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Occasionally there are questions in dire need of editing. Often, I wonder, how much editing is too much?

Specifically I am refering to this MSE thread. I felt my first edit was quite aggressive, and changed the wording a small amount. But the next edit (edit #4) by user02138 just goes too far in my mind.

The original question was in the imperative, and was very rude. It was changed to a polite tone, and the line "I don't really know where to begin," was added in, as well as the homework tag.

The upside to doing this is that the question becomes much friendlier, and much more likable. It becomes a question that you would want to upvote, and is all around better.

The downside, and the problem is that these were not in any way the OP's actual words. The question was changed to "how a question should be asked" rather than what the OP actually asked.

So the question: Should we edit bad questions so much so that they become good ones? Even if it means making things up?
I see both positive and negative aspects.

Also at what point is it OK to just write what we want or think should be there in an edit? I know I wouldn't want people completely changing the meaning of my posts, but is it OK to do this to a new user with poor postings?

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    $\begingroup$ The OP may just be inarticulate in English and/or math to be able to present it well, and so a repackaging is helping everybody. Or they could just be trying to get a homework answer out of us. $\endgroup$ – Mitch Apr 1 '11 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ Have you changed your mind enough to undelete your answer? $\endgroup$ – Mitch Apr 1 '11 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ Following on Mitch's remark, the use of the imperative form might be the mark of a too literal or too quick translation into english. $\endgroup$ – ogerard May 30 '11 at 8:26
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My main concern is that extensive content (as opposed to formatting) editing, especially very quickly after the post is made, provides reinforcement for the OP to not make an effort in making his or her answers intelligible in the future.

I am also bothered by the "I don't know where to begin" addition; we've seen too many posters who post a plain question (copied from a homework or book), and who, after some coaxing, actually express some thoughts they had on the matter but didn't write (because they thought they were dumb, or were too lazy to write them). Adding "I don't know where to begin" may very well be untrue (not to mention again rewarding potential laziness).

As I just added in comment below: I guess my bother is that there seems to me to be a bright line difference between correcting grammar, removing annoying text-speak ('coz', 'plz', etc), performing formatting (even if extensive); and putting entire sentences into the OPs "mouth" such as "Please tell me how to proceed", or "Some hints would be welcome," etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Mind you: I've often been guilty of quick editing and re-formatting of other people's post (heck, I'm still the only user with the "Copy Editor" badge). But I'm trying to reform... $\endgroup$ – Arturo Magidin Apr 2 '11 at 2:49
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    $\begingroup$ can u plz 3d17 7h15 c0mm3n7 for m3 2 plz plz plz? $\endgroup$ – Mateen Ulhaq Apr 5 '11 at 0:43
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What I find very weird is the adding of "I don't really know where to begin." :)

Apart from that, I don't think there is any problem in turning the question into an actual question which is well, formated, well punctuated and capitalized!

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  • $\begingroup$ That sentence is what I was mainly referring too. Maybe it is just fine then. Also, when is it ok to tag something as homework if you suspect it is? Often times I want to, but it always feels presumptuous. $\endgroup$ – Eric Naslund Apr 1 '11 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ Is it really all that weird? I've seen far worse. Incidentally, I tagged it as "homework" just to be safe. Everyone was griping about it possibly being so. $\endgroup$ – user02138 Apr 1 '11 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ @user02138: One could take -every- baldly stated problem "Find x...", fix the title and give a 'I don't know where to start" and it'll sound good (Neither change the mathematical question, but both totally turn around the intent of it). $\endgroup$ – Mitch Apr 1 '11 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Mitch: Did you mean "baldly stated" or "badly stated"? I prefer baldly stated questions, especially compared to hairy questions. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Apr 1 '11 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: :) either way works. I meant 'baldly' in the negative sense of presumptuously, rather than just 'unadorned' which has positive connotations. $\endgroup$ – Mitch Apr 1 '11 at 21:43
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So the question: Should we edit bad questions so much so that they become good ones? Even if it means making things up? I see both positive and negative aspects.

I would recommend only doing this when there is some diamond in that bad question that you see clear, fundamental value in. A little polishing of the diamond (or mining it out of mud, if you prefer) can be in order.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't polish it till it's recked though. $\endgroup$ – Mateen Ulhaq Apr 5 '11 at 0:44
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I am ambivalent. The form of the question (a paraphrase of the initial attempt by the OP),

Title: find the sum of power series;

Contents: $$\sum f(x)$$

is obviously poorly expressed (and poorly intended, just asking for an answer).

But the content, wouldn't it be nice to know what $\sum f(x)$ is, is a very good question for MSE.

We could just start to take the attitude that, whatever the original poster intended to do with the answer (copy-paste to their homework to hand in) , it doesn't matter the intent, we should do minimal editing to make a much better question out of it (a paraphrase of the final edit):

Title: Help simplifying a formula

Contents: I'm trying to find out something about $$\sum f(x).$$ I don't know where to begin.

So should we just not bother with the original intent, just edit at will to make a question that we like? Editing will produce better questions that everyone will like better, and answering them will be fulfilling, whereas a badly worded question pisses off the regular users. (my bias is that I personally don't like questions intended for homework)

I am worried that respinning a badly presented question will lead to other things (like edit wars).

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  • $\begingroup$ But "Help simplifying a formula" is a much worse title than "find the sum of the power series". (I also agree with Mariano Suárez-Álvarez that it is strange to declare on the poster's behalf that he or she "do[es]n't know where to begin".) $\endgroup$ – LSpice Nov 24 '16 at 20:15
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In this question Eric Naslund made it more polite, removed the imperative mode and worried about too much editing. The imperative mode doesn't bother me as much as some others, but the lack of showing effort does. I think the edit is a good one as it improved the presentation without changing the content.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it's about borderline for me; I'm okay with letting it be, but I wouldn't go much further from that. $\endgroup$ – Arturo Magidin Apr 4 '11 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly, the OP commented: "sorry for mistakes ,I 've just found this website..." so perhaps he learned how to ask future questions? $\endgroup$ – Eric Naslund Apr 4 '11 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Eric: One can only hope... $\endgroup$ – Arturo Magidin Apr 4 '11 at 4:44
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If someone does edit the question, it should be approved by the author of the post. I also believe that the question should only be subjected to little editing by "low-reputation" users, and "higher-reputation" users have the privilege to edit more.

The main issue concerning me is that someone can change your post into something entirely different, and can change the meaning (stated in the question asked).

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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding your first point, please note that is something that requires changes in the StackExchange engine, so is less useful in the present context. (As to whether it will be implemented if you bring it up at Meta.SO... who knows?) About your second point, I believe that was what this question is about. Can you elaborate on what editing rules should be there (and what you meant by "the entire thing")? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 2 '11 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ I reworded the question. I didn't know how to move a post/question into stackexchange. $\endgroup$ – alexyorke Apr 2 '11 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ Please note that all edits by users with fewer than 2000 reputation points already require approval from high rep users. So in that sense the default StackExchange policy is stricter than your suggestions, except for the bit about approval by the owner. With all the unregistered users hanging around, I think it is not tenable to require all edits be approved by the original poster. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 2 '11 at 22:37
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding Meta.SO, I meant for you to ask your question there. You do it the same way as here: log-in/register using your OpenID, and ask away. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 2 '11 at 22:37

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