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What are the cases when it is considered appropriate to edit someone else's question or answer?

Specifically, I think there's a significant safety risk in the question about scallop preparation. I provided details in the comments and added a warning to the answer. Is that appropriate? (based on answers so far, I've rolled back my edit. See revision history for what I had written)

In addition to that specific question, I'm interested in the more general case of when it's ok / encouraged to edit an answer.

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Reasons to edit:

  • Correct spelling/grammatical errors
  • Insert a unit conversion (i.e. ° F <--> ° C)
  • Clean up formatting
  • Clarify an ambiguous or poorly-phrased question/answer
  • Reverse a downvote (but please use sparingly)
  • Removing inappropriate or offensive content from a valid question/answer (see below)

Do not edit if your intent is to do any of the following:

  • Add your own commentary (use the comments/votes instead)
  • Remove a spam link (use the flags)
  • Significantly alter content or add totally new content (unless Community Wiki)
  • Change British to American spelling, or vice versa
  • Bump the question (unless you also have a legitimate edit to make)
  • Remove a greeting (yes, they're not needed or wanted, but it's rude to edit just for that reason)

(Let's make this the canonical list; please edit this answer to add reasons)

  • Can you explain "reverse a downvote"? I don't understand that one. And thanks for adding this. Beyond the specific question, editing etiquette is quite beyond me at the moment. – yossarian Aug 18 '10 at 14:21
  • @yossarian: If you downvote a question or answer, and it turns out that you were wrong or you change your mind for some other reason, you'll find that the system won't let you undo it unless the answer has been edited since your vote. Some people will ask the author to make some pointless edit, but if you have the rep, it's faster just to do it yourself. It's a weird quirk of the Stack Exchange system - just ignore it if you don't think it applies to you. – Aaronut Aug 18 '10 at 15:16
  • @yossarian: Can you explain which items on this list are unclear, or what it is about the system/etiquette in general you still find confusing? – Aaronut Aug 18 '10 at 15:17
  • that makes sense on the down vote. I didn't mean that anything about your answer was confusing. I meant that the first two answers to my question had addressed the specific question and ignored the general question (when should/n't I edit). Your answer started to address that. – yossarian Aug 18 '10 at 15:45
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    I was going to add this under reasons to edit but I wasn't sure if it is accurate or not. Thoughts? Remove content that is inappropriate or off-topic for SA (e.g., health-related info) @Aaronut – Preston Mar 15 '13 at 15:07
  • Or editing questions which would otherwise be voted to close? – SAJ14SAJ Mar 16 '13 at 20:46
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Under normal circumstances, if the answer wasn't community wiki, I'd ask people not to make edits like that; asserting the incorrectness (or safety problems) of an answer is what downvotes and comments are for.

In this case, the answer was community wiki, so it's a bit of a gray area. I think what you should have done is edit those safety comments into the actual answer (under the heading "safety warning") and explain exactly what the problem is. In this case, you are merely adding information to the answer, not changing anything the OP wrote.

It does look more than a little strange to see a "personal" comment edited into the answer asking readers to refer to a comment. It breaks the normal continuity of questions and answers. So I'm not particularly keen on that exact edit.

In general, anything community wiki is fair game for editing - that's the idea - but try not to put "meta comments" into the edit. Only edit to include or revise information.

  • Ok. I'll update with your suggested edit. If this wasn't a community wiki, what should I have done? My issue is that this is a significant safety concern. Had it been a disagreement on taste / philosophy / something else, I'd have left it at just a downvote. However, in this case, I feel the answer was actively unsafe. As a cooking site, we can potentially have some very dangerous answers here. Do we not want to handle those with more force than just a downvote? – yossarian Aug 14 '10 at 14:47
  • Actually, I just rolled back based on hobodave's comment. – yossarian Aug 14 '10 at 14:53
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I wouldn't have edited the answer directly, as you have done. This issue was touched on here:

does "this will kill you" count as a flag reason?

Down-voting and comments are meant for this purpose. If the author's intent was inadequately conveyed, or poorly worded, you should edit for clarification. That's what I did in Darin's answer referenced in the above link.

Editing someone's answer to say "this is wrong" is bad form. I don't think food safety needs a special case.

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