There seems to be a bit of difference of opinion here about editing questions to improve them with regard to English usage, capitalization, grammar, and punctuation.

"Beautification" Edits

In this meta question, @Nick posted an answer which called me out for "putting lipstick on a pig" with a link to a question I never edited. It was edited by another user to improve gross capitalization errors. It (currently) has a score of -2 (+1/-3), probably garnering down-votes from its pre-edit state. It's still not a great question, but it is more readable. The posted answer was accepted and has an upvote.

I fail to see why anyone would object to attempting to improve the question for future site visitors. Therefore, Nick's answer seems somewhat off-base. He did say:

We are still waiting from the O.P. for a schematic, or diagram, or any other clarification.

That's fine. What's stopping the OP from adding said information? It's not as though the OP is likely to fix English mistakes when adding a schematic, so why object to another user volunteering to do so?

"Throwaway" Questions

More recently, another lack-of-effort homework question was posted with a silly misspelling and a couple of words to capitalize:

an electric cattle has coils A and B.When only A is switched on the water boils in 10 minutes and when only B is switched on water boils in 20 minutes.Calculate time taken by same amount of water boil if the coils are connected in series

I edited the question but still voted to close it. My thinking is that if the OP wants to show some effort, they can edit their question to do so, and perhaps salvage it.

@Olin posted a comment:

Please don't "fix" attitude problems in questions. The OP's disdain and disrespect for us should remain visible to all. Fixing the letters doesn't fix his attitude, which is important information in deciding how to react to the post. In short, you are depriving us of useful information by covering up for the OP. If someone is thumbing his nose at me, I want to know that before deciding whether to answer, downvote, and/or vote to close.

I'm surprised by this, because I don't detect any "attitude" in the question. As much as it sucks, I've gotten used to the fact that questions often need editing and interpretation. The site attracts a lot of non-native English speakers, which is great for an international scope, but questions will sometimes require a bit of cleanup.

In this case, the OP dumped a no-effort-shown homework question on us, which happens with annoying frequency. Still, there are some good homework questions from time to time. If the OP learns from comments and modifies the question, what is the harm in editing it?

Questions that are beyond salvaging, I won't edit. It is my hope they get downvoted and deleted, and disappear. If the homework question never gets improved, then fine, editing it was perhaps a waste of time.

The Question

The site is for Electrical Engineering. This is a field which requires clarity and precision, otherwise time-consuming mistakes start to add up. I do not view edits as cosmetic or "beautifying", but rather as making things clearer or more accurate.

The FAQ says to avoid trivial edits, and there are ancient Meta.SE discussions about whether to edit to only remove greetings and thanks. I never try to change the tone or meaning of a question, only make it readable and/or conform a bit to standards.

Voting is supposed to be about the quality/accuracy of the question or answer, not whether it conforms to language standards.

So what's the problem?

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ On a slightly related note not sure if you've noticed but there seems to have been a bit of a policy change in the past week with the removal of the 'too minor' reason to reject a suggested edit. So from what I can work out if an anonymous / low rep user suggests an edit it should be approved as long as it does improve something. \$\endgroup\$
    – PeterJ
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 7:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterJ - do you have any links or more info about this removal of 'too minor' reason to reject edits? Thanks. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ricardo
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 0:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ricardo, this is one of quite a few Meta.SE posts, but the question and answer contain a few links to other discussions - as you can see by the vote counts it's a bit of a hot topic: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/239106/… \$\endgroup\$
    – PeterJ
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 0:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JYelton "As much as it sucks, I've gotten used to the fact that the site attracts a lot of non-native English speakers" - that sounds a bit rude. Should we feel just "tolerated"? When I ask something, or try to give an answer, I give my best to create something that is understandable and useful. And more often than not I just delete the text again and don't post, maybe just because I know that this attitude is not uncommon. \$\endgroup\$
    – Christoph
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 9:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Christoph I apologize - you are right, this statement does sound rude and is not how I intended it. I meant only that it sucks that questions will frequently need editing and interpretation, not that having such visitors sucks. I will edit this statement. Thank you for pointing it out. \$\endgroup\$
    – JYelton
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon In the thread, which had precipitated this discussion, the very same JYelton first made beautification edits to the O.P. and then immediately voted (for all the right reasons) to close it. Did JYelton not realize that the whole thread stinks until after he was done with the edits? Why send mixed messages like that? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 23:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I often fix whole sentences in questions/answers which sucks because the OP doesn't speak english very well. I don't think anybody is misspelling on purpose. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 9:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nick I realized the question was terrible (homework without effort) so I downvoted it. Then I edited it to fix errors. Then I voted to close it. The thinking is that if the OP comes back to show effort, the errors are already fixed, and it can be considered for re-open, at which time people can undo downvotes. Unfortunately the SE system doesn't do a good job letting you know when OP's return to fix downvoted questions. (I edit before voting to close so that it doesn't show up on the reopen queue without the necessary additional content.) \$\endgroup\$
    – JYelton
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 17:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that it is normal for an international site to have some people that have terrible english. Most of my edits are concerning english .I dont mind trying to correct peoples bad english .There are a few things that I am bad at .My screenname is not entirely innacurate . \$\endgroup\$
    – Autistic
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 10:04

6 Answers 6


I'm with you in this. I understand Olin and Nick's feeling: sometimes we see questions that are just a vague hand-waving, that give the impression that the OP doesn't make much effort to be understood. It may feel "unfair" to reward these questions by spending time on editing, instead of taking care of ones with more potential.


  • We can't know for sure whether the OP is being lazy or actually has some problems in getting the grammar right (I know I do) / formulating the question appropriately;

  • The grammar and wording mistakes shouldn't influence the judgment on the validity of the question: they are indeed cosmetic.

Therefore I think we should improve all the questions that we judge as salvageable, even if they end up being closed; until the moment they are deleted, there is always the possibility for the OP to turn them in good questions. Besides, if the OP is willing to learn how the site works, he will see the edit and hopefully understand that our standards are high.

Edit: back to the point of the question, I don't see it as a bad thing if someone edits a bad question, unless:

  • he changes the meaning of the question to fit his answer, as an attempt to "game" the system and earn easy rep;

  • the question is so inappropriate to be unsalvageable (e.g. completely off-topic), and may lead the OP to think that he can actually get an answer by just rewording the question;

  • this translates in a long chain of edits that have no use other than repeatedly pushing the bad question to the top without solving the primary issue.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, we can tell the difference between honest errors due to unfamiliarity with English, and just plain sloppiness or laziness. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 13:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop Even if the original poster is the laziest sloppiest person in the world, legitimate questions and answers are still beneficial to other people \$\endgroup\$
    – endolith
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 18:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @endolith: But at a cost that shows sloppiness and disrespect is OK here. We have enough good content here. I'd rather have a little less new content if in return we stick to some standards about how questions must be written. We're not really hurting for activity here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 22:50

I realize that the most important contribution to any StackExchange site are the expert answers - no doubt about it. But Editors also donate their valuable time to make every question look and read better. That's important, too, if you ask me.

I'd bet my bottom dollar that every one of JYelton's almost 2000 edits were great and helped improve the site in some way. Most of them also taught newcomers how the site works and how we like the questions written and formatted. What's most impressive is that most of the times he didn't even had to post a comment to tell the newcomer what was wrong. Most edits are didactic and speak for themselves.

Editors like him, and many many others, have already earned our respect and we now trust that any edits they make will be valuable and improve the site. Now, if we start curbing editors, making them judge every new user who comes in by their poor command of English or apparent laziness, well, that will just ruin it for us.

So, to answer your question, I think that editors (trusted ones or newbies) should be free to improve any posts they can and want, as long as it follows the site rules (i.e., doesn't change meaning etc.), no questions asked.

If, on the other hand, any editor makes a bad edit, just point it out to him or her or bring the issue here to meta, or reject the edit with a helpful comment it if it was under review.


Observation: @Nick is wrong on (at least some of :-)) his assertions re OP laziness.
What is 'obvious' to some may be affected by culture, language and circumstance in ways which are completely inobvious to others*. And, as a bonus, the system auto-kneecaps enthusiastic new users using rules which it specifically notes that it does not reveal. Post say 3 questions early on which attract downvotes and it MAY lock them out from asking more questions until they fix their existing questions. This is not made as obvious to them as it could be, and odds are the downvoters have moved on to new victims and will never reverse their votes. Reopening closed questions seems usually to happen if there is an active "campaign" by other users.

*. Some are extraordinarily blind to cultural and language affects - so much so that they may rudely rebuke perceived offenders while themselves committing linguistic, grammatical and technical 'offences' in the process.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The "no warning" part of question bans was changed a few months ago, there's a post about how it works now here meta.stackexchange.com/questions/179087/… \$\endgroup\$
    – PeterJ
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 5:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ You bring up a good point: I do wish the system had a better way of notifying us when a user modifies an "on hold" question. If the OP modifies the question to improve its quality in an attempt to remove the hold, it is overly difficult to know about it. I would happily go back and remove close votes for questions which have received the necessary edits. \$\endgroup\$
    – JYelton
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 7:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterJ Interesting to see how that works in practice. The change was in May. In October 2013 a new user asked a question and got +2/-4 votes. The question looked fine to me. In December they asked a question and got 0/0. Im June, after the change, they asked another question, again it looed OK to me, and got either 0 or +1 votes AND the system locked them out. While there were messages given about why, they were at a loss to know what had happened. They live in India. English looks better than many. Technical competence is lower than many but also higher than many. If ... \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 8:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterJ ... the system fails for them it will fail for many others as well. | I only came on the above late on - I did not know about the auto lockout until then. ... \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 8:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Russell something just posted today they're changing it to a rate limit, so not that I'm saying you do it but no need for anyone to give sympathy upvotes or avoid downvoting because now it just gives them a little more time to re-think questions: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/271542/… \$\endgroup\$
    – PeterJ
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 14:46

If someone wants to edit a question to improve it, even though it might get closed, why try to dissuade them? Won't 'market economics' 'win' in the end?

If they spend all their time on questions that get put on hold, then that is their cost. If they spend time fixing questions that become useful, the community benefits.

When 'market economics' seems robust, it seems to involve diversity of behaviour. When it seems fragile, it seems to be about 'herd behaviour', following one path. Success in evolution seems to have similar models. So I am for diversity.

People can chose to spend their time and effort on whatever they deem worthy. I might prefer other people to 'spend' time elsewhere, but it is their 'money', not mine.

The 'on hold' banners seem to carry enough information or links that the author can likely discover why their question was closed.

Yet, AFAICT, it seems remediation is unlikely after 'on hold' happens. If that is true, it suggests trying to fix before 'on hold', for salvageable questions, might a good approach. (maybe I'm not observant enough, and should try to get stats)

I'd prefer simple, immediate, specific, down-votes, rather than the single, amorphous, down-vote, or eventual (i.e. some latency) moderator action.

For example, I'd prefer to directly down-vote and declare specific pre-defined categories:
'-N. no evidence of effort',
'-N. too vague, needs more information', or even
'-N. too vague, needs more information and shopping advice, off-topic'.

This seems much better than silent down-votes. It captures the reasons for a down-vote, preferably connected to site policy. It is almost combining 'flag' and down-vote.

People could accurately express their view about a question, without spending their time on saying the same thing in a comment.

Maybe immediate and specific down-vote feedback would help both the question author, and potential editors, adjust the question?

Maybe clear, immediate feedback might cause the sloppy, lazy, negligent, inconsiderate people to 'clear off' more quickly, or not post in the first place?

A comment on comments ...

More than twenty years ago, I worked with (not for) a company who was very committed to Total Quality Management (TQM).

I had several interesting discussions about staff, recruitment, training, etc. We talked about the reasons for staff 'following the process'. Several senior employees were very clear. They said:

what staff think is outside our bailiwick. Our decisions should be based on the evidence of what they produce. We do not try to guess peoples thoughts, attitudes, or reasons for behaviour; that is private to them.

Part of that rationale was to aim to be objective, so that most people could come to similar conclusions. Clearly some of the rationale was to avoid legal cases over employment terms. Some was about consistency, a facet of their TQM.

IMHO addressing a persons attitude, rather than what they have produced, creates space for subjectivity, disagreement, conflict and confusion, where there is no need.

I can agree that 'a bad attitude' is unhealthy and dysfunctional, especially in engineering. We make mistakes. We need to easily understand criticism, improve and move on. 'Attitude' is an obstacle.

By focusing on the thing produced, not the 'attitude', we can focus remorseless, rational, analysis on the product, and get majority agreement (consensus).

Cultural differences can create inaccurate perceptions. I have mistaken 'polite ignorance' for 'enthusiastic, knowledgeable helpfulness'. I have mistaken the actual meaning of what I interpreted as 'reticence' and 'happy agreement' too. I assume there are many sources of confused perception.

I have ad hoc stories about other behaviour which may cause misunderstandings. I believe in some cultures 'confident assertiveness' is a common starting point. Being impolite is not acceptable. Attacking the person may be counter-productive. However, deeply, relentlessly, probing a question or answer are fine, and may be expected.

While I have worked on several different continents, with different cultures, I am no expert.


  • If someone has written a vague, illiterate, confused, content-free, un-researched, off-topic question, then we should feedback, with minimal ambiguity, about the question.
  • If someone wants to improve potentially doomed questions, allow them spend their resources on that. Inevitably they will do whatever they feel is best, and that is as good as we should hope
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Some very good observations in this write up. Too often actions are taken based upon the perception of the OP. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @placeholder - you reminded me about cross-cultural differences, so I added an edit. \$\endgroup\$
    – gbulmer
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterMortensen - Thank you. Fixed (I believe). \$\endgroup\$
    – gbulmer
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 13:30


Actually, yes we can get an idea if the O.P. is lazy or not.
If he posts a homework question without showing any effort - then he is lazy.
If he is asked to clarify the question or provide more information, and he says nothing over a period of time - then he is lazy.
If he obviously neglected to do preliminary research - then he is lazy.

We have plenty of good will and plenty of benefit of a doubt on EE.SE.
But if EE.SE catered to lazy, helpless, negligent, inconsiderate people, that would be a waste of
good will.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nick - I'll add a "technical" downvote to this for the same reasons that I sstated in my comments on Olin's answer. That's not intended as a sign of bad-will or the like. Just seems to fit what I'm told up/down votes are meant to reflect in Meta. I agree with most of your given list so 'its a close run thing' but the gist of what you say rather than a blow by blow analysis seems to show lack of awareness of the issues involved for some of those who think and speak in constructs unfamiliar to Western English speakers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 8:01

The type of errors in a question matter.

There are obvious differences between questions that were lazily written and those where the OP is struggling with English. The occasional misspelling, wrong tense, unusal use of a word, etc, are usually due to unfamiliarity with English and can be forgiven. The message is "I'm trying, but may have gotten a few things wrong". If the meaning is clear enough, fixing these things is fine. That is doing both us and the OP a favor.

However, we see a lot of errors that are just plain lazy. Some English rules are so basic and so simple to follow that there is really no excuse. These include capitalizing the first letter of a sentence, capitalizing the word "I", and ending with a period, question mark, or exclamation mark. The message is "Eh, you peons don't matter, so your annoyance reading my question isn't worth a few millisconds of my time to write it properly.".

This is not a case where the OP doesn't know, but rather is too sloppy to care and too lazy to bother. Would he hand in a homework assignment like that, or fill out a job application like that? Most likely not. We deserve the same level of care and respect here. The sloppiness therefore is evidence of disrespect and the OP's attitude. These type of errors should not be "fixed" because doing so removes this important information from the question without the underlying cause having been fixed. Even worse, it teaches the OP and other bystanders that being lazy and disrespectful works.

If we don't insist on question being written with some care and respect, we will just get less and less of both as the bar keeps getting lowered. It is important that the OP of a sloppily and lazily written question NOT get what he came here for. This is really the only leverage we have. We must downvote and close poorly written questions. It would be nice to have a close reason "Your question is so sloppily written and shows such lack of respect that we're not even going to read it.". In the absence of that, we can downvote for the sloppiness, then vote to close for unclear what you are asking if we stopped reading due the annoyance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I totally understand, and I share the feeling. At the same time, I'm trying to play the devil's advocate. I think most of these users come here thinking "Hey, that's a nice forum, ill [sic.] drop my problem and lets [sic.] see...". That's not how it works here, but perhaps we can allow the user the benefit of doubt and just point it out: "here we do it this way", and check the reaction. If this doesn't cost much effort, otherwise just vote to close and forget about it. \$\endgroup\$
    – clabacchio
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 15:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @clabacchio: I think that's a separate point. Sloppiness and lazyiness are orthogonal to forumness. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ But in my point of view the mentioned edits correct the forumness, and the sloppiness should remain the same. But as I said I'm playing the devil's advocate in this, I usually skip bad questions if not close them. I just don't see who edits them as misbehaving \$\endgroup\$
    – clabacchio
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with Olin for the most part, I really do. But any question that manages to stay here, for whatever reason, I'd really like to see the site contain well-written questions and answers. I hesitate to trust information from someone's forum post when it reads similar to: "ur good just connect gnd to pin 7 and chk ur current use." The information might be accurate and useful. Here, we have an opportunity to make it present itself as such. \$\endgroup\$
    – JYelton
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ On a related note, I believe answering crappy questions that show no effort is more damaging than editing them - because it gives the OP what they want and sets an (incorrect) example for future visitors... Case in point: electronics.stackexchange.com/a/128970/2028 \$\endgroup\$
    – JYelton
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JYelton: But fixing bad questions will increase the chance they get answered, giving the OP what he wants while he skates by with sloppiness. People that come later won't see the original disrespect. I know I don't often look at the edit history of a question, and I doubt many others do either. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 22:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JYelton Data point only: Mayuresh is (AFAICS) in Pune in India. If typical SE users were obliged to ask questions in Marathi or Hindi I'd expect them to often be more poorly put than this question is. He needs to be able to communicate in English both here and at home, but his 'context' obviously has a major affect on his presentation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 1:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon You've hit the nail on the head. At first glance, many of the so-called "lazy and sloppy" questions pop out as being by non-English speakers - More so in the case of your data point because I live in the same region as Mayuresh, and I see the same linguistic snafus every single day. It's not lazy, it's not sloppy, it's about thinking in Marathi or Hindi or some other Deccan region language, none of which have the concept of capitalization for instance, and then translating into English, often word for word rather than semantically. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 1:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon Since you spent time here in Mumbai and in Pune, I know that you can visualize exactly why Mayuresh's question went they way it did: People here will often state their "want", such as "I want to build ...", then stop talking and look meaningfully at you, due to some cultural hesitation against actually asking for a specific response. It might have something to do with early school education, I've experienced this myself, where teachers often get riled if you directly ask them something: "What, you dare to demand an answer?" - Most often because the teacher is clueless ;-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin After some thought I've added a downvote to your answer. One of my extremely rare downvotes fwiw. NOT because it's not useful and not because I don't appreciate your perspective, and despite the fact that in very general terms I agree with you. The up/down voting mechanism is far too blunt but in the context here I think a downvote fits what's intended. A or even the issue in this case is that you are blinder in a societal sense than you appreciate (based on what you have said here and heretofore rather than what I might think you might think). .... \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 7:44
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ .... It really is extraordinarily hard to 'get inside people's minds when they come pre-steeped in another culture. I've had somewhat more experience than many (and so also more failures than many) so can so can sometimes see a little more of such things than some. I'm most certainly not always right on such matters and sometimes it IS just or mainly or partly laziness or rudeness or ... . And sometimes not. | Based on prior input I'm aware that you may think that it's incumbent on those who wish to partake to attain a certain level of English competency in order to participate. I see .... \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 7:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ .... merit in that, but taken to the level that you demand it amounts to excluding many who could become useful and in some cases scintillating members of the group. You and some others may be happy enough with that. Others will not be. But the "battleground" then becomes one of linguistic competence in a foreign language and not solely or even mainly one of laziness or carelessness or, even, disrespect. |I invite you to have a careful look at what Anindo said. He's more "English" than a goodly percentage of my friends and well acquainted with the perspective from both sides. Anon ... - R \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 7:55

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