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Occasionally I see an answer on this site that is basically good, but has a lengthy digression tacked on to it that does nothing to address the question or improve the answer's quality. It might be a rant about a pet peeve, or an attempt to give advice to the OP that kind of exceeds the mandate of the question.

Is it ever OK to simply edit these paragraphs out? This related discussion suggests that you should not drastically change a post's meaning; but removing things not strictly related to the answer seems (potentially) different enough that it could be ok.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related. \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. May 13 '14 at 16:26
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You should probably not edit something like that out unilaterally. As in our related question How do we handle a desire to challenge the frame of a question?, however, an answer like this doesn't have to get a free pass.

If an answer has a correct portion but then spends an inordinate time on something else to where it has an unfavorable signal to noise ratio, downvote it and add a comment. Upvote other answers that make the same point but more concisely. Add one if you need to - this is an exception to the "don't add duplicate answers" rule, it's not a duplicate if it has the same answer without all the extraneous junk. I am also not a fan of answers that spend more time soapboxing than answering the question. This is a SE where we answer questions, and wanting to add your one-page essay on a related topic isn't appropriate. Sometimes people get snookered into voting for the longest answer with the most prominent subheadings, but if we drive a culture of "the most accurate but also most relevant answer wins" we can hopefully drown out the noisy ones.

I will say, however, that the mods may make an exception to extraordinarily long answers. An answer that's more than a page long pushes other valid answers off the page. If most of the content doing that is irrelevant, then we might be moved to take action, feel free and flag answers that seem to fit that criterion.

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No

Edits are intended to be minor changes in keeping with the general tenor and position of the answer. They are not intended to change the answer into something it isn’t, or to align the answer more closely to your own preferences. Add your own answer for that. The answerer deemed that material to be worth including, and if you disagree, that’s what a separate answer is for.

In general, edits to an answer should be things the answerer would agree with. The only exception, in my mind, is when edits are used to eliminate inflammatory language or spam.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that "too minor" is one of the reasons to reject a suggested edit from a <2k user. The guidance on that reject reason is that "suggested edits should be substantive improvements addressing multiple issues in the post." Substantial editing is the norm; minor editing is the exception, reserved for those who have the discernment of a high-rep user. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 12 '14 at 17:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie So is "too drastic," though. And yeah, I did not mean like changing a word or two or correcting spelling, I did mean more substantial than that. Deleting any significant portion of the answer because you don't think it's relevant is too far. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 12 '14 at 17:39
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Maybe

A drastic edit is rarely called for—usually letting someone reap the votes they sow is best. Very rarely though, there will be a good answer buried in a terribly written post, which could be rescued with some significant pruning or rewording that remains faithful to the original.

How can you tell the difference? Well, you can't. What does and doesn't justify a drastic edit is always going to be a judgement call. On the one hand we are curators of the best solutions the internet has to offer for a problem, and we can fulfil that with our editing powers. On the other hand it's not our reputation attached to it, so it behooves us to exercise a significant degree of restraint when we use our edit privileges. Somewhere in the very large gulf between those two motives is where that judgement comes in.

One heuristic I use sometimes is: will the author thank me? If I'm going to improve it enough, and respect its intent and message enough, that the author will be grateful for a heavy editorial hand, then I'll go ahead with the drastic edit. If there's any doubt, if there's a notable chance they'll revert or be insulted by the changes, then editing is futile. This heuristic rules out almost all these kinds of edits, but it does leave the rare editing opportunity where it is likely to do a lot of good.

So: walk gently, but remember that you're carrying a big editing stick for a reason. Ignoring or indulging either extreme is suboptimal for the site.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, I intended edit to refer only to the process of removing some section, not rewording what someone has written. \$\endgroup\$ – starwed May 12 '14 at 4:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @starwed I find this reasoning covers that case ok, at least in my own head. If the author is going to look at the result and say, "Woah, that is actually better," then removing stuff is going to work. If they're just going to object though, it's best left to downvotes. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 12 '14 at 4:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @starwed the difficulty comes when the author of the answer feels that the section you want to remove is essential to the answer. That tends to lead to all sorts of problems with arguing in comments etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs May 12 '14 at 8:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Phil Possible solution: don't argue in the comments. Just say, "Okay. I misunderstood your goals with this answer. Please revert to a version you like more." And then let them reap the votes that they've sown, either way. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P May 12 '14 at 14:05

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