I have just rolled back an edit for (as far as I can recall) the first time on this site. This edit was approved (and improved) by Jan Doggen, a user I respect, so I thought it might be a good idea to canvass some opinions on what to do with edits that rephrase questions where it's not strictly necessary. I'm not asking here about edits that make major, substantial changes to a question’s content, but about minor edits that just re-word things that didn't seem to need re-wording.

Here's the question that precipitated this meta-question. The revisions that caused me to revert were the following.

  1. Which geological processes [will -> could possiby] destroy plastic?

  2. sedimentary rocks will contain [plastic pellets at the least -> small plastic pellets]

  3. geological [processes that create -> process that creates] metamorphic rock

I hope my syntax for edits above is comprehensible: the edited bit is in square brackets, with the original to the left of the arrow and the edit to the right.

In (1), the processes that "could possibly" destroy plastic in the original question are clearly a huge superset of the processes that "will" (with certainty) do so in the edit. In (2), the original didn't specify the size of the pellets, and added "at the least" (i.e. other things may be present); the edit added a spurious size specifier for the pellets, and removed the mention of possible other components. In (3), an unspecified (but plural) number of processes is changed to a singular process.

In my opinion all these edits change the semantics of the question, without correcting any perceptible problem in the original phrasing. Personally I tend to be as conservative as possible in editing other people's questions: unless there's a blatant error where the intended meaning was obvious, I leave the original wording, even if I personally consider it inelegant. Partly this is because of the danger of changing the author's meaning; partly it's a wish to respect their original choice of words. We're a broad international community and I'm aware that my idea of elegant prose isn't universally shared.

In short: whenever I'm in doubt regarding an edit, I will tend to come down strongly in favour of the original author. I'm concerned that, even in cases where the phrasing is undeniably improved, the questioner may end up with answers to a question they never actually asked, because of some slight accidental shift in semantics. If I'm reviewing an otherwise useful edit that contains random minor tweaks like this, I'll probably revert them before approving. If I'm reviewing an edit that consists only of random minor tweaks, I'll probably reject it.

Do others feel this way? Are there strong arguments for this kind of "free-and-easy" editing that I'm ignoring?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I would agree that the edits here are superfluous and should be rejected. $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Feb 9 '18 at 11:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I would distinguish between questions asked by experienced users and in-experienced users. I hope that experienced users know what they actually want to know and phrase the question correctly (like farrenthorpe in the particular question). Therefore, an substantial edit will probably modify the question in a way that is not intended by the user. In contrast, a new inexperienced user might ask a too complicated question or use an unsuitable wording. In the latter case, substantial edits might actually improve the question. $\endgroup$ Feb 12 '18 at 8:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @daniel.neumann I agree that we should take the user's experience into account when editing or reviewing edits. Substantial edits of course have an even greater danger of subverting the questioner's original intent, but this is hopefully offset to some extent by a major improvement in the quality of the question. But in the case of "rephrase-only" edits such as I ask about here, I think we just have the potential for damage, but with no clear benefit to weigh against it. $\endgroup$
    – Pont
    Feb 12 '18 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't an answer, but I'd suggest they're actually three different bears. #3 would seem to actually be worsening the question, changing a grammatically proper word into a poorer/incorrect one. #2 would be the non-substantive edit (and if proposed alone, would suggest should be entirely rejected). $\endgroup$ Mar 31 '18 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ And then #1 I actually see as maybe being a useful edit in some circumstances. Because as a meteorologist, I believe it's very important to be cautious about using the word "will" without definitive evidence (very rare in meteorology!). When the tv guy says "storms will move in at 3 PM", I cringe. If we're theorizing (as we appear to be in that question), I think the change actually just might be worthwhile. Now it's not a big enough deal that I'd likely change the question if there are no other needed edits... but I believe I would probably approve it in a situation like this. $\endgroup$ Mar 31 '18 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ (Though if a user shows a continual history of making minor edits perhaps towards hurrying reputation gain, I might be more cautious towards it) $\endgroup$ Mar 31 '18 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JeopardyTempest Thank you for your comments. I still think all the edits change the semantics and have expanded the question to discuss this in more detail. As to the will/could in #1 -- for a weather forecast I'd agree with you, but the properties of plastics have been pretty thoroughly characterized. If I can, for instance, break down PET by heating it to 800°C in a lab, I'm pretty confident in saying that it will break down when exposed to the same conditions within the Earth. $\endgroup$
    – Pont
    Mar 31 '18 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree. Typos should be fixed, and the text should be made clearer. When people from non-English background write in English is a certain wrong way, it makes it even harder for people who know English in a different "wrong way" to understand the text. I know, I'm from a non-native English background. $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Apr 15 '18 at 9:48

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