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The question Is it ok to drastically edit another's answers? looks like a duplicate based on its title, but it's content is about editing things out of answers rather than the reverse.

Recently I've been seeing some fairly large edits made to answers. I'm concerned that some of them might be a little too much of an edit to make without any input from the person who wrote the answer.

For example, this edit looks to me as if it should really have been an answer of its own. This series of edits was very much in keeping with the original intent of the post, but nonetheless a large change.

Personally, if I'd been one of the reviewers who looked at these edit suggestions, I would have voted to reject. The fact that they were accepted suggests that my idea of what counts as drastic might be off the mark, so:

How drastic is too drastic?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Mea culpa as reviewer for the second one. I was thinking of skip or disapprove and instead of going back to it, let it go. I think the point you raise is a good one, and am glad you brought this up. Learning is good. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 19 '15 at 13:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I knew, somehow, before I clicked that second example link, exactly what it was going to.... The first example, though, I approved because it was in the same vein as existing information. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Aug 20 '15 at 7:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a way in the back-end to see stats on edits? Distribution of # of characters edited/% of post edited, in particular? If 95% of edits consist of fewer than X chars/Y %, then perhaps a targeted look at the large 5% could be helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 26 '15 at 3:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 data.stackexchange.com is your friend for this sort of thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 26 '15 at 3:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman wow. Do you know if all edits are technically 'suggested edits' (with the auto-approval of high-rep and self edits)? The reason I ask is that I see a table with lots of SuggestedEdit fields, but nothing on Edits. Else, is there a general SE help where I could submit that question? (I feel super-stupid asking 'where do I ask a question,' but I can't find anything akin to a Q&A or a meta attached to the data explorer.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 26 '15 at 3:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I think you want the PostHistory table. For asking questions about data.SE, the data.SE help page says to ask on Meta Stack Exchange. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 26 '15 at 3:46
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There is no hard and fast rule.

In general your edits shouldn't change the nature of the answer - if you're changing a yes to a no, that's bad. But adding citations, etc., even extensively, doesn't do that. Note we've also had things like 5e's basic/phb/errata release progression that makes going back and including newer quotes/information very valuable, and really I'd rather have an existing answer get a new backing quote than have someone spawn a new answer that has the same line of reasoning plus the new backing quote. There's no value in that. We edit to add info, to add clarification from comments so comments can be deleted, to copyedit... Whatever seems like it's improving the answer, while maintaining the point of the answer.

If your edits are drastic enough that the poster rolls them back, or reviewers find it inappropriate, then it was too much. That's really it. But there's no line of "well if you've added more than 10% more volume to the answer then it's bad" sort of guideline. If it's better yes, if it's worse no.

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From what I've seen, drastic changes to answers like the ones you've presented should be instead added as their own answer, instead of amending someone else's answer. If someone else was short, and to the point; and you edited their syntax to be long and drawn out with explanations for each point, you should have instead of editing it likely made your own answer to the question.

Editing should keep in line with the original question or answer, making minor changes to syntax to better get the point across, or to correct spelling or grammar problems. Anything really drastic should be a new answer entirely.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I got a lot of help in my first few answers on formatting, visual presentation, and questions, from folks more familiar with the tools here. Is moving things around more a bad idea than a good one when the querent just hasn't organized the info very well? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 19 '15 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I tend to do that a lot. IMO, when moving things around makes the question or answer more readable/accessible (on as objective a scale as you can get with formatting), I say go for it. Edits are for making posts better, and "reader experience" is part of a good post. \$\endgroup\$ – MrLemon Aug 19 '15 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think "Anything really drastic should be a new answer entirely" is a very informative answer to "how drastic is too drastic?" Especially to an inexperienced user like me (the example being held up). \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 22 '15 at 13:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I didn't mean to single you out - it's a general pattern I've been noticing lately. Those 2 were just the first examples I could find. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 23 '15 at 6:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman no offense taken, and I hope my answer doesn't come across as defensive. I'm thinking of it as hopefully a useful case-study: 'these edits struck me as overly-impactful' 'I'm new and made the posts: here's how I approached it.' I assume everyone here (with more than 10 rep) is dedicated to the proposition that this can incrementally and iteratively become the highest-quality repository of practical RPG info, and trust that everyone else assumes the same of me and is forgiving of my inevitable newbie-blunders. All good, and all for the betterment of rpgSE =) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 23 '15 at 13:36
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TL;DR: Drasticness cannot be the sole disqualifier of an edit. Make edits that you think improve an answer's correctness and completeness, even if drastic. Expect some to get re-edited or rolled back. Assume good faith and don't get your nose out of joint.

As the perpetrator of both and a relatively new member, I hope I've got some valuable perspective to add:

I see the two examples as representative of two categories of large1 edits: explaining and completing2. Both strive toward what I think is this site's hallmark: providing correct and complete answers to well-posed questions.

Explaining

Short answers obviously can be correct. And, as this is a site striving to be an authoritative source for correct answers to well-posed questions, for many visitors a one-liner is perfectly-suited to their needs: "if it's been up-voted on SE, that's enough for me!"

But some questions--perhaps most?--are requiring of explanation and references to common material. For the user who comes not with the question "can a monk..." but with the real question "how do I know the Monk can target two..." or "where can I point a monk 2/rules-lawer 30 to do his own research first", the explanation is the completion.

Clearly I thought the first example could use some explaining, as the sticky point for someone in doubt--in my mind--was "when the monk makes the bonus attack is it some continuation of the previous attack, or a brand new attack action in its own right?"

But I've violated what probably should be a style guideline: answer first, explain second. The way I've edited it the argument builds to the answer, rather than answer-with-supporting-explanation.3

Completing

In the second case the question specifically asked for variance among editions. The accepted answer compared two versions. Most other answers each addressed one, and none addressed the 5e situation. So should 5e information spawn a new answer, or be folded in to the accepted answer? Even recognizing that addition of 5e increased the accepted answer's length by 50%, it seems to me that 'accepted answer with three versions' is better than 'accepted with two versions, filter through the other six4 answers to find any other versions you're looking for.'

From there it's an obvious leap to pull in SSD's 2e information and a distilled version--in keeping with the answer's style--of the 3.5 info. (Again: I botched that. Mea maxima culpa.) But assume I had done it correctly: we'd have an accepted answer with editions 2-5 represented, at triple the length of the previous revision. Is that better or worse?

Here's how I see the situation: there's a lot of different, correct, useful information dispersed among many answers: pull it all together. perhaps this is the situation where we need a community wiki, rather than 'an answer?' I don't know enough about it to know the propriety, or even how it gets done.5

So, 'When to Edit?'

The edit help itself, particularly at "When should I edit posts?" strikes me as... conflicting, at best. Let's keep in mind the example of adding 5e info to the second question: is that edit "substantial and [leaving] the post better than you found it," or does that edit run afoul of the bullet points, all of which are much-more minor that the edit I made6?

Two frameworks that have guided some of my thinking are WP:BOLD and WP:OWNER. I know we're not Wikipedia. But we're a knowledge and information site, and ignoring the precedents and culture of the English-speaking world's dominant information site can only be harmful.7

Factors in Support of: Be Bold, No Ownership

  • the edit button prominently at the bottom of each post
  • the assurance that edits from new users will be reviewed, encouraging even the least-reputable among us to attempt edits
  • the existence of a revision history guarantees edits can be thoroughly reviewed, including to the level of moderator roll-back
  • edits are noted in the by-line, encouraging readers to look at revision history
  • edits move a post up in the "active" listing, further encouraging review of the edit
  • original authors may not be responsive, or even active

Factors Opposing: Be Bold, No Ownership

  • the original author receives permanent by-line
  • the original author receives all reputation that will ever accrue to a post
  • WP's 'no ownership' policy usually comes into play not in situations like this, but with a much-later user deciding "I'll assume the (sole) responsibility for curating the edits to this article." (Although maybe it appears that's what I did... I didn't intend that.)
  • a highly reputable user--miniman--explicitly: "with drastic edits like the ones you made to this answer you should ask the person who wrote it first." (8/19/15 1511 comment on second example)

Conclusion

Despite the opposition factors, I think the safeguards and site infrastructure argue for a permissive attitude toward even large edits. I don't want to end up with 'edit-wars,' but I think our ideal should be correct and complete.


Footnotes

  1. I say 'large' rather than 'drastic' as I think the question of "what makes an edit drastic is a matter of personal judgment. As evidenced by the various approvals/rejections/rollbacks of the two in question.

  2. Obviously, the second example is badly polluted by the gross error I made in reading the 3.5 situation. But I think it's clear--especially looking at the revision history linked--that my intent was to flesh out the accepted answer.

  3. In part the structure flowed from a desire not to change the ordering of the original material, in part it's just my poor style.

  4. As adding a 5e answer would have brought the total to seven.

  5. Though if you, Dear Reader, do think that's the solution please edit the answer's line to make 'wiki' a suggestion rather than question and remove this footnote! Improve the answer!

  6. To be sure, one bullet point mentions making updates, but prefaced by "minor mistakes"--certainly the feel I get from the bullet points is "keep it small, buddy!"

  7. I'm not saying we need adopt any of that site's policies, but we should absolutely be informed by them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you think an answer is incorrect, then you give your own answer. Don't edit, as in this instance its not how the site is supposed to work \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Aug 22 '15 at 13:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wibbs but what about when I think an answer is minimally-correct but incomplete, as occurred in both of these instances? Is your contention that in the second example simply concatenating everyone else's differing-version work into my own post (90% block-quotes of other answers) would have been better than adding to the accepted answer? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 22 '15 at 13:59

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