I landed upon a question about how to convert CP1251 to UTF-8 in Python, which was helpful to me, but it was overly verbose, taking a screen to ask a question that should have been 1-2 sentences.

So I edited it, with the intention to make it better quality from the POV of a Google searcher landing on this page, but now my edit has been reversed by another user, who thinks that since some of the answers are referencing the overly verbose text, it should be in the old form.

Since I'm not sure if the kinds of editing I made are encouraged or discouraged here, I want to ask the community.

This is how the question looked after I edited it:

I have a string that contains Cyrillic text, but it is encoded in the CP-1251 Windows code page.

How can I convert that string to UTF-8?

This is how it looks now (without my edits) - How to convert a string from CP-1251 to UTF-8?


I just found this in the StackOverflow blog (thanks Shog9):

It is OK to edit a question to make it more general. With the power of editing comes the power to take someone’s selfish, very specific question, and edit it a little bit until they’re asking the more general question that hundreds of people encounter. For example, if someone asks, “I set up a web server at home but I can’t access it from work,” it’s OK to rewrite the question as, “What things should I check when a web server running at home is not visible on the Internet?” In fact, sometimes selfish, stupid questions of the “do my homework” variety can be easily edited into a form where the answer will provide an extremely valuable resource for the internet at large.

  • 7
    You turned a specific, code containing question into a broad one-liner. That is the opposite of improvment.
    – juergen d
    Jan 4, 2014 at 20:16
  • Hm, well, the gist of his question was how to convert from cp1251 to utf8. That's how I found it from my Google search. I thought the idea of StackOverflow was to generate 'canonical documentation', not to answer people's questions per se, so any question that's not good for Google Searches is "chaff" anyway and holds no value on its own.
    – sashoalm
    Jan 4, 2014 at 20:18
  • 4
    Interesting. What you call chaff, we call context. What you call canonical documentation, we call high-quality answers to high-quality questions. And of course, not to answer people's questions per se is our antithesis. Jan 4, 2014 at 20:25
  • 8
    Your intentions are spot on, and the answer to your title is unequivocably "Yes", but it looks like you picked the wrong bits of verbosity. You also have to be careful with questions that have answers already. It's great that you asked about this here. Learn from this, and keep on editing.
    – jscs
    Jan 4, 2014 at 20:35
  • @JoshCaswell Thanks, yours is the first positive comment :) Can I further the discussion a bit? The reason I edited it was because of the title - it was "How to convert string between cp1251 and utf8?". That was even before my edits. Now, such a title goes better with my version of the question, don't you agree? It basically implies a one-liner question.
    – sashoalm
    Jan 4, 2014 at 20:46
  • 1
    Josh didn't make the first positive comment @satuon. Kate did... you just don't recognize that it's positive. Take the same approach to meta as you seem to want to use when editing, assume that most people are trying to improve things. Jan 4, 2014 at 20:51
  • 1
    I'd say the thing to do, if that's your concern, would be to edit the title to match the question, @satuon. I have to agree with the answers here that you removed important information in this case, but I also want to encourage more editing with this goal in mind, as Shog does in his answer below.
    – jscs
    Jan 4, 2014 at 20:55

4 Answers 4


First off, thank you. We need more of this sort of editing on Stack Overflow. Every time I have to scroll past a page of irrelevant question to get to the answer I'm looking for, I get a little bit sick.

That said, when you're making these edits please pay close attention to the answers on the question: often (though not always) they contain references to parts of the question - if those parts of the question are removed, the answers become much harder (even impossible) to understand. I'm afraid that was the case for several answers after your edit here. It is possible you could have edited the answers as well to avoid this problem, but as it stood this made them harder to follow.

In this case, I was able to reduce the length of the question considerably without sacrificing any of the context referenced in the answers. While this may not have mattered for your needs, it is far from unlikely (as Kate notes) that others with similar problems might find this question more effectively if it matches keywords based on the tools they're working with.

Related: The Wikipedia of Long Tail Programming Questions

  • There is a topic in your link - "It is OK to edit a question to make it more general." They seem to say it's OK. What do they mean there? Does that validate edits like mine (if they don't interfere with answers?
    – sashoalm
    Jan 4, 2014 at 21:03
  • Yes, absolutely @satuon. FWIW, even this question could probably be edited down a lot further than I just did; perhaps not quite to the extreme you did, but a lot closer to it (I totally missed that his actual problem was misunderstanding the encoding required by wxpython, which ended up being a big part of the question but which none of the answers touch on).
    – Shog9
    Jan 4, 2014 at 21:09

you removed a number of terms people might be searching on:

  • UnicodeDecodeError
  • getdefaultencoding
  • setdefaultencoding

as well as the point that it works on the Linux system and not on the Windows one. Removing fluff is one thing; removing the kinds of detail we usually have to beg people to add is a different thing. I think it should stay in the longer form.

  • OK, but I landed on this page from a Google search that was "python convert cp1251 to utf8". Aren't most people who land on this question coming from that kind of a Google search? My edits would be more relevant then.
    – sashoalm
    Jan 4, 2014 at 20:30
  • 8
    your search worked for both the long and short forms. But the short form freezes out other search terms. I can easily see people using the error name and the names of the methods they want to use, not the specific code page or encoding they are working with. Jan 4, 2014 at 20:33

After the edit, there's no context to the actual problem. That's bad.

What you've done is remove a huge chunk of pertinent information from the original question, namely:

  • What the OP's specific problem is, including libraries used
  • What the issue is
  • What the output they're experiencing is
  • What their error is
  • How they attempted to fix it the first time

...and you've condensed it into a overly broad one-liner.

An edit should be there to clean up the question without changing the meaning or context; what you've done is rip out a lot of that.

I would strongly discourage those sorts of edits from now on - don't rewrite the question for them in that manner.

  • 1
    Meh, libraries don't really matter if the problem is nothing to do with them, the "issue" is the same thing and their attempted fix is fairly unimportant if it didn't get used in the answer. As the OP says the point is to come up with canonical answers... that said I agree with Kate... far too much was removed, but that doesn't mean that extraneous fluff can't be. Jan 4, 2014 at 20:43

In the Editing FAQ, it states (emphasis mine)

•To clarify the meaning of the post (without changing that meaning)

You did clarify the meaning of that post, but it completly changed the intent of that question. It changed a very specific question into a broad one that may have more answers after the edit than before. It also changes a clearly on-topic question into a possibly off-topic question (as it doesn't show any understanding of the problem being solved). That is not what editing should do. The purpose of Stack Overflow is to create questions that others can use, but did your edit really make it easier for people to learn from it? I think not, and it also removes some details that may be important to others and to solving the origional problem.

I don't believe that this edit was needed to clarify the meaning.

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