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What should I do when editing a post, or suggesting an edit?

Math SE is a collaborative platform where almost anyone can contribute. One way in which you can improve the site is by editing posts (questions or answers) written by others. While the Help Center does provide some guidance on editing, this advice is primarily directed at users with over 2000 reputation, who are permitted to make edits without undergoing review.

The purpose of this FAQ is to expand on that advice, and also to give some guidance to users with less than 2000 reputation, who must have their suggested edits approved by other community members.

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  • $\begingroup$ Suggested edits for tag wikis occasionally pop up, and the advice below is less suited for this. Perhaps something can be added? $\endgroup$ – Calvin Khor Apr 4 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @CalvinKhor I don't think that tag wiki edits are common enough nor distinct enough to merit extra discussion (to my mind, the only real distinction is that tag wikis don't "age", so any of the advice related to bumping old topics is less relevant---all of the other advice remains good). $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Apr 5 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Sure ok. Do edits to community wiki posts enter the queue as well? I would guess not, but the tag wikis are something like community wiki posts. There are some very barebones tag wikis and any reasonable edit might severely deviate from the original. There is also no issue of ‘context’ in the sense of amWhy’s comment as tag wikis don’t get closed (though a tag wiki might help justify the tag’s existence). $\endgroup$ – Calvin Khor Apr 6 at 4:33
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, maintaining the "voice" of the post is also less important, as tag wikis are essentially "authorless". Again, I really don't think that it is a such a big deal---you aren't going to go wrong if you follow the advice given below, but tag wikis and community wiki posts can be edited a little more loosely. Of course, if you feel that a separate answer is needed, you are welcome to provide such. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Apr 6 at 12:41
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When Editing

  • Consider the age of the post.

    Whenever a post is edited, it is bumped to the top of the Active Questions list on the front page. This crowds out other posts which are also deserving of attention. If a question is relatively old and already has several answers, it likely doesn't need the renewed attention—such a post should not be edited unless the edit provides a substantial improvement to the question (e.g. edits to correct a single spelling error should probably be avoided). On the other hand, smaller cosmetic edits to very new posts are more acceptable.

  • Make a noticeable improvement to the post.

    Edits should typically be used to make significant, important improvements to a post. When you make an edit, please ensure that the changes you are making actually make the post noticeably better. This is particularly true in the case of posts which have been closed for lacking clarity, detail, or context—if you engage in editing such a question, make sure that the final product meets the guidelines outlined in the post How to ask a good question. , and before editing a question to include additional context, please read the Guidelines for context edits and rewrites .

    Making an edit to bring a low-quality question up to site standards is particularly important in cases when the question has already been closed. The first edit made to a closed question will send that question to the Reopen Review Queue, but subsequent edits will not have this effect. Thus if the first edit doesn't improve the question so that it meets the site's quality standards, then the question is unlikely to be reopened through the Reopen Review Queue. As such, making small cosmetic changes to a closed question without fixing more substantial problems can unfairly punish the asker.

    To avoid this, make sure that edits do as much as possible to clean up or correct a post. If you edit a post to add a tag or to fix the formatting in a title, also check to see if there are other issues which need correcting: correct spelling and grammar mistakes, improve the formatting of the mathematics, remove salutations, add necessary links, and so on. When an edit is completed, the post should be up to the quality standards of the site.

  • Adhere to the original post's style.

    Edits which significantly alter the original style of a post are discouraged. For example, please do not replace \lim_{x\to a} ($\lim_{x\to a}$) with \displaystyle\lim_{x\to a} ($\displaystyle\lim_{x\to a}$) or \lim\limits_{x\to a} ($\lim_{x\to a}$) (or vice versa); don't change $\sin x$ to $\sin(x)$; don't Americanize or Britishify spellings (e.g. don't replace "color" with "colour" or vice versa); etc. Please also note that there is a general guideline on the site to avoid titles which stretch the vertical spacing. Thus the use of \displaystyle, \dfrac, \dbinom, etc is strongly discouraged.

  • Don't just remove "noise".

    Greetings, salutations, goodbyes, and expressions of thanks are generally considered to be noise, and it is entirely appropriate to remove such noise from posts while making other significant edits. However, please do not edit a post just to remove such noise. For more details on this, please refer to the meta question Deleting 'thanks for help' from posts .

  • Write a clear edit summary.

    This is particularly true for users who have not yet accrued enough reputation to make edits without approval, but is good practice for everyone. When an edit is made, there is a field for entering an edit summary, which should describe the edits being made. This helps reviewers to understand why you are editing a post, and can help draw attention to seemingly small changes. These edit summaries can also serve as guidance for the original poster, who might learn from the changes you make.

  • Limit the number of edits you make.

    This is true both in a local sense, and in a global sense.

    In a local sense, do not make many edits to a single post. As noted, every edit bumps the post to the top of the Active Questions list, and decreases the visibility of other posts. This isn't fair to the users who have posted these questions, so please try to avoid excessive editing. If a post is very complicated, you might consider using the Sandbox for drafts of long, complex posts on Meta. This can be a good place to get your thoughts clarified and the formatting worked out before making an edit (or posting a question or answer in the first place).

    In a global sense, try not to edit too many posts at once. A good rule of thumb is that you should never bump more than one or two posts to the front page at the same time. After editing one post, give it some time to fall off of the front page before editing another. Or limit yourself to only four or five edits per day.

    In both cases, the goal is to ensure that everyone has fair access to the front page.

When Suggesting an Edit

All of the above guidelines hold when suggesting an edit, only more so. While it might be acceptable for a grizzled veteran to make a small change to a very old post and leave a useless edit summary, new users who need to have their edits approved by the community should avoid this kind of editing. When you suggest an edit, you are asking other users to take some time out of their day in order to review your work. Please respect their time and suggest edits which make significant improvements, rather than minor cosmetic or quality-of-life alterations.

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  • $\begingroup$ For the first point the "Thanks" issue might worth some particular mention. $\endgroup$ – TheSimpliFire Jan 16 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSimpliFire Good call. I've added a bullet point, and a link to the previous discussion. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jan 16 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Are all of these facts about edit queue and front-page bumping just true for edits of others' posts, or also when you edit your own? I ask because I will sometimes review an answer I wrote a couple of weeks ago and tweak a word, or fix a spelling mistake. If these bump the post to the front page then I'll stop doing this (because I hate old questions that are front page bumped for minor edits). I know you say "written by others" at the top, but maybe repeat this in the "Limit the number .." section? I know it would clarify the issue for me. $\endgroup$ – JonathanZ supports MonicaC Jan 16 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I very much appreciate your making explicit the distinction between fresh posts and old posts. $\endgroup$ – JonathanZ supports MonicaC Jan 16 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JonathanZsupportsMonicaC Any time a post is edited, it jumps to the top of the front page, whether it was edited by the original poster or by someone else. For this reason, one should be a little more cautious editing old posts, even if they are the original author. On the other hand, bumping one post every month or two when you find a typo isn't a big deal, and "a couple of weeks old" is not that old. This is more about preventing new users from making, say, 100 edits to change "continuos" to "continuous" across the site over the course of three days (and yes, this has happened). $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jan 16 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson- Thanks. I was pretty sure my activities were on the less intrusive side, but I appreciate the guidance. $\endgroup$ – JonathanZ supports MonicaC Jan 16 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ I think also highly relevant to both suggested edits, and edits in general, are the Guidelines for context edits and rewrites. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jan 16 at 22:40
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Editing Closed Questions

If a question has been closed, the first edit of that question made within five days of closure will place that question to be placed in the "Reopen" review queue. Subsequent edits will not return a closed question to the queue. Hence the first edit made to a closed question is very important in the life of that question: minor edits which improve grammar or formatting—while potentially welcome—rob the question of a chance to be significantly improved to address the closure.

Please, if you edit a question which has been recently closed, make sure that the edits that you make improve the question enough that it can be reopened. Please do not simply add MathJax formatting or make small grammatical or spelling corrections. Consider helping the asker to understand why their question was closed, and think about how you might help them to improve their question so that it can be reopened.

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