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@elemtilas recently proposed in this comment that we, as a community, establish some guidelines for editing. Since I do quite a bit of editing, I have decided to accept his challenge and make a preliminary Ten Rules of Editing.

  1. Eliminate objectionable content wherever you find it. Foul language, innuendo, and slurs should not be countenanced by any member of this Stack.

  2. Do not edit in spite of the express wishes of the originale adjunctor. If the OP says they want to word things a specific way, that's how they want it. If you really think your way is better, propose it in a comment.

  3. Do not alter the meaning of a post. Style must always bow to Meaning; sometimes an ungainly style is the only way to express the meaning.

  4. Fix grammar whenever possible. Information presented here should be easy to read, so that people can glean necessary information. Therefore, you should expeditiously fix the following: (more things can be added as necessary)

    a. lack of appropriate capitalization.

    b. Capitalization Where It Doesn't Belong (be careful about this one, though; sometimes it's significant)

    c. Incorrect! usage? of, punctuation/

    d. Yesterday, my mother came over and told me about this really interesting but obfuscating backstory. It doesn't really contribute, but I wanted to tell you anyway because it's really interesting...

    e.Giant walls of text. Don't worry, I'm not going to unleash one on you.

  5. Mark important points with bold-face. Doing so helps to make the point of a post more clear.

  6. Eliminate all instances of non-shortened bare URLs (e.g. https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/) They are ugly, and add unnecessary length to posts.

  7. Keep post lengths to a minimum without altering their meaning. While expository length is good, verbosity is not.

  8. Thou shalt edit when appropriate. These rules are useless if nobody actually does any editing.

Additions and changes are welcome, but please try to keep in #5.e; rules are good, but only so long as someone can read through them.

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  • $\begingroup$ :-) I'll look at this more comprehensively tomorrow (it's been a long day). The additions & changes comment is #101? Note that "TL;DR" is often good for answers, but not for questions, which need more meaningful breaks ("back story," "conditions," "judgement criteria," "question," etc.) $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 22 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, the irony of editing for grammar in a post telling people to watch their grammar... $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 22 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ "If you really think it should be your way, propose it in a comment." Ok. Using roman numerals does not allow for Markdown to format your text neatly as it would with arabic numerals. How about using 1, 2, 3 instead of I, II, III? $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Sep 22 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH #101 is a reference to a SF short story called "The 101 Laws of Robotics", in which so many (often contradictory) Laws of Robotics have piled up that they are effectively useless. My point there was that "Hey, you're welcome to add, but don't get so nitty-gritty that nobody will actually read (let alone understand) the Commandments. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Sep 22 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I primarily write and edit answers, so that didn't occur to me. Thank you for the advice. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Sep 22 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I should really do more proofreading before clicking "Post". $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Sep 22 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ I've had a day to think about this, and there's a lot of thinking to do yet - but (a) I'm opposed to "commandments." Herding cats is hard enough without the level of aggression it implies. God can express commandments. We need to invite users to enjoy the benefits of an expanded skill set. (b) I also think you're conflating two noble goals. #1 is our site's editing policies. #2 is our site's formatting policies. They to touch - but I think it's too much to try to do both. It'll only confuse new users who come looking for why we slapped their hands. $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 23 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH I thought the whole point of editing was to improve others posts without slapping their hands. The benefit of such a system is that we can help new users along the journey of proper formatting up until they care enough to do it themselves. It doesn't solve bad answers but it does solve formatless blocks of text. $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Sep 23 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I did not mean "commandments" in an agressive way; actually, I meant them to be more flippant than anything else. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Sep 23 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks :-) I realize that... but I was making a point. Others won't. When I was a technical writer, we were trained to first remove all aspects of emotion from the discussion to be sure the message was absolutely clear. Then we were allowed to inject emotion if the situation and your employer desired it. As a community, we're working through the humor to create the policy. There will be people who read this - especially when they've been sent here for an infraction, who won't see and/or appreciate the humor. They'll need to be dealt with more gently or it'll make things worse. $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 23 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Thanks for the advice. I'll rewrite it to use a different wording. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Sep 23 at 16:38
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1. You're trying to solve too many problems in one post

My experience is the more people have to read, the less they will. It's one of the reasons why we have a VTC reason that tells people to be focused. You're focusing on at least two problems: good editing and good post formatting. AlexP has a good point in that our behavior when it comes to editing should be minimalist — what is the least we can do to editing someone else's post to "fix" it? The reason for this is SE's admonition concerning post edits that we should edit "to clarify the meaning of the post (without changing that meaning." This expectation is met when we edit minimally.

To that end, #6 and #7 don't belong here. They're non-minimalist formatting.

2. Redundancy is not our friend

An argument could be made the #3, #4, and #9 are redundant as they're all saying the same thing in support of the previously linked admonition. Remember, the longer something is, the less likely someone will read it.

I suspect that since you created the post originally with "ten commandments" that you were unintentionally forced to have ten rules. Now that we've removed the religious overtones of the post, we can walk away from the need to have ten rules. There should be as many as needed, no more, no less.

3. Is an admonition to not inject objectionable content actually necessary?

Are there actually two or more instances in the site's history of someone editing objectionable content into someone else's post? I'd like to see that. Please remember a ditty from Dr. Seuss:

It has often been said
There's so much to be read,
you never can cram
all those words in your head.

So the writer who breeds
more words than he needs
is making a chore
for the reader who reads.

That's why my belief is
the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh
of the reader's relief is.

And that's why your books
have such power and strength.
You publish with shorth!
(Shorth is better than length.)

In short — unless the issue is common (a bit more than two instances), it shouldn't be in the list. We need to practice minimalism with our policies, too.

4. The TL;DR section is inappropriate.

AlexP is completely right when it comes to #7. It is impossible to create a summary section that isn't changing the meaning of the original post because a summary is, by definition, an interpretation of the original text. #7 is good advice for writing an original post, but it's poor advice for people editing someone else's post.

5. An entry inviting the permission of the OP would be appropriate.

On the other hand, an entry that tells editors that if they feel a post needs more than minimalist editing, they should seek the permission of the OP first (and NOT proceed without it, no matter how much time passes), would be appropriate.

6. Finally, it's time to let go of #101.

It helped when you explained where the #101 reference came from, but the reality is, a post expressing the site's policies about editing that concludes with an admonition to not edit the post is weird. I firmly believe this site's general attitude is to not edit anything at all. In other words, part of what you're doing is inviting people to edit more, not less, and to do it better. That makes #101 a double-standard. Further, is blooming rare that anything gets edited in Meta at all. When it comes to establishing the rules, we should avoid all distractions. So, with my most sincere condolences... I think #101 needs to go.

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I agree with eight of the ten commandments, therefore I am branching this church and starting a reformist movement.

  1. If necessary, thou shalt add a "TL;DR" to long posts. It is an unfortunate fact of life that some posts can get rather lengthy. With that in mind, ensure that such posts have a summary paragraph for those who can't spend ten minutes reading it.

IMO this contradicts with:

  1. Thou shalt not edit in spite of the express wishes of the originale adjunctor. If the OP says they want things a specific way, that's how they want it. If you really think it should be your way, propose it in a comment.

Summarizing a long post on your own may lead to a summary which is not what the author had in mind. It may also lead to simplifications and loss of context. It is very like listening to a single Pink Floyd song without knowing the whole album around it.


  1. Thou shalt eliminate all instances of non-shortened URLs. They are ugly, and add unnecessary length.

If you mean literal URL's in text, I think each case is a case. If you mean shortened URL's through services like bitly, then instead of having just one link that may break over time, you now have two, because these services and their databases are not eternal.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the feedback. I'll add an "ask what the Adjunctor Originale means first" clause to #7. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Sep 22 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ I am referring to literal URLs in the text. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Sep 22 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @TheDaleks about links. Anything starting with "http://" shouldn't exist in the post unless the author actually intended it to be there with an explicit purpose (e.g., "The HTTP protocol is used to serve web pages, such as with this example..."). Worse, URLs exist for a purpose, and aesthetics ain't it. The cases where it's no big deal will be uncommon to rare. $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 23 at 0:19
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I'm sorry, but this is a Vandal's Manifesto. I cannot possibly agree with it.

Posting a question or an answer on Stack Exchange does not imply a license to mutilate the author's text. And, moreover, in most countries of this world such a license is impossible anyway. An author is entitled to the integrity of their work forever and ever. It is considered extremely rude, and even immoral, to publish your text under another person's name.

Questions and answers posted on Stack Exchange are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. This license allows anybody to create derivative works to their heart's content, and publish them under their own name, while mentioning the author of the original work. It does not allow twisting somebody else's words; it does not allow the usurpation of somebody else's name.

The only allowable edits are those which would be acceptable to be made in a fragment quoted from a book; that is, correcting blatant spelling errors (for example, **defebce $\rightarrow$ defence would be allowed, but defence $\rightarrow$ defense would not be); correcting blatant grammatical errors (for example, they **says $\rightarrow$ they say, but beware than nowadays English grammar is a minefield); and normalizing to one form for words and names which appear in the text in multiple forms without apparent rhyme or reason.

And that's it.

The post is prolix? Write a comment. The post would benefit from a summary section? Write a comment. The post would benefit from a different choice of vocabulary? Write a comment.

As long as the author's name is associated with the post, you are not allowed to change it in any non-trivial way.

See how Wikipedia does it: contributions are licensed under CC BY-SA there just as they are here. But on Wikipedia the articles are anonymous. You are allowed to edit Wikipedia articles exactly because they are anonymous. We have something similar here, with our Community Answers; by all means, edit those into whatever shape you want. But please do not put your words in other people's mouths.

The only exception is when an author gives you explicit permission to edit their work. (For example, I have permission from user Halfthawed to silently edit their use of Greek and Latin.)


Clicking on the "reveal spoiler" button will reveal a famous pair of paintings by two famous painters: Titian's most beautiful and relaxed Venus of Urbino (16th century) and Manet's equally celebrated Olympia (1863). Manet's painting is very obviously a derivative of Titian's, with some alterations in the poses of the secondary characters, subtle alteration of the expression of the reclining woman, the addition of chintzy slippers and a subtle change in color palette. The point being that small changes can completely change the message of a work.

(Note that, as you may have guessed from the names of the paintings, they may be famous and known in the entire world, but they may also be perceived as NSFW in some countries.)

Titian's "Venus of Urbino" (1534) Manet's "Olympia"
 
Left, Titian's Venus of Urbino (1534). Right, Manet's Olympia (1863). Pictures from Wikimedia, public domain. Note that Manet did not call his derivative work "Titian's Venus of Urbino edited by Manet". They are similar, but the confrontational and almost querrulous personality of Manet's Olympia is as far as possible from the serenity and self-unconsciousness of Titian's Venus. Also note the change in color temperature, from Titian's warm and full of life red to Manet's ice cold palette. Would it be fair to consider that they are the same picture, just slightly updated to be in consonance with 19th century realities?

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  • $\begingroup$ "Defence -> Defense" isn't permissible? That's as silly as editing too much - and the Help Center's editing page very clearly exceeds the limits you're recommending. For better or for worse, this isn't Wikipedia. Curiously, this is a good example of the problem I mentioned in this answer that Renan and F1Krazy said they weren't aware of. Please read the post for that answer, I'm curious to know your views about it. $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 23 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH: "this isn't Wikipedia": That's exactly my point. Wikipedia articles can be edited by anybody with any intent becase they are anonymous. Our posts are not anonymous. This places severe restrictions on the modifications which can be made by somebody other than their author. Plus I don't see the problem; posts are licensed CC BY-SA: I you think that you can take a post and greatly enhance it, please do so and post your work under your own name. Let then the marketplace of ideas sort out which is actually better -- the original author's or yours. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 23 at 7:11
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Ever since I have acquired my edit privilege, I have made edits pretty frequently to improve readability. New users often have diamonds in the rough for questions and are not aware of the standards around here (I know I didn't at first). Cleaning up their answers often, A. shows them what format they should be in and B. doesn't push away users with our holier than thou diatribe(I have seen quite a bit of that too). Rather than deleting a post with "This question sucks, this user sucks, this site sucks, the mods suck" or something more explicit on an otherwise fine answer. Edit Instead. $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Sep 23 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @ITAlex: It all depends on your ideological stance, doesn't it? It's not your work. In my world, one is not allowed to change another person's work and re-publish it under that person's name. If you believe you can greatly improve an answer, fine, do it: the CC BY-SA license allows you to do it. Then publish it under your own name. It's a new work. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 23 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP There are logs kept of changes and the original author can always roll back unreasonable changes. You seem to assume there is no recourse for the original to bring back their thoughts. If you notice, the guidelines above specifically call out changing the /intent/ or /content/ of a message. which you seem to be agreeing with but then speaking out against. $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Sep 23 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ "All contributions are licensed under Creative Commons, and this site is collaboratively edited, like Wikipedia. If you see something that needs improvement, click edit! Editing is important for keeping questions and answers clear, relevant, and up-to-date. If you are not comfortable with the idea of your contributions being collaboratively edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you." - source $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Sep 23 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ The way I see it, StackExchange's editing format respects the CC BY-SA; when you edit a post, SE places a marker on it to the effect of "this is the post as edited by <x>." Regardless of those factors, your qualms are why I included #3 ("Thou shalt not edit in spite of the express wishes of the originale adjunctor") and #4 ("Thou shalt not alter the meaning of a post"). $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Sep 23 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ Also, as @ITAlex mentioned, the OP can revert edits whenever they want. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Sep 23 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ This position assumes SE doesn't track edits and in fact erases the original post, but it doesn't. The edited post is the derivative work, published in place of the original, which is hidden behind the "edited" link. And if the original author objects, rollback is available and said author can incorportate any changes in his or her own words as desired. $\endgroup$ – rek Oct 9 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ @rek: I won't continue this discussion. "Hidden behind" means identity theft and infringement of the original author's inalienable rights. Npbody is ever allowed to publish a derivative work under the original author's name. No protest is necessary. The Anglo-Saxon mercantilist position relative to authorship rights is not the only one in the world; it is actually a minority position. Most countries do not adhere to it. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 9 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP "Npbody is ever allowed to publish a derivative work under the original author's name." spelling errors aside, they aren't, it clearly says it was edited and the original is public. $\endgroup$ – Topcode Oct 20 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Topcode: I get it that in your country it is perfectly acceptable to publish a book called The Republic by Plato, edited by Topcode, which is not actually the actual Republic of the actual Plato, without even indicating which words are Plato's and which are Topcode's, with some text deleted because offensive to 21st century sensitivities, other parts modified, and some text added to cater for global warming. It does say "edited by Topcode", and the original is public. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 20 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP You find me one copy of The Republic that hasn't been edited, clarified, contextualised by modern translators and interpreters. I bet most of them don't include any words written by Plato - since those would be in Greek. But the modern scholars do their best to preserve the original message, exactly what Stack Exchange editing is supposed to be about. Regardless, I really fail to see the relevance of this legal distinction you are getting at. Seems to be more about your personal philosophy than something that's pitting SE users against one another based on their nationality. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 21 at 10:05

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