# As a novice user, what crime did I commit?

### My Story

I am a novice SE user, a toddler. After visiting the Help Center, I realized that one way of contributing to this community is editing. I browsed in the Help Center and found the guideline of editing from here.

In that page the reasons for editing are mentioned such as "To fix grammar", "To correct minor mistakes", and so on. But there is a word needed to be clarified: "Edits are expected to be substantial. I found the clarification here: In the response to the question "Why does this threshold (changing at least six characters) exist?", it is stated that "Suggested edits are intended to be substantive and improve the post overall, rather than just focusing on one issue."I So, all things are clear for a novice user to start editing.

### So, What happened ...?

I never knew that one can see their editing activity on their profile until about some days ago. I was notified that one of my edits was rejected. I did not know its real reason. I followed the guideline of editing; there were some grammatical errors needed to be fixed.

One more surprising thing was that some of my edit was applied by a high rep user, who had rejected my edit. I have no objection to that because high rep users are trusted, they have right to do almost all things they want to do in this community (Some of their privileges can be seen here), and, most important, they are high rep.

### We are not here to listen to your tragedy. What do you want from us?

As I said, I have no objection. I, as a typical non-high-rep user, only want the following issues to be answered so that I will never commit such a crime again.

1- As I said, I followed the guideline of editing. If there exists some other one, please let me know. Please, please, and please do not mention some hidden rules like bumping because I hope that you do not expect novice users to browse through all comments under Meta posts to find unwritten rules such as historical reason. It seems that here is a popular scientific community, whose trusted members claim that they are (future) mathematicians and expect others to ask and talk in a precise and rigorous way. So, should any clear and sharp rules, instead of vague terms like "critical" or "superfluous", not exist so that non-high-rep users' time and energy are not wasted and automatically ban, suspension, ... do not happen to them?

And

2- Suppose that my edit was the worst and most superfluous one throughout the history of MSE. So, why should a small part of my edit be applied by a high-rep user, who had rejected all my edit?

In brief,

# What was my wrong?

## Updated

I.

So, the word "substantive" means that an edit should change at least six characters. This is the only clarification that I can find in the SE guidelines (i.e., Help Center and Meta Posts confirmed by SE community managers). Ok, if you do not accept this interpretation, please bring yours with appropriate references.

II.

### Important

Unfortunately, it seems that I could not convey my main concern; people here are trying to show that why my edit was not substantial. This is not the main issue. Please read my first question carefully. I say that when I, as a novice user, want to edit a post, I try to apply the rules mentioned in the Help Center or guideline Meta posts. In the Help Center it is explicitly stated that "Common reason for edits include: To fix grammar, To correct minor mistakes, ...", and there exists the word "substantial", which is needed to be clarified, as explained in the second paragraph and (I). A novice user should not browse all comments under Meta posts to find the SE guidelines. When an edit is rejected, it should be explained which part of the editing guideline has been violated.

III.

### Very Very Important

I appreciate all your personal opinions; each of them is a good answer to the question "How can I edit a post well?". But, this is not the question of this Meta post. People here are still trying to explain how a well edit should be. All the answers and comments are opinion-based; none of them gives a reference or link to material in the Help Center (in contrast to what I did in my original post). Some people claim that an edit must be symmetric and address all issue with a post. I do not know why I cannot find such an important and short point in the editing guideline of the Help Center.

Some people claim that their own interpretation of the word "substantial" is the correct one, again without mentioning any reference. I clarified the meaning of "substantial" in the second paragraph of my original post and the point (I); "substantial" means "changing at least six characters", according to the reference. If you do not agree with me, please disprove it, with linking a reference.

Some people claim that all the nuances should not be mentioned in the Help Center. Why? Here is the only community I have ever seen that some of its trusted users state that a detailed guideline is not needed for the community. Please see the editing guideline of Quora; although it is detailed, it occupies a web page. The MSE does not have enough space to allocate a web page for such nuances? Is it not possible to extract the nuances from the comments under the Meta posts and insert them in the Help Center?

Some people claim that the MSE is a community of people that develop the norms (i.e., the unwritten rules) of their own. I completely disagree with this claim. The burden of codifying SE rules (norms, culture, or whatever you called) is on the SE community managers, and any SE member should not and cannot change even a tiny part of them. For example, even the moderators cannot add a dot in the guidelines included in the Helping Center. No privileges and no moderating tool allow anyone to develop any norm (I hope no moderators and no high-rep users are disturbed by my words. I really appreciate your efforts on this website. Although you are super-busy, you manage this community well).

There is a new claim stating that the MSE is not a mathematical object but a human one. I completely agree with it. However, please note that the members of a human community should not be allowed to have their own interpretation. For example, consider a city with some specific rules. What would be happen if the people were allowed to act according to their interpretation of the rules? We would then have an anarchic city. Suppose that I, as a novice user, agree with the comments and answers posted here. Even in this case, we have somewhat inconsistent opinions about the acceptable edit. For example, if my edit were reviewed by someone who believes that "fixing a very minor grammatical error is fine for very new posts", as one of the MSE moderators do, then my edit would be accepted according to this view. However, if my edit were reviewed by someone who believes that fixing very minor grammatical error is not fine even for very new posts, then my edit would be rejected. So, we, novice users, do not know how we should edit posts. Please note that I believe that the editing guideline in the Help Center is completely clear, but it seems that some high-rep users do not like that the posts can be easily edited (because of bumping and other reasons) and so want to reject minor edits.

## Conclusion

After posting the issue here, the attacks started. I, as a novice user, was heavily blamed and scolded; some people shouted at and ordered me not to make another edit even on this Meta post. Why? Because I wanted to improve the quality of the MSE posts. Because I devoted my time and energy to remove minor mistakes from the posts. Because I wanted to contribute honestly (As you know well, there are many users raising their reputation dishonestly). Because I wanted to ... .

So, I have to conclude that I committed a crime; in fact, I am not a novice user but a criminal. Now, I have a horror of editing or posting questions and answers on the MSE. I have a horror of contributing to this community. I have a horror of an automatically ban or suspension. I have a horror of ... .

• – Arctic Char May 18 at 8:56
• I did not read all of your rejected edit, but for this one, you might consider also changing the Lemma into latex. That would definitely be a substantial edit. This one seems also to be very non-essential. – Arctic Char May 18 at 9:07
• You may see this answer, the high upvotes indicates that it's the community's view on the issue, IMO. – Arctic Char May 18 at 9:26
• I do believe that your edit is not irrelevant, while it's not much, it does improve the reading. What bothers me is that it's not symmetric, that is if you're going to correct some grammar, then it's fine (atleast for me), however try to correct everywhere the same mistake, not only in a single place, but perhaps you missed it which is not the end of the world. – Zacky May 18 at 10:07
• Above I'm talking that the bolded words from bellow which could have been added too, given that you added them at their first appeareance. "and also that if an upper-triangular matrix has an upper-triangular inverse, then its diagonal is invertible. So all I need to prove is that if an upper-triangular matrix (is) invertible". I prefer this all day instead of: " if upper-triangular matrix invertible" and in my view it's an edit that counts as substantial. – Zacky May 18 at 10:20
• Related discussion: Abuse “Reject-and-Edit” to reject singlehandedly. – T. S May 18 at 13:42
• You should stop tinkering around with old posts. Performing marginal edits is already somewhat controversial, suggesting them results in a push-back, which is what you experience. A key point to note is that there is a difference between "editing" and "suggesting edits." In any case, as said above already, you should at the very least address all issues with a post. – quid May 19 at 12:52
• Please do not call out specific users. If you are having a problem with a specific user, flag a question, answer, or comment with which they have interacted. – Dr. Xander Henderson May 19 at 13:37
• You know, Later, for a mathematical object – say, a vector space – you can write down a precise definition, and then you can tell without any doubt whether something someone hands you is, or is not, that kind of object. But math.stackexchange is not a mathematical object; it is a human object. No set of rules can cover with complete precision every situation that arises, and the rules that are set up are open to interpretation. And as with most human objects, as much as you may dislike the idea, there are unwritten rules, and there are customs, and there are community norms. Continued. – Gerry Myerson May 20 at 12:51
• (Continued) That's the way human institutions work. The longer you take part here, the more feeling you will develop for what's accepted and what isn't. You keep asking for "references". Here, as in other human activities, precedent often supersedes references. If it's good enough for the Supreme Court of the United States, it's good enough for math.stackexchange. – Gerry Myerson May 20 at 12:57
• Your latest unnecessary edit, Later, notes that different people may have different views on the suitability of a proposed edit. That's how human institutions work. We can't live with inconsistency in Mathematics, but we live all the time with inconsistencies outside it, especially if they concern teeny-tiny matters like the amount or type of change you have to make to count as a suitable edit to a question or an answer on a website. It's just not worth all the energy you are investing in it. Save that for the big battles over important things. Wind this up, and move on. (Continued) – Gerry Myerson May 20 at 23:18
• (continued) And, above all, DON'T MAKE ANOTHER EDIT. – Gerry Myerson May 20 at 23:18
• However, back to what you said, we can agree that the "codifying" of the guidelines is done by SE, but their exact interpretation and enforcement is delegated to local communities. – quid May 22 at 11:23
• There seems to be a basic logic-error in your reasoning. What is clear is that, for better or worse, no edit with less than six characters is considered as substantive. This does not imply that every edit with at least six characters is to be considered as substantive. – quid May 22 at 14:44
• 'any ordinary user concludes that "an edit should be substantial" means that it should change at least six characters' I highly doubt that. – quid May 22 at 17:10

$$1.$$ Your edits actually do not follow the guidelines that you've listed because they are not substantial. You added two words and two commas, none of which were required to improve the clarity of the post and none of which make a significant difference to what was written.

That's going to seem a little harsh because you can correctly argue that proper English grammar requires those changes. That's true, but no native speaker is going to fail to understand what's written without those changes, and most non-native speakers who can read as much text as is in that question will have no problems with minor mistakes either. Since you haven't materially changed the question with your edits, they are not substantial.

$$2.$$ I don't know what was going through the reviewer's mind when they decided to apply part of your edit, especially since they didn't apply the only part that would have been a good correction (adding the word "is"), but a few general guidelines here:

$$2.1.$$ Don't treat high-rep-worth as meaning that that person is no longer human. Everyone (except Community, I think) is human on this site, and people with $$100$$k rep can overlook things, be having a bad day, or even mistype and perform an action that on other days they too would decry. Likewise, you might have only $$107$$ rep at the time I'm answering this, but I have no way of knowing if you perhaps have been teaching mathematics at a professorial level for $$20$$ years so far and have only just joined. Rep tells you that someone has answered a lot of questions (or possibly, but less likely, asked a lot of well-received questions) and nothing else.

$$2.2.$$ Don't obsess over having an edit rejected. There are far worse things that can happen to you. By all means ask for a second opinion, but accept that you might have to walk away with the moral highground of knowing you were right, but seeing nothing done about it. And, more importantly, don't give up because of one bad experience. Every author has a tale to tell you about their rejections; this is one of yours and maybe one day you'll have $$100$$k rep and can people all about how, when you started out, you got an edit rejected and listen to them gasp in horror.

• @Later if you take the whole sentence from the Help Centre instead of the part you quoted: "Edits are expected to be substantial and to leave the post better than you found it." -- you didn't leave the post better than you found it. In real terms, you left it the same as your changes don't make any important difference to someone reading the post. There's no clear distinction on this site drawn between editing and copy-editing, but what did was a minor copy-edit and what the site wants is true edits. – postmortes May 18 at 16:19
• @Later I'm not going to comment on any user individually. If there is a problem and it's urgent, flag it with a moderator or visit the Math Mods Office chatroom and talk to them directly there please :) – postmortes May 19 at 9:53

The question is of course "what is a substantial edit"?

The answer is not absolute. And it has a time-related factor. The longer it's been since the content (question or answers) on the page was edited, the more substantial I'd expect the edit to be.

So if a post was made yesterday, fixing a very minor grammatical error is fine. If a post was made a decade ago, not so fine.

We currently have 1.25 million questions and 1.71 million answers (not accounting for deleted stuff!), and this means that if we start fixing everything, even if nothing new is posted on the site, we will still have a lot of turnover on the front page for quite a long time.

The focus should be on newer content when possible. Otherwise we just take all the attention from new questions. That's not to say that older problems shouldn't be fixed, but there is a scale. And the older the post is, the more we can assume that certain problems can be easily understood and overcome by the reader. For example, minor grammatical issues like "a" vs. "an" or a missing comma.

Your proposed edit was on a question from ten years ago that was last active over six years ago. If I had seen it, I would have simply rejected it.

Let me add that this is not only about edits, but also about new answers. If you answer a very old question, this answer should bring something substantial to the table. That means a new approach, or some new advances in the years past since the question was made. Unfortunately, many answers in this situation tend to be low quality contributions that mirror well-accepted answers from years ago.

• There is a learning curve for everything. You can watch people behave and engage slowly to allow easy correcting, or you can cannonball into the pool, or one of many paths between these two approaches. – Asaf Karagila May 18 at 14:41
• Can you tell me whether the statement "So if a post was made yesterday, fixing a very minor grammatical error is fine. If a post was made a decade ago, not so fine" and the claim stating that older posts need more substantial edit than new ones come from an editing guideline, or they are personal opinions? – Later May 18 at 14:44
• As you are a moderator, please see "Emergency" in the updated post; there is a case needed to be examined. – Later May 19 at 9:37
• Yes, I agree, it also needs to be examined why you keep making minor changes on very old posts. – Asaf Karagila May 19 at 9:39
• If you show me there is a guideline prohibiting a user from editing minor changes on very old posts, I will promise not to commit such a crime. Thanks. – Later May 19 at 9:44
• I guess a meta post by a moderator is not enough? What is a guideline, then? – Asaf Karagila May 19 at 9:44
• Then, why should the content of that post not be included in the Help Center? – Later May 19 at 9:46
• It says substantial. I don't see how an exercise in minor grammatical corrections on a very old post is in any kind of way substantial. – Asaf Karagila May 19 at 10:24
• @Later because there is a trade-off between giving a basic overview and giving all the nuances. You asked about the nuances, you got a reply. Now follow it. – quid May 19 at 12:59
• @AsafKaragila I will be glad to have your opinion about the updated post. As you know, I am a novice user, so I hope that my behavior on my first Meta post will not lead to any suspension. – Later May 20 at 9:40
• @quid I will be glad to have your opinion about the updated post. As you know, I am a novice user, so I hope that my behavior on my first Meta post will not lead to any suspension. – Later May 20 at 9:41

In addition to the excellent points already mentioned by others, I feel the urge to emphasize that your edits being rejected does not mean that you were wrong in trying to suggest an edit, or that your edit was "wrong". Suggesting an edit only to have it rejected is not a "crime". What it means is that the specific reviewers looking at your edit did not feel that it was substantial or useful, and thus rejected it. This is a very subjective matter. You will see, for instance, that one of the reviewers in fact approved your suggested edit (and for what it's worth, I would have too).

The question of whether or not your edit was substantial and thus should have been accepted has been discussed at length, so I won't do so here. Same for the question of why there is a rep limit of 2k to be able to unilaterally edit posts without review. Don't obssess over this rejection. It is a minor occurance and your desire to edit questions and answers to improve the quality of posts on this site is definitely applaudable, and I hope you stay around and contribute even more to the site.

• Thank you for your answer. I think your answer is better than the others because you did not try to impose any artificial interpretation of the guideline in the Help Center. However, I cannot accept that the acceptance of suggested edits is a subjective matter. Please see the guidelines linked in my original post. All things mentioned there are clear and well-defined. I think that if a community manager is notified of such artificial rules (like "editing must be symmetric", "minor changes on very old posts are not acceptable", ...), they refuse them. – Later May 21 at 8:49
• I think the community (especially high-rep users and moderators) should acknowledge the novice users, who devote their time and energy for improving the quality of posts, instead of blaming them. I was heavily blamed while some people continue their misbehavior without being suspended. Is this fair? – Later May 21 at 9:04
• "I cannot accept that the acceptance of suggested edits is a subjective matter." And I cannot accept the Law of Gravity. Maybe we should form a club. – Gerry Myerson May 21 at 9:42
• @GerryMyerson But, there is a difference: You can find the Law of Gravity in many valid references easily, but such artificial rules are hardly found in some comments under some posts. – Later May 21 at 9:51
• @Later It is clearly a subjective matter, and I honestly do not understand how you can possibly disagree. I am perfectly well-aware of the guidelines, and everything there is subjective. "Edits are expected to be substantial": what does "substantial" here mean? Is fixing the grammar of a single sentence substantial? I think it's substantial enough to warrant an edit, but others clearly disagree. And that's alright. – YiFan May 21 at 10:24
• @Later I have to admit that I do not see any way in which you have been blamed by high rep users or moderators. Many of them have had differing opinions (some think that your edit was not substantial enough), and perhaps worded their comments in a cut-and-dry way that could be interpreted as harsh. But I don't see any blame going on. I do not see any misbehavior that should warrant suspension, either. – YiFan May 21 at 10:26
• @Later In the United States, the federal government is operated under the framework set forth in the Constitution. This framework is buttressed by thousands of pages of federal laws, which are implemented via millions of pages of federal regulation. The rules are set out in exacting detail. With all of these laws and regulations, you would think that things would be unambiguous. Yet, somehow, the Supreme Court hasn't gone out of business. – Dr. Xander Henderson May 21 at 11:58
• If important questions like "Who is allowed to speak in the public square?" cannot be resolved once and for all in an objective and precise manner, what makes you think that something as trivial and unimportant as editing page on the internet has any hope of being permanently adjudicated? – Dr. Xander Henderson May 21 at 11:58
• The guidelines on this site (not rules, not laws, not immutable forces of nature) are meant to give a very basic framework. Everything else is a judgement call on the part of individual users. These things are subjective, and resistant to permanent, objective solutions. In cases of controversy, meta is where things get hashed out. In your case, you have been told by many users that the meaning of "substantial" is subjective, that you did nothing wrong by suggesting the edit, but that the user(s) who rejected your suggestions also did nothing wrong. Stop obsessing; it isn't good for you. – Dr. Xander Henderson May 21 at 12:02
• @YiFan The word "substantial" has been clarified here; please find the word "substantive" on that page to see the interpretation of the word. As I explained in my original post, one can conclude that "substantive" means "changing at least six characters". So, it is not subjective. – Later May 22 at 14:43
• @Later That is, simply, not true. Your interpretation of the word "substantive" is not shared by anyone but yourself. Your edit was rejected because the reviewers felt your edit was not substantive. The rejection reason, which is part of the SE software, is "This edit does not make the post even a little bit easier to read, easier to find, more accurate or more accessible. Changes are either completely superfluous or actively harm readability." If you are not going to accept what is obviously true, I will not try to convince you any further. This is my last word on the subject. – YiFan May 22 at 22:51
• @XanderHenderson If a guideline (rule, law, ...) is subjective and has more than one interpretations, then there must be a flaw in it. By a "guideline" I mean a thing which a person has to follow; otherwise, the person will be penalized. According to this definition, the editing instruction of the SE network is a guideline because if my suggested edits are rejected repeatedly then I will be automatically banned or even may be suspended. As I explained in my original post and several comments, the word "substantial" has been completely clarified. – Later May 23 at 10:02
• @Later A guideline is not a law. Guidelines are rough principles which are mean to guide action, not dictate it. The guidelines are intentionally written in a broad, general manner so that each individual community may interpret them as is appropriate. This lack of specificity is a feature, not a bug. – Dr. Xander Henderson May 23 at 13:59
• In any event, you have built a mountain out of a molehill, and seem to have decided that this is the molehill you want to die on. Despite all of the comments and answers explaining to you that (1) this isn't a big deal and (2) this is how communities of people function, you are continuing to fight and debate. You have been given feedback which clarifies the guidelines (this is one of the roles of meta), yet you seem unwilling to accept that feedback, and make the same arguments over and over again. – Dr. Xander Henderson May 23 at 14:05
• It is clear that you have no interest in accepting the advice that you have been given, and that further explanation is not going to go anywhere. I'm out. – Dr. Xander Henderson May 23 at 14:06

The way I see this: as a "low-rep", the community is not yet confident you know the rules, and your activity is checked in a review queue. The same happens in other communities, such as Wikipedia, and I believe it's a good way to deal with newbies learning the rules. And no, it's not a crime to have to learn.

If there are many small edits in the review queue, it's a burden for the community to have to check this. Therefore, it may be more easily admissible for a "high-rep" to do small edits (provided they are useful), since it won't cause any trouble (apart from pushing the question up, but that's another matter).

It may look unfair, but it's a practical consideration.

So, the solution is the same as suggested here: get to 2k as soon as possible.

An example for some perspective: very often proper names are mistyped on MSE. When I see this, I correct the name, and sometimes it's just one letter (but usually there are also other grammar problems). I believe it's important to have the correct names on MSE, so I do that kind of edit. I think it could be frowned upon by reviewers, though.

It's not a question of "privilege", it's a question of burden to the community.