The reason behind this meta question stems from this question.

The question as asked by the OP was rather poor by my standards. It was localized and subjective. I voted to close, downvoted, and left commentary.

Subsequently, Knives edited the question significantly. His edit even put words into the OP's mouth. The OP didn't request any assistance with editing.

I saw this, and reverted the entire change because I feel that such a significant edit should be done by the OP, or by another if the OP requested help. I also feel that the putting of words into someone's mouth was completely unnecessary.

Am I out of line here? What guidelines should we have for significant editing of others posts?

I tend to limit myself to grammatical and spelling errors. Occasionally, I'll restructure a sentence or paragraph to remove ambiguity and even less frequently cut out something entirely superfluous.

Here's another example, coincidentally edited by the same person. Here the question is non-trivially altered to make it more appropriate for the site. This I don't have any objections to, but it's not an edit I would make myself on another's question. What are your thoughts for this example?

3 Answers 3


The OP didn't request any assistance with editing.

He didn't request any assistance with closing either... ;-)

When I go to edit a post, I generally have one of two goals in mind:

  1. Correct some minor error (spelling, grammar, formatting, etc.) that, while not actively destructive to the post, may be distracting or misleading to readers.

  2. Correct a problem with how a question was asked (unclear, argumentative, rambling, etc.) that would otherwise prevent it from remaining on the site.

For #1, I generally try to use a light touch (exceptions might include posts where the author is clearly struggling with English).

For #2, I'll often try to determine the intent of the question, and then re-write it in a way that better fits the standards of the site. You might view this as unnecessarily heavy-handed, but my intention is to stop the bleeding: if a question is being down-voted and closed, my first priority should be to forestall this outcome; if I inadvertently step on the author's toes in doing so, that is much easier to correct later on than re-opening would be.

Remember: it takes five people and considerable time to re-open a question; in many cases, closing is effectively the kiss of death, even if the question is later improved. Rolling back an undesired edit takes one click on the part of its author. I see this as reason enough to choose editing over closing when at all possible...

  • There's nothing that prevents someone from asking a new revised question if the original is closed.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 22:36
  • 2
    @hobodave: no, but that just adds to the noise until/unless the original is deleted, and wastes the time of anyone who posted answers to the first instance.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 23:10
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    Good point regarding the prior answerers.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 23:20
  • @Knives: I don't see it your way based on your response here, but Aaronaught's points are rather convincing to me. I'll keep this question open because I'd like to see more feedback, but feel free to revert my revert. I'd leave out the putting words in his mouth part though. :-)
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 23:22
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    @hobodave: I've been on both sides of this argument too many times on SO. I've been thanked for complete re-writes, and demonized for minor tweaks, criticized for closing rather than editing, and criticized for editing rather than closing. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I cut my participation on SO dramatically as a result. So I'll abide by whatever's decided here, but I want to make it clear what my philosophy is up-front: IMHO, editing is one of the most distinctive features, and if it's to be used it should be for the maximum benefit. But whatever we decide, let's be consistent.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 23, 2010 at 0:01
  • 1
    @Knives: Yea, I think I did a bit of projecting. If one of my questions were that significantly altered, I'd be rather annoyed and offended. However, I also don't see myself asking a question needing much in the way of editing besides tags, typos, and grammar mistakes here and there. I think Aaronaught's suggestion to play it by ear based on how an OP reacts to an edit is a good idea. I'll have to put a little more effort into not projecting my thoughts and emotions onto others.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 23, 2010 at 20:24

As someone who once had to fight to keep his questions open (on Stack Overflow, not here), I have always felt that if possible it is always better to edit a question into shape than to close it - even if it means significantly altering it.

Let's not forget that the person who originally asked the question can revert the edit as easily and quickly as you did if they're not happy with the changes. On the other hand, several people are very new to the site and have no idea what the community standards are. Believe it or not, many of them appreciate these edits. I've been thanked several times for substantial edits and, I would imagine, so has Knives.

If the original poster is not happy with the edit - if he feels that it alters the content or tone too much and would rather risk having his question being closed, he can revert it.

One caveat to this is that if somebody does show resistance to having his/her questions edited, the accepted etiquette is to leave them alone and not get into edit wars. We had some nasty edit wars on SO in the past, and I'd prefer not to repeat the experience here. If somebody clearly indicates that they don't want your "help", then take the high road and vote to close if you think the question sucks.

So, dave, I don't think you were out of line, I think you had good and logical reasons to do what you did - but from experience, these communities tend to function better when people take a more relaxed attitude toward editing. Remember, everything has an undo button here, so there's no reason to get upset over something being edited once.

  • I'd like to say that I'm not upset.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 23:04
  • @hobodave: Perhaps a poor choice of words. I didn't necessarily mean upset in an emotional sense - I simply mean that you need not take issue with it.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 23:51

I tend to take the same stance as hobodave with regard to editing, in that I usually restrict myself to spelling/grammar/formatting/typo fixes, but agree with Knives that having editing, even in its more extreme form is usually better than having unclear questions which will detract from their answerability (!). I am happy for people to do what editing they feel is appropriate as long as the intent of the OP is maintained.

If you are unsure about your edit or it is very significant then I think that adding a comment to say that you have edited to make the question clear and letting the OP know that they can revert the changes if they are unhappy is a good idea. Not all users will be aware that they can revert the edits.

It should also be borne in mind that no matter what we do, some people will be put out at any amount of editing and some will not care at all. You will never please all the people all the time.

  • What are your feelings about correcting a user's persistent pattern of error? Two examples of what I mean are one user's usage of "it's" for possession and one user's usage of capitalization for emphasis. The last example in particular concerns me because potential users of Food and Cooking who correlate correct usage to authority might decide, upon seeing so many problematic questions upfront, that authoritative answers will not be found here and elect not to use the site. Even so, I wouldn't want to make a user feel pestered by what might be received as my pedantic editorial changes.
    – Iuls
    Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 13:22

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