# 'We do not enforce style' - how to react to discrepancies between policy and reality?

I've seen it repeatedly Officially Declared that 'we' do not enforce styles, and do not do trivial changes that have zero effect on clarity. And yet in practice, over the course of my stay here, I have repeatedly seen both my and other people's questions edited in exactly this 'not done' manner. (On a related note, sometimes it's not quite the same thing as a style edit, but a 'fixing' of an 'error' without checking whether there is an error in the first place.)

Examples (details altered to protect the accused while the jury is out):

• 'Fixing' the style from one style guide's to another's, such as with commas, quotes, capitalisation, pronoun usage, spelling choices, etc.
• Making rewrites based on whether one follows a person-first style or don't-hide-the-adjective style ('fixing' the post to differ from the authorial style).
• Changing 'clip' to 'magazine' (or vice versa) while not being an expert on weapons, thus not knowing that the two are different things and that either may or may not be correct depending on intended meaning, and not checking the definitions before doing such a 'fix'.
• Systematically changing others' title styles to that of a Question Title even though officially it is permitted to post any clear titles even if they're not phrased as a question.

I've been unsure how to react to that.

I think that just ignoring it and saying 'this is no big deal' will mean that the 'policy' has no power at all, as the people who ignore the policy will get the last word. I.e. in practice styles will be softly enforced by the most persistent editors who ignore the policy. It's also easy to get an incorrect impression of what policy is if high-rep and diamond users are consistently spotted performing actions that are the opposite of policy.

When it's my question, obviously I can keep reverting the edit, though it's frustrating that there's no way to revert only parts of an edit and keep the useful changes, or at least to revert a specific edit when several have been made. Though even that has the downsides of (a) needing to constantly watch for Style Warriors and (b) de facto becoming a participant in an Edit War, even if one on home turf.

When it's someone else's question, participating in an edit war on someone else's behalf seems even less appropriate. But doing nothing also means the poor newbie is likely to get an impression of Doing Things Wrong and trying to conform to the style warriors' preferences in the future.

I tried bringing up the edit's necessity or lack thereof in comments, only to have it brushed off, left as-is, and then seeing the same sorts of style edits happen again but with other posts of other people. So in practice it seems commenting does nothing to prevent such edits.

Should personal style preference enforcement be reported somehow? (I don't recall spotting an edit report button.) Or should something else be done?

• This is how to react! When site behavior doesn't match policies, we use meta to figure out whether/how behavior, policy, or both, need to change. And reporting the mismatch is the necessary first step, so thank you! – BESW Jan 28 '19 at 11:46
• Related history: standardization edits; citation edits; "bump" edits; inverted comma edits; rejected edits. – BESW Jan 28 '19 at 11:55
• "When it's someone else's question, participating in an edit war on someone else's behalf seems even less appropriate." - I'd agree with this as I think you are jumping to conclusions about the inaction of newbies. If the editor your not keen on edits my question, inaction on my part doesn't mean I'm waiting for someone else to come in and save the day, it could just be I'm equally happy with it or just don't care enough to change it back. Please don't get into edit wars on my questions, I may be new but I'm perfectly capable of looking after myself! – RyanfaeScotland Jan 28 '19 at 13:09
• @BESW Reading through some of your links only strengthened my conviction that this is a pattern that should be discussed in detail with the mod team. – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Jan 28 '19 at 13:12
• Agreed, it's worth re-examining carefully. However, I think it's important to remember that a living community never rests. Didactic edits are probably a recurring quality that will never be eradicated; rather it's something we'll review semi-regularly, with the goal of minimizing harm, forever. Thank you again for spurring this iteration of the process! – BESW Jan 28 '19 at 13:21
• RE: "[S]eeing the same sorts of style edits happen again but but [sic] with other posts…" I considered editing this question to fix that, but I figured that'd be in poor taste. :-) However, with that in mind, can an example or two—not necessarily actual ones—of the kinds of minor edits that you've been experiencing be included with this question? – Hey I Can Chan Jan 28 '19 at 14:38
• @HeyICanChan. Fixed. And a genuine, unambiguous improvement would not be in bad taste. As for examples - some are already given in the comment links. – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Jan 28 '19 at 15:04
• Those, however, are BESW's links not yours. It's often useful—especially when there's a gripe like yours or like mine—to have examples of what's been found personally offensive… if for no other reason than so you can link to this question if it happens again. I mean, it's possible that the minor edits are due to a misunderstanding of American English versus British English, for example. (Although, to be fair, none of us 'mericans have edited—yet!—the single quotation marks to double quotation marks in this question's title!) – Hey I Can Chan Jan 28 '19 at 15:15
• Just as a note: some of our most active users (and some of the most prolific editors) hang out in Role-playing Games Chat, so you may be able to make that user aware of their error in chat. I know if such was pointed out to me I would be very appreciative. – Rubiksmoose Jan 28 '19 at 15:57
• Seriously, without any examples, readers really don't know what edits are okay with you and what edits aren't. Readers are left using their own judgment… and that's obviously insufficient. – Hey I Can Chan Jan 28 '19 at 17:13
• Point of order though is this meta is not about the edits themselves, but what to do in this situation when one is seeing a pattern of problematic personal style edits. At that point linking the actual problem edits for discussion isn't important and would be a distraction. Now, that could be done in a follow up meta specifically about the edits, which is one of the courses of action available to people in this situation. – doppelgreener Jan 28 '19 at 17:49
• @doppelgreener Am I just fortunate that I don't know what a pattern of problematic personal style edits looks like? – Hey I Can Chan Jan 28 '19 at 18:16
• @HeyICanChan Probably! Mods have noticed and attended to these patterns in the past; we notice it because it's our business and people raise flags out of concern or complaint. – doppelgreener Jan 28 '19 at 18:23
• Vehemently agreed that this needs to be addressed. There's a reason for the policy. Edits on style should be the editor's responsibility to bring up in a chat, NOT the OP's responsibility to defend the reversion thereof. – Nanban Jim Feb 4 '19 at 21:35
• Can I have some examples? I can understand everything better through examples. – András Jun 16 '19 at 6:08

This policy isn't just lip service and does have power. Our fellow community members should be enforcing it, and the diamond moderators can and will enforce it as well, as we have done in the past. However we all can only act on what we see happening and we can't notice everything.

If you see one-off edits that change style in a way you're not comfortable with, please roll back or revise accordingly to restore your style preferences. If you are seeing repeated patterns—and it sounds like you are—please do raise attention to it: either mention it here on meta or raise a moderator attention flag on the post explaining the situation. In either case, indicate which revisions were of concern to you such as by mentioning either the revision number (“revision 3”) or the nature of the edit (“someome removed all my headings”) or the editor (“doppelgreener's revision”).

If the pattern is about a specific user's behaviour patterns, please err on using a flag. The diamond team will investigate discreetly. You may raise one flag on each post, or less flags than that and include links to posts, whatever you're comfortable with that gets across the necessary information. If there's a lot, raise just one flag and let us know you want to talk with us about this and we can open a private moderator-only communication channel to let you communicate to us what's going on. If the pattern you're noticing is on other peoples' posts as well you may flag and report those just the same.

If you're experiencing a pattern of being brushed off from users (or one particular user) please flag that too—we all should be listening to peoples' concerns and adjusting our behaviour, not brushing them off.

When it's my question, obviously I can keep reverting the edit, though it's frustrating that there's no way to revert only parts of an edit and keep the useful changes, or at least to revert a specific edit when several have been made. Though even that has the downsides of (a) needing to constantly watch for Style Warriors and (b) de facto becoming a participant in an Edit War, even if one on home turf.

If you are experiencing an edit war or continuously having to revert changes, please raise a moderator attention flag. If necessary we'll be telling someone to knock it off. Original authors of a post always win edit wars unless the edit genuinely improves clarity, in which case the improvement of clarity wins. Some things we might call style changes also improve clarity (e.g. we prefer people use headings appropriately) but we keep them because they improve clarity, not because we prefer one style over another.

• At this point of course it's obvious that I'm the one who called the mods, so may as well post here: yes, I would like to join a private chat to discuss such patterns I spotted. – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Jan 28 '19 at 13:01
• @vicky_molokh OK, certainly. We'll reach out soon to create that private chat and you should get an inbox notification when it's created. – doppelgreener Jan 28 '19 at 13:35

So on the one hand, we don't enforce style and don't really approve of mass edits making small changes.

On the other hand, you should also ask yourself what this hurts. Sure, sometimes someone does it wrong. But I know that I personally don't bother much with whether I use a header level instead of bold text, or italicize a magic item name even though that's pretty standard. If someone edits my post to do those things, what skin off my nose is it? I get a notification saying "someone edited your stuff", I look at it, if they didn't jack it up I move along. If someone out there really, really cares about my incorrect use of a semicolon, why would I object to the change?

We'll push back against people making chronic and trivial changes (it bumps questions pointlessly, mainly) but I think you need to get more into the spirit of the shared content here. Someone making an edit doesn't mean you were wrong and must always do different in the future. That's an expectation you are putting on it that is harmful.

Now, incorrect edits are a different thing. Those, revert, complain about in comment, bring to us if there's a pattern. I feel like you're conflating two issues though - wrong edits and just plain small grammar edits. The first is bad, the second is just irritating if too numerous, a whole different scope of problem.

• What about incorrect small grammar edits? I know it sounds facetious, but if somebody cares enough about non-content features of a post to edit and gets it wrong, should we ignore the trivial mistake (and leave OP feeling bruised unjustifiably) or re-edit (and possibly start an edit war)? – Tim Lymington Feb 4 '19 at 21:53
• Roll back things that are wrong. Don’t panic about edit wars. Escalate if they persist. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 4 '19 at 22:53
• It would appear that this is something that isn't always embraced: ... get more into the spirit of the shared content here I am glad to see that at least one of the diamond mods endorsed this position explicitly. I had posted something similar in part of an answer on a related topic about a diamond mod editing this user's question. – KorvinStarmast Jun 14 '19 at 18:41

Regarding:

'Fixing' the style from one style guide's to another's, such as with commas, quotes, capitalisation, pronoun usage, spelling choices, etc.

It is difficult to take a definitive position on this statement.

Sometimes those things are a matter of style, but sometimes there are clearly correct/incorrect usages. It is never correct to refer to NASA as "Nasa". On the other hand, capitalizing the sentence following a colon is entirely optional.

Sometimes style dovetails into clarity; e.g., some sentences become ambiguous without an Oxford comma. Maine had a lawsuit about overtime pay a few years ago because of this, which made grammar a million-dollar issue.