Often times I'll see a question pop up in New Questions similar to

Solve x^12 + ... <random math> + 5 = 0 for x.

A poor question that falls under Lacking Context, in addition to poor formatting. In these cases is it even worth it to edit the question? Often it's a trivial edit such as adding $'s around the mathjax or changing "slove" to "solve". However, the post seems doomed to closure regardless.

I've read this answer which mentions editing can make the post more searchable and/or help educate a new user about the site. I don't think this applies here, because, while the formatting is a problem, it's not the main problem with the post. The main problem is the lack of context/effort shown.

I've also read this question, but it's about editing questions on hold, where I'm talking about new questions with relatively low activity.

Note: This is the particular question, which led me to ask this. I ended up editing it anyways, by simply adding $'s around the math. I'd also like to note that often if I don't make the trivial edit, someone else will.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd say it's up to you. It doesn't do any harm, and it does help improve the site quality (especially, IMHO, retagging if the tags are completely wrong). It can also have the positive result of letting the asker see what a well-formatted question looks like, and lead to improved asking style. On the other hand, many of these questions end up closed or deleted, so it doesn't have a lasting effect. Frequently, it's a waste of time. So I'd suggest that you don't burn yourself out on it; but if you find it fulfilling, good for you. $\endgroup$
    – user296602
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ At the same time, however, if an question has a title: Integration: ASAP!!!! and continues in the body of the question to list a bare integration problem, along with a plea for HELP NOW!!! PLEASE!!! I hesitate to edit, because there is much revealed about the question and its asker, in its original form, that would be lost with an edit to sanitize it for the asker. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ In the question you link to, I think your edit was very reasonable. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy even given that the question was put on hold? $\endgroup$
    – Dando18
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Dando18 yup... When (if) an asker's question (like the one I suggest above) is closed, it should be the asker's responsibility to improve the post. When others just need to edit, it puts such a poor post into the review queue. To hold off prettyfying the post leaves the asker a choice: improve the post, and with the asker's improvement, the post is considered for reopening; or not do anything. The asker needs to be responsible for the question s/he asks. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, @Dando18, with respect to the question you edited, which led your to post here, Your edits were strictly formatting a statement using mathjax. I see nothing wrong with that. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ Another important consideration for on-hold posts is that the first post-closure edit kicks them into the reopen review queue. If the only changes are typographical, it's unlikely to be reopened then. Subsequent edits do not automatically lead to the review. $\endgroup$
    – user296602
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ If a question is unreadable because of formatting. I will typically edit it to see what the question really is. If the underlying question is not a complete trash, I will commit the edit and/or ask for additional clarification in comment. Otherwise, I'll downvote and/or cast an extra close vote. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ If you're asking "should I bother" it suggests that you don't think your effort on that particular question will be appreciated by the person asking the question. Maybe you should instead ask yourself "is there something more interesting on my plate?" Maybe new questions under a specific tag, or maybe something not even on this website. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


It is not rare that an OP can be drawn into explaining some context for such a Question in the Comments below it. If the Question seems to be sufficiently interesting to contribute to Math.SE, then I might add the context into the body of the Question myself.

The rationale of course is that an edit of that kind can make the Question worth keeping.

In the category of edits that don't address a lack of context or other reasons for closing, the improvement of math formatting, etc. can be justified as showing the right way to do things (for a new user). I'd suggest doing this quickly if that is the motive -- it will tend to encourage a new user that their Question is being considered and reward the impulse to improve further, and it will avoid kicking the post into a post-closure Reopen Review (per @user296602's Comment).

  • $\begingroup$ that makes sense, but I don't think I've ever seen a trivial edit provoke a poster to add context. do you have an example of that? $\endgroup$
    – Dando18
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Dando the idea as I understand it is that the context is first clarified with the OP in the comments, and then edited by an established user into the question. The edit doesn't lead to getting context; it's the engagement in comments that does that. Meanwhile the recommendation for improving layout, phrasing & format is to do it quickly, before the close-vote brigade scents blood. $\endgroup$
    – Joffan
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ I think some of these suggestions are inappropriate. The folks I see who edit a questions to make it as inoffensive as possible, are usually answerers who want the question to fare well for the legitimizing of their answers, and occasionally, edit the question to conform to what they have interpreted to be the question. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, comment. Point out how an asker can improve his/her post (not your post). Try to help the asker clarify, define terms. Aside from mathjax formatting, adding context for the asker presumes one knows exactly what the asker's motivation, or attempts, or source, etc. That's pretty arrogant to presuppose. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 23:48

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