General question: if a question by another user is put on hold by moderators because it is 'unclear what you are asking' is it ok to edit it to make it clear what is being asked?

This came up with this question: 50 villager problem

This question does not show what efforts the poster made to solve the problem himself but it seemed like an interesting problem to me so I posted a comment with a hint on how to solve it. Then the question was put on hold as 'unclear what you are asking'.

It seems pretty clear to me what the poster was asking so I added the edit with a hopefully clearer reformulation of what the question is. Is that a reasonable thing to do? If moderators agree that the question is now clear, should the on hold status be lifted?

Note that the original poster gave me a thank you note and an upvote for my comment, so from his perspective, the questions are solved but the current status on SE doesn't really reflect that so it seems unsatisfactory to me.

  • $\begingroup$ Can someone explain to me why this question is downvoted? $\endgroup$ – quarague Mar 11 at 14:28
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It's possible that downvotes are based on objections to this as a general proposal, rather than on the "specific question" merits, or vice versa. It is certainly reasonable to pursue a clarification of Questions in an exchange of comments with the OP (this is a primary purpose of Comments). Whether it is reasonable to "jump the gun" and edit the Question without waiting for the OP to chime in is another matter. I would not rule it out in specific cases (language difficulties being one "edge case"), but as to the general flow, Questions placed on hold are meant for the OP to improve. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Mar 11 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ You refer twice to "moderators", quarague. The question was not put on hold by moderators, but by users who have enough points to vote to close; moderators rarely lift an on hold status, again leaving that option to users who have enough points to vote to reopen. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Mar 12 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson: sorry for the unclear language there. I didn't know the inner workings of SE well enough to make the distinction between moderators and high reputation users (who do have the power to moderate). $\endgroup$ – quarague Mar 12 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ No worries, quarague; no one is born knowing all the fine points of life at stackexchange. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Mar 12 at 8:05

Sometimes it is simply the case that you see something the close voters didn't, and were able to understand the OP's meaning more easily. For example, clarity problems can often arise from language barriers, which some find easier to deal with than others.

The primary concern here is the possibility of your edit going against the author's intent. There are obvious difficulties with knowing the intent behind a question that is truly unclear. If, however, you are reasonably sure that you understand what the author intended to say, it is absolutely acceptable (and very helpful) to edit the question for clarity. Certainly, there are examples where people have made erroneous clarifying edits after misconstruing the OP's intent, but these mistakes are exceptional, and they are not difficult to reverse.

Whether or not the question will be reopened as a result of the edit depends on the result of a reopen vote. It's also important to note that there is no guarantee that the question will not be immediately reclosed for a different reason (e.g. lacking context).

With these things in mind, it is your decision whether making the edit is a reasonable use of your time. Personally, I frequently edit questions for clarity (even when they are not already closed) when I think they are interesting and worthwhile to the site. On the other hand, I avoid doing so when the OP is non-responsive to comments, or when the question is not that good anyway.


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