Should we accept/improve edit suggestions where the editors could obviously have done more?


Example 1: Fixing only one letter

Take this edit suggestion as an example. The only difference between the original and the suggested edit was the capitalization of the first word in the title.

Now, when I see a post with a pending edit, I'll mostly go ahead and just accept it or improve, unless it makes the post worse or is completely wrong. Actually, in almost every case, I will improve on it. For example, here I

  • removed the bold highlights
  • added a list in order to improve readability (because in my opinion the question was poorly formatted)

But in that case, the post could have been much more improved by the editor – and just fixing one capitalization? Wasn't there more to do?

Even the help for editing says:

We welcome all constructive edits, but please make them substantial. Avoid trivial, tiny one-letter edits unless absolutely necessary.

So – in such a case – shouldn't we reject such a suggested edit?


Example 2: Fixing only tags and minor changes, but leaving the rest alone

This post had its tags edited, which is basically a good thing, because could help others find this question.

But then again, the question

  • missed a question mark in the title (because the title was a question, after all)
  • had a spelling error ("Windows7" instead of "Windows 7")
  • mentions a "Mac Environment", whereas OS X would probably make more sense
  • had the hardware tag instead of the software tag which is misleading and a very common mistake in tagging on Super User
  • had a "thank you" that should be removed as well (while we're at it)

All very tiny things, but I believe those are justified edits. Now, editing tags only is fine. There was no suggestion involved here. But hypothetically, if there were just a small typo fix: Should we accept such an edit suggestion that only edits tags and apart from that does nothing to help a post?


Note that I have nothing against that particular user. Diogo, I'm sorry for picking these examples, but those were the ones I found immediately.

Also, editing is very subjective. But in some cases it's very clear that there is more to do than just fix a letter or a tag.

I welcome every edit suggestion, but in my humble opinion the +2 points you get for it aren't really justified if they are that trivial.

Also see the Stack Overflow Blog:

If you are going to edit a post, make sure you’re substantively improving it. Avoid making isolated, trivial edits, as they are the source of much friction. For example, don’t bother changing “its” to “it’s” unless you have several other edits to make in the same post.

There has to be a legitimate case that your edit made multiple changes transforming the post from good to great — or at least substantively improving it.

What's the best course of action here, then?

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It actually somewhat bothers me to see just a single letter changed like that...we work hard for our rep, and someone is getting a +2 for changing a single letter. I think it should be discouraged, and we should be pointing out other ways to the user that they could have improved the post. –  Simon Sheehan Jul 12 '11 at 18:50
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Honestly its approving or rejecting is the same effort from my side, so I don't see any reason to reject someone else's effort even if the change was non substantial. Unless he tried to use it just to gain rep, but even then... –  Ivo Flipse Jul 12 '11 at 18:52
    
@Ivo I think its very questionable, but this certain edit in particular seems almost.... Well, just not very productive when so much else was found to be edited. –  Simon Sheehan Jul 12 '11 at 18:56
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@Ivo I completely understand, it's not about more or less effort for me. It's also not about the mere 2 points. It's just a way of "teaching" people how to really make a substantial edit. Is that sounding too harsh? –  slhck Jul 12 '11 at 18:59
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I believe that even the minor edits do contribute to the quality of the content on this web site. I had no idea that people were getting +2 points for minor edits -- where changing something minor like the first letter of the title to upper-case (which I do consider to be a valuable contribution with regard to overall site quality), I actually don't see any problem with no points being awarded for this (although, if a user is correcting a lot of these minor problems then perhaps points should still be awarded for every, say, 10 of these since it still does require time and effort). –  Randolf Richardson Jul 14 '11 at 5:27
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@Simon: "we work hard for our rep, and someone is getting a +2 for changing a single letter." The problem here is that they're getting rep for a minor edit. The edit itself is not the problem. –  endolith Jul 25 '11 at 0:28

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Reject the suggested edit if:

  • The only thing the suggested edit will do to a post is bump it and leave its overall quality the same haze as it was. Even if it's just a single character in the title.

  • You're going to hit the improve button but find yourself doing more than six characters of further changes. Hit reject and edit it yourself proper.

Let's not be lazy with suggested edits. Let's make them count.

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Additional reading material: Gaming the Question/Answer editing, Do we need a 'reject and improve' button? –  slhck Jul 13 '11 at 10:12
    
Could you elaborate on the first point? I don't get how the second sentence related to the first one. –  Daniel Beck Jan 12 '12 at 23:50

Repeating my answer from meta:

Edits should be accepted if they are correct or helpful, and rejected if they are incorrect or spam. The length of the edit is irrelevant.

Who cares if the edit is tiny or major as long as it's improving the quality of the site's content? The reviewer's time has already been used in checking the edit, so nothing is lost in accepting it.

The How to Edit box next to the edit window encourages exactly these kinds of changes, so it would be pretty hypocritical and counterproductive to reject them:

How to Edit

► fix grammatical or spelling errors

► correct minor mistakes

The only valid concern I see here is that people could use spell-checking bots to "game the system" and gain rep without doing any work. But that's not solved by preventing small edits. It's solved by not rewarding rep for small edits. That's a problem with the site's design, not with the person going out of their way to improve the quality of its content. If the edits are constructive and helpful, accept them.

If we're discouraged from making small edits, and discouraged from making sweeping edits ("always respect the original author"), then what's the purpose of including a wiki function at all?

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Your quote misses the part were it says: "but please make them substantial. Avoid trivial, tiny one-letter edits". Also, there's no difference between gaming using a spell checker or "gaming" by fixing one letter or one tag but leaving the rest untouched. In fact, using an automated spell checker would even make more sense. There's nothing gained from either one if the question deserves a more substantial edit. –  slhck Jul 25 '11 at 6:56
    
Also, it's not about just rejecting a small edit. In such a case, I would improve the edit anyway (in a sense of, "reject and improve"). So nobody is discouraged from making small edits, but they just won't gain rep from it (see random's answer above). –  slhck Jul 25 '11 at 7:01
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I disagree with the part about about avoiding trivial edits. Reject and improve is fine, but ideally the site would not award rep for trivial edits in the first place. –  endolith Jul 25 '11 at 11:35
    
Well that's another issue/feature-request :) –  slhck Jul 25 '11 at 11:37

My answer is somewhat similar to endolith's but more specific. There was a recent Meta question that was quickly deleted about what was labeled as a 1 character edit. The question in question was Does pbpaste empty the clipboard under some circumstances?, and it makes a perfect example.

The original question included a typo. It read, "The wording seeds odd...". It was probably meant to be, "The wording seems odd...". In the edit, the word was just changed to a different word, "The wording read odd...". That probably would have been better as, "The wording reads odd...", since it refers to an existing document.

Let me suggest a specific rule. The issue with "read" vs. "reads" doesn't affect the usability. The reader may notice that the word is awkward but can keep going without losing the train of thought. That is not the case with "seeds" vs. "seems". These are totally different words and "seeds" makes no sense in the sentence. It causes the reader to re-read the sentence in order to make sense of it and interrupts the process of understanding the question. In this case, the change of a single letter improves the usability of the question.

My suggestion is to make any change if it improves the usability of the answer, even if the total edit is only one character. If it doesn't change the usability, don't bother unless it is part of a collection of changes that together, make the question or answer substantively better.

I would also suggest a context guideline. Some answers don't add much value, and are poorly written on top of that, although they meet the definition of an answer. Other answers provide good information but would benefit from polish. The community benefits when a good, "raw" answer gets improved. Polishing a marginal answer doesn't make it better (the technical term is "putting lipstick on a pig"). Experienced users don't bother editing the marginal answers, but they are low hanging fruit for new users who want to build some rep. We should offer guidance to new users who focus on these and suggest that they focus on where their efforts will provide benefit.

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