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We've had some questions asked recently that were edited by the community that changed the meaning of the post significantly, at least in the eyes of the asker or other members of the community. This resulted in some debate and discontent in the comments.

For instance: https://workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/16691/how-can-i-express-sympathy-to-a-coworker-whos-father-was-about-to-die and the question referenced in the meta discussion on Aggressive Edits, were both edited but led to some disagreements. More recently, How should I adjust my interview questions for female candidates? was also edited, and the edits weren't well received by the asker.

I've been a proponent of bold editing. While bold or aggressive edits can indeed yield positive results, sometimes this backfires. It's no one's fault. None of us can read minds, and we're all doing the best we can to create great content and help askers find answers, but the recent discontent does suggest that we might need to come together and slightly tweak our approach to editing. As the pendulum swings back and forth between the two extremes of no editing and complete, open editing, we're making great progress in terms of finding the sweet spot where we find balance.

What can we do as editors to help avoid conflict with askers when editing, and how should we handle edits where there might be disagreement? Should we wait for a question to actually be put on hold before resorting to aggressive or bold edits?

  • possible duplicate of Aggressive Edits – Jim G. Nov 20 '13 at 1:20
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    FWIW, asker of "How should I adjust..." seem to have similar problem understanding edits at Programmers: "I get downvote because other people can't read code/change the question with faulty revisions." – gnat Nov 20 '13 at 7:29
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    @gnat: Great point. And that's why I don't think we should be too concerned about this "problem". – Jim G. Nov 20 '13 at 14:38
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    Great points. Some people just won't get it no matter what. So, our goal here isn't to completely rewrite the book on editing but to instead slightly tweak our approach to it to possibly reduce conflict in areas where it can be reduced. Unfortunately, not everyone will get this concept, and that's fine. I'm just hoping to reach the folks we can reach. Hope this helps clarify. :) – jmort253 Nov 21 '13 at 0:50
  • If an 'aggressive'/'heroic'/substiantial edit changes the meaning or context of a question so much that the OP is angry or offended by it, is it maybe worth rolling back that edit and instead 'forking' the question, i.e. asking a new question that represents the re-worded, re-focussed answer and maybe linking it to the current question? – CMW Nov 22 '13 at 15:21
  • @CMW - Unfortunately, that could create a lot more noise as well as work for the asker. If we have to go that far, it might be a sign we're doing too much. I'm happy with the editing in general. They key takeaway is communication: We should make our intentions known in the comments so askers know they're still in control. – jmort253 Nov 22 '13 at 16:05
  • @jmort253 I see how that could get out of hand. My understanding is that these cases that result in conflicts are pretty rare themselves, so I assumed it would not become too much. – CMW Nov 22 '13 at 16:09
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    @Jim G Is it permissible to have only one issue in your view? If for any reason, one has two issue in two forums, you dismiss it as the asker's fault? What kind of consideration is that? Please focus on the merit of each issue.The fundamental difference between the issues on two forums is the question on SO is purely technical and the edit (editor added another code example) made my question (and the code) logically invalid and diverted and depleted the limited amount of attention of people one can get.The question here on WP is open one, and belongs to different domain,ie. social relations. – Earl Grey Nov 23 '13 at 22:22
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Executive Summary

My stance on edits is simple: a closed question doesn't get answers and can't help the asker or any future visitors. If an edit can turn a non-productive closed question in to a resource, then that is a net positive.

But the devil is in the details. I think there are three issues that need to be tackled:

  1. What balance between asker happiness and question quality are we after?
  2. When should we edit to maximize that balance?
  3. How should we inform the people whose questions we edit?

Acceptable Loss

We are not going to be able to find an edit policy which keeps every single asker happy, and still maintains high quality standards that keep questions open. Often questions are very off-topic when originally asked, and minor edits will not make a difference on whether the question stays open or closed. Some askers may be put off by an aggressive edit at first, but that is just an invitation to have them work with us to make it on-topic. If someone is not willing to put in the effort to work with the community, I won't lose any sleep over it if they decide not to participate here.

I think we need to judge the balance based on three criteria:

  1. What percent of edited questions do we want to remain open?
  2. What percent of edited questions do we want positive feedback from the asker on?
  3. What percent of edited questions are we okay with having negative feedback on?

I think we should aim for a 90% success rate in keeping questions we edit open. If we edit the question and it doesn't stay open, we run the risk of alienating the user and we don't manage to actually help them out. I think we should aim for at least a quarter of the users we help thanking us for our support. And I think we should aim for less than 5% of people being actively upset with our edits. These are all fuzzy numbers, based roughly on my experience in the Aggressive Edits meta question (my stats are 90%, 40%, and 10%).

When Should We Edit?

Part of the issue with the reaction to edits has to do with timing. If a question is closed and downvoted with no answers, there will likely be a lot less opposition than if the question has upvotes, answers, and is open. If a question has been open for 12 hours and then is edited, it is going to have a very different reaction than if it's been open for 12 minutes, or if it has been around for 12 days.

I think that questions should either be edited soon after being asked, or that we should wait until they are closed (or soon to be closed, if it has 4 close votes and you would issue the 5th without an edit, I am okay with that too). If we make a quick edit with a helpful comment, then the asker can participate in the editing process and it feels like they have more control. If you wait 12 hours and they come back to a totally different question with a bunch of answers, they may feel like their question was hijacked without their consent, especially if the answers don't help respond to their concern.

I would recommend something like this for a workflow:

  1. If the question is new, make a comment first, and make a quick edit to get the asker to participate
  2. If the question is several hours old and still open, only edit if it looks like it will be closed (it has no good answers, downvotes, close votes, etc.)
  3. If the question is already closed with no answers, have at it (anything is better than a no-answer closed question)

Comments are Key

Giving a reason for an edit usually makes the edit easier to stomach. The key points of an effective comment are:

  1. Explaining why you decided to edit this question
  2. Explaining how this will benefit the asker
  3. Explaining that the asker is encouraged to participate in the edit process

For instance, take this comment on a question I made an aggressive edit to:

Hello kaushcho, and welcome to the Workplace! This is a great question that is unfortunately attracting a few close votes due to the formatting1. I've edited it a bit to hopefully prevent more close votes and get you better answers2. If you think I missed the point entirely, or otherwise screwed it up, feel free to edit it3 (I took out details on his evaluation, since you are asking about evaluating the cultural -- not technical -- aspects). Thanks for the great question and I hope you'll stick around!

The superscript numbers correspond to the various portions above. I am sure to let the asker know that I'm not just editing for my own sake, that the question was getting close votes. I let them know that I'm editing it for the asker's benefit -- so they can get better answers and not have the question closed. And I make sure to let them know that even though I made the edit, they are encouraged to make sure the question still matches what they want to ask. The rest is just friendliness to take the edge off what is a really aggressive edit.

I think that whenever we make an edit, we should be sure to leave a friendly comment explaining at least these three things to try to involve the asker in improving their own question. Unfortunately, the comment threads in both of the referenced questions have been deleted, so I can't see if that may have been a factor in the bad reactions there.

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    @Downvoter, mind explaining what about what I said strikes you wrong? – jmac Nov 20 '13 at 6:15
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    +1 for comments. Explaining why you made the edit so they learn what to do or not do, and stating that they are free to edit further or rollback if they wish will usually diffuse any rage the OP feels over someone changing their question. The only thing I would want to add here is try and be sure that any edit you make will result in the OP getting the information they need to solve their problem. We don't really want to be editing posts in ways that they become no longer useful to the OP. – Rachel Dec 4 '13 at 22:19
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My opinion is that any edits to "Save" a question should only happen after the question has been closed, unless the OP has clarified, or the question can be easily reworded.

So we need to close the questions quickly and start punishing people who answer bad questions with downvotes and comments explaining that. I am sure that this part will not be well recieved but unless we can stop the bad answers from being populated, then we have to choose between agressive edits quickly or deal with answers that do not fit the question that gets revised.

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    I think that voting to close really quickly will drive new users away far more quickly than if we try to save it before it gets closed. Also, many questions get answers prior to being closed, making it a wee bit more difficult to edit them. – jmac Nov 27 '13 at 23:36
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    @jmac - If we can save them with a simple edit that is one thing. If it takes a heroic edit, that gets lots of answers, it is also harder to fix it so the OP is happy with the question. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 28 '13 at 18:12
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    @jmac That may have been true at one point in time, but the change in language to on hold does help. As does people offering improvement suggestions to askers. – jmort253 Nov 29 '13 at 0:35
  • don't get me wrong @jmort -- I don't think we should leave bad questions open for the sake of editing, I just don't think that editing prior to something being closed is necessarily a bad thing. I would look up stats, but my feeling is that there are usually 6-8 hours between a question being asked and put on hold, which means the asker is less likely to be around than editing after a quick 3 close/downvotes. I still suggest asking the poster to fix it, but if there is no action for several hours, I don't see harm in editing prior to close. – jmac Nov 29 '13 at 1:12
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We should consider that heroic answers aren't always best.

Before making a heroic edit, we should ask the OP if they'd like a little help fixing their post so that it will remain open.

Leaving a comment saying,

"Hi OP, I've made a heroic edit to make your post more constructive..."

may seem condescending if the edit is not welcome.

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    This! Ask the question writer before drastic edits. – Joe Strazzere Nov 20 '13 at 19:26
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    The more I read this, the more I disagree. Editing is a fundamental component of the SE sites, and we state in our tour page: "if you see questions or answers that can be improved, you can edit them." Ignoring our guidelines and refusing to allow edits is not appropriate. If a new user is uncomfortable with people editing what they contribute, this may not be the site for them. And that's okay. But we shouldn't require consent before improving site quality. – jmac Nov 28 '13 at 14:15
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    I have to disagree with asking the OP first, but I fully support that heroic edits aren't always best, and a comment left saying something along the lines of "Hi OP, I've made an edit to your question because abc. If I've changed it too much, please feel free to edit it further or rollback the changes" to explain the edit and give them the option of editing or rolling back is a great idea – Rachel Dec 4 '13 at 22:24
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There are a few key things that I think one must keep in mind while editing a question. These are some of the things one can ask him/herself before editing.

  1. Context : How can you be sure of portraying the same context that the OP originally intended? Are you 100% sure of the situation OP faces ? If not, avoid tweaking the context.
  2. Typos : Yeah, go ahead fix em.
  3. Grammar : Sure, fix it.
  4. Regional Influence : One of the most important things I have learned working in international companies is, what people write is how people think, and, that people tend to think in their native language. What might seem like a statement to someone bred in an American conversation style, really is a question for someone who is typing that out in India. People from different religions also tend to ask questions in a certain way and tweaking them could change the entire context from the OPs perspective (There was a question which asked how to treat Mulsim women). Examples escape my mind now, but I can edit this answer when I come across some.
  5. The most important question the editor should ask is, does this question really require editing ? What is my contribution ? What is the point of editing a question merely for the sake of it not being put on hold. Is the question answering the OP ? More importantly is it contributing to workplace's Q&A

    I think the only way to handle conflict resulting from an edit is to roll it back and let the question take its way. Workplace is an international Q & A site. People from all over the world are contributing in developing a great question base.

    Aside : I am a big fan of your edits. IMO, you are, indeed, one of the best editors. This is a great question and shows how conscious you are.
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    From my perspective, I got the impression rollbacks can lead to conflicts. If instead of rolling back, as an asker, how would you feel if someone were to make edits and then invite you, the asker, to expand on that and build on those improvements instead? It seems this would help make editors feel they contributed something while also letting the askers focus on tweaking the things they felt were most important. – jmort253 Nov 20 '13 at 2:14
  • I would feel very good about this. Although I have my doubts about the time window wherein significant changes have been done to the question - and the time exhausted between when you invite the asker and when the asker is available to expand on those changes. This is a big window where in the question may get flagged down/get answers to a question that was never really asked. – happybuddha Nov 20 '13 at 15:07
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Example: 'How does a programmer change programming languages, professionally?'. Someone offered up an edit to strip out the C#/MVC/ROR specific nature of the question to make it 'generic'. One of the comments was that this belongs in 'Programmers' due to the specific nature of the question. If someone puts in a response to the programmer question then it gets converted to 'generic', then the person answering the question is going to be asked to make the answer 'generic'.

Perhaps a named programming language is too specific, but if made 'generic', it should be left at the 'generic' programming level - not 'across the board to any given professional skill'. Software development has it's respective quirks, they might not interest anyone in chemical engineering or orthopedics.

People migrate 'long distance' in software development - what this means is that there are millions of developers that shift abruptly into areas of specialization they're not familiar with. Engineers in other disciplines tend to have a limited set of employers and limited variety in their work, in comparison - there aren't 10 million businesses drilling oil wells. If you build bridges on contract in New Jersey, the bridges there aren't likely to be much different from the ones in Illinois. In comparison, someone could be writing C++ for 'gaming machines' in 2007 and SPSS for a state insurance board in 2009. It's a stretch, but it does happen.

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    Apologies, but now I'm even more confused. The question you are pointing to doesn't have anything technical stripped out, still is 100% about the software industry, and isn't generic at all. The title change is cosmetic, and not an aggressive edit in the slightest. What exactly is your concern with that edit? – jmac Nov 28 '13 at 14:12

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