I wonder what the community policy is respecting question edits that change the meaning, and existing answers to earlier version of the question. I looked around a bit but only managed to find several hints that meaning-changing edits to questions are generally a no-no. None of the posts addressed the problem what to do with existing answers. I'd be happy for a reference therefore.

I occasionally read past questions and answers across StackExchange, but it never occurred to me to delve into the edit history of posts and their timestamps to find out which answer pertains to which version of the question. Never fully dawned on me that if an answer does not seem to answer the question, it may be because the question has been edited substantially.

Never, that is to say, until I saw it happen. The question Is there a single, opposite word to “alibi”? has been edited many times. While the first few versions seemed to me to be mainly about criminal acts and incriminating evidence for such, the later versions seemed to be mainly about presence at a party and evidence one's been there.

Several users, me included, posted answers that addressed various edits of the post. The modified meaning of the question probably rendered some answers a bit bizzare. (I am not implying that my own answer was invalidated in this manner. Rather, because I posted an answer, I had the opportunity to watch the evolution of the question and the various answers to it.)

Regarding my own post, of course I might delete it (but that would feel as if I have changed my mind about it, which I have not) or edit it (but then I might not even notice the edit to the question, and if I did, I might not feel up to answering the new question).

It occurred to me whether it is useful to maintain a different policy towards edits of one's own questions, and edits of other people's questions. Once the question is posted, people start thinking about it and posting their answers. The effort put into this activity is diminished if the meaning to the question is changed. Therefore, it might be useful if edits by OP to an already posted question were subject to approval of community members, in a manner similar to edits to other users' posts. (I probably do not fathom the intricacies of the editing mechanism, so this may be totally off the hook.)

Is there a general way to deal with the situation?

Added, based on answers and comments: I think I need to step back from the strong claim I made about the "alibi" post that inspired my question here at meta. Several people pointed out to me that they perceive the subsequent edits of that post as clarifying, not meaning changing. While I cannot agree, I realize I may be completely wrong about the word "alibi" (which, to me, indeed strongly connotes a crime), and I would like to apologize for unnecessarily focusing on the specific example. The question stands in general.

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    This reminded me of a question that recommended closing such questions. I would rather that be used only in drastic cases. So I like your idea of community approval, but I might add a character threshold to it so the OP can still correct formatting and/or minor typos without appealing for review. That sounds like a lot of work though. Two things we can do right now are: 1. Explicitly say in our answers what's part of the question ("In your crime example...") 2. Draw attention to the edits in a comment to the question.
    – user39720
    Mar 4, 2015 at 19:11
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    I think it was the case of the OP trying his best to clarify his request. As the answers began to flood in, the OP tried to explain further by means of an example. Unfortunately the original title remained, which confused the waters somewhat. But it is my understanding that OP's are allowed to improve/clarify/rectify/fix their posts.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 4, 2015 at 20:33
  • @Mari-LouA Yes, of course, users are allowed to improve their posts, that is an important feature of StackExchange. However the edits to the linked question went, IMO, way beyond improvement or giving examples. A significant change occurred in the third edit, where OP switched between crime scene and dinner party. My post here however is not intended as a complaint. I'm just trying to find out how to approach the consequences of the editing feature.
    – anemone
    Mar 4, 2015 at 21:14
  • With the timestamps, it's still possible to assess that you posted before the 6th edit so I would expect such an answer to be compatible with the 5th edit. Imho your answer stands and need not have gone below 0. Thank you.
    – user98955
    Mar 6, 2015 at 5:20
  • @Amphiteóth Thanks. This post here is, however, not really about my answer. I rather hope to learn what the community attitude is to the general phenomenon.
    – anemone
    Mar 7, 2015 at 13:56
  • I just recently attempted to address this issue by proposing a change to codereview's help pages; saying "Incorporating advice from an answer into the question violates the question-and-answer nature of this site; and removes the context necessary to understand the answer or answers."
    – motoku
    Mar 15, 2015 at 5:45

5 Answers 5


The question is associated with the OP's name, not the community, and if the OP needs to redefine their question, they should not need the approval of the community to modify their post, even if it has answers that are broken by the newly formatted question. There has to be flexibility to make a question better, etc.

There are people who edit for perfectly good reasons, one being a significant language barrier and with it a fear of being misunderstood. That's understandable. Another OP is/was a compulsive editor (whose questions were interesting); I counted 45 edits on one of his questions, which would change as answers were posted (in comments, I asked him to ask a new question rather than change the old one.) This is a community made up of flawed people; even so, things usually go on quite well. On quite rare occasions, a user will deliberately change their post because they don't like the "correct" answer. If you think this is going on, flag a mod, and don't answer their questions anymore. If it happens a lot, they'll see a pattern and address it.

You can also edit your answer to include that it only addresses the original question, which has now been edited. I've never voted to delete such an answer. The fact that you've seen such non-answers (which have not been deleted) tells you that people who delete are a discriminating bunch.

But the question itself belongs to the OP, so to speak. I can't imagine imposing the kind of restrictions your talking about for the occasional inconvenient edit.

Answering a question is always associated with a very slight risk that it will be rendered obsolete. As long as it stays slight, I think the status quo can be maintained. You always have the option of commenting, flagging, or editing your answer to address the changes.

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    Thank you. My reading of this post, in terms of answering my question, is that edits modifying the meaning of a question by OP are rare and therefore do not constitute a problem to the site.
    – anemone
    Mar 5, 2015 at 11:11
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    I do not doubt that a question is associated with the OP's name. On the other hand, many people choose to modify other people's questions. So far, my understanding of this feature of the site was that, once posted, a question belongs to the community as well as to the OP, in the spirit of having good answers to good questions on the site.
    – anemone
    Mar 5, 2015 at 11:20
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    @anemone - that's true, but the edits cannot change the intent of the post - if they're too substantive, they are declined as changing the intent (or rolled back by the OP). In any case, the community can edit for clarity and grammar, but the OP is notified of changes to their post and can refuse them. That does, indeed, give him more control of the post than the community has. Mar 5, 2015 at 15:50

Looking at the "original" version of the question, I can see it always included the specific context For instance, I want to prove that I was there at a dinner party last night. (No "crime" involved.)

Presumably therefore the subsequent edits were because initial answers had misconstrued the question (and thought it was about being placing a guilty person at the scene of a crime).

I think the original text was reasonably clear - but if it wasn't, potential answerers should have posted comments asking for clarification before answering. In the circumstances, the OP has done the best he could by repeatedly editing to try and show why terms like damning evidence and in flagrante delicto didn't suit his context.

TL;DR: I don't think the OP wanted to know ever changed. If people misunderstood it and answered a different question (rather than asking for clarification of the actual question), they just need to take it on the chin. It's like premature answers on University Challenge, where "incorrectly anticipating the question" leads to points being deducted. At least on ELU you can delete your inappropriate answer to avoid possible downvotes.

But I would just say I think it's a whole 'nother ball game if the OP himself changes his mind about what exactly he's asking. That's obviously something that should be very strongly discouraged.

EDIT: Eeek! Checking again, I see the "dinner party" text wasn't always there. But I'm still inclined to think the OP knew what he was asking all the time, and I still stand by the principles I've set out, so I won't delete this answer! :)

Regarding Should we [or the answerer] delete answers which no longer address the question? I think it's effectively irrelevant that they may have seemed pertinent to an earlier version of the question (which many voting users don't have the rep to access even if they wanted to see them). We have to deal with the situation as it is, not how it was, or how we'd like it to be.

But if a question is so radically altered as to unquestionably make it a different question, and if answers to the "original" have already been posted, I would consider reverting the question edits, while commenting to the OP that he should post a new question.

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    Mmm. Well, the problem is that the original post did seem clear. It was about crime scene. Thence @DanBron's nice answer, for example. The later edits were also clear, but rather different in meaning. And, as for principles, are you suggesting that posts that no longer answer the question as it stands now be deleted?
    – anemone
    Mar 4, 2015 at 22:39
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    I interpreted the original question in the way subsequent edits indicate was actually intended. So I reckon the edits were clarifying, not altering.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Mar 5, 2015 at 7:30
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    @anemone: Post edited. Yes, I think if we accept the current question as "valid in context" (as opposed to forcing the OP to revert his radical edit, which always remains an option), then any and all answers must be evaluated relative to the current question. It's counterproductive to the aims of SE for hi-rep users who can see earlier versions to distort their voting behaviour on the current question for "historical" reasons (including "sympathising" with the now-off-the-mark answerer because it's not his fault the rug was pulled from under him! :) Mar 5, 2015 at 13:38
  • I see. Thanks a lot for the time you've given this, I appreciate that. I haven't in fact got strong opinions about the many and varied StackExchange features, so I'm grateful for the experience of others.
    – anemone
    Mar 5, 2015 at 16:05
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    @anemone: We don't have to fall into line with what TPTB (the guys who created, bankrolled, and run the sites) want, but it's only fair to give them due consideration. You could check it out yourself (maybe even ask a question on SE "meta.meta", but unless I'm mistaken, they're more interested in creating a permanent repository of "Questions with user-evaluated Answers" that running an ephemeral "Ask a question, get an Answer" type of site. So they would probably say only the current form of the Question should be considered when voting on Answers. Mar 5, 2015 at 16:16

I’d like to answer to your question as a person concerned.

After placing this question, I received several comments requesting clarification of the intent of my question such as:

-Are you looking for something like red-handedness? - skimninge

-If the term you are looking for is not necessarily related to a crime scene, I think you should add that piece of information in your question!! –Josh61

-The more I read your second paragraph, the less I understand what you're trying to ask: " proves that a person was in the place at the time of an event taking place regardless whether it's associated with or not?" 1. By event, do you mean crime? 2. regardless whether what is associated with what? –Jim Reynolds

So I tried to make my point clear by adding editions several time. I appreciate Mari-Lou's comment - the OP trying his best to clarify his request, in this regard.

It seems the cause of confusion relies on basic difference of our notion of the word, “alibi, which is translated as “不在証明” in Japanese. The word, “アリバイ” pronounced “aribai” in Japanese is used for both crime scene and a mere social scene not associated with crime at all. So I asked for the antonym of alibi that works for the proof of presence in the scene regardless crime or non-crime.

I added the following comment in response to @JimRaynols comment.

@JImRaynpolds. We have both “存在証明- Sonzai-shomei” meaning the proof of your being there” and ”不在証明-Fuzai-shomei ” meaning the proof of your not being there in Japanese, the latter of which I think corresponds to alibi, though both “Sonzai-shomei” and “Fuzai-shomei” aren’t associated with a crime scene, and can be applied to the innocuous scenes like dinner party. The difference of “存在証明” and “不在証明” is just the first one character, but the meaning is opposite. I’m curious to know if there is the English counterpart to “存在証明 - Sonzai-shomei.” in single or two words like "alibi."

As for edition I, as a non-native English speaker who is not so confident in the quality and clarity of my own writing in terms of contents and grammarical correctness as you are, do more re-editing than you do. I think it's better to do so than leaving original text misconstrued. I added three or fourth revisions even to this answer in order for communicating my intent more clearly.

I think you’ll do the same if you are asking a question about Japanese, Chinese, Greek, Russian, and whatever foreign language expressions in not your own mother tongue.

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    My suggestion was meant to help with a piece of relevant information after I realised that Dan's good answer was not what you were looking for. Probably the word alibi and its etymological meaning created some misunderstanding. My comment, for instance, received some upticks, while the same answer was downvoted. I understand and appreciate the effort you make in bringing to the users attention issues which might appear obvious to native speaker but which are not for non-natives.
    – user66974
    Mar 6, 2015 at 6:33
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    Thank you. The first thing I would like to say is that my post here on meta is primarily not about your "alibi" question and its edits; I am asking about a community policy w.r.t. question edits that change the meaning, and their existing answers. I refer in detail to your question, because it made me ask myself what to do such a situation in general.
    – anemone
    Mar 6, 2015 at 7:35
  • (cont'd) However, several people here already let me know, more or less explicitly, that they do not see a problem in your edits. You see, the first few versions of your post made perfect sense to me, because I associate alibi with a criminal situation. (There may be, as in your case, shifts of meaning influenced by my mothertongue (Czech); I simply do not say things like "I wasn't there when the window was broken, I've got an alibi.") Your question was sitting at the back of my mind for a while, and even when you've edited it, the crime association was still there.
    – anemone
    Mar 6, 2015 at 7:41
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    Please accept my apology for any ill feelings caused by my misconception of the particular situation.
    – anemone
    Mar 6, 2015 at 7:56

I think our rule of thumb should be this: "Don't change a question in a way that invalidates existing answers." If you do, even if you are the Original Poster, other community members should revert your edit.

In this case, the OP asked a question that differed from the one they intended to ask. That is not a problem: it is still an interesting question that got good answers.

When the OP realizes their mistake, (alibi doesn't mean what they thought it did) they can go on and create a new question which doesn't mention crime.

This is the approach that they have at Stack Overflow, and I think the same reasons apply here. https://meta.stackoverflow.com/a/254524/1899424

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    This is rather the point, but I don't think I can +1. The OP didn't ask a question which differed from the one they intended to ask. It was interpreted wrongly. The answers may be good, but they didn't answer the question which was asked.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Mar 11, 2015 at 20:22
  • Thank you. I'd only repeat myself if I said I agree with you, both in general and in particular.
    – anemone
    Mar 12, 2015 at 9:33

In general, I think the solution to the problem is for people to not edit posts in ways that change the meaning. Then the problem just goes away. I think there's a huge difference between, (a) fixing a spelling or grammar error in the original post; (b) clarifying the language; and (c) changing the post to what you think the person should have said. (a) is almost always a good thing. (b) could get debatable. (c) is just bad.

I had an answer I posted on another Stackexchange site where someone edited my answer to change several statements to say almost the opposite of what I originally said. His comment on his edit said that he was correcting an inaccurate statement. In fact I am quite sure that my original statement was correct, but regardless: It seems to me that if you disagree with someone else's answer, you should post a comment or your own answer, not change the other person's answer to what you think is correct.

Likewise, if you think someone's question is fundamentally flawed -- based on a false premise, for example -- I think you should make a comment to this effect, not "correct" the question to what you believe is right.

If someone HAS made such a change, I think the right solution is to change the question back.

The example given seems to bring up a hazy case: A question was misunderstood and someone clarified it in a way that made already-posted answers invalid or incomprehensible. IMHO the best solution in that case would be to add clarifying information to the question while leaving the original ambiguity intact. Then earlier posts are not invalidated.

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