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In this community, there is often a sense that authorial intent is important, and that editors should strive to change an author's words as little as possible. I strongly agree with this sense, but have noticed what I think is an exception case when editing in an attempt to salvage a closed question.

First, let me note that such editing is spurred by the general stack exchange policy towards closed questions: eventually, most should be either edited and reopened or deleted. Some really crappy closed questions draw very good answers, however, and what I have noticed is that those answers often seem to focus on an answerable "heart" in the question. If we ignore authorial intent, then such a question may be converted into an answerable state.

Examples where I have done this recently:

My question: should authorial intent be preserved when editing to salvage a closed question? I provide my own answer below, to see if it agrees with the sense of the community

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When considering authorial intent vs. the fate of closed questions, I see the following probable cases:

  1. The original poster returns and cleans up their own question, unimpeachably secure in their relationship to authorial intent.
  2. The question is edited to align with its good answers, but likely bending authorial intent.
  3. The question gets deleted, taking the valuable answers with it.
  4. We collectively decide that the question is a special edge case and leave it be.

If a question is fairly recent (within a month or so) or was asked by a fairly active user, then I think that it should be left alone, since the OP may still return and give us the ideal Case #1. For a neglected question of an active user, a comment is a good "heads up" tool for spurring this.

I strongly dislike Case #3. I tend to be very inclusionist in my thinking, and don't like to see anybody's valuable work being deleted.

My problem with Case #4 is that with asynchronous community moderation, it very easily collapses into Case #3. If a few high-rep users happen to drive by and vote to delete, the question goes away, even if it's over a rather long period of time.

Thus, I feel that for closed questions that have clearly been abandoned by the OP, it is better to bend authorial intent and edit.

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    I don't see anything particularly objectionable here. Moreover, since it's normally possible to "unwind" changes, there's little chance of long-term damage if the OP later wants to "reclaim" the question. – aeismail Feb 15 '15 at 19:04
  • I do not like the question losing its original intent. You have edited a question when the OP was not offered a PHD, because he accidentally badmouthed his supervisor. I had to rollback, because his emotional update on his kicking out, was to me more important than the answers given. – Alexandros Feb 17 '15 at 15:45
  • Number 2 is something to be very careful of, because the original author's name remains on the edited question. I have, on other sites, asked mods to remove my name from questions that I had started because they had diverged so radically from anything that I would want to be associated with. – Flyto Feb 26 '15 at 10:21

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