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This issue has come up a couple of times, and does not seem to have been resolved, so a meta discussion seems to be in order.

I have noticed since private beta that there are a very large number of edits being made that seem to be primarily based upon the person making the edits deciding that the style of writing other people are using needs to be fixed.

Trivial edits such as changing the order of sentences, removing or changing phrasing that is grammatically correct, if not ideal, and generally imposing style upon other people's posts seemingly abound.

I am concerned that this may make our community seem a bit... unwelcoming. The fact that we allow peer edits can sometimes be difficult for people not familiar with the platform to accept, as it can be easy to see edits as criticism. It is much easier to justify this when there are obvious mistakes that are being fixed.

Changing someone else's post just because you prefer a different order of thoughts is harder to justify, and increases the chances of the original poster taking offense or feeling put upon.

I'm absolutely supportive of making edits to other people's posts for spelling, punctuation, and formatting when there are multiple errors (or even a single error if it is particularly glaring). Changes for style, or drastically re-writing someone else's post because they put an extra punctuation mark, however, seem like overkill.

The Help Page on edit privileges says:

When should I edit posts?

Any time you feel you can make the post better, and are inclined to do so. Editing is encouraged!

Some common reasons to edit are:

  • to fix grammatical or spelling mistakes
  • to clarify the meaning of a post without changing it
  • to correct minor mistakes or add addendums / updates as the post ages
  • to add related resources or hyperlinks

Try to make the post substantively better when you edit, not just change a single character. Tiny, trivial edits are discouraged.

What should the community's position on this be? Where do we draw the line between "make the post substantively better" and "tiny, trivial edits"?

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    And when we do edit a post there is this list on the righthand side margin: How to Edit: ► fix grammatical or spelling errors ► clarify meaning without changing it ► correct minor mistakes ► add related resources or links ► always respect the original author – Esa Paulasto Dec 27 '13 at 7:12
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We should not be going through posts actively looking for opportunities to improve them. Rather, edits to other users' content should only be made when we spot a problem.

If you do see room for improvement that doesn't involve an actual problem (for what constitutes a "problem", see below), you should suggest the change in a comment, and invite the OP to make their own edits if they agree.

Edits to other people's posts should be reserved for:

  • Grammar and spelling mistakes (be certain that they are mistakes, however... not every English-speaking culture spells words exactly the same; e.g. don't change "colour" to "color").
  • Helpful formatting, such as breaking up a "wall of text" into multiple paragraphs, adding bulleted or numeric lists to existing points, or using markup to highlight or emphasize key points or sections (e.g. strategic use of bold, headers, or italics), but only if you believe the lack of such formatting makes the post actively difficult to read, or that important points may get missed by casual skimming.
  • Adding or correcting links and references.
  • Removing portions of content that may reasonably be deemed offensive, off-topic, or "spammy".
  • Incorporating additional information/corrections/updates/clarifications from comments.
  • Tags.

If a post has multiple, significant grammar issues, re-ordering the text may be appropriate if you honestly are having difficulty parsing it as it is currently written (after any spelling/grammar changes).

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    For the most part I would agree, but it is worth noting that SE folks have, from time to time, done editing on the various sites that could be considered stylistic. When English is a second language, this activity could be helpful for the person. – John Cavan Nov 18 '13 at 15:05
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    Agreed. If you're editing for a valid reason anyway and you spot a non-controversial style change you can make then go for it, but edits just for the editor's preferred style should not be approved, and editors need to be careful not to introduce errors. (I rolled back two edits on my own posts recently because the edit made the posts ungrammatical -- not good.) – Monica Cellio Nov 18 '13 at 15:13
  • @JohnCavan I'm not sure what type of stylistic changes you're referring to. A while ago on parenting.se we did a mass edit to update all titles to be phrased as questions. If this is the sort of change you're referring to, I'd suggest that these fall into the category of special circumstances that should include their own meta discussions/announcements. – Beofett Nov 18 '13 at 15:28
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    @Beofett - It was on the photography site. Basically a bunch of question and answer edits to clean them up a bit. It was done by SE folks, and it was meta announced. As I said, I agree with your basic premise. – John Cavan Nov 18 '13 at 15:49
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    I think I would add to remove content that is irrelevant, and specific to the context of the OP but not to the general problem, or confuses the question with its inclusion. IE it does not matter that you are a lawyer that works long days, the Lawyer part can be removed leaving that you work long days. – user9 Nov 18 '13 at 17:45
  • When I edit, I'll usually add missing punctuation (fairly common on sqa.stackexchange due to the large number of people speaking English as their second language), paragraph breaks to clean up "wall of text", code formatting and like. I'll usually also capitalize "i" to "I" and any other missing capitals as well as correct spelling. I don't try to "fix" UK spelling vs American spelling. – Kate Paulk Nov 19 '13 at 12:39
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    I would say that any edit that improves a post or makes it more coherent is a good edit, but be careful with the liberties that you take. Did you have to read that paragraph four times to digest it? Fix it :) Otherwise, if not broken .. well ... :) – Tim Post Nov 19 '13 at 17:05
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I'd say leave style alone. Edit only when

  1. Question title is not a question (make it a question)
  2. Multiple typos in text (fix them)
  3. Clear mistakes in grammar (fix them)
  4. Thanks and signatures in the end (remove)
  5. Fix tags when needed.

Do not edit when it is just one typo. Let trivial grammar mistakes be if there's nothing else to fix too. Don't bother removing those thankyous if there is nothing else to fix too. Don't touch stylistic issues. Respect the OP - even if the post is not quite optimal.

This advice (below) I just noticed today in the righthand side margin:

How to Edit

► fix grammatical or spelling errors
► clarify meaning without changing it
► correct minor mistakes
► add related resources or links
► always respect the original author

It says nothing about editing the style of a post. And I agree with it.

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