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When reading an answer to a recent question, I felt that the content of the question was good, but the tone (and commentary) of the question seemed negative, verging on personal criticism. I didn't want to flag the answer, because it makes some good points, and because I thought it fell on the right side of the line between good and bad intentions. But I also worried (especially as a new user) that making an edit simply for tone would be inappropriate, or risk falling outside the editing guidelines:

How to Edit

...

clarify meaning without changing it

...

always respect the original author

Where would an edit which simply seeks to remove a tone which comes across as unfairly negative and critically ad hominem of the question's author, without actually improving the substantial content of the question in any way, fall within our guidelines?

(For full context as requested by comments and answers below, this was the original text of the answer which led to me ask this question. I did decide to submit an edit, which was accepted. I was hoping for discussion or advice about the general case of borderline examples of this type. Thanks for the input on improving this question everyone.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget that if you feel a comment or answer is sufficiently unfriendly that it falls afoul of the Code of Conduct you can flag it as rude/abusive, too. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jun 7 at 8:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer thank you, yes, I've edited my question to better explain why I didn't. Good point. \$\endgroup\$ – Johnny Jun 7 at 11:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ To clear up what might be a misconception, too - flagging a comment or post doesn't necessarily mean "this needs to be deleted". It means it needs to be looked at - flags are primarily a tool for bringing things to the attention of a moderator. It would be an appropriate moderator response to edit the post to remove the problem or to comment themselves advising the user to moderate their tone. Don't be concerned that a flag will cause the erasure of good content! \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jun 7 at 11:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should add back in the link to the post in question. It's not "demonizing" to have a clear, specific conversation about real site content. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 7 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with @mxyzplk. We often deal with single posts that have issues here. That is one of the reasons Meta exists. You shouldn't be afraid to respectfully bring up a concern about a specific question here. In fact, if you want a solution to your problem, specific context is often essential for us. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 7 at 15:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've edited again to link to the original text of the answer in question, as I have in fact already submitted an edit which was approved based on the advice in the accepted answer, dealing with the general case over the specific. Hope that's alright. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Johnny Jun 7 at 15:50
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DISCLAIMER: as you may guess by looking at my profile history, I can't really be considered an experienced user of this specific site in the network. Nevertheless, I have been an user on the network for quite a long time now and have seen this topic come up many other times on various of its topic-specific sites, so please accept my answer as something more generic and not centered around just Role-playing Games.


So, you have found some content on the network. You read it, and reading it makes you feel bad. For some reason, the tone in the post doesn't feel right: maybe there is a bad joke that some could find offensive, maybe an answer look far too condescending on the asker, maybe it is something different but the final outcome does not change... that content simply doesn't feel nice...

...but the post also provides some useful info, so you fear that removing it would mean losing good content too. At this point, you don't know what to do... the best option seem to be editing out the "bad" part of the post, re-writing it to remove whatever felt out of place, but you also fear this could be impolite to the original poster - after all you are changing their "words" and original intentions to something you think is more fitting.

I fear I can't really give you a gold-bullet clear cut answer on what to do in those cases, but I hope to be at least able to give you some suggestions on how to start.

First of all... Don't be afraid - your intentions are good. You aren't thinking about changing the content of a post to misrepresent the original intentions of its author - you are just trying to improve an existing post so that no one will feel bad or put-down by reading it. There is no evil in this. If you really still feel dubious about this, consider that the network Code of Conduct states this:

Unacceptable Behavior

No subtle put-downs or unfriendly language.
Even if you don’t intend it, this can have a negative impact on others.

No name-calling or personal attacks.
Focus on the content, not the person. This includes terms that feel personal even when they're applied to content (e.g. “lazy”).

No bigotry.
We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion — and those are just a few examples. When in doubt, just don’t.

No harassment.
This includes, but isn’t limited to: bullying, intimidation, vulgar language, direct or indirect threats, sexually suggestive remarks, patterns of inappropriate social contact, and sustained disruptions of discussion.

I had to cut some of the actual text for sake of brevity (refer to the above link for the full version) but I think the general meaning should be clear. We should strive for this to be a welcoming place for everyone and there is no "site culture" that can override this (luckily, "site culture" - as in "our site tolerates this - we are grown up!" - doesn't seem to be a problem I have really seen on RPG - as I said before you guys still feel like one of the best communities I have found on this network).

That said... it may be hard to judge at times. Maybe you think you may be a little oversensitive (I know this felling very well, back on Meta I was considered very oversensitive on some topics by far), maybe you wonder if you have misinterpreted the post, maybe there is something else you don't know... "maybe".

Well... let me tell you a thing.

You are not alone in this.

When in doubt... just ask. You have many ways to do so.

  • you can raise a custom moderator flag: tell the mods you feel this post could be improved and let them handle the problem from there. This can be good at times - first, they probably are more experienced than the average user when it comes to moderating stuff (hey, they are moderators, after all). Second, if moderation will be really needed often corrective actions performed by mods are more easily accepted by the user than the same action being performed by some "generic internet person".
  • for simpler task, it may just be worth double checking your thoughts with somebody else. In this regard, chat is a good place to ask for advice. "When in doubt, ask our local guru BESW" they say.... Jokes aside, never underestimate the power of asking for advice (unless you are a candy colored ponies and have to fill a 21' episode with a friendship problem that would never have existed if you just talked from the start).

Either way as I have said before, just ask and I am sure you will find someone willing to help you to dispel your doubts and hopefully work together for choosing the best course of actions.

As a last suggestion, when asking please always keep in mind what should be your first objective: you aren't trying to "demonize" anyone - so try to avoid what could be seen as name-calling, superfluous "bad advertising" of an user or just seeds for drama and flames. What I mean is that you should focus on the fact that there is some not-nice content on the site - not on the fact that "user X" posted some not-nice content on the site. It is true that sometimes moderators will have to focus on a specific user when deciding corrective actions (as you may understand, it does matter in a way if said user is just having a bad day or is a user which already had a history of multiple suspensions for offending other users), but focusing on "who" did post the bad content isn't probably something that you should do when asking for advice (or when you aren't even sure that it's bad content in the first place).

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    \$\begingroup\$ A thoughtful, well supported, and empathetic answer @SPArchaeologist. I appreciate the time and care you've taken to answer. From your last suggestion here, I've made an edit to this question to ensure there's no chance that it seems to target anyone -- definitely not my intention! :) \$\endgroup\$ – Johnny Jun 7 at 10:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Johnny To be fair, I don't think that the mere fact you linked a post should be enough to claim that you intended to target anyone (but keep in mind that some may feel targeted even if you didn't mean to - we are a complicate pile of secrets, after all). Anyway, what I think really matters here is what your intent was - is this asking for a more general guidance about a doubt that you had or about seeking help on how to act in that specific case? If you are in doubt, I think that just adding something like "for full context, I was unsure on how to handle this post" may be sufficient. \$\endgroup\$ – SPArchaeologist Jun 7 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ At your leisure, could you edit the post to contain the text of the CoC, rather than an image of it? (The image isn't searchable, and I'd hate for someone to like your post and then not be able to find it as a reference because the part they'd remembered to search for was "hidden" in the image. Also, text plays nice with screen readers.) Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 7 at 16:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 yep, you are right. Someone did it for me, though :P. Thanks SevenSidedDie. \$\endgroup\$ – SPArchaeologist Jun 10 at 7:47
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Yes, editing for tone is acceptable.

If you are a new user however, ask others in comments, chat, and/or meta to make sure you're doing the right thing.

For your specific example case, I think you did the exact right thing. The answer wasn't quite "Be Nice!" flaggable, but it was a little on the antagonistic side, and softening posts like that makes for both a better experience and also teaches people what kind of discourse we prefer here. Submitting an edit and having it approved makes it collaborative as well. Exactly what we want to see.

Sometimes an author will want their original and may revert; that's OK. But activity around it at least brings it to everyone's attention. Much mod activity is around direct violations of Be Nice but we do also work with people that seem to be skirting the line a lot, understanding that people have bad times in their lives or get into states where they're frustrated with the site. But having the community be the first line of defense there is better, so that someone already having a hard time doesn't feel like "a mod is picking on him;" feedback of "maybe you could say it this way" from a variety of other site members is more meaningful.

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    \$\begingroup\$ They did in the initial version of the question, but then removed the link as they didn't want to be perceived as singling out a specific user. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jun 7 at 13:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but they should put it back in. For the reason I done said. I understand the line of thinking but we have very unhelpful meta discussions when people say "in general... you know... no real examples though..." so if you want to talk about it, we need to talk about it and not hedge. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 7 at 13:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, was just pointing it out as the answer doesn't make it obvious whether or not you realised. Specific examples definitely more helpful and the user in question has enough fortitude (and experience) to withstand being criticised for tone... \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jun 7 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ In general I prefer not to have discussions based on previous edits, stuff visible to 10k+, my own personal knowledge, etc. because it is unhelpful to Joe or Jane Average Community Member who comes to participate in the discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 7 at 13:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that the point here is that it is a little unclear if the question is just "Should we fix post if we feel that they have an unacceptable tone?" or "Does this specific post need fixing?". For the first one, just a simple answer like your providing suggestions on how to behave may be enough, for the other you are right in saying that the link is needed. That said, for full disclosure, IMHO this seems more case A) \$\endgroup\$ – SPArchaeologist Jun 7 at 14:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ And what i'm saying is that it is often difficult to have a rational discussion of "A". Because everyone sees different things in their mind when they say something like "an answer with bad tone." Discussions in the abstract are usually not that helpful, I have found, over 8 years of doing it. They either go off the rails in the discussion, or conclude but fail to provide actionable guidance to people after. All answers to generic issues boil down to "well, probably, sometimes, depends, ask somebody" which isn't all that useful really. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 7 at 14:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've edited back in a link to the specific answer in question, in the hopes of improving any future discussion or reading and context here. Based on the existing advice though, I already submitted an edit which was approved. :) Thanks for your input and advice. \$\endgroup\$ – Johnny Jun 7 at 15:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I also just saw your revised answer. Thanks for taking the time to look at the edit and add your thoughts! \$\endgroup\$ – Johnny Jun 9 at 17:34

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