When we get a question that is essentially useful but written in such a way that it is not easy to answer well, should editors jump in and significantly revise it? I'm specifically looking at this wiki-style question: What tactics other than 'setting an example' successfully encourage friends/family/others to become cyclists?

The question is IMO a useful but has been phrased to encourage poor answers:

Clearly this is an open ended question with many answers. Personal anecdotes 
are welcomed, did a childhood gift of a bike, a bike-to-work scheme or the 
advice of a doctor work for you? Is there anything that we can learn from 
other walks of life?
Statistics and studies could also provide answers. Whatever hints and tips 
you have to help people take up cycling as a way of life are welcomed. 
Answers with lateral thinking, tips from other walks of life are also 
welcomed.

I am inclined to remove that entirely and instead make the explicit question:

How can I be more effective in my efforts to encourage others to cycle?
Links to research results or long-running successful programmes are 
preferred over personal anecdotes. Humor is allowed but should not be the 
only reason for an answer.

I'm trying to preserve the intention of the questioner but I've completely rewritten the question. I'd also like to prune the body of the question but at some point it stops being Matthew's question and becomes mine...

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Related: How can this question be improved? –  Neil Fein Jun 6 '11 at 18:31
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3 Answers 3

Be fearless in editing. Per the faq:

Other people can edit my stuff?!

Like Wikipedia, this site is collaboratively edited, and all edits are tracked. If you are not comfortable with the idea of your questions and answers being edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you.

So long as you believe you are honoring the intent of the OP, I think it's fine to edit, and even radically edit, the question.

If you're worried, leave a comment indicating why you did what you did, and explaining that you did it to help the question get the best possible answers. That should suffice.

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I agree in principal, but keep in mind that Bicycles is a smaller site. I would think we need to be more careful not to step on each others' toes. However, that can't be at the expense of quality. I think that @moz is trying to find that balance. –  Neil Fein Jun 6 '11 at 4:25
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My take on this:

Editors should do what they can to improve a question while respecting the original author. Is what you're writing likely to get better answers to what the original author wants to know? Is it making this site better? Will it keep the question fro getting closed, or help it get re-opened?

Stack Exchange text is both creative-commons licensed and the site is a wiki, so users with sufficient rep can edit whatever they feel will help the site, making whatever changes are needed. They'll understand, of course. And hey, they can always revert, yes?

Uh, no. It's not that simple, unless you want to alienate people. I'd be a little peeved is someone significantly changed what I was saying.

Sometimes, the reason a question is becoming much removed from the original question is that the "editor" has a lot of stuff to say on the topic. Or... is the problem that the original question had too little to say, or that you have too much to say?

I'm an editor for a living, and I have to keep in mind that this is not my work, and that these are not my words. I'm trying to help the author say what they want to say, but make the novel better. If I cant do that when I get sample chapters, maybe that means the original text is unsalvageable and I shouldn't accept the project.

Similarly: If the question starts becoming more your own question, perhaps it'd be best to vote to close (or leave it closed) and simply write your own question on the subject. We can have multiple varieties of the same question open, as long as they are clearly different.

If things are uncertain, we can leave a question closed until we figure out what to do with it. "Closed" is, I think, an unfortunate term. What it really means is that a question can;t be answered. "Frozen" might be a better term, but I think we're stuck with things as they are for now. We can close a question, discuss it here, make it better (with the buy-in of the original author), then re-open. Or we may decide it's best to leave it closed and try again.

Summary

Yes, I think there's a point where one is editing too much.

Fortunately, people with the reputation scores to edit should also have the good judgement to either know where that line is, or to use all their resources to find it--i.e., to ask for help or community consensus.

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If the original question is so bad that you think it ought to be rewritten "too much" then, if the person asking the question is experienced enough to participate, an alternative is to say what's wrong with the question, close it, and invite the original author to rewrite it.

If they don't, then a further alternative may be to ask whatever the other/better/different question yourself, a couple of weeks later.

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