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If I see one typo in something, should I edit it? Or does this behavior border on pedantry?

An example: "clohes" instead of "clothes."

I ask because sometimes I see a typo in a post, but I hesitate to correct it because of the following alert:

We welcome all constructive edits, but please make them substantial. Avoid trivial edits unless absolutely necessary.

I would feel less inclined to correct minor spelling errors if this wasn't an English Language site specifically. I'd imagine some people who are not fluent in English may be set off by even the slightest typo.

  • 3
    If it's just a typo, tell the OP in a comment. If the OP is not active (it's an old post) or appears to ignore your comment for whatever reason go ahead and edit but spruce up the entire post. How? Formatting, place citation(s) in block quotes, capitalise proper nouns, embed an ugly url link, find the source of a citation and link it to that reference, replace excessive use of bold with Italics, improve title if it's too generic e.g. Is this correct? or Is this grammatical?, delete the "Hi", or "Hello", and the "Thank you's" which are polite but are not essential to the question. Etc. – Mari-Lou A Jan 15 '16 at 7:51
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    A different opinion: I'm of the "just fix it" school. Most users don't come by very often. If you want to teach then something - like adding sources, etc., then comment. But if I see an honest mistake and I feel like fixing it, I do. I usually try to improve the entire post, though, as per @Mari-Lou A's excellent suggestions. – anongoodnurse Jan 15 '16 at 8:59
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    If you have high enough rep to have an edit go through without review queue attention, I say go for it, fix the single thing quickly. Those with rep not high enough, their edits have to go to the review queue. The minimum character change is to discourage frivolous edits requiring multiple review (and time-wasting). So if you see a single glaring misspelling and absolutely nothing else, then maybe it is worth it finding subtle trivial unimportant things to change to get past the min char limit. – Mitch Jan 15 '16 at 16:13
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    Related question, Allow one character edits on this website and What is wrong with single character edits?. – user140086 Jan 16 '16 at 7:27
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    I'll say that I get quite irritated when a rep whore edits a question to "fix" a minor spelling or formatting problem, especially when they create a "zombie" question in the process. A "minor" edit to an active thread may be justified, but leave the dead to rest in peace. (I would personally like to see an end to the granting of reputation for minor edits.) – Hot Licks Jan 16 '16 at 14:05
  • I know this is not relevant, but can someone let me know if I used "set off" correctly in my question body above? It sounds right to my ear, but when I looked up the definition of this idiom, I don't see a meaning that fits, which leads me to believe that I have used the wrong idiom there. I used "set off" above to basically mean "confused." – Kyle Jan 17 '16 at 6:05
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    @HotLicks - What exactly is a rep whore anyway? I mean, we all know they exist and what they do, and most of us were rep whores at one time or another (length varies) on an SO site. But why whore? Is a user selling their bodies for rep? Can someone compromising their soul or respectability for rep be a whore? What about people who make unnecessary comments incessantly? Would they be comment whores, too? Or would they be attention whores? Why all the whores? Lets have a little misandry for a change. – anongoodnurse Jan 17 '16 at 8:10
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    whore: debase oneself by doing something for unworthy motives, typically to make money. –Google. If you continue to insist only women can be whores, we're never going to see the other side of the tunnel. – Mazura Jan 27 '16 at 2:55
14

I come from a background in copy editing, so (not surprisingly) I think that a post with the word clothes in it is significantly better than a post with the word clohes in it. And as several experienced and well-informed editors point out in comments above, once you're in for the typo, you might as well clean up some of the other shortcomings of the post as well.

I didn't start editing other people's posts on this site until I had reached the rep level at which my changes skipped the review queue and took immediate effect, so I missed out on useful feedback I would have gotten from other users' vetting my suggested changes. But even so, I can't recall having received more than a couple of negative reactions from posters about the changes I've made to their posts. (Those arose in instances where I thought I understood what the poster was trying to say on an ambiguously expressed point and tried to make that meaning explicit, but I got the intended meaning wrong. In those instances I would have done better to query the poster about the intended meaning than to introduce changes based on guesswork.)

Because spelling, formatting, and grammatical corrections make the poster's question or answer look and sound better, a poster usually has no reason to react badly to such improvements. After all, no one wants to have a serious question or answer dismissed because it contains typos or inadequate formatting. On the other hand, altering the poster's voice or changing the poster's argument to reach a different conclusion—even when you think the change is for the better—is inappropriate at this site, just as it is in the world of professional publishing.

The only time I feel uneasy about correcting typos and doing other cleanup chores on a post is when the post has no substantive merit and/or has already drawn close votes. Occasionally, a post's faulty spelling and bad formatting obscure an interesting question or answer, and clearing away the rubbish makes the hidden issue or insight visible. But far more often, the post's shortcomings in spelling and presentation are entirely consistent with its low overall quality. In those cases, it doesn't make sense to try to improve the post on a formal level, since its substance will remain weak and close-worthy despite the upgrades.

You never know how a particular poster will react to editorial changes or suggestions until you interact with that person. But if your suggestions are usually sound (which you can tell by the proportion of them that are accepted in the review queue) and if the poster isn't unusually prickly about changes, the process is painless for you and beneficial for the poster and for the site.

  • "But far more often, the post's shortcomings in spelling and presentation are entirely consistent with its low overall quality. In those cases, it doesn't make sense to try to improve the post on a formal level, since its substance will remain weak and close-worthy despite the upgrades." Good point! – Kyle Jan 16 '16 at 1:32
  • "Altering the poster's voice....is inappropriate at this site...." Improving the English too much can change the poster's voice. – ab2 Jan 16 '16 at 2:05
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    @ab2: You're right— voice is bound up not just with word choice and syntax but with spelling as well, as when someone consistently uses "da" in place of "the," for example, or "ur" in place of "your." And though many users on this site might object to the resulting post, I wouldn't want to go in and arbitrarily fix the irregularities in it. That's because, unlike in professional publishing, this site has no fixed style guide to determine what is and is not acceptable. I have no wish to impose conformity on someone who is willing to pay the price for systematic, intentional nonconformity. ... – Sven Yargs Jan 16 '16 at 2:26
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    ... My main concern is to correct unwitting irregularities—errors that the poster introduced without showing any sign of intending to diverge from standard conventions or normal usage. There are many such noncontroversial mistakes to correct in the content posted at EL&U. – Sven Yargs Jan 16 '16 at 2:27
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So far as I know, there are only two reasons why TPTB on SO discourage trivial (one-word) edits.

1: There's a throughput overhead when people without the necessary rep to unilaterally apply an edit "propose" one, because it has to go through the review queue. In such cases, not only does the SO platform itself have to support that computational/storage overhead - we the users also have to spend time processing that review queue (which can get quite large sometimes).

2: Even in the case of edits made by mods and higher-rep users (which are instantly applied, and don't go through the review queue), there's still an overhead in storage/processing terms because the system maintains a history of past edits to each post.

A third possible factor is that if a post has had many trivial edits (rather than a single edit fixing many problems at once), the display can become rather cluttered for higher-rep users who want to look at the edit history. But as one of those users, I can't say this is a significant issue for me.


As OP suggests, there are stronger reasons for a language site to more assiduously correct typos. We probably have a higher proportion of users who might not recognize a typo for what it is. Hence they may fail to understand the text at all - or even worse, mistakenly believe that what they're looking at is in fact "valid".

Because of this, I sometimes make even a single character edit (for example, if someone mistakenly writes it's where it should be its). But in such cases I normally check the rest of the text fairly carefully, to make sure there's nothing else that needs to be corrected. But I think the system prevents lower rep users from proposing edits involving six characters or less, and I'm perfectly happy with that.

  • Where is the quoted material from? I find it hard to believe that storage of past edits is a significant computational burden, but I guess I'm not a programmer so I may not understand the relevant concepts. – sumelic Jan 25 '16 at 4:40
  • @sumelic: I was a programmer, and I don't find it hard to imagine that the overhead of storing the complete edit history for tens of millions of SO questions might be "significant" from the perspective of TPTB (who do after all pretty much pay for the whole shebang out of their own pockets, since I don't suppose SO generates much advertising revenue). I didn't personally come up with the idea that server processing/storage overheads are a factor in discouraging minor edits, but I can't honestly say whether I got it from an ordinary user speculating, or a higher-up with "inside knowledge". – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '16 at 13:47

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