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The general consensus from this prior discussion was that editing questions is the StackExchange way, and if it makes the question better then go for it.

This is perfectly in sync with my own experience reviewing questions on other SE sites. If I think I understand the thrust of the questioner's intent and I see a way to express it more clearly, I simply go ahead and edit. The net result is the community gets a better-phrased question and OP has a better chance of connecting with a good answer instead of the question being closed for whatever deficiencies it possesses.

That contrasts noticeably with this site, where the theory we seem to support as a community in the above thread differs from the practice.

The standard response to an under-specified question includes: comments calling out its deficiencies, downvotes, and flagging for close votes. When I see question edits in the edit queue, they are usually merely cosmetic spelling/grammar corrections. When I myself make question edits, they are often the same kind of surface-level polishing, because the standard community practice appears to be to lay back and let the questioner "own" their question.

Are we being too shy about editing other people's questions?


A few exemplary posts, but don't focus too much on the trees - this question is about the forest.

Peter and I both saw easily-remedied issues here. Why not just edit?
Several people saw problems here, none of them hard to fix by simply adding detail to the spec s/merge/move - easy and obvious...Just do it!

A notable counterexample: This question would have been tough to fix by editing intervention, because OP's original question was so broad that picking a specific NP problem to focus it on would have been throwing darts at OP's intent. However, as opposed to just saying "Be more clear", I gave a specific example of how to clarify and OP went with it.

In contrast, if all you say is "Be more clear", or you refrain from saying "No amount of clarity will fix this" when you personally think so, this happens. Or this happens, and I am the offending person here. Question closed, question reopened, and because no real input was given but my "Be more specific", little changed in the interim.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any specific examples? \$\endgroup\$ – Doorknob Mar 18 '14 at 21:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll add some links, but in the spirit of the question, if you can also think of some, edit accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ – Jonathan Van Matre Mar 18 '14 at 21:21
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I think your first example is fairly typical:

Peter and I both saw easily-remedied issues here. Why not just edit?

The issues were easily remedied, but there was more than one way to remedy them. In such a case, if I pick one and the OP wants to change it, we generate confusion and potentially invalidate answers. I prefer to flag the problem and encourage people not to start working on answers for questions which have outstanding clarification requests.

I think there's also some broader didactic value in that I hope that the more Socratic approach will teach people to think about corner cases and ambiguities and improve their spec-writing in "real life".

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've refrained from editing questions here because many times, I have no idea what the OP's actual intent is. Sure, I could make it into a decent question, but it might not be the same question. For most other SE sites, question edits are generally done for 1) grammar, 2) readability, 3) formatting. You don't actually change the base of the question. Here, a slight change in spec can produce wildly different answers, even if you think you know what was intended. \$\endgroup\$ – Geobits Mar 18 '14 at 23:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Here, a slight change in spec can produce wildly different answers, even if you think you know what was intended." True, but often no change in spec can produce wildly bad answers. And I don't think encouraging people not to submit answers has much measurable effect. Even questions clearly in dispute have multiple answers by the time they are closed. Perhaps making a brazen assumption of OP's intent is better. \$\endgroup\$ – Jonathan Van Matre Mar 19 '14 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jonathon To be clear, I think you've made some good points here. I just think editing is a lot trickier here due to the nature of the questions, which aren't actually questions. \$\endgroup\$ – Geobits Mar 19 '14 at 2:29
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I have come to believe that this practice is bad for the site and creates a bad experience for new questioners.

Consider the questioner's point of view: he/she wants to see the challenge go forward. Isn't that more likely if we take direct action instead of waiting for the questioner to do something about it? How often is someone really going to object to an edit that makes the question more successful?

Consider it also from the StackExchange point of view: as soon as the question is posed, it is not "owned" by the questioner. The FAQ is unambiguous on this point: "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." The questioner has an important role to play in accepting an answer, but that content belongs to the community the moment it is released. If the questioner feels that the editing has over-reached, he/she can do a rollback.

One of the core values of StackExchange is collaborative editing, but it is often feeling more adversarial than collaborative here (and I admit I have been drawn into that mindset myself), and I think that undermines our ability to foster a healthy community.

I think we can actually serve newcomers (and old timers who may post a rare poorly-written question after one too many pints) better if we stop tiptoeing around their questions and dive in to spin the straw into gold. Not every question will be salvageable, but many will be.

Fundamentally, I think there is a belief that will support the improvement of quality, participation, and a sense of community around here, and that belief is what I am here to endorse:

We, as a community, have ownership of every post on the site, however good or bad.

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