    while such edits are certainly welcome, please bear in mind that questions that do not demonstrate sufficient effort on the behalf of the asker will probably be closed, even if you graciously translate them from l33t speek to English. Try to contribute edits on questions that are fundamentally salvageable per the guidelines at stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-ask Jun 16 '12 at 8:24
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    Good point Jeff. I'm more qualified to fix the English than to judge whether it's a good technical question but I found myself sympathising with someone struggling with both the technical problem and the language - I imagine trying to do it in Spanish! I've found a few questions that seemed reasonable to me - just hard to read.
    – DavidHyogo
    Jun 16 '12 at 8:31
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    your edit should be a true edit to the post not a suggestion like this one. Fix everything that seems adequate but don't mention that you edited in the edit :)
    – örs
    Jun 16 '12 at 8:38
  • Michael Petrotta, I presume you're trying to make a point with your editing. I'm trying to help non-native speakers with their English, not those with already good English. e.g The Oxford English Dictionary suggests "whizz-kid" or "whiz-kid". So, we're both wrong: you with your spelling and I with my hyphenation. Writing "scientist" instead of "scientists" is a typo that I would let go. The way you re-phrased the "about answering..." is a matter of taste. I prefer my original. How did that edit contribute to this discussion?
    – DavidHyogo
    Jun 16 '12 at 8:40
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    I all fairness, I would have made almost exactly the same edit as @michael made. I don't think this necessarily was a comment on your question or part of the discussion. What is more, I would have also rejected your accepted edit. There is no need to mention " [Now corrected by a professional English teacher]" within the question. Keep them clean. Don't muddy the question with content that should not be there.
    – Bart
    Jun 16 '12 at 8:46
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    I edited your question text to improve it. "whizz kid" is ridiculous. And you're the one who chose to bring the edit into the discussion, though in a way that prevented me from seeing your comment (use "@" if you wish a user to be notified of your comments). Jun 16 '12 at 8:50
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    Bart, since my question is about editing and this is a place for meta discussion, it seems worth bringing this in. For instance you should have written "In all fairness", but it's obviously just a typo and not worth considering. I would like to contribute by helping bring a mangled non-native speaker question up to a reasonable level of comprehensibility for experts out there to answer and I'm exploring how best to do that.
    – DavidHyogo
    Jun 16 '12 at 8:54
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    Give with out be anxious, and with our expecting anything.
    – Aristos
    Jun 16 '12 at 8:55
  • Bart and Aristos. Thank you. That's what I was trying to get clear. This collaborative editing is a new and awkward experience. Now I understand that presenting credentials (professional English teacher) does not re-assure anyone. You feel it muddies the question.
    – DavidHyogo
    Jun 16 '12 at 8:58
  • @MichaelPetrotta Sorry Michael, I didn't know about the "@" convention. I wasn't deliberately trying to prevent you seeing anything. Do we have the usual transatlantic problem? I don't think so. Websters suggests "whiz kid" and "whizz kid" i.e. the same as the OUP but not hyphenated. What do you mean by ridiculous?
    – DavidHyogo
    Jun 16 '12 at 9:01
  • Well, if you're on the other side of the pond, then maybe. "Whizz kid" sounds like a child with bladder control problems ("wiz" is short for "wizard", while "whiz" and "whizz" are childish slang terms for "urinate". Which reminds me of the transatlantic difference in the usage of "pissed"). Jun 16 '12 at 9:03
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    @MichaelPetrotta Thanks Michael. I might eventually get round to putting my real name when I get comfortable with this very public discussion. I've spent my working life helping non-native speakers with English so I might give someone an "excellent" for a text you would probably feel it's just a rough first draft. You help the native speakers if you feel they need it. I'll stick to what I know - with the help of all these useful comments I've seen today! As per Webster, I'm putting back the whizz kid!
    – DavidHyogo
    Jun 16 '12 at 9:16
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    As a side note, it looks like it generally takes just over an hour for a suggested edit to be reviewed (either approved or rejected) on Stack Overflow.
    – Tim Stone
    Jun 16 '12 at 17:24
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    (on a sorta related note, when I initially saw phrases like "do the needful", I wanted to "fix" that as well. Then I looked it up - it's a standard Indian English phrase, and was actually common in UK and US English up until about a century ago.) Jun 19 '12 at 1:37

What is involved in the review process

As for the review process itself, I can only comment on how I do it.

If the edit clears up all the issues I see within the question/answer, I'll accept it. If the edit leaves serious problems within the content then, even if the edit itself is good, I might reject it. Usually I go to the question myself, improve it and judge how much time it has taken me to do so. If this is significantly more than the other editor will have spent, I might just mark his edit as "not helpful". If you glanced over a minor issue, no problem. I'll correct it and mark your edit as helpful. Moral of that story: Don't just fix one minor thing, fix the entire content.

With regards to code edits, things become slightly more complex. Editing code in the question itself is usually a big nono, apart from something like indentation corrections. If I feel your edit changes the question or might actually hide the OPs problems, I'll reject it.

Code edits in an answer I only handle when I'm confident of their correctness or appropriateness. If edits of such content are so significant that I can't judge it with a simple review, I might leave it alone, or reject it along the lines of "should have been an answer instead".

Whatever you do, don't make the fact that you've edited a question, part of the question itself. If your edit is brilliant, but you leave something like "Edited by me for clarity" or if you even add a whole separate section with an "edited version" of the content, I will reject it. (Though I have the rare nice day where I actually go to the question to remove the fluff you added). Edited content should appear as if written by the OP.

As for the comments you received on only editing those questions which won't be closed outright anyway, please do so. When the edits appear in the review queue, I am not filtering them out anymore based on the quality/appropriateness of the question itself. So if you edit something which should not be on this particular Q&A anyway, I will review it. The review queue is often full as it is anyway, so please don't add to that by editing bad/off-topic content.

typically how long might it take?

With regards to the average time taken between the suggested edit and final acceptance or rejection, I have no hard data. I have handled edits mere seconds after they were suggested, but have also seen some which hung around for several hours (though this is less likely with the new review queues). If the suggested edit is substantial enough that its evaluation requires specialist knowledge in a topic, it might take some time. If the edit is not merely a spelling correction (or something similar) then I usually stay away from them if they are not in my area of expertise. Such edits might take a little longer to get evaluated.

  • That's a very thorough answer. Now, I'm uncertain about the etiquette of accepting the answer. You yourself say that this is only your own opinion so maybe I should wait for another sample answer? Do you have any advice about how you accept an answer? Part of my reason for saying I had edited the question was out of politeness to the person who asked the question. Now I understand the review process better I realise that's not necessary or useful.
    – DavidHyogo
    Jun 16 '12 at 9:29
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    There is no hurry at all in accepting an answer. Leave it open for a while, see if you get some more responses. If you do, great. If you don't, have a look at how others value my contribution. For all intents and purposes I might be out of my mind. :) Whenever you feel that all has been said and nothing more will be added, you make the judgement call whether you want to accept my answer as correct or helpful.
    – Bart
    Jun 16 '12 at 9:31

What I've taken away from this discussion and Bart's excellent answer

I don't know if an answer is the right place for the following summary, but I'm exploring this whole process so here goes in case it helps other newish collaborators like myself:

  1. Editing should be unobtrusive in an effort to help the questioner express the question in a clearer more useful way. The editor should not draw attention to him/herself.
  2. Wait patiently for a response from a reviewer. They seem to work pretty fast.
  3. If you want to make public suggestions or clarify something etc, then add a comment or, ultimately, an answer, not an edit.
  4. You don't need to be over-polite. As you can see from my initial response to MichaelPetrotta I took his editing a bit personally. Since this is a collaborative venture, that's inappropriate. So, just edit and use the standard tool to explain what you've done if necessary. Don't add justifications, excuses or credentials to the body of the question. If the questioner doesn't like having his/her question edited, we've been well warned this is the wrong forum for him or her.
  5. Don't waste the reviewers' time by editing a question that really isn't useful no matter how well your editing improves its expression.

Levels of Intervention

There seem to be many layers of editing that different contributors are comfortable with.

  1. Minor typos and spelling mistakes.
  2. More major problems with syntax and word choice that render the question difficult or unintelligible.
  3. Higher levels of concern about style, elegance and expression that help to polish this forum and make it a useful long-term repository of good questions and answers.
  4. Last and clearly most important: editing the code samples and technical points needs to be done lightly and with great care. Attempt with caution.

I will be attempting levels 1 and 2 for the time being, especially with obviously non-native speakers. I have no great ambitions to get involved at levels 3 and 4.

  • 4
    I have a suspicion that the easier it is to tell an edit is "good" the quicker it's likely to get reviewed.
    – Flexo
    Jun 16 '12 at 11:23

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