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I want to generalize this Meta question into a discussion about when it's appropriate to edit someone else's question vs opening a new, similar, question with a different focus.

Cole's Notes: a new user asked a highly personal, narrow-focused, and opinion-based question. It resulted in good discussion, but was ultimately closed as off-topic. In an attempt to save the question from closure, one of our experienced users made substantial edits to the question.

My question is: Under what circumstances is it appropriate for someone other than the OP to make substantial edits to the question?

In the linked question @WhiteWinterWolf went to great pains to preserve the original question, kudos, but I'm afraid that this sets a dangerous precedent for retroactively changing the intent of a question.

I liked this answer on Meta Parenting SE which proposed that the correct course of action is to close the original question, and ask a new question with the template

Inspired by [this other question], I'd like to know about [less restricted thing]...

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  • Whoops. Had the wrong URL in my clipboard, ty @WhiteWinterWolf! – Mike Ounsworth May 28 '15 at 11:56
  • You're welcome :) – WhiteWinterWolf May 28 '15 at 12:41
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Here is an image I love: enter image description here

The first and last picture in particular show the difference there might sometimes be between things that users ask, and things that users actually need.

New SE users especially may ask questions in a way not suitable for SE website (it could for various reasons), while the need behind the question might match SE website activity.

In such situation, in order to make the question suitable for getting more answers and in order to show to the new member how the question could be rephrased in more suitable or optimal way, I find it justifiable to:

  1. Edit the post,
  2. Leave a comment explaining what happened to the user (who has edited the post, why it has been edited, and how the user could revert or correct the modification if he does not agree; the fact that the user remains empowered with the question and that it is not "stolen" by another member may also be important to some people).

We could leave 10 comments asking the user to rephrase the question himself, if he is new to the site and does not understand what is expected he may give-up and find it easier to just leave the website (add to that the fact that most probably the user is facing a real problem, hence his question, he may be too tense to step back and take the time to think on how to rephrase his question).

On traditional forums, the initial question may be unclear and then the discussion thread will clarify the actual need until getting the right question and the right answer. This is not how SE works and this difference may sometime be hard to grasp for new users.

In all case:

  • The goal in such edition remains to act as kind of user's advocate, we represent the user in order to get him more quality answers fulfilling his needs.
  • If user's question inspires us and we want to add our own interrogations, curiosity or needs to user's question, then creating a new question linked to the original one would be the best way.
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