Heavy provisional edits that try to be faithful to the original question are warranted if the author is asked if they approve. Often, it is best done only after the question is already closed.
What happened here wasn’t helpful — the intervention caused more harm than good:
- It wasn’t closed, so justification for an overhaul to make it reopenable didn’t exist yet.
- The 3 existing close votes were for it being unclear — except when it’s a formatting and spelling issue or similar problems, edits by non-authors can’t fix clarity problems. That means the edit wasn’t even justified as preventative against further “unclear” close votes — and it didn’t prevent them.
- The author was not asked if the edits reflected their problem and continued to be useful to them. This is another reason to wait to do an overhauling edit until the question is closed: it means there is a pause during which the edit can be made and feedback can come from the author.
- The author did not approve of the changes and wrote an angry answer about it, and tried to fix the problem by putting the removed material into an answer. This answer had to be removed by mods, further complicating the situation and requiring explanation and diplomacy to try to head off an escalation from a frustrated user unfamiliar with how the site works.
A teaching moment was missed here, a question thrown into turbulence, and the hold process was interfered with by unrelated changes that didn’t at all affect the hold vote outcome. The question had not been clarified, the hold voters’ votes lost in a reopen that was done based on a now-obsolete revision, and the only person who can provide clarifications is busy being angry and diverted away from providing the requested information.
How to overhaul a question
A measured, patient, and collaborative approach to overhauls has worked for me for years. It involves not doing anything unless sure, not worrying about preventing close votes, and explicitly inviting the post’s author into the iterative, collaborative process that SE uses to revise questions. It focuses on improving and least change, reserving drastic change only for where it’s needed to polish the core of the question and raise it up above noise. It’s about making a question a better expression of its true self. It reserves edits to make it suitable for RPG.se’s topic rules only for when the change is superficial and leaves the heart of the problem unchanged
As with most guidelines and methods, there are always exceptions, but below is the general approach that fulfills the above principles.
Rule zero in overhauling a question: Have patience. Haste makes waste. Then:
- Understand the underlying problem first. If you’re not sure, stop.
- If there are close votes, consider whether the overhaul can be done faithfully while addressing the concerns of the close votes. If unsure, stop.
- Edit with an eye to expressing the problem faithfully and clearly. If making a question on-topic can’t be done without remaining useful to the problem confidently identified in (1), stop.
When done editing, immediately leave a comment saying you’ve overhauled and asking whether it accurately represents their problem.
Ideally this includes five elements: 1) that you’ve overhauled the question to 2) fix <topic problem here>, and 3) asking whether the question is still true and useful with 4) a note that if not they can roll it back including 5) a link to the post’s edit history.
This measured, patient, and faithful approach had polished many questions at RPG.se over the years. It’s tested and successful, avoids alienating askers, and gently draws them into how the site works with a positive experience.