I recently edited another person's answer https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/22996/21067 to supply backup. There had been a comment that the answer required backup, and that answer brought to mind a pretty interesting story I had heard on NPR where a black man had, over a period of years, won over a Klansman and got the guy to "hang up his hood".

I put in the backup which fit the answer pretty well, but my edit was rolled back with a comment "Please don't add a backup on posts you are not an author of. This should be done by the author of the post."

I've seen some pretty radical edits of questions by second parties to get the question into shape. Typically the edits occur when the editor is trying to clarify the intent of the question.

As an example, see Friend is using me to do her (home)work, how can I tell her I want this to stop? In this case, an experienced IPS user made a guess as to what the OP wanted to say, and edited

Please help me, I'm afraid this will get worse as time goes on.


How can I tell her that I don't want to help her anymore and that she needs to do her work alone?

Why is a guess at what the OP is asking ok, but providing backup to an answer not ok? In the question, the change is just a guess. For the answer, adding backup doesn't change or guess at the meaning of the answer. It's just verification that the original answer is reasonable.

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    I think this is a really interesting question and I'm curious to see the community's take on it, so +1 from me. However, in regards to the "radical edits" you mention on questions: those (that I've seen) never edit in any information that didn't exist already in the question/comments. Mostly it's rewording/formatting/etc. I think comparing this to that is apples to oranges, so I'm not sure how much it helps your question to include that comparison. – scohe001 Sep 23 '19 at 19:18
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    Could you link to the post you edited/your revision? It might help to see things a bit more specific: Did you edit in a source for the story, or just that you heard the story? It makes a bit of difference, I think :) – Tinkeringbell Sep 23 '19 at 19:18
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    @Tinkeringbell I believe it's this post: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/22996/21067 – Ael Sep 23 '19 at 19:24
  • @Ælis has it correct. The backup was actually a link to an NPR story, so it was pretty solid, or as solid as any news is nowadays :( – DaveG Sep 23 '19 at 19:27
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    1/2 I'm the "experienced IPS user" ^^ that made the edit, and I left a comment under the text, addressing the OP. I based my edit upon "I feel scared to tell her that she needs to do work herself!". In this case, to me, it's just reorganizing the sentences and rephrasing the question, because the OP has made her mind about what to do, the goal and the fears. Even then, I'm worried about my edit (cf: my comment: "I hope I've not betrayed the ideas behind the text."). I sincerely think edits like that can be asked and questioned. – OldPadawan Sep 26 '19 at 14:08
  • 2/2 I sure wouldn't do that to an answer, I'd leave a comment asking for clarification or providing links and asking the user if they feel like using them to improve (if I don't have enough data with those links to make it an answer). /!\ I'm not taking this badly or personally, it had to be asked, I don't feel like being targeted (just to make sure my answer here isn't offensive, it's not meant to be ^^). – OldPadawan Sep 26 '19 at 14:11
  • @OldPadawan To be honest, it feels a bit like there is one standard for the "old hands" and another for "the new guys". – DaveG Sep 26 '19 at 14:52
  • @DaveG : well, that for sure shouldn't be! I can feel, sometimes, that there may be a slight difference, but I want/need to believe it's because (very ^^) "old hands" make slightly better edits. Even then, I'm still walking on eggs. We (as a community) *need to edit and improve many posts. I review many times a day, and agree/skip sometimes, very few denying, mainly because, when not sure, I'd rather skip and wait for the team to help decide. – OldPadawan Sep 26 '19 at 15:01
  • Just to add here, large edits on questions may be taken better than those on answers because edits on questions are more important. The state of a question (especially in its first few hours of life) determines how it will be received and the quality of answers/advice the user will get. A poor question may get closed and never seen again. An answer, on the other hand always has a chance to be edited and even flagged for undeletion if it gets deleted. They're still a little time sensitive in that their first few hours are important, but nearly as much so as questions. – scohe001 Sep 26 '19 at 15:13

I am not sure if it is ok for me to answer this since I didn't do the rollback or anything but in my opinion if you just added backup it shouldn't be deleted out by anyone other than the person that posted the answer.

However you need to make sure it is clear that you are just adding back-up. For example if the answer was something like:

Text of original answer

backup of original answer

I would edit it to something like:

Text of original answer

backup of original answer

Additional backup. I used the advice @NameOFOriginalAnswerer in this situation and it worked this way.

This way you achieve 2 things. It is completely clear that the additional backup was not written by the OriginalAnswerer and if he so chose to leaves it there, everyone will understand clearly who said what. Second You are adding more weight to the answer, by saying you used that technique described by the OriginalAnswerer and how it worked.

I think it is better to add backup this way, because otherwise you would have to create you own answer and I feel some users won't bother posting their own answer just to add an example. And as if they do post their answer, it will actually be a duplicate. This is actually detrimental, becuase as it is many questions/answers are very long and I don't think everyone takes the time to read them all and they won't realize both answers support the same idea.

Additionally you would get some people voting one of the answers, because they read that, and some people voting the other, when it was actually the same idea, now you have 2 seemingly different ideas with 10 votes each, when it should be 1 idea with 20 votes.

A regular user may not realize this happened and may miss how liked the answer actually was.

In the past in other networks I added content this way and it worked fine.

  • Thanks, I pretty much tried to do what you are suggesting, but perhaps wasn't clear enough. I agree that as long as I'm not altering the original answer, supplying (additional) backup should be acceptable. – DaveG Oct 2 '19 at 20:10

While there's exceptions - typically you don't want to make substantial changes in the content of another user's answer. You prune, and wordscape, not rearrange the rock garden, so to speak.

In situations like this the safest option is to add a comment - suggesting that the link would be relevant.

I've had a few users do substantial edits to my own posts elsewhere - and the result of this can very from "whoa, that's a lot better" to "ehhhhh NO TOUCHIE!"

Practically the "rule" here is to always "respect the intent of the user" - and if the intent of the user is not to have the extra information there (at the risk of lacking backup), it's on them.

  • I definitely agree with always respecting the intent of the user. As I said in my edit, I make very minimal, light edits to questions. In this case, I was added "backup" to an answer, which doesn't change the meaning of the answer at all. – DaveG Sep 25 '19 at 12:31
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    If the added backup is clearly separated, you aren't changing the intent, just adding to it. The intent of the user was to say "this technique works in this situation", you trully don't know if he doesn't want the additional content. Maybe the user didn't have many examples or was in the process of editing, as long as the Editor is not changing the OriginalAnswerer words you are not altering its meaning. I think it should be given some leeway and allow the Original Answerer decide, unless the added content is somehow offensive. – Mykazuki Oct 2 '19 at 23:19
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    Also I have a feeling that adding comments like that probably won't work, since they would likely get deleted. – Mykazuki Oct 2 '19 at 23:19
  • Well or rolled in. I do cover that users maybe ok with substantial edits. Its just not always accepted. – Journeyman Geek Oct 2 '19 at 23:21

Long and overdue as usual, here's my take ... (whew)

Yes, it's okay for anyone to edit in external references for backup

If you want to put in the effort to provide sources, go for it! However, do this sparingly: only when you're certain you're supporting the author's intent.

This Meta.SO post talks about a similar conundrum, where one user basically edited in a whole answer. Quoting Shog9's response:

[...] If you're certain the edit makes the answer better, approve it.

Consider that the alternative is you rejecting the edit, leaving a crappy answer to waste future readers' time and wasting the editor's time. Seems like a bit of a high cost for some abstract ideal, don't it?

To be honest - I was writing a very different answer to this post before I read the above. But, d'oh. Yes, the "ideal" we should be striving for here is "high quality Q&A", not ... I don't know, "user1234 was handed the rules and came up with all the ideas on their own"? Posts are editable by anyone for a reason!

The edit privileges page even explicitly says one valid reason to edit is "to add related resources or hyperlinks". I don't see our backup policy as being in conflict with this; answers should be reviewed based on their content, not who edited in which parts of it. Plus, answers can be deleted or undeleted at any time, so both "DaveG added and OP kept it" and "DaveG commented and OP added" end up in the same state.

Caveats - I was reminded of the (very unpopular) "stub answer" proposal on Meta.SO. My takeaway was that the big problem with a not-fully-explained answer is that it's hard to tell why someone is arguing for it, and you can't read the author's mind to add it in accurately. We don't want to add in "bad" sources that misrepresent the OP's intent. So...

Let the OP know

If you don't have edit privileges, then the OP will always get a notification of your suggested edit. If you do have edit privileges, they will be notified if your edit is "non-trivial":

a non-trivial edit is one which changes at least 10 characters (this is using a diff algorithm, so it's not a simple add/delete; and is naturally a little fuzzy).

To be on the safe side, I suggest pinging the OP in a comment to notify them of your change, in case they disagree and want to rollback. It's also courteous as a heads-up in case readers have questions specifically about the source you added. This is one of my biggest concerns about encouraging a third party to add sources; I know I'd be very annoyed if someone edited a bad / irrelevant / misleading source into my answer and then I had to answer comments asking about it! (For instance I could see this happening easily with academic papers - someone trying to be helpful pastes in the first abstract they find, but someone more knowledgeable in the field can tell the paper doesn't really support the conclusion and questions its inclusion.)

When in doubt, don't edit! Suggest it in a comment instead.

I know there's concerns about mods deleting comments, so just to get in front of that - if you think we've deleted a legitimate suggestion for improvement, you can always ask about it. One general tip is to be neutral and explicit about the suggestion/question in your comment, like "Can you address ...?" or "I suggest adding/removing ...". I've hit this problem too! (<- Good advice from Catija there.)

Why not personal experience?

A few reasons. The biggest one being, your personal experience is definitely not why that person thought their answer was correct. So we don't want to put words in OP's mouth by implying otherwise. It might be a similar experience - but the OP is the only one who can tell us that.

This also could open the door for basically "+1 me too" edits... which is already a problem with comments (an egregious example: many deleted comments that were just saying "this is true in [my country] too!"). While it's helpful to know "this is true in many places", and you could suggest that as an edit (as in the linked comment), we don't need answers to turn into an exhaustive list of every corroborating experience.

And just to cover all the bases.. definitely don't try to edit in your own experience as if it had happened to the OP. We had a related discussion about questions, in which a user (not the OP) attempted to salvage a hypothetical question by rewriting it as if it had actually happened to OP. This really goes against the spirit of editing - edits should not change the author's intent.

Compared to questions

I think this would be analogous to how we edit off-topic questions. If there's only a minor change and/or an obvious fix, make the edit and simply let the OP know afterwards (for questions, that's often "Should I do X?" -> "How do I do X?"). If there's many possibilities and it's too unclear to be sure, better to leave a comment to suggest improvements ("You could try asking Y or Z instead").

Similarly, edit in sources that will "fix" the answer as long as you're sure they match OP's intent; if you're not sure, err on the side of leaving a comment.

  • Is it really true that the poster doesn't get notified if another user edits their answer? That seems like a major, major flaw. – DaveG Oct 3 '19 at 12:21
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    @DaveG: ... Stack Overflaw? :D – OldPadawan Oct 3 '19 at 12:30
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    @DaveG You sometimes get notify but not always. I don't know why/what are the criteria. – Ael Oct 3 '19 at 12:32
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    @DaveG AElis is right, sorry! This meta says it should send a notification if the diff is >10 characters (which is "a little fuzzy", apparently). I'll update :) – Em C Oct 3 '19 at 14:21

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