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Should you tell a user that they should change x & y in their post in a comment or just do the edit for them.

For example, quoting an answer I just now stumbled by contained originally:

I think what you are looking for is antijoke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-humor).

with the comment

This could be a good answer if you took some relevant parts of the wiki article (or other places where anti-humor is discussed), and pasted them in a “quote box” to bolster your suggestion.

or a recent case where I referred to a spec and a user complained about me not having linked the spec. I will post my thoughts in an answer, but do feel free to disagree of course, might very well be that there is some official policy in this regard I am not aware of.

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A comment

  • + It's less work
  • + The instructions are easier to understand
  • -  The change isn't always made by the user
  • -  It can feel a bit insulting
  • + Room for discussion

An edit

  • + Instantaneous
  • - It's a bit more work
  • ~ User has to look at the edit himself to learn what he did wrong, thus possibly learning less

So, I am inclined to say that in general edits are the way to go and that comments should only be used for discussions (which may lead to edits).

  • Please edit (Irony++) to be explicit that this applies ONLY to answers. Changing a question can easily eliminate key information that could otherwise be used to solve the problem. – Jonathan Garber May 7 '14 at 16:53
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    An edit can be received as much as an insult as a comment can. – Louis May 7 '14 at 16:56
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    +1 - generally speaking, if I'm sure an edit will align with the user's position and improve the post, I just make it. I use comments when I'm not sure which edit is correct, or if I'm afraid the edit might not match the poster's position. – Jaydles May 7 '14 at 18:01
  • @JonathanGarber: Removing information from both an answer or a question seems to be a bad idea which first needs discussion => comment. Just adding information or links seems to be save in both questions and answers. – David Mulder May 7 '14 at 18:02
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    @Jaydles: Personally agree wholeheartedly and glad to find support :) – David Mulder May 7 '14 at 18:02
  • @Louis: But a comment sounds like "you should do better", whereas an edit is more like "hey, let me help you out". When somebody comes in to fix a grammar mistake I made I am thankful, when somebody writes a comment about it I can't say I feel the same way (not a native speaker btw :P ). – David Mulder May 7 '14 at 18:03
  • Fair enough. Keep in mind, reading through the answer it doesn't really seem to say this; to me it just says "go ahead and edit!" You may wish to be more specific about it being solely about non-material additions to a post. – Jonathan Garber May 7 '14 at 18:06
  • @JonathanGarber: Other posts on meta seem to describe when an edit can be justified. This question was specifically about when to do what when both seem reasonable. If you believe you can make the question clearer do feel free to edit it :D – David Mulder May 7 '14 at 18:08
  • @DavidMulder I guess I usually make edits that are more likely to be contested by the OP than typos. For instance, removing the noise from posts ("thank you", "I'm a newbie", etc.). Some OPs who are not aware of SO's editorial practices are not happy with such edits. – Louis May 7 '14 at 18:10
  • +1 .....just one thing -- edits are only instantaneous when you have 2K+ rep. – Shokhet Nov 30 '14 at 21:53
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It depends on the nature of the change, how experienced & engaged the user is already (can this usefully be a teaching moment?), and how important or urgent you think it is. Some examples:

  • Formatting: Users new to Stack Exchange probably haven't learned our norms and may be new to Markdown. I find it best to fix these things directly and leave a helpful comment about it. If this is a user's first post, that comment is a handy place to point out how to see the revision history, where (I hope) you left a useful checkin comment. If it's an experienced user who doesn't have a track record of bad formatting, I'll just fix it (assume he's on mobile or something like that) and skip the comment.

  • Adding links: If you can do this, please do. If there's a range of possibilities (e.g. you're linking to something that has multiple editions), you can leave a comment saying "I added a link to such-and-such; if you prefer a different one you can [edit] to change it". But if you don't know what the link be, you don't need to take on the burden of searching it out -- just leave a comment asking the author to edit it in.

  • Expanding a link-only answer: this is, especially, where those considerations I mentioned at the beginning come into play. If you're pretty sure this is a drive-by, then that user probably isn't coming back so you should either fix it or leave it depending on how valuable you think it would be and how much work you're willing to do. Personally I flag as NAA and leave a comment asking for a summary or excerpt; even if the author won't do it somebody else might. If it's a user who's shown some engagement on the site (or on the network in general), then I leave a comment asking him to do this and link to an explanation (something on the site's meta, or Your answer is in another castle); I think he'll feel more ownership if he does it himself and it's a way to teach him what we want. If I think it's really important for some reason1, I go ahead and edit.

1 Examples I've seen: author is a celebrity we want to keep; answer is accepted and the author isn't around; the topic is of personal interest to the editor so he's willing to help out 'cause he's reading the linked page anyway.

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If you just edit a user's answer for them, they are unlikely to learn for the future. (As this answer also points out)

If it is a new user (<200 rep), I'll comment and edit. Comment to help them, and edit to help the OP/site. (I also try to avoid NAA/VLQ flags on new users' answers if I can fix with minor edits... but that's really a different discussion)

Other users (>=200 rep), just a comment -- they're more likely to return than those of the former category.


On unanswered questions, I'll generally still add an answer of my own, if it is sufficiently more helpful.

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