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Editing posts to fix mistakes and even add extra information is a great feature of our site. But sometimes we're also tempted to edit posts into the form and style we would have written them in, making changes that are more about personal preference than correctness. Some examples:

  • Typographical preferences (e.g. changing straight quotes to curly quotes)
  • Dialect differences (e.g. changing colour to color)
  • General writing style (e.g. changing grandiloquence to more common vocabulary)

In general, should I make changes like these at all? Should I edit posts making only changes like these? If I'm already correcting something, should I also make changes like these? If I'm adding a new sentence, should I use my style or the original author's?

I know it's impossible to make really specific rules about these things, but I think it's worth trying to get at the spirit of really good editing!

  • If it's happening to others as well, thanks for bringing up this topic...I've been annoyed by that type of editing before: one of my answers was edited down into a coloquial style and then back up into a slightly more formal style than my original. I think I'm going to go ahead and put it back in my original style, which feels good. – Theodore Murdock May 15 '13 at 19:24
  • @TheodoreMurdock You should definitely feel free to roll back edits to your own posts when necessary, or of course edit further to keep good contributions the editor made, since it can be hard to totally preserve style. (And though it doesn't autocomplete for you, you can also @ the editor in a comment and let them know what you thought.) – Cascabel May 15 '13 at 20:26
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My general attitude is that as much of the original style should be preserved as possible. Yes, we're a community-edited site, but at the same time, we make individual contributions. When someone writes a post, they're the ones collecting reputation for it, and their name will always be on it, so they can reasonably expect that it will remain their post - and that includes writing style. Between your preference and the author's, theirs naturally comes first. Of course, if the original author used definitely inconsistent style, like a mix of quoting styles, editing for consistency is fine.

Of course, if something's actually wrong, edit away; leaving out capitalization and punctuation is bad grammar, not a writing style choice. If a post is so bad that it needs complete rewriting, there obviously won't be much to preserve. But if you're doing anything short of that, don't make unnecessary changes. Avoid making changes based on personal style preferences even when you're already editing, and definitely don't edit just for the sake of these changes.

When possible, also try to keep consistent style when you're adding to a post. No one expects you to be able to mimic the OP perfectly, but hey, if you're adding a sentence or two to an obviously British English post, you may as well write "colour" instead of "color". Consistency makes us all happy.

And one more less fuzzy rule: if the original author rolls back a stylistic change, don't get into an edit war. I don't think I've seen this here as much as on StackOverflow, but it's good to keep in mind!

Another way of looking at all of this: edits should make a post better, not turn it to something equally good that you happen to prefer. Keep this in mind when editing, but also when reviewing suggested edits - if an edit is just a style change, not an improvement, it's fine to reject it!

  • Leaving out punctuation can be a writing style- but I don't want any of our posts here to start looking like e e cummings poetry. – Sobachatina May 2 '13 at 19:36
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    Yeah, I once rejected a copy-edit to one of my posts because they changed about 15 instances of "aluminum" to "aluminium" and said in the comment that they were fixing my spelling... Not all of us live in the UK :-) I don't change colour back to color! – SAJ14SAJ May 2 '13 at 21:29
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    I also agree with @Sobachatina that the style should be good basic "business writing". Proper sentence structure and standard punctuation, as a courtesy to the readers. AND NO ALL CAPS! :-) – SAJ14SAJ May 2 '13 at 21:29
  • I was trying to avoid discussion of precisely what is good writing style - I think we all agree that we're looking for accepted spelling/grammar, not e e ecummings, but it's not worth debating (especially here) over specific borderline things. – Cascabel May 2 '13 at 22:45
  • As well, remember that in general, editing only for grammar and typos is "too minor" (unless the post is close to unreadable). On the other hand, you can improve the post considering grammar and typos when you do another more important edit as well. (AFAIK this is the general SE policy.) – yo' May 15 '13 at 12:56
  • @tohecz No, you're substantially exaggerating the general policy. Edits can be too minor, but editing for spelling/typos and grammar is one of the main purposes of editing, and the post doesn't have to be close to unreadable for that edit to be a significant improvement. So use common sense: make those fixes when they're a significant improvement, and as long as you're doing it, improve other things too. The suggested edits UI says "make them substantial" - not "make them about things other than fixing mistakes". – Cascabel May 15 '13 at 14:35

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