Recently I received some very negative feedback after editing a question (see comments and edit history). To me, parts of the question were unstructured, and needed clarification, but to the asker, they made sense.

I edited what I thought needed clarifying, and the OP told me my edits read terribly, made poor word choices, and were too hard for them to find a way to fix. I was told I did a sloppy job, and they said they were "really offended" by the changes I made.

I asked specifically what I did wrong, and while they did not reply, they have been active on the site since then. Clearly I did something, and I would like to avoid doing that something again, but I do not know what that is. For such an astoundingly negative response I expect a genuine reason for the OP to be upset, but it is not clear to me why.

Is there a genuine reason to respond to an edit in such an overwhelmingly negative way; did I really do something "offensive" that is clear to others but not to me?

What should I do better if I am at fault so I don't receive such negative feedback in the future?

  • $\begingroup$ You did a good edit, no need to worry. Sometimes people are just... people and you stepped on his ego. $\endgroup$ Dec 16 '16 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Jasper The majority of people think my changes helped improve the question regardless of errors present - and most people did not see as many errors as you claim to. I acknowledge that it may not have been perfect but the consensus was that it clarified what the OP wanted, which was unintelligible before I intervened. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Dec 24 '16 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Jasper Contrasts that with what was written before and tell me if you still believe the edit made things worse. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Dec 24 '16 at 1:40

TL;DR: Unfortunately, you can't. Sorry. Some people will always dislike something.

Each question and answer on here is ultimately someone's baby. They may have just banged it out quickly without much thought or they may have conceived it with love and molded it into the exact perfect shape they desire. Whichever is the case, though, it's still their baby.

Some people will appreciate the help of others in raising their baby, helping to improve the clarity of communication, for example. Others will take it as a deep insult to their Q&A parenting skills if someone so much as tidies up a windswept semi-colon.

If people appreciate your help, then help them. If people don't (and especially if they are rude about it) then don't fret about it, move on and find people who do appreciate it. I assure you that the overwhelming reaction to helpful edits is gratitude.

In this specific case, I think the negative reaction came from the extent of your changes. The actual changes made look good to me and definitely improved the question. However, you just gave someone's baby a new hair cut and they took it personally, no matter that it was an improvement. The changes were too large for that particular OP to be happy with.

Some people don't want to be helped, some people are happy with a bit of help, others are comfortable with more extensive revisions. Unfortunately, it's hard to predict how people will react, so the main recommendation I can make is that your edits should change the question as little as possible while improving it as much as possible. A fine balancing act that's more art than science.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I found a few windswept commas. Please don't be angry. :) $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Dec 16 '16 at 15:23
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ :o You absolute cad! A rotter and buffoon of the worst kind! tu'HomI'raH SoH net Sov wo’! $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Dec 16 '16 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB I'm sorry, what? $\endgroup$ Dec 24 '16 at 22:43

My two cents is that the original post was readable. Your edits were more readable, and didn't really alter the meaning of anything. So on sum, your edits were good. Except that, they weren't really needed in the first place.

So the question is: is it worth tweaking a decent question to make it read a little better?

My opinion is no. I try to only edit to either a. correct obvious grammar/spelling/capitalization or b. attempt to make an interesting but clearly close-worthy question (due to too broad, or unclear what you are asking) better enough that it doesn't get closed. If the post has problems but doesn't meet the above criteria, I prefer to nag them from the comments.

More philosophically, it is great when more people take ownership of Worldbuilding and attempt to make questions and answers better. But there is no 'right way' to do it. So its not that your edit was bad, but you just saw first-hand how needlessly editing a post, even if you are strictly editing in improvements, might conflict with the author's intent (somehow).


When I am approving or rejecting edits made by others to posts made by others, I reject about two-thirds of them and only approve them if they are either absolutely necessary, or if correct a typo or formatting issue that is clearly inadvertent.

Editing for style is IMHO almost always ill advised, and when I edit, I am always a minimalist, not adding any unnecessary verbiage or changing the original in any way that is unnecessary. Editing stylistic points is much more irritating than any other kind of edit.

If a question is clear enough to understand well enough to edit without a comment, it almost never needs editing for clarity. If a question is unclear, usually a comment asking for clarification is better. We're in the business of communication, not polished publication of the Stack Exchange posts themselves. Editing is generally not justified by a desire to make the post itself beautiful in the eyes of the editor.

In this particular case, the edit had a sentence fragment that made no sense, changed a couple of preposition/linking words in a manner that were incorrect in usage, changed a consistent tense in the original to a mixed tense in the paragraph, added junk words, garbled the flow of ideas (because clauses in a complex sentence don't map sequentially to separate sentences) and left a writing style that sounded stiff and awkward. An edited post here conveys the impression (sometimes inaccurately) that the author wrote it and it is much less natural to see the edit history if you are just reading it, so that is not cool.

Any time you edit someone else's work, you have a much higher responsibility to be 100% correct than you do when writing or editing your own work. Having an unapproved edit made, when the edit contains an obvious mistake and some subtle mistakes of its own, is really irksome.

It probably did need to be broken out into more than one sentence, but because the edit contained multiple errors of its own, and overdid it in making stylistic changes, and disrupted the flow of ideas from their logical order in the original, it went too far and was not welcome.

I frequently have work edited in my day job, but then, 95% of the time, I agree that the changes are an improvement, and when they don't I am usually free not to accept them and take another approach. Significantly flawed, unapproved edits are extremely rare in my normal world.

If I'd know how to revert the edit at the time (I've now learned how, but the interface doesn't make it clear how to do it), I would have done so and then addressed the run on sentence or two. But, when there are a huge number of edits made, most of which you disagree with, it is a huge and time consuming pain to go back in and fix them.

I very nearly deleted the entire post, and I am half inclined to do so even now, because seeing what was done to the post so soured my enthusiasm for having anything to do with it, or even the entire forum, for that manner.

I don't have smoke blowing out my ears any more at this point and probably won't delete the post or the account.

But a failure to even acknowledge displeasure with the edit expressed in my comment with a "sorry" really aggravated the annoyance further.

Quite frankly, I don't know why the system doesn't give the author some kind of approval or reject option for at least a while, as it does when a person which insufficient rep does an edit that requires approval. This isn't Wikipedia where questions and answers are completely and entirely a group production.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'll try to get you an authoritative reference on this if I can, but questions and answers actually do belong to the community, not just one person. In the future, people will likely have the same question as you - that's why we mark questions as duplicates - and so when you ask a question, you ask it for yourself and for those who will come after you. You don't own the question. Stack Exchange really is a group production, as you put it. In this situation, the edit was made with good intent. Yeah, it wasn't optimal, but it was an improvement and made the post easier to read $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Dec 17 '16 at 2:22

You asked:

What should I do better if I am at fault so I don't receive such negative feedback in the future?

Do better. Make fewer mistakes.

First, only try to improve things where you are sure that you are making them better.

Second, try not to change an author's meaning. If you have trouble discerning the author's meaning, ask about it. Avoid editing based on a guess.

Third, carefully read your proposed edits. Check if you are creating any grammar errors while you "improve" someone else's post. If you break up a run-on sentence, pay attention to which subjects, verbs, and objects correspond to each other in the original sentence. Avoid accidentally creating new sentences that mis-match the subjects, verbs, and objects.

In this example, you added two grammar errors:

  • You ended a sentence with "in a manner."
  • There was a sentence that ended with "[not] caught early on." You changed the subject of this sentence from "a clerical error" to "data [that] will be published". This change significantly affected the meaning of the sentence.

Try not to put words in other people's mouths.

  • In this example, you added the words "I assert".

Only add redundancy when necessary.

  • In this example, you changed "had started" to "had initially started".

According to your profile:

I may be super disagreeable or argumentative but please don't take it personally! I just like to support my answers, even if it sometimes means dragging everyone else's down verbally in the process.

If you are "super disagreeable", expect people to "take it personally". Try not to be "super disagreeable".

Identify your mistakes. Be specific! (At least when talking to yourself.) Learn from your mistakes. Try to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

  • $\begingroup$ Contrast this with the readability of the original question, and the difficulty to find the meaning of the original question. I acknowledge that some parts of my edit could have been improved but it is false to say it was better off beforehand. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Dec 24 '16 at 1:42
  • $\begingroup$ "In a manner" was my fault, the subject was difficult to discern in your second example but was necessary for people to understand; "assert" was correct because that text was an assertion, but a transition was needed; and the redundancy did not damage the question. Bringing me as a person "don't be disagreeable" is completely inappropriate in this situation, and the whole "if you don't understand English grammar" part is completely uncalled for. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Dec 24 '16 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra -- There is a place for "Just make it better than it was before." You are arguing that you made 6 improvements and 4 mistakes, and saying "It's better than it was before." But instead of being defensive and "disagreeable" about it, why not take the logic of "Just make it better than it was before" a little further next time? Perhaps you could make 3 improvements without adding any mistakes. $\endgroup$
    – Jasper
    Dec 24 '16 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ Again I acknowledge that my edits were not perfect but the majority of people who reviewed this situation agree that they were greatly beneficial. Arguing "it has to be perfect even thought it's much better" isn't something I will agree with $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Dec 24 '16 at 1:51
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with your argument that I could have proofread the edit but I have to downvote for "If you don't understand English grammar well enough" and "try not to be 'super disagreeable'". There is no need to be impolite while trying to prove your point. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Dec 24 '16 at 1:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra -- You wrote that you "may be super disagreeable". You then asked how to avoid "such negative feedback in the future". The two seem related. $\endgroup$
    – Jasper
    Dec 24 '16 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ This conversation is like the old joke about the man who goes to the doctor. The doctor asks, "What's the matter?" The man holds his arm out, and says, "It hurts when I do this." Instead of poking and prodding and giving a diagnosis, the doctor just says, "Don't do that." $\endgroup$
    – Jasper
    Dec 24 '16 at 2:23

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