This is a bit of a puzzler for me and I'd like to try to work out what our community norms and guidelines are around this topic.

Suppose user A posts a question which is a bit light on context. User B sees this and decides that they want to improve the question so that it might avoid closure/deletion (or in the case it's closed, to push for reopening). The way in which user B does this is by adding a partial attempt to the original question, pursuant to the first suggestion of "including your work" in the guide on how to ask a good question.

When and under what conditions is this appropriate behavior?

On the one hand I understand and appreciate the motivation to improve a question that you like but which is perhaps not quite up to our community standards. On the other, including a solution attempt by someone who's not the OP strikes me as potentially a little dishonest, and contrary to the principle that "[e]ven edits that must make drastic changes should strive to preserve the goals of the post's owner" (this is from the suggested edit review dialog). There's also a potential issue with such an edit occurring after an answer has been submitted: if the added attempt is just the first step of the submitted solution, this feels unsatisfying to me.

Relevant Examples

Question 2524460: Looking at the edit history, it would seem that this is a fairly large edit which adds a nearly-complete solution to the post and changes the intent of the post from "where can I start on this" to "how do I do this without this particular argument". I'm not really a fan of this.

Question 124663: In this question, I found David Speyer's edit explaining why this question was difficult (essentially "the approach you'd want to take doesn't work because of the following problem") to be a valuable addition to the post, even if it's at least passingly similar to the sort of edit above that ruffles my feathers.


I'd like to explicate our community norms/policies about what sort of edits to add context are appropriate. Answers should address general principles for what sort of context is acceptable to add as an editor to questions by others, how this changes based on the general situation surrounding the question (whether the question is already answered, one's previous interactions with the question, etc) and ideally include discussion of examples (either those I've provided in this post or other posts from MSE) to see the potential effects of proposed guidelines.

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    $\begingroup$ I am the culprit for this problem. I will admit. I did not want to do this. Why would I want to waste my time, unless I think the question is worthwhile. In a lot of these questions, I did not answer, so I gain nothing. I find that the delete committee of Math.SE are too extreme. Closing such questions is appropriate. But deleting them, I strongly disagree. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ That is not to say I do not appreciate the effort of users who frequent CURED. They were doing a thankless service. I think CURED is totally necessary. However, I think they should take into account the values of the answers too. And I think that their philosophy of punishing answerers is a bit problematic. Again, improving such questions to not be contextless requires a massive effort from my part. The geometry problem you referred to, I tried to find an angle of attack for quite a long while. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ And I would like to take this time to apologize to a lot of CURED members with whom I crashed. I do appreciate your hard work. Sometimes frustration got the better of me. It doesn't help that you thought I am a reputation-greedy user. I think nobody is blameless. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Batominovski you essentially plagiarized a question on behalf of the asker. The question should have remained deleted. If you thought it could possibly be a good question, with your excessive editing, you should have posted it as a new question. Just be honest about whose question was asked after your excessive editing. And instead of taking over the comments below this question, post an answer, and see how your fare in terms of votes?? $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jul 22, 2020 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I am trying to seek common ground. Please, I ask you, to be less confrontational. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ Please, you too, @Batominovski. You are confrontational every time you take it upon yourself to tear down and rebuild a question that the OP never asked. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jul 22, 2020 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ @KReiser FYI, I noticed a similar issue earlier, and asked about it in the Math Mods chat room. With the May $8$ transcript, you can see my original request as the fourth set of chat messages from the top. Also, as far I can tell in the next several days, I didn't get any responses from any math mods. However, you can read how Xander and amWhy responded to me in the sections above my final responses. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ There are certainly a few past discussions here on meta related to this topic. For example this one: Editing someone else's question to add context. (And the questions linked there are mostly touching on the issues of context, closures, deletions, etc.) $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ Dear @Batominovski, while your recent behavior was a contributing factor in starting this discussion, I'm interested in the issue at hand more broadly - any user with sufficient rep could conceivably make such an edit, and it appears to me that guidance in this area has been a little thin. I'd like to make our guidelines clearer that so that our community might function better. That's my primary purpose here - discussing or litigating recent goings-on is secondary to figuring out how we want to handle this situation in general. (Though clearly recent specifics can inform our perspective.) $\endgroup$
    – KReiser
    Jul 23, 2020 at 9:54

3 Answers 3


(What follows is my personal opinion. The mod team has not discussed this internally at length.)

You say that "[you]'d like to explicate our community norms/policies about what sort of edits to add context are appropriate". So I'll attempt to give my POV regarding that.

Edits to add context, in the general sense of context, can be very frequently appropriate and useful, particularly in old and/or interesting conceptual questions.

Let me give a theoretical example. Suppose someone makes a question which reads as:

Title: "Example of manifold"

Text: "Show an example of a manifold for which $\pi_1(M)=\mathbb{Q}$."

Let's put aside whether such a question should be closed or left open as is. What is important for the matter at hand is: Suppose that, instead of that, we had something like:

Title: "Is there an example of a manifold for which $\pi_1(M) =\mathbb{Q}$?"

Text: "Common intuitive explanations for the fundamental group usually involve some kind of counting of number of turns. It is known that manifolds must have at most countable fundamental groups, but given what was mentioned, it is unclear whether it would be possible for a manifold to have $\pi_1(M) =\mathbb{Q}$. Does there exist such an example? "

In my opinion, this improves the question. A potential problem is that this may be considered intrusive if the question is not old. A good practice could be to make the edit and signalize something to the OP, like: "Hello! I provided some background and context to your question. If you think something does not line up with your train of thought regarding how you came up with the question, feel free to change it to something more attuned with what you had in mind."

Edits to add attempts are considerably more problematic. Adding attempts for others misses the point of most aspects of what attempts by the OP are supposed to signify/signalize. To give some examples, it does not help to understand what tools are available to the OP, or what were the difficulties they may have found, or what kind of investment in the question exists etc. Of course, if the attempt was described in comments, then transcribing it is another thing altogether, but this is not what is being discussed. In fact, I don't see how including a solution attempt by someone who's not the OP is useful. And this is not even mentioning the problematic aspect of conflict of interest.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not disagreeing. I can see problematic aspects of what I have been doing. I would like to state that I think my actions were extreme responses to extreme actions. I would have not done this at all, if the questions were simply closed, and not deleted. If possible, I would like to not feel urged to do it again. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2020 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ Then please stop continuing to reinstate your problematic actions, @Batominovski $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jul 22, 2020 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ Although I wholeheartedly agree with this answer, I cannot see how it can be readily applied to high school/early undergrad "solve this" style questions, such as the first example in the question (the example which @Batominovski edited in an attempt). Do you have any suggestions on how this kind of question could be improved, or should pick their battles better? $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Jul 23, 2020 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ What if I'm in search of the answer, and I find a similar question, without any attempts and thus has no answer, or if it does, it is not satisfactory. So should I either bump the question, by editing it and adding MY attempt or ask a new one, mentioning the old question and hoping it doesn't get closed? $\endgroup$
    – UmbQbify
    Jul 23, 2020 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ @UmbQbify-Key20- I think that the best move here would be to write a good question of your own which mentions the posts you've found in your research and why they don't resolve your issue. After one of the posts has been answered, it may be appropriate to close one as a duplicate of the other, and this is an intended use case for that system. $\endgroup$
    – KReiser
    Jul 23, 2020 at 22:53

I guess I need to chime in because I have resorted to this tactic myself on occasion. My battle cry has been Whoever wants to preserve a question of doubtful quality should take charge and edit it into shape.

So I plead guilty to the charge of promoting this practice as one of the alternative ways of salvaging a broken question.


It makes for good context, when the asker works out a simple case of a general claim/question they cannot fully settle. When others do that on their behalf, it feels a bit unnatural, and is difficult to do well.

Sorry to rehash my related (mis)adventures. Listing them here mostly because they give us more examples to look at.

  • The first time I did this (bearing a still shiny new diamond) was discussed here. I radically edited a controversial question from this to this, enhancing its focus by deleting all but one of the questions (uncontroversial), but also added a solution to one instance (more controversial). Also, one of my objectives was to send a message to the anti-deletionist faction Do this, and you can save your precious answers. That didn't go down smooth like a mountain stream, but now I'm veering off-topic.
  • Here is another misadventure on this theme. I did this half-baked edit to salvage a question I found interesting, but was certainly lacking in context. I abused my diamond power to reopen a question, and only edited it after I was chastised for that. Bad aftertaste. Deservedly.
  • But, this practice can work out. I would say that my edit here was a success. The question got duly reopened. I put a bounty on it (was my plan when editing), and we now have better content on the site.

Is there anything to learn from these examples? May be the following:

Adding an attempted/partial solution on another user's behalf looks ok, when the person doing the editing has spent some time on the question themself, but is still somewhat in the dark. This is because then it is a genuine attempt. When the editor has solved the problem (or absorbed a solution provided by someone else), such an edit feels unnatural and artificial.

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    $\begingroup$ I would like to say, not to blame you for my decision, that your message "Whoever wants to preserve a question of doubtful quality should take charge and edit it into shape" was the reason I decided to add context to questions I like. But perhaps, I went too far. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 7:56
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    $\begingroup$ I really don't know where the line here is @Batominovski. It is delicate. I hope to mediate between you and your critics here by sharing the "blame". Thanks for providing some data points for this discussion. Let's see if we reach a conclusion. I still plan to open a separate (but parallel) discussion on adding context to contest questions. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 8:03
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    $\begingroup$ Let me get this straight. We're making up attempts on questions that could be useful and interesting in order to prevent people from deleting said useful questions? This just seems like a bureaucratic comic strip. Is there any reason why both sides can't just talk in order to come to a common solution, or is there something I'm missing here? $\endgroup$
    – N. Bar
    Jul 23, 2020 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ @N.Bar That could be ideal! But A) such talks cannot revolve around a single question (when it could be done in main), that simply does not scale well. B) For many a reason the talks about general policies have largely failed. One problem is that there is a sizable faction of users who want to concentrate on answering, and don't want to participate in the formulation of policies at all. Such users show up in meta only to complain about how some policy was applied in a case that affected their post. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ (cont'd) As a consequence of this they are admittedly at a disadvantage in the talks in meta - alone facing a "hostile" crowd of experienced meta-politicians ready with their repository of good arguments. C) The other faction (the one in favor of implementing and enforcing whatever passes for "quality control") is equally frustrated by the fact that whichever compromise gains support in meta is patently ignored by many others in the main site. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen I do understand the sad state of politics that has manifested itself in Meta and the main site. I would like to think much of this could be resolved in chat rooms, but that seems a tad optimistic. $\endgroup$
    – N. Bar
    Jul 23, 2020 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ @N.Bar That could work. I started toying about finding a more neutral venue after it became clear to me that this one faction does not feel "safe" discussing in meta. The election chatroom yesterday was kinda refreshing that both factions were present. The arguments (from both sides) still felt mostly like reruns of old stuff (guilty of that myself). Some pleasant surprises were there, though. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen Yes, I've been following the election pretty closely. Hopefully, we'll see some form of change! $\endgroup$
    – N. Bar
    Jul 23, 2020 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @N.Bar I tried to talk. It usually doesn't work. If it had worked, this wouldn't be my decision. All requests to preserve quality answers usually fall on deaf ears. In some cases, this resulted in quite intense interactions. Some users become very confrontational, and won't be reasoned with. And admittedly, I didn't respond well all the time. I become a downvote target frequently because of the conflicts (but I believe that users on the other side of the interactions also become downvote targets). $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 17:32

The action of closing is meant to be a signal of improvement of a post. Unfortunately, there are users who take it as a sort of "punishment" and make great efforts of rolling back any improvement that is not directly from the OP because the improvement makes the post exempt from being closed and deleted.

As long as the essence of the question in the post is not changed, community improvement of the post should not be rolled back.

Adding attempts to existent posts?

Once a question is posted and particularly when it is answered, the question-and-answer exchange become part of the repository of the site. There are users, notably members in the CURED chat room, who want to delete such completed exchange whenever "attempts" from OP is absent --- without "Deletion", it cannot be CURED.

Adding "solution attempts" to such exchange is an inconvenient attempt to salvage the exchange. It is nevertheless understandable: if such attempts add nothing to the repository, why the mumble-jumble from OP, which only serves as a temporary proof of "I have tried it" that is mostly useless noise for the future readers who are constantly encouraged to search the site more often, is a must in the first place?

Instead of "these posts must go to hell", we may suggest a "prescription" to "cure" if one wants to salvage a post from the execution list. One possible way is adding "context", which is by no means limited, let alone equivalent, to "solution attempts".

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    $\begingroup$ "As long as the essence of the question in the post is not changed, community improvement of the post should not be rolled back" seems to be an insufficient response to me. The point of this question is to make our policies about where the lines are on these sorts of edits and what qualifies as "changing the essence of the question" clearer, and I don't see your response doing that. Please consider revising your answer to more directly address the goals of the question. $\endgroup$
    – KReiser
    Jul 23, 2020 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ More than half of this answer is an off-topic rant with provocative tone and even arguably some logical issues ("if such attempts add nothing to the repository" is essentially begging the question; "why the mumble-jumble from OP (...) is a must in the first place?" It is not. Such is clear from the "Missing context" text, and even by the example of my answer.) The only salvageable parts of this answer are essentially the one quoted by KReiser and the very last phrase, both of which I agree with them to be insufficient. $\endgroup$
    – Aloizio Macedo Mod
    Jul 23, 2020 at 11:26

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