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On this question on English Language Learners, I read the existing answers and decided that an answer of my own wouldn't add much. The only thing I thought I could add to the most highly upvoted answer was some images. So I did in the form of an edit. (I don't yet have edit privileges on this site).

Ultimately, the edit was rejected with an auto-comment and a custom comment.

  • This edit deviates from the original intent of the post. Even edits that must make drastic changes should strive to preserve the goals of the post's owner.

  • You should first leave a comment to the author of the Q asking his permission. The author has not disappeared, so there's a good chance he will reply.

The former, although I can see where it has come from, I disagree with. I don't think the edits are drastic, and I believe I haven't modified the goals of the post's owner. I'm not too concerned with this rejection.

The latter is more interesting, however. If I think I can make a post better, is there really a need to ask permission to edit? Ignoring the outcome of this particular edit, if I have a link or image that I think can ameliorate a post in the future, should I hold back?


In particular, I found the following information on the Help page. Emphasis mine

Edits are expected to be substantial and to leave the post better than you found it. Common reasons for edits include:

  • ...
  • To add related resources or hyperlinks

Have I misunderstood something here?

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  • 4
    Adding images to a question, that were not provided by the author, isn't an edit that will be approved. Both reasons are legitimate reasons to not approve your edit
    – Ramhound
    Nov 21, 2016 at 13:29
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    @Ramhound, in which case, why? What is special about images (that are otherwise a good edit) which means that they should be declined? Nov 21, 2016 at 13:30
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    Quite simply in this case, it doesn't change the post, it simply adds visuals to the text. In particular, note that I was editing an answer, not a question. I might think differently of a question. Nov 21, 2016 at 13:36
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    @Ramhound I disagree and I think it really depends on the site. Many of the sites I'm on would be fine with someone adding images to an answer. Remember that answers aren't really owned by the original poster... they are community content and editing them is allowed. They aren't magical little entities that are inviolate.
    – Catija
    Nov 21, 2016 at 14:35
  • 5
    @Servy But the OP doesn't get total say in the content. Editing the content is part of the moderation function of the site... and to that end, no, they don't "own" the post.
    – Catija
    Nov 21, 2016 at 15:05
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    @Servy but we're not arguing different things, we just think about it in slightly different ways. This edit did "improve the presentation of the post and help the original author's content be better understood"... which is what I was saying.
    – Catija
    Nov 21, 2016 at 15:09
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    I think I have the same view of ownership as Catija. Although it's my name at the bottom of the post, I don't think of the whole post as "mine", more just acknowledgement of contribution. I consider the post "property" of the SE community after I press "Post". The IP might be mine, but ownership of the post itself I relinquish. Nov 21, 2016 at 15:21
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    @JamesWebster And you're welcome to act as if you don't own your own posts. You're even welcome to legally give up your own ownership rights for your own posts and put them into the public domain. What you aren't allowed to do is act as if anyone else doesn't own their own posts, because they do.
    – Servy
    Nov 21, 2016 at 15:26
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    @JamesWebster I would say no. You're adding your own original content to the post. That is not what suggested edits are for.
    – Servy
    Nov 21, 2016 at 15:36
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    @Servy: I think it is a misunderstanding to say that "it is still their post, that they own [...] as is specifically laid out in the terms of service". My understanding is that users don't own posts on SE; they own content that they have contributed. For example, if someone edits your post to add some information, you don't own that information just because it's in "your" post. Also, any edit changes the content of the post to some degree.
    – user306255
    Nov 23, 2016 at 18:27
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    @Servy, the help pages disagree with you. this site is collaboratively edited, like Wikipedia, If you see something that needs improvement, click edit!, If you are not comfortable with the idea of your contributions being collaboratively edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you. Nov 23, 2016 at 18:35
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    @Servy: Users don't "own" posts. Posts are part of the page on Stack Exchange's site, owned by Stack Exchange. When a user makes a post, the user contributes content to Stack Exchange and licences it. The terms of service state that the user doesn't give up their rights to this content by contributing it to Stack Exchange. They don't say that the user gets control over what content Stack Exchange displays in the post on Stack Exchange's site.
    – user306255
    Nov 23, 2016 at 18:37
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    @Servy: For example, users don't have a right to just delete all of their posts, even if they want to.
    – user306255
    Nov 23, 2016 at 18:38
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    @Servy, I've never come across these particular ownership "rules" (You say rules, I say guidelines). Do you have a reference please? Nov 23, 2016 at 18:44
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    @Servy, that's where I'm referencing, and I haven't seen anything, certainly nothing strict, that claims "posts are the property of the author, don't touch unless broken". I've found quite the opposite, there are plenty of sentences that I've interpreted to mean "Please add your own content if you can make it better". I quote those above. Nov 23, 2016 at 18:49

3 Answers 3

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As a high-rep user on ELL, I would have approved your edit.

One of the reasons is a default reason and the other is a custom one.

The default reason -

This edit deviates from the original intent of the post. Even edits that must make drastic changes should strive to preserve the goals of the post's owner.

Yes, someone who didn't actually look at the images might think this is the case but if you actually see the image and understand it, you can see that it clearly illustrates exactly what the text describes. This was an incorrect rejection.

This reason is for edits that actually change the answer to something very different to what it was. For example, if someone originally said "The answer is A" and you changed it to say "The answer is not A, it's B"... that's bad, and that's a valid rejection using this reason.

The custom reason -

You should first leave a comment to the author of the Q asking his permission. The author has not disappeared, so there's a good chance he will reply.

This is written by someone who doesn't seem to understand one of the purposes of editing and who sees the post as inviolate. There's no need to ask for permission. If the OP doesn't like the edit, it can be rolled back. Simple as pie.

There's no reason to clutter up the comments to ask permission to add images and it's sort of silly to say "Hey, this would be awesome with some illustrative images to make it more easy to understand. Would you consider adding that?"... if you're willing to do it yourself instead.


So, I think you can see from the above that the answer to your question is no. Asking permission is unnecessary. The system is robust and well-built, so it's easy to return posts to earlier versions by rolling them back. Yes, edit reviews are useful for learning what sorts of edits are acceptable but they're not infallible.

I have brought this up on ELL meta and I encourage you to resubmit your edit request. Hopefully it will get better reception on a subsequent submission.

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If you think you can improve an answer (or a question), especially if it makes a substantial improvement, then I would encourage you to edit it.

I see no need to ask permission first. If you are "over-editing" then the frequency of edit rejections and rollbacks will let you know, and you can then adjust your editing behaviour to suit your community.

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Edits, especially suggested edits, are for improving the format of a post, not the content. Say somebody tried to do a numbered list but it didn't work, or they had a giant wall of text and it should be split into paragraphs. Fixing spelling mistakes and grammar issues are also in the realm of suggested edit work. But fixing content is not. The first comment is generated when people reject your edit for this reason. You tried to change the content. Don't do that.

The second comment is from someone who believes (it's not site policy) that if you commented on the post offering to edit in some relevant content, and the post owner commented say "sure, thanks" that the edit would be approved. They aren't necessarily correct, because edit-reviewers don't always read comments, but I suppose anything can happen.

Learn the difference between the two kinds of improving and you'll be less frustrated by the suggested edit process. For content improvement, if it's so minor that you don't think an answer of your own is warranted, this is a great use for comments. I often edit my own answers after people leave extra information in comments.

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    The Help Center says to edit "Any time you feel you can make the post better, and are inclined to do so. [...] Some common reasons to edit [include] - to correct minor mistakes or add addendums / updates as the post ages - to add related resources or hyperlinks". Is this wrong?
    – user306255
    Nov 23, 2016 at 18:33

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