So, a while back I posted this proposal for editing rules. @AlexP quickly responded in the extreme negative, calling it "a Vandal's Manifesto".

According to him, the license placed on answers means that you aren't supposed to edit them without the express permission of the OP, with any non-minimal edit being outright illegal.

It seems to me that it actually wouldn't be illegal; when you edit a post, the following things happen:

  1. A marker is placed on the post, letting others know that the content was made by the OP, but edited by whoever did the editing.

  2. The OP can go and revert the edit whenever they want.

With that in mind, I would like to get a community consensus on what is or is not appropriate editing.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not completely certain that I understand what is the relevance of a community consensus on this topic... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 20 '20 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I'm pretty sure I'm right, but you could be right too. With that in mind, I would like to get a community consensus on what is and is not proper editing. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Oct 20 '20 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ Many users of this site are from Anglo-Saxon countries, which, as far as I know, do not have a concept of inalienable and imprescriptible moral authorship rights. (That's why in Anglo-Saxon countries a work can be in the "public domain".) Such users will naturally find it perfectly acceptable to alter an author's words without a scruple of remorse. Users from countries where such behavior is not acceptable will find it not acceptable, and that's all there is to it. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 20 '20 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I must disagree with the view that everyone's opinions on a Stack Exchange policy are decided entirely by the legal nuance of the country that they happen to be born in. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 21 '20 at 9:52

On the one hand: Stack Exchange encourages people to edit both questions and answers

As I've pointed out in previous versions of this discussion, the biggest problem here is that this is a highly creative Stack and edits are easily in conflict of a basic Stack Exchange editing rule. From the Help Center we read...

Edits are expected to be substantial and to leave the post better than you found it. Common reasons for edits include: ... To clarify the meaning of the post (without changing that meaning) ....

That parenthetic is 99.9% of the problem here. Edits are encouraged if and only if you don't change the meaning of the post. On this stack, it's incredibly easy to edit a question or answer and change the meaning of the post.

Let me say that again because I don't think enough people really understand it or respect it.

On this Stack, it's incredibly easy to edit a question or answer and change the meaning of the post.

On the other hand: this isn't Stack Overflow

On technical Stacks like Stack Overflow it's fairly simple to edit any post to clarify that post. Here, that's simply not the case.

It is my opinion that for this reason this Stack has developed an unofficial culture of not editing. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Nobody likes their baby called ugly. But if you're looking for community consensus to blithely edit other people's posts without their consent, here are (IMO) the basic rules by which it will happen.

  1. You will not put words into the OP's mouth. Ever. Not for any reason. You can't "fix" the question or answer by changing it to be what you think the OP "means." You cannot pretend to read their mind, understand their psychology, or "get them." When someone posts a comment that expresses the frustration, "something's wrong with this, I don't get it," no matter how convinced you are in your own head that you're 100% clear on what the post means you won't change the post to reflect your belief. Not ever. (It is factually impossible for me to say this enough or in harsh enough language.)

  2. If after a very small number of tries (2-3) it's found that you are changing the meaning of people's posts (and no amount of, "look, I understood what the OP meant even if you didn't" arguing will change this), your account will be suspended for 4 months.

  3. If after a single suspension and restoration of rights you're found to do it again. Your account will be deleted.

If you think those rules are heavy-handed, you should be aware that I'm a fan of the Good Book, wherein a simple wisdom can be found, "where much is given, much is required." If you want the community to trust you with the creative input of anyone, great or small, you will be held intensely and immediately responsible for it.

However, if that level of personal responsibility isn't your cup of tea...

  • I am a fan of editing for formatting. Most notably to convert an illegible wall-of-text to a legible series of paragraphs, bullets, and headers.

  • I am a fan of inserting links to help future readers understand an esoteric word or phrase. Note that I do NOT change the original wording. All I do is add the link. (e.g., changing "link" to "link").

  • I am a fan of asking the OP for permission to edit for content. (And if the OP doesn't answer quickly, or at all, I'm a fan of NOT editing the post.)

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the advice! I really appreciate your input. I am also a "fan" of the Good Book, although permanent application of the Banhammer seems a little harsh to me personally. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Oct 22 '20 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks It is, but it's the counterweight to the problem AlexP is talking about. We're not editing questions about software languages that don't legally belong to the OP, we're editing questions about intellectual property that does legally belong to the OP regardless the legal boilerplate adopted by SE. It really is a very big deal. Where much is given.... $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 22 '20 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ Generally I concur: I also reserve the right to edit for grammar & sense. We do have many folks where who aren't L1 English speakers. Some people violate grammar rules with reckless abandon (and some of those, I'm sure, are actually English speakers!) I'd suggest adding grammar & sense to the list of allowable edits. Mostly because I don't want you sending me into the Outer Void for correcting spelling mistakes! ;) $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 22 '20 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas The reason I left them off is that it's theoretically possible that the bad grammar was intentional (I've provided answers that intentionally used bad grammar). It's even worse with "sense." That's standing right on top of the "I know what the OP means and will fix it" line. $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 23 '20 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH -- Theoretically possible, yes. But I'm still going to edit the heck out of grammar and spelling errors! ;) As for "sense", I don't mean altering what the OP says, only how it's presented. Wall of text; bad grammar; inability to construct sentences: that kind of thing. Basic mechanics of the language. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 23 '20 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas an old VP of mine would say we are officially in violent agreement! (That guy was a lot of fun to work with.) $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 24 '20 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH -- works for me! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 24 '20 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ Your point #1 is why I once left a comment asking an OP that had asked about "wyrvens" if they were really asking about "wyverns". (And was subsequently yelled at and told I should have just edited the question. Would have been nice if I could have replied by pointing to this!) I have made at least one "meaning-altering" edit to a question, but after consulting with the OP to clarify what had been intended. (The issue in that case was that the OP had written something that was easily misread as other than what the OP had intended.) Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Oct 28 '20 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ Do I understand the "rules" pointed out by you correctly? You mean to say that people who make an edit with their own name attached to it, put words in someone else's mouth, and also that there are objective, inarguable rules or laws that cause editors to be suspended or even blocked for using an existing feature? Or is it just that you do not think the feature is meant to be used this way (because you get it)? I am a fan of cleaning up one's own backyard first and it would be quite helpful if you added links to back up your rules. - And "can't be harsh enough" is always already too harsh IMO. $\endgroup$ – hajef Oct 30 '20 at 10:22
  • $\begingroup$ Hello @hajef. After looking at your profile, it's apparent that you have very little experience with Stack Exchange. This is Meta, where people can discuss how the site does, can, should, and shouldn't operate. My answer is nothing more than a response to a question - it is not a statement of site policy. In fact, what it suggests is that IF the site's policies and culture should change, this is what I think they should change to. Curiously, if you think "can't be harsh enough" (a statement about how feel about editing other people's creative content) is too harsh, you're on the wrong Stack. $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 30 '20 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ I've been around for years and since I usually have high standards on what to do and do not post I did read many more posts than writing them. I know how things go and how they are run. And as you pointed out, Meta is for discussing how the site is used. That means that people will refer and link to it when they want to make a point. And that means that you are, practically speaking, trying to establish a community policy. If you think that policies on banning can not be harsh enough and that words redirected to new users who don't know policy yet can't be harsh enough, I strongly disagree. $\endgroup$ – hajef Nov 4 '20 at 10:18

Lurk for a couple days on the edit review queue and you will notice that when rejecting edits, you must pick a reason:

  • Vandalism
  • Conflicts with author's intentions
  • No improvements whatsoever
  • Attempt to reply
  • Irrelevant tags
  • Disruptive editing (inserting POV biases)
  • ??

By the way someone please edit the list above to make it correct. Those are the no-no's for editing. Everything else is game.

SE encourages people to edit by giving them reputation points when they have less than 2,000. There are also badges for editing in various ways. So do edit away.

Heck I'm even making this answer community wiki so people are encouraged to edit it.


We need a "Suggest Edit" feature

Philosophical legal arguments aside, there seems to be two camps based on how bold people are with their edits. The issue is that an edit, when made by someone with above 2k reputation (which everyone people participating in this discussion have), that edit is applied immediately. We are wielding a mallet and have to be very careful with applying it. And for those with less reputation, a queue is used, but then total strangers are voting on whether the edit is in line with the OP's intent or not.

If we could instead suggest edits, then they could be as brief or lengthy as we want. A summary, a rephrasing, replacing long URLs with short ones, etcetera. Then rather than place the edits into a queue, make it up to the user to accept it or not. Then award +2 reputation for the editor if they make it in, -5 reputation if it does not, and through the forces of the free market edits will grow to be in line with the expectations of the community.

Of course some would argue that comments are the place for these suggested edits - some of the more strict members would say that that's all comments are for. But try proposing a tl;dr section within 500 characters, or suggesting a different style of mark-up or lay-out.

I get that this is a proposal, not an answer to the question, but I feel like this would be the only way to reconcile the two radically different views on edit permissibility that I see here.

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    $\begingroup$ I personally see this as a valid answer. What I kind of have envisioned is two types of editing: fiat editing ("2,000+ rep = insta-edit") and reviewed editing, which would allow the OP to decide whether or not it is appropriate. Currently we have technically have both, but like you said users cannot do reviewed editing once they are over 2,000 rep. I've considered setting up a low-rep account for myself which is purely for editing. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Oct 21 '20 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks Yes, I would also have fixing typos and other unambiguous cases remain working as the current system. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 21 '20 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ That's the intent. There are obvious cases like "OP is a new user and he didn't use any punctuation", and then there are cases where it isn't as definite. It is my opinion that anyone who has 2,000 rep should be capable of distinguishing the two. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Oct 21 '20 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ (a) This is impossible as it requires a Stack-Exchange-sponsored system-wide change to the software. Short answer: it ain't never gonna happen. (b) Something like this already exists. Edits by users of less than a particular reputation have their edits placed in a queue for community review. Once you have enough rep, you're supposed to be mature enough and experienced enough to know what to do. $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 22 '20 at 3:28
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH you may see that I talked about b) in my opening paragraph. Regarding a), that's true. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 22 '20 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ I think this would probably require a pretty hefty overhaul of how SE works in general. How would this be implemented, given that SE is fundamentally community-edited property? $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 22 '20 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas If it were up to me (it is not, I do not work for SE and this will never happen), this would be a separate path specifically for drastic changes that risk going against the original author's intent. Of course such a feature would have little use on Stack Overflow or many of the other sites that are more about facts than about prose subject to interpretation... I think I see the problem you mean. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Oct 22 '20 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ I have personally wished for this before. I think, however, that the penalty for a rejected edit should be less and/or up to the rejecting author to apply or waive. Penalizing someone for malicious editing is fine, but penalizing someone for a well-meaning but mistaken edit just discourages editing, which seems counterproductive. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Oct 28 '20 at 19:34

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