On Stack Exchange it is possible to edit other people's questions and answers, as discussed in the FAQ. Questions are edited for many reasons and I don't think there's much disagreement about that. This question is about editing answers.

The goal of editing a post, either question or answer, is to improve it for the sake of all readers (present and future) without doing violence to the author's intent. Editing should never change the fundamental meaning of a post. It is well-understood on SE that editing is appropriate to correct grammar/typos, fix formatting, add complementary information (like links to things the answer mentions), clarify meaning (e.g. from discussion in comments), and correct minor mistakes. Beyond that there is some variation across sites in how light or heavy editing should be.

Under which of the following circumstances should it be permitted for someone to edit another person's answer on BH?

  • To remove insults (e.g. referring to a person, a source, or an idea as "stupid")

  • To remove off-topic tangents (e.g. in citing your professor you also tell a story about him that doesn't bear on the question)

  • To annotate unsupported, controversial statements; annotation could be to either link/summarize a discussion of the controversy or add "citation needed", depending on the editor's knowledge

  • To remove those unsupported, controversial statements, if doing so doesn't severely weaken the answer

  • To remove personal opinion or doctrine that does not bear on the question (e.g. while discussing some point in text, asserting that clearly Islam is a false religion because it doesn't address this text)

  • (Have I missed any?)

For cases where editing is not the accepted response, what is? The tools available to users are:

  • Editing, as already discussed

  • Commenting asking the poster to make the change (which makes the disagreement more "public" (not behind a link) and potentially embarrassing to the author, but gives the author full control)

  • Voting to delete (seems harsh if the answer is otherwise good, and also requires high rep)

  • Flagging for moderator attention (which reduces to one of the preceeding options)

  • Downvote (which may be particularly discouraging to newer users)

Related: the top-voted answer on the doctrinal-answers question calls for editing in that case. I'm having trouble reconciling that with the answers here; perhaps someone could address that?

Monica, thanks for bringing this up--I think it's a helpful discussion to have. For some more context, was your question prompted by a edit war or other specific situation? Or just a general question of "what do I do?" –  Ray Dec 26 '12 at 2:56
There's been a discussion in chat for the last couple days, which in turn was prompted by an edit and subsequent rollback. (Hmm, should we link a transcript here? There were some other converstations intertwined, though the bulk was this discussion.) From that discussion it became clear that at least three regulars here don't share an understanding of our norms for editing, so I suggested we bring it here to meta. –  Gone Quiet Dec 26 '12 at 2:59
Okay, thanks for the background, and for putting it up on meta. –  Ray Dec 26 '12 at 3:11
You're welcome. Chat: from here to, at present, the end. If you think it's worth bookmarking, go for it. I'm hoping we'll get your perspective on the question when you have time. –  Gone Quiet Dec 26 '12 at 3:14
@Ray Monica and I are planning to ask a member of the SE team to add their views on this question after the community has had a week or two to respond (and however we respond). We feel it is an important issue and their input and experience would be welcome. (Monica I hope I'm not putting words in your mouth: is that all correct?) –  Jack Douglas Dec 27 '12 at 10:41
@JackDouglas, if we can reach consensus (not a sure thing, of course) then we don't necessarily need to bring the SE team in, but I think their perspective could bring a lot of value to our discussion. Most of us participate in only a few sites; they have the best broad view. (And if there are things that can be said on this topic that apply across the network, maybe we can work with them to get a canonical post on MSO.) –  Gone Quiet Dec 27 '12 at 20:03
Good thinking. I've added the 'featured' tag to try and get some more attention from the community on this. –  Jack Douglas Dec 27 '12 at 20:18
@GoneQuiet i'd be interested in comparing our (unique?) perspective with that of the standard policies of SE. –  swasheck Dec 30 '12 at 21:59
@swasheck, so would I. Unless the community reaches consensus here (which isn't looking promising so far), Jack will ask the SE community team for guidance in a week or two. –  Gone Quiet Dec 31 '12 at 0:05

7 Answers 7

I'm Grace Note, I'm a Community Coordinator for Stack Exchange. I've been asked to give some words on how the general policies of editing are handled across the network as a whole, and the theory of editing etiquette.

  • Edits are to improve and fix posts, not to change them. This is the core of what an editor's job is. They are a supplement to another's work, designed to enhance that work. Take care to stay within these lines and respect the post that was written. If you think someone is better off with a different question or answer, don't make that decision for them. But if you can add extra material that supplements their work and makes it stronger without altering its fundamental content, don't hesitate. Cooperative content contribution is a positive.
  • Questions must present a problem, answers must present a solution. That is the goal of any post. Spelling, grammar, logic, and semantic errors all get in the way of readers to understand the question or the answer. Edits should thus address these and other issues which interfere with this goal.
  • Respect the author's voice and content. This is partly covered in the top point, but I'll be a bit more explicit about certain points here. People may write as they wish to write - while as a site we focus on content, as a community there are people behind every post. People usually do not like to speak in a voice that is not theirs. So as long as it isn't actively interfering with the goal of the post, there isn't a need to change things. Especially adding or removing the letter u.
  • We have rules on content. Offensive language and inappropriate material is not allowed on our sites. You can review our content policy and also keep in mind our rule, "Be Nice". This is not a suggestion, it's a requirement.

So, given all these base points, let us delve into the specific concerns you addressed, and the subject of editing answers. For obvious reasons, we're going to ignore anything about bad edits or spam edits or other negative actions of editing - all of those should be unquestionably reversed.

Insults, offensive language, and any such should be removed. It is not common that this shows up as anything besides the full content of the post, but in the rare cases that it does, try your best to retain the meaningful content during the removal job. Unless the user is particularly offensive, a repeating offender, or currently in a wide-spread action, there usually isn't any need to flag for these, and a comment reminding the rules should suffice.

Tangents and personal opinion fall within the middle points. Look at what they wrote and look at the core of what their solution is. Off-hand remarks, single-line quips, or fairly short stories that have relation to the matter usually aren't bothersome - they give life and flavor to posts. If they write a two-paragraph essay that eats up space and doesn't aid in presenting the solution, then that should probably be removed, although you might consider commenting instead of directly editing. So, takeaway - irrelevant material only needs to be addressed if it is interfering with the goal of the post to be a solution.

If material is unsupported, then consider assisting by providing sourcing for the material that you have, although comments tend to be pretty appropriate to accomplish this. Never remove unsupported elements, or do something as rude as stuffing "citation needed" right in someone's post. Remember, your job is to improve posts, not change them. This is change.

Controversy is much the same point. If a point is controversial, that's the user's prerogative to have posted it. This is what we have votes and comments to handle. Don't edit these out or alter them.

Make good use of edit summaries. The bland edit summary is great for things like typoes and such, but in any substantive edit, don't hesitate to be explicit about what you were doing and what your intent in the edit was. It can go a long way to helping users understand why you made the edit the way you did.

In any case, even if an edit might be logically appropriate, we are still a community of people. If you are concerned about the degree of an edit to someone's answer, just ask in comments. Bring up the concern that would lead you to make such an edit to the user in question directly. Being upfront helps answer people's inquiries about your motives before they have to ask, and that can avoid issues developing.

If someone edits your own post and you disagree, same process applies. Remember that an editor's intent is to improve your post and make it a stronger post - it is good natured. Whether or not you take the time to contemplate their perspective and intent in the edit, be polite as you approach them in comments to discuss the edit. We're here to work together, and not against each other, and the more people understand this, the lighter the atmosphere will be.

Doctrine is an odd point for this site, compared to most of the network. Let's not delve in the specific example you gave, since outright stating another religion to be "false", no matter how much it is the case in your own perspective, that's rather a case of defamation and insult to that faith. That's not allowed for reasons not having to do with doctrine. Something belonging to one's truth does not override our network policy.

This site is one of the sites that has to deal with multiple truths. On Arqade, there may be more than one means to take on a boss, but the game's design is an unquestionable truth that all strategies obey. On Seasoned Advice, people's tastes can and will differ, but there is an absolute truth on the physical properties of ingredients that reinforces these points. Everything is written from a perspective of the author, it's a fact of the way that we only have our own perspective to look from. Those would be sites that ascribe to a singular truth.

In a site like this, however, differing takes on a question's solution may be the result of actual different truths. There are multiple truths that different users will follow, and this is a slightly different beast than matters of opinion. Opinion is about personal stances, but truths are about worldly absolutes. The nature of this site means that this kind of conflict is rather inevitable, and difficult to manage.

For this reason, I would suggest that the matter of doctrinal respect, how much value we put in others to follow their truths, be something that should be discussed separately from the general etiquette of editing answers. All other aspects of this discussion here fall within the lines of the natural essence of editing, the goal of the site and the network as a whole in improving content and readability and accessibility. Doctrine, however, touches beyond the matter of just editing but indeed on how answers as a whole should be presented.

By "This site is one of the sites that has to deal with multiple truths." Grace Note isn't being post-modern :) –  Jack Douglas Jan 16 '13 at 15:35
I voted this up, but as a humorous side note which @JackDouglas already pointed out, this post is doctrinal. It's filled with postmodern relativism - which some of our users do not accept :P –  Dan Jan 16 '13 at 16:03
Your readers need to learn to check their lack of acceptance at the door. If they want a 'absolutist' form, I think that this isn't it. –  user947 Jan 19 '13 at 23:25

Based on my experience on other Stack Exchange sites, I'm deeply uncomfortable about solving problems like 'heresy' by editing. We should not be editing to change the intent of the poster. If a poster's intent is to present a confrontational, insulting, position, then the right answer is to delete the post as "Not welcome", not to edit it away from the OP's intent. (After, of course, politely asking the OP to adjust to the tone of the site.)

I have no problem with someone writing an answer with something like: "Traditionally, idea X is considered heretical in tradition Y" if that sheds light on the question -- always assuming that the question was on-topic for the site in the first place.

If there's oodles of useful goodness in the post and a little bit of nastiness, well, one would hope that the OP could be persuaded. If all else fails, someone else might go do the necessary reading and post a non-confrontational alternative.

+1 I agree 100%. Of course we take an entirely different and much more interventionist line on questions which I hope you will also agree is the right approach to shaping the site and building the community! –  Jack Douglas Jan 21 '13 at 12:14

A bit of background:

As mentioned this question has come out of an extended discussion, which really began in February with the debate about how we as a community respond to the use of the word 'heresy' in answers.

Then as now I don't believe there is significant debate on what we consider good for the site. The word 'heresy' isn't often helpful or necessary (and certainly wasn't either of those in the answer that provoked the debate). Pretty much everyone seemed to agree on that, but some wanted us to edit his post, and some like me wanted us to exercise restraint because:

  1. The voting system is an effective and proportionate response.
  2. Editing can be seen as aggressive and I have no doubt it would have been seen that way in this case (probably provoking an edit war or other unnecessary escalation of tension).

The author was eventually persuaded to change the wording by his own free will, but if he had refused, his answer would have kept it's handful of downvotes that would have meant it would be rarely seen in practise and even then would have served as a signpost of the community's disapproval of it's unhelpful tone.

When to edit:

As Monica mentions in the question:

The goal of editing a post, either question or answer, is to improve it for the sake of all readers (present and future) without doing violence to the author's intent. Editing should never change the fundamental meaning of a post. It is well-understood on SE that editing is appropriate to correct grammar/typos, fix formatting, add complementary information (like links to things the answer mentions), clarify meaning (e.g. from discussion in comments), and correct minor mistakes.

In my view this is a great summary of when to edit, and editing shouldn't go beyond these reasons. This kind of editing would never be offensive or unwelcome to any but the most sensitive user. Editing is not supposed to be a tool to allow us to change a post so we like it more, and I think it would be inappropriate in any of the scenarios Monica lists:

  • To remove insults (e.g. referring to a person, a source, or an idea as "stupid")

    Genuinely offensive posts such as ad hominem attacks on other users need immediate moderator attention. A suspension would usually be in order and deletion of the content (it doesn't matter if the rest of the answer is good or not—if the user can be persuaded to permanently change their behaviour, they can repost an improved version. Our priority is to stop the rot from affecting the community or visitors).

    Other material that does not offend, but is merely not to our taste, impolite or we consider to be childish rhetoric should be left alone. Downvote if you must, but perhaps just ignoring it is the best option: after all, this is a subjective area, we have people from all over the world and different cultures contributing, and our judgement is never perfect in these situations.

  • To remove off-topic tangents (e.g. in citing your professor you also tell a story about him that doesn't bear on the question)

    Either leave it (does it really do any harm?) or a polite comment like: "I've upvoted your answer which I find useful and interesting. I'm not sure the story about your professor is helpful though—perhaps you should consider editing it out?"

  • To annotate unsupported, controversial statements; annotation could be to either link/summarize a discussion of the controversy or add "citation needed", depending on the editor's knowledge

    This veers far to close to the practice of simply molding an answer to suit our preference. There is no rule that all statements must be supported or uncontroversial, and no reasonable way of creating an objective standard for this even of we wanted to.

  • To remove those unsupported, controversial statements, if doing so doesn't severely weaken the answer

    Again, let's not get into this subjective area: what 'weakens the answer' is a matter of opinion and best expressed individually with the very effective voting system.

  • To remove personal opinion or doctrine that does not bear on the question (e.g. while discussing some point in text, asserting that clearly Islam is a false religion because it doesn't address this text)

    I've voiced my opinion on this elsewhere so I'll just repeat it here:

We simply cannot and anyway should not 'avoid talk of doctrine'. Every answer on the site, and most questions, are informed by and contain doctrine aka the writers framework for understanding the text. The way we shape the site is by defining what questions can be asked, not how they should be answered beyond that they must a) answer the question, b) not be spam and c) not be offensive.

my conclusions:

  • Let's keep editing uncontroversial. Editing is a great tool for making a post unambiguously better: improving formatting, spelling, clarity or adding citations or links in a way that doesn't "do violence to the author's intent". Those edits should be welcomed and encouraged—and aren't likely to offend any but the most over-sensitive contributor.
  • Let's try and live with styles we don't particularly like. We want a balance between being a welcoming place and keeping the tone of the site. That balance is best achieved with strong control over questions and a light guiding touch with answers.
  • Let's not try and demonize doctrine. It's just another word for your framework for understanding the texts and we all bring it to our answers. Some more subtly than others of course, but to get rid of it completely would be a profoundly unhelpful aim and impossible of course.
  • Let's not make a 'major' out of a 'minor'. Bad questions are like broken windows at the front of the house. Low quality answers are more like the dust under the carpet: most people will never even see it (if there are also good answers on the same question).
Annotation should be a bit more nuanced. If I cite Esdras and someone links to it, then I'm all about that edit. If I mention the antinomian heresy and someone wants to link to Wikipedia about it then that's fine. –  swasheck Dec 30 '12 at 6:56
I've edited to clarify that I'm 100% in favour of those sort of edits! –  Jack Douglas Feb 8 '13 at 21:13

For answers from community members...

Optimize edits to make the internet a better place for getting answers about Biblical Hermeneutics. There's no reason to prescribe limits for people who are actively part of the site1 since there are ways for us to moderate each other. We can always re-edit or rollback edits and if there's a conflict, we can discuss it in comments or, better yet, chat or, better yet, meta. If things get really messy, the diamond moderators can step in and if that doesn't work I'm sure we'll get a visit from one of the community managers. We might have conflicts, but as long as we all aim for the same goal, I think we can work things out.

All of types of edits listed in the question could conceivably be necessary for making our site achieve its goal. Obviously we don't want to be jerks with each other; don't take this as license to make radical, unwelcome, and/or satirical edits. But if you see a way to improve an answer, an edit seems the most efficient way to do it and you respect the author's intent, then go ahead. There are plenty of remedies if the edit turns out to hurt our goals.

It's usually polite to add a comment and remind each other of the remedies unless the edit is really obvious. Also, in the end, the author of the post will probably get the final say on what's included, but they don't control comments, so comments or alternate answers are the best places to indicate disagreements. One of the great advantages of the site is our ability to edit each other's answers. I generally trust our editors and think we should encourage more of that activity. Across the network, I've found edits of my own work to be most helpful when they correct my tone or assertions that have not been received the way I intended.

For answers from people who are no longer active...

Remember that the author does not own their answer, but may still be associated with it. The Golden Rule here is to imagine that it was you who had left the site and had their answer edited. Would you be embarrassed or shocked to find yourself associated with the changed answer?2 Since they are no longer around to defend their answer, we need to exercise a bit more care. On the other hand, all posts are submitted under a Creative Commons licence that allow use to make edits. Also, authors are free to disassociate themselves from their posts at any time. And, of course, there's no way to tell the difference between an author that is taking a break from the site and an author who will never return. A thoughtful edit might be just the thing to bring such a user back to our community.

For answers from new users...

This is where things get tricky. All new users will eventually fall into one of the two camps above.3 Obviously, we'd like more people to stick around than to leave. Editing can be a turn off for new folks, so I generally agree with Jack's answer in this situation. There's plenty of time to edit later if we develop a repoire with the user in the future. One way to accelerate the process in my experience is to simply ask in the comments if an edit would be welcome. Something like:

I think your answer would be stronger if it included X. Would it be ok with you if I made that change? (We can always rollback or re-edit if things don't work out.)

Besides being an invitation to provide assistance, such a comment will be a semi-permanent notice to future readers of the answer's weakness. Obviously, if the post ever does get fixed the notice can be removed.


  1. Roughly speaking, if you have voted in the last month or so you are pretty much part of the site's active community.

  2. When I find bits of my own writing stored on the internet somewhere, I tend to be bemused and surprised. Sometimes I no longer believe what I asserted in the past. I'm not talking about stuff like that. I'm talking about having words put in your mouth by someone else that conflict with who you are on a deep level.

  3. Technically we will all become inactive at some point, but no need to be morbid.


As noted in the question, the goal of editing a post is to improve it for the sake of all readers (present and future) without doing violence to the author's intent. Editing should never change the fundamental meaning of a post. However, if editing were meant to be done only by the author, then (a) the feature wouldn't exist and (b) the terms of Stack Exchange's Creative Commons license, where posters agree that they don't retain full control over their contributions, would be different. So it's clear that editing others' posts is permitted, and what remains is to set the boundaries. Grammar, adding links, and so on are a baseline, but I do not believe they should be the only reasons.

Consider a well-written, supported post that answers the question in every way, except that the answer also says that (insert denomination here) are obviously nut-cases or even heretics. One could of course comment asking the poster to remove that, leaving the attack to stand in the meantime. Per Jack's answer, one could flag the post for deletion -- but then we would lose that well-written, supported answer that just has this one flaw. I believe in that case it is better to edit (with explanation). If the poster disagrees he can roll it back and suffer the downvotes (but see below), but in the meantime our site remains more civil. The FAQ says "Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated." We should do that.

Personal opinion and doctrine are harder. We should note up front that Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum; it is a place for people to get factual or practical answers to their questions. If a site is opinion-based, then all we're really doing is promoting the most-popular opinions based on our demographics. We should want to do better than that.

To take an example from another domain, a question on Programmers asking "what's the best editor to use for editing code?" would probably be closed, but if it were to remain open it would attract two types of answers: "Editor X does a, b, and c well, but fails at d", and "Editor X sucks, use Editor Y because blah blah blah". The former is a constructive argument in support of the poster's choice; the first part of the second is a non-constructive opinion statement that has no place as an answer on Stack Exchange. It should be edited to say "Editor Y does blah blah blah", without the judgmental opening statement.

Similarly, if someone asks here "what does this text mean?", we can imagine a few types of answers. One might say "grammatically this means X; such-and-such school understands it to mean Y based on these factors; thus-and-such scholar says Z." That's a good, solid answer that brings multiple perspectives while laying out the support for each (or not, in the case of Z). Another answer might say "this obviously means Z"; that's a weak answer but an answer nonetheless so it should be left alone other than commenting requesting more info. (It will probably be downvoted, not because of opinions about Z but because it's a bad answer about Z.)

Now consider this answer: "that originally meant X, but as we all know mere grammar must take a back seat to the Revealed Word of Our Holy Prophet the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who taught that we must understand it as Y and gave up his Precious Marinara Sauce for us". This last, in my opinion, is out of line on a site such as Stack Exchange, particularly if it is known that that message, phrased that way, would be seen as insulting, patronizing, or proselytizing to a reasonable person. (Let me clarify that I use FSM not to be flippant but to avoid using any real examples here that could offend someone. If I have offended any Pastafarians, please accept my apologies and feel free to edit this example.)

This last answer should be edited along the following lines: "that originally meant X. Pastafarians believe that it has been superseded to mean Y based on divine revelation. (Wikipedia link or the like)" This does not remove the Pastafarian perspective, only the way in which that perspective was conveyed. Deleting the post, on the other hand, would send the message that Pastafarians aren't welcome here, which isn't the message we want to send.

Examples from the Question

To remove insults (e.g. referring to a person, a source, or an idea as "stupid")

We should edit in that case.

To remove off-topic tangents (e.g. in citing your professor you also tell a story about him that doesn't bear on the question)

We should leave these alone, but comment. If a formatting change would help the answer to flow better around the tangent (e.g. inserting paragraph breaks), that falls under the category of uncontroversial edits and should be done.

To annotate unsupported, controversial statements; annotation could be to either link/summarize a discussion of the controversy or add "citation needed", depending on the editor's knowledge

Generally these should not be edited. Requests for citations, and counter-arguments, should be made in comments. Or, if they form the basis of an alternate answer, in your own answer.

To remove those unsupported, controversial statements, if doing so doesn't severely weaken the answer

These should not be edited out. As with the previous case, use comments or your own answer. People are allowed to be wrong on the internet.

To remove personal opinion or doctrine that does not bear on the question (e.g. while discussing some point in text, asserting that clearly Islam is a false religion because it doesn't address this text)

This should be edited out. If it doesn't bear on the question we would normally leave it alone (see "anecdotes" above), but doctrine is inherently personal and opinion-based, so all it can do is reinforce those who agree and antagonize those who disagree. In the Pastafarian example above I argue for editing even though it touches on the question; how much the moreso should we edit in the case where it doesn't even do that. Gratuitous personal opinion stated as fact never improves an answer.

About Votes and Visibility

Jack argues in his answer that, because we can downvote these problematic answers instead of fixing them, the mechanics of Stack Exchange will work in our favor. This is true to a point but there are some problems:

  • The "bad answers sink to the bottom" design works best when there are several answers. On some sites it's common to get ten or more answers to a question, and most people don't read all of them. Our answer rate is currently 1.9 answers per question. I believe that when a question has two or even three answers, most people who read past the first paragraph look at all of them. If the variation in votes is not extreme, position won't matter to the reader -- ok, this answer has 3 votes, that one 2, and that one 1; big deal. We don't tend to get extreme votes here (in either direction); casual observation, which could be flawed of course, suggests that two-thirds of our vote counts (that is, the range of the first standard deviation) fall within the range -0.5 to 4. (Can anybody actually gather the statistics on this?) We are not like the sites that routinely see double-digit scores on answers.

  • While we don't have a lot of data (fortunately we are not swimming in bad answers of this sort), it seems likely that people will still up-vote an answer they agree with even if it is delivered in a poor way. If the Pastafarian example above comes at the end of a long post that is otherwise unremarkable, even non-Pastafarians will probably vote it up for the good content, despite the evangelizing at the end. Votes are all-or-nothing; you can't vote on part of a post.

  • Downvoting a post that could be fixed instead of fixing it and upvoting seems (a) rude (especially to a low-rep answerer) and (b) non-constructive (we could have helped and didn't). Is that really the behavior we want here?

  • It is probably the case that most people don't look at questions (and thus answers) that aren't on the main page. Stack Overflow completely turns over in a few hours, for instance; bad posts are quickly pushed out of the public view. Here, where we get 1.5 questions per day and (as previously noted) a lower answer rate, the main page changes slowly; it takes about two weeks for an item to get pushed off the bottom. That's a long time to leave a broken window unrepaired.

Therefore, while downvoting is certainly a tool to use in addressing answers that contain problematic parts, it is a pretty coarse-grained tool and often not the best approach.

Other Sites

We are not the only site on the Stack Exchange network, and I believe a survey of other sites would reveal a range of editing practices. I have seen posts be edited along the lines I'm suggesting here on other sites, and as a moderator on Mi Yodeya I have made these kinds of edits there. (Fortunately this isn't a huge problem for us either, but it happens.) There is surprisingly little discussion of editing on MSO.

In Conclusion

Editing should never be about "I disagree with that"; reasonable people will disagree, about programming and English usage and hermeneutics, and Stack Exchange provides for multiple perspectives. But we should not decline to edit to remove insulting or provocative language; the possible negative feelings of one author if we edit should not take priority over the negative feelings of multiple readers. Edits leave a complete audit trail and edits have to be approved up to a certain reputation threshold; if somebody abuses the editing privilege it will be seen and dealt with.

Editors should bear in mind the question "does this change make the Biblical Hermeneutics site better?". If it does, by creating a more welcoming, civil environment or by removing impediments to polite discourse, edit. If there are problems that are less urgent, comment and ask the poster to address them. When all else fails you can downvote, but that is not the best tool to reach for first.

The key line in this answer is: "Gratuitous personal opinion stated as fact never improves an answer." (Only, I would s/Gratuitous/Unsupported/.) –  Jon Ericson Dec 27 '12 at 20:23
I'm re-reading this answer and I wonder if you would expand on why proselytizing might be a problem. (I have some ideas on that myself, but I'd like to hear your concerns. I don't know if this or chat or another question is the right place to ask.) –  Jon Ericson Jan 3 '13 at 19:57
@JonEricson, for two reasons: (1) it is inherently divisive/argumentative, and (2) as personal opinion that can never be proven, it should take a distant back seat to the objective and good-subjective answers that SE is designed for. On (1), it reinforces believers and antagonizes others, some of whom will be compelled to respond, and then others will be compelled to respond to them... that kind of back-and-forth, personal/doctrinal discussion is great for chat, but doesn't belong in the comment threads of a question IMO. Does that help? (Do you want to chat?) –  Gone Quiet Jan 3 '13 at 21:01

I dislike 'heresy' as much as the next person so when it crops up my radar goes crazy. I guess this all just depends on how truly we wish to hold to "Hermeneutics." This is my age-old soapbox and probably one of the biggest reasons why I'm apprehensive about spending my time on BH.

I will say this, in other areas of the Stack Exchange network, "bad" answers are downvoted into oblivion. I would say that "bad" answers in BH are "heretical" answers. A downvote and a comment noting the particular objection seems to suffice for me. Additionally, many times 'heresy' is a result of poor hermeneutics (which would further support the downvote + comment option). This way, we note the "quality" of the answer ("Nothing personal, it's just [the Stack Exchange] 'business'.") while letting the answerer know why the downvote occurred (a courtesy not afforded on a great many sites in the network).

I think edits would be to shore up the style, insert citations (if the editor has done the requisite legwork to substantiate something previously unsubstantiated), or some other change related to the form of the answer.

Again, and I'll just leave this little nugget here, theology/doctrine is a byproduct of hermeneutics and, as such, we need to strive for answers that exhibit and leverage the process. We are necessarily driving toward a doctrinal stance or position, but applying our research methods to a particular text.

In summary (<---- See, this is a great place for someone to come in and toss an edit)

Downvote/comment when the answer does not fit/meet the criteria and objectives of the site.

Edit when there are formal flaws with the answer itself.

Vote to Close when the answer fits any of the standard VtC criteria.

As far as covering all use cases is concerned, it's difficult to say that there is a once for all (ahem) solution.

Insults, and off-topic tangents are grounds for moderator intervention and the answer should be flagged as such.

The burden of proof lies with the answerer. Downvotes and comments are appropriate here as well. If it becomes hostile, then moderator intervention is required.

As for personal opinion ... that's a tough call. I'd just say that a comment requesting substance and not opinion is appropriate.

Again, I say this as someone who firmly believes that any theology or doctrine (heretical or otherwise) that is read into the hermeneutical process is grounds for comment and downvote (where appropriate) since those things are the product of the process and not inputs.

VtC is for questions—do you mean VtD? –  Jack Douglas Dec 30 '12 at 7:36
Could you address the other cases raised in the question (e.g. editing out insults)? –  Gone Quiet Dec 30 '12 at 17:26
@GoneQuiet i made an attempt. insults are a flag/mod intervention issue. it's behavioral and not substantive. ad hominem reduces the persuasiveness of an answer as it is a flaw in the logic of the offender, so i'd be inclined to downvote and comment as such. –  swasheck Dec 30 '12 at 21:58

Preamble: what are we trying to accomplish?

The goal here should be to establish guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Rules will never cover all cases, and if we devolve into arguing about whether something violates Rule 42, subsection 17, paragraph 6 instead of engaging with the thoughtful users who are actively engaged with this site, we've done something wrong. Seriously wrong.

That said, we cannot simply make it up as we go along or rely on individual whim, because individual whim is highly variable -- one person's reasonable edit is another person's rollback+complaint. Nor can we continue our current practice of addressing a problem by starting a conversation about it that goes on for days or months before being resolved (if it ever is).1 It's unworkable, particularly if we want to grow. Shog9 recently put it this way:

[A]s this community grows it will be less and less feasible to have protracted discussions with each and every author whose posts you edit, and bad habits developed now will start to become painful.

This is particularly true when authors do not return to respond to comments. We need to trust our active users, especially the experienced ones, to improve posts.

What does Stack Exchange already say about editing?

In In Defense of Editing, Jeff Atwood lays out some core values beyond the guidance given in the edit sidebar (and summarized in the question). The whole post is worth reading, but I'm calling out this in particular:

Editing is the backbone of Stack Overflow, and probably (along with the reputation system) one of the single most important distinctions between Stack Overflow and "just another forum".

The Great Edit Wars says more about the philosophy:

Editing is welcomed and encouraged. However, if the author of the post is resistant to your editing changes, even a perfectly legitimate edit based on the above rules, be the bigger man (or woman) and let them have it their way. Our goal here is not to cause friction between users, or to make everything perfect overnight. All we aim to do is gradually clean up and improve questions and answers together.

Conclusion: Constructive edits should generally be offered, and authors are allowed to disagree with them and roll them back. (Nothing is said here about non-authors intervening to roll back edits, by the way.)

Community Manager Grace Note says (excerpting):

  • Edits are to improve and fix posts, not to change them.
  • Questions must present a problem, answers must present a solution.
  • Respect the author's voice and content.

We have rules on content. Offensive language and inappropriate material is not allowed on our sites. You can review our content policy and also keep in mind our rule, "Be Nice". This is not a suggestion, it's a requirement.

Insults, offensive language, and any such should be removed. It is not common that this shows up as anything besides the full content of the post, but in the rare cases that it does, try your best to retain the meaningful content during the removal job.

Conclusion: Editing is not appropriate to remove or change content you merely disagree with. However, editing for insults and offensive language is not only permitted but expected.

Community Manager Shog9 says (excerpting):

The questions you must ask yourself then are:

  • Do I understand the answer well enough to edit it?
  • Is that paragraph even relevant?
  • Can I reword the offensive section to be less offensive while preserving the author's meaning and intent?

Conclusion: Make sure you know what you're doing, don't bother to edit if you should be removing as irrelevant, and, when editing, make the minimal change (reword rather than remove, assuming it's relevant).

So what should we do?

The following seems clear to me from the above (and from common sense, if I may posit such a thing :-) ):

  • Merely-distracting material like tangents should be left alone.
  • Unsupported and wrong/controversial material should be left alone.
  • Except, for the previous two, if content is offensive, it should be addressed with the minimal edit that fixes the problem.

What's "offensive"? We will never be able to formalize a definition of that, and opinions will vary. Since we value site harmony and are trying to build a community, it is my opinion that we should generally err on the side of caution. Most of us let most stuff just go by; if somebody here was offended enough to try to correct a problem, we should have a very good reason to undo that.2 For this reason, while content is in dispute, I think we should leave it edited out, not in, and of course invite the author to address the problem. Anybody who wants to see the original can click one link and get there. And remember that the author can roll back an edit and end the matter; we should place the burden of action on the author of the objectionable material, not on the community.

Ok, but what about strongly-held personal opinion ("doctrine")?

This is an area where we are different from many other SE sites. While I assume there is doctrine on Stack Overflow, DBA, et al, probably nobody there believes that the state of people's immortal souls depends on the outcome of a Stack Exchange post, and also probably nobody feels divinely commanded to spread a particular message. Not so, here.

The participants here will never agree on such values. That's perfectly reasonable. It shouldn't matter. Answers on Stack Exchange aren't about personal opinion. Our problems begin when people assert their opinions as fact, instead of judiciously using phrases like "I believe" or "according to (source)". As soon as somebody says "that means X", someone who disagrees will (necessarily) respond "no it doesn't" (or "no, it means Y"), and pretty soon you have a knife-fight in the comments. This runs counter to our goals of civility and harmony. No good can come of that. And it's so easily avoided.

Consider the following text (drawn from this answer, emphasis mine):

Furthermore, the superiority of the NT model is clearly outlined in the epistle to the Hebrews. Under the Old Covenant only the Levitical priests could "draw near" to God and the penalty for disobedience was death (Nm 18:7, 22). But, now with the New Covenant the Levitical priesthood, the physical temple and its associated tithes, sacrifices and offerings have all been abolished and replaced by the high priesthood of Christ Jesus, His "once for all" perfect sacrifice, and the priesthood of all Christian believers (Heb 7:15-17; 9:11-12, 24-26; 10:19-22; 1 Pt 2:9-10). Thus, the "disannulling" (Heb 7:18) of every ordinance pertaining to the Levitical priesthood and temple service included tithing--its chief means of financial support. Now every Christian believer-priest may "draw near" to God (Heb 7:19, 25; 10:22) through Christ Jesus, our High Priest, wherein we might "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:16).

The paragraph begins with a personal opinion in the form of an unsupported assertion of truth. That weakens the post. Asserting that your scripture is superior to someone else's is not really the behavior we want to encourage here. But it's easily addressed via an edit; instead of saying "the new testament is superior", say "the argument that so-and-so makes for superiority of the NT is...". Additionally, the presumption that Jesus is "our" high priest, on a site that welcomes "Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints", is not really the way to go -- but again, it's easily fixed by referring to believers who see Jesus as high priest.

This is the form the edit eventually took. It took five days, after waiting for the author to weigh in. Nobody meant to offend here; we're seeing the effect of unchecked assumptions. It happens a lot here.

At its core, our site will work best if we separate what we believe from how we answer questions. If you want a doctrinal perspective -- if you're looking for Truth -- then you'll find ample help on Christianity.SE, Mi Yodeya, Islam.SE, and Skeptics.SE. Our FAQ describes a religiously-neutral community, one that is focused on the text. In our community of scholars, our individual opinions should be irrelevant. And if they're irrelevant, we shouldn't be espousing them in answers -- that just adds noise. If we nonetheless feel compelled to espouse opinions in answers, we should label or attribute them.

And if we find them in answers in a way that causes offense, we as a community should be willing to edit them.


The following paragraph was edited out, rolled back (not by the author), and left to stand for three months, during which the author never joined the discussion. The issue was "resolved" as a side-effect: eventually its question was deleted:

All Biblical Perspectives (Judaism, Messianic Judaism, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) are reconciled in our one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the day of His Crucifixion. There is one Body, one Spirit, one Hope, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, and one God and Father of all.

This was an aside, not part of the answer to the question. The rejected edit also contained this change:

...on the day Jesus was crucified and shed His Holy Precious Blood.


"That user is offended by everything" would be a good reason, but we haven't had anything remotely like that here.

This alternate answer is a result of a discussion in chat yesterday/today. –  Gone Quiet Apr 3 '13 at 21:30

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