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I'm assuming that other people crossing that 1k rep line may be wondering the same thing, but maybe I'm alone on this. What type of editing best helps the community? When is a good time to edit, and when is it better to just leave it alone?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think its a good time to review this post. \$\endgroup\$ – anon186 Nov 6 '10 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good idea. I've added some more links to SO blog posts making rulings on editing behavior. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Nov 7 '10 at 3:42
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There was a big blowup on Stack Exchange over what was called The Edit Wars.

From that article, here's what they recommend in regards to editing.

  1. As it says in the faq: if you aren’t comfortable with the community editing your posts, Stack Overflow may not be the right website for you. What we do here is edit posts, together, to make them better and clearer. If you think that’s crazy talk and we’re all nuts, that’s fine. Like I said: there are millions of existing traditional discussion forums on the internet. We’re trying to do something different and perhaps more experimental here, so if you’re not tolerant of that, posting here is probably .. not advisable. I don’t like to see people go, but sometimes it’s just not a good fit.

  2. As it says on the sidebar of every edit page, here’s what makes up good editing practice as we see it on Stack Overflow:

    • Fix grammatical or spelling errors.
    • Clarify meaning without changing it.
    • Correct minor mistakes.
    • Add related resources or links.
    • Always respect the original author.
  3. Editing is welcomed and encouraged. However, if the author of the post is resistant to your editing changes, even a perfectly legitimate edit based on the above rules, be the bigger man (or woman) and let them have it their way. Our goal here is not to cause friction between users, or to make everything perfect overnight. All we aim to do is gradually clean up and improve questions and answers together. When in doubt, just move on! There will be plenty of other posts and other edits you can make. In time, that reluctant author will learn how Stack Overflow works.

  4. Remember, we’re all adults here .. in theory. Please try to resolve edit disputes through simple communication, hopefully the kind that doesn’t involve being rude to your fellow developers. It says “Be Nice” in the faq for a reason. However, if you’ve tried to work it out and you’re still at an impasse, email us! We will happily mediate and help resolve disputes.

The Edit War post was followed up by the "In Defense Of Editing" post, my summary of which is "sure, edit, but don't be a dick about it." Some people take umbrage at it and being "right" is not a defense for being "rude." If you find yourself chronically editing every post that comes in - you will probably find me personally unsympathetic to you when someone complains. Note that the SE overlords agree with this in their even-later blog post, "A Day In The Penalty Box", where being a jerk about edits is a suspendable offense.

But other than that, let's definitely fix up questions and answers where applicable!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the added link. \$\endgroup\$ – yhw42 Nov 8 '10 at 6:06
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As someone who has had a couple of my posts edited, I can say that I appreciated people with better spelling and grammar correcting me.

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There is one kind of edit I've seen recently that I find problematic. I think title edits are being done too much, and too unnecessarily, and without improving them substantially.

Questions titles are just that: titles. Titles don't need to be full sentences. In fact, questions in English require a lot of grammatical baggage to make them properly formed sentences, which obscures the actual subject of the question more often than not.

Most of the title-edit sprees that I've seen end up not only robbing the title of the distinctness that the OP put into the title, but also make scanning them on the front page just that much harder. The sameness that has been added to question titles recently just isn't an improvement.

I propose that we cool down on the title editing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I know you probably don't want to pick on any example in particular, but without some kind of example, this doesn't convey very much to me. Maybe you could add a fictitious one? \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 21 '10 at 19:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dave Things like "Ways to Frob the 4th edition Bazinator" have been getting changed to "How can I frob the Bazinator, in Q&T 4th edition?" Is that a good fictitious example? If it makes the answer clearer, I'll add it. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 22 '10 at 0:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, yes I see what you mean now. I would prefer questions to actually be questions (sometimes they look more like statements) but this level of fiddling probably isn't good. I'm actually an editor in my day job, so maybe it's as well I read your post before I got to 1000! \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Nov 24 '10 at 23:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think I created some of the edits you are calling out. If you see any edits I've made that you disagree with, please roll them back and let me know why. I want to get better at editing and I've been impressed with your editing skills! \$\endgroup\$ – yhw42 Dec 4 '10 at 19:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @yhw42 I actually don't remember whose those were now, but I don't think they were yours… In any case, it seems to have settled down somewhat since our high-rep users have gotten used to having those permissions. And thank-you! My Rod of the Editor was forged in the lava-hot fires of Mount Wikipedia. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 4 '10 at 22:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ amusingly, this came up again recently and I also took your position versus Joel... meta.stackexchange.com/questions/99185/… \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Atwood Aug 27 '11 at 6:25
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You can also encourage the original poster to improve their question. A simple comment along the lines of "Hey! That's a nice question, but you've got some spelling and mistakes and people will take you more seriously if you get it right!" would help newcomers realize their posts are read and being held to a high standard.

I would add that edits should be meaningful and substantive. If you are going to take the time to make changes to fix grammar and spelling, please look over the entire question.

As a sidenote (in case you haven't read "What is a Community Wiki"): a question whose body is edited by more than 5 people gets automatically turned into a community wiki.

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    \$\begingroup\$ hmm, I think taking action with an edit (since you wrote this, we support suggested edits too) is more effective than a comment. Which could seem a tad naggy. Deeds Not Words! \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Atwood Aug 27 '11 at 6:25
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Editing is, I think first of all a copy editing job here, so the “Five Cs” that summarize the copy editor's job should be followed. Theres are to make the copy (i) clear, (ii) correct, (iii) concise, (iv) comprehensible, and (v) consistent; that is: make it say what it means, and mean what it says.

I'm not a stickler (obviously for grammar, style and punctuation), but I think a few core assumptions fall out of this idea that we should use editing to:

  • correct spelling
  • Ensure consistently used terminology
  • Make the post clearer or more effective.
  • Make the question or answer timeless (i.e. remove date driven material when the date no longer matters (like an answer about essentials that assumes you couldn't get essentials yet).
  • Make the post clearer or more effective.
  • Linking to other resources related to the post.

Ideally people who question will police their questions and those who answer will do the same. But failing that it does fall to everyone who can to ensure a high degree of consistency. SE is a lot about the answers having repeat value, and to have repeat value, we have to ensure judicious editing happens from the community.

SE is meant to be more wiki than discussion forum, so always keep that in mind when editing.

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