I'm going to nitpick. A recent edit of a single word ("it's" to "its") brought this one to mind.

The FAQ states:

Edits are expected to be substantial and to leave the post better than you found it.

I avoid editing a post where the grammar error is benign and common, e.g. "its" vs. "it's", "their" vs. "there", etc. I always approve such edits, but I specifically avoid fixing them on my own.

Such an edit isn't very substantial and doesn't leave the post much better because the meaning was perfectly clear in the first place.

And where do we draw the line — dangling participles, ending sentences in prepositions? There's an SE site already dedicated to this type of nonsense. At the same time, it's really annoying and I can't help but want to edit all the tiny errors out there. (See what I mean?)

Are minor grammar edits desirable?

  • Good question thanks for bringing this up. – Dheer Oct 14 '15 at 4:28
  • Here's an example with an it's -> its edit that I followed up with a more thorough revision: money.stackexchange.com/posts/54796/revisions – Nathan L Oct 15 '15 at 16:00
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    IMHO, if the error is in a question title, I would say fix it -- always. Titles show up prominently in search results. – Chris W. Rea Oct 17 '15 at 16:16
  • Sometimes the error is very substantial, such as saying "can't" when you meant "can". But SE sites require some minimum number of character changes in any edit, so these tiny edits (even though they change the entire meaning) are disallowed. Really not smart. – Fixee Oct 19 '15 at 18:54
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    Is the FAQ simply out of date? SE philosophy changed in this regard sometime around 2014; perhaps the FAQ here never got updated? – Joe Oct 22 '15 at 20:26
  • Since not everyone that comes to this site is a native English speaker, I'd say yes. It can be hard enough to parse grammatically correct sentences sometimes; I'd imagine sentences with errors are that much more difficult. – Andy Oct 25 '15 at 15:21

Maybe I disagree with the FAQ here, but my personal opinion is that even trivial changes like this improve the quality of the material on the site and are fine as long as the fix something that is clearly an error. I suspect the rule around "substantial" is to discourage gaming the editor badges without making real contributions.

I'll admit that I do edits like this all the time.

  • Agreed. I generally try and avoid this. The reason is to definitely discourage gaming the badges. The other reason is some high-rep users may not like their posts being edited ... and unless its meaning full it does not go well. I would rather keep that small typo than run the risk of offending a high rep users. They are equally important more specifically on sites like us compared to other sites on SE – Dheer Oct 14 '15 at 4:32
  • I'm a newbie compared to the rest of you :-), so I've not been doing such edits (generally, I might have done a couple, but there are many cases where I chose not to) because of what the FAQ says, but also disagree with it. I may just be an old fuddy duddy, but I think good spelling and grammar are of value. – blm Oct 18 '15 at 19:16
  • @Dheer Why the aversion to offending high-rep users? I don't get the connection to the question / answer. – user32479 Oct 20 '15 at 17:21
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    @Brick It's mostly a holdover from when too many edits could turn a post into community wiki, nullifying experience gained from the post. At least I would assume - if a high rep user gets pissy that someone fixed a spelling or grammar mistake, they need to grow up. I'm a diamond on SQA and approve such edits regularly. If someone games it by fixing one typo per edit, that's a problem. If someone games it by correcting errors that reduce the professionalism of the site, they're not gaming: it's working as intended. – corsiKa Oct 20 '15 at 19:00

If I'm reading an answer and see one of these (it's, their, etc) I'm just as likely to do a quick edit as to move on, depending on my time. I'm with John, I disagree with FAQ. I view it as being the custodian of a long lived document that has my name attached to it. Typos happen, due to mistakes, and due to crazy auto-correct with various applications.

In the end, I'm more concerned when I see relatively low scoring members offer edits that change the meaning of the answer or slip in a different thought that the OP didn't intend.

By the way, I don't care about "dangling participles, ending sentences in prepositions" etc, but when one starts a sentence with "Me and my wife are buying a house..." I've changed it to "My wife and I.."

But, to add to this thought. A sub-2K user is not really helping by loading us up with a queue of these minor edits.

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    Also, if there is a typo on a term that is central to the nature of the question, fixing it might help google do a better job of indexing it correctly. – JohnFx Oct 16 '15 at 18:21

I might be inclined to reject an edit if they fix a single problem where many other obvious problems exist. If you're going to edit, copy-edit the whole post please. :)

My first experiences with Stack Exchange were on WordPress Development. Early on, I tried fixing the grammar on a few posts and got my suggested edits rejected. The reason given was that the edits were too minor and not substantial. So I quit doing it.

However, on a few sites now (including this one), I am a 2k user with the edit privilege, which means that my edits happen immediately with no approval needed. I now edit grammar problems on those sites as I see them, and no one has ever complained to me yet.

This brings up one of the problems with making minor grammar changes: If you are a low-rep user, your edit has spent not only your time, but the time of at least two high-rep users to review your edit. I can now understand the policy at WordPress Development: Posts over there often have poor grammar (but are intelligible), and they don't want to clog up the review queues with edits that are not necessary. So they discourage low-rep users from making those edits by rejecting them. High-rep users are free to make those changes, because the only time they are wasting is their own.

A second (lesser) problem occurs when you fix one grammar mistake and leave a whole bunch of others. Other edits are then needed to fix the other problems, and then the question's revision history gets lots of entries in it. This used to be a problem because once a question got edited several times, it was automatically converted to Community Wiki. SE has since removed that bug feature, so this is less of a problem than it used to be. Still, if a question gets edited lots of times, it keeps popping up at the top of the front page, which might annoy some people.

A third problem happens if someone says to himself: "I've got nothing better to do this afternoon, so I'm going to spend the next four hours going through old questions and fixing grammar." What happens then is that all of these old questions fill up the front page. The new questions that people want to read then get pushed off the front page, and get less exposure than they would normally get. This makes it harder for people to find the important activity on the site. Use caution and courtesy when editing old posts.

A final problem that can happen is this: sometimes people change punctuation or reword sentences in an attempt to fix the grammar, but they change the meaning or make the grammar worse instead of better. If you are going to make edits, make sure they are correct.

tl;dr

Fixing grammar on posts is good for the site, in my opinion. However, be aware of unintended consequences of your actions. Try not to waste others' time or annoy other users. And if you are going to edit a post, review the whole post; don't fix one problem and leave others. Finally, when you make a grammar change, make sure you are right.

  • I agree. Colloquialism is a very dangerous thing. While there is some advantage in the so called wisdom of crowds, the danger is that we allow material to proliferate that is riddled with common editing mistakes. Editing mistakes, no matter how small, detract from the overall legitimacy of the site and therefore should be fixed where ever possible. – user20687 Oct 26 '15 at 14:52
  • A related story about WordPress.SE: I had just posted a new question, and a user had decided he wanted to edit hundreds of old posts to change "wordpress" to "WordPress", which kept pushing my question off the front page. I'd bump edit the question, and it would get pushed off again. I then went on chat to complain, and the response from the mods was, "He's a 2k user; if he wants to waste his own time, that's his problem." Needless to say, I was annoyed. – Ben Miller Nov 11 '15 at 14:24

Some one or two word edits to titles can actually make it clear what the actual question is, as some non-native English speakers use odd grammar which in some cases inverts or disguises the question at hand.

IMHO, even if it does not help, it does no harm. So why not?

In fact, the editor is trying to contribute and make this a better place for everyone. So I guess, their effort should be appreciated.

:)

  • see Ben's comment above. It bumps that question, which may not be desirable. And from a sub-2K member, it's an effort for the mods. Personally, when I see a queue of a dozen edits from a 200 user, I have to wonder, are they going to be a long term member or are they just an OCD SE member? – JoeTaxpayer Jun 24 '16 at 21:05

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