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This is a follow-up to Should we reject an edit that fundamentally changes an off topic question on translating books?, where Buffy remarked:

Let me note that there have been other questions here that have been edited to change (IMO) the intent as it seemed to be expressed by the OP. I think that such things need to be handled consistently. […]

I concur that it would be good to establish a guideline regarding this to obtain consistency and thus I am asking: How far should we go when editing a question to prevent closure?

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Proposed Guideline

I think two good lines to draw are:

  • Answers to the edited question must still be potentially useful for the asker.

  • The context of the question should not be distorted, i.e., no information should be added or changed. (Removing irrelevant details and including information from comments by the asker is fine though.)

Rationale

The main thing that distinguishes the asker from other users is that they can accept an answer that helped them and provide further information if needed. If the edit is so drastic that this cannot be expected anymore, it is going too far. In this case the editor should ask a new question instead, since they are the master of the new question rather than the original asker.

Another take on this is that the author’s underlying intent should be preserved, by which I mean the problem that the asker wants to solve and not the question they are asking about it.

Examples

  • If somebody asks a question shopping for a thing, it is fine to edit it to ask about how to find the thing (if the resulting question is sufficiently focused, no duplicate, etc.). Answers to this question still help the asker. The underlying intent (“I want help finding a thing.”) is preserved.

  • If the asker describes a situation, but fails to ask an actual question about it, it is acceptable to make an educated guess about what the asker wants to know and edit it in.

  • Changing the situation of a question on workplace etiquette in industry to an analogous one about etiquette in academia is not acceptable. Answers to the latter cannot be expected to help the asker and can be even misleading since academia is different from industry. (Instead flag such questions for migration to The Workplace, if they are otherwise fine.)

  • It is not acceptable to “build a boat” from a question, i.e., to add “in academia” (or equivalent), if we have reason to believe that the asker is not in academia.

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    That's a good guideline, and also agrees with what's been discussed on the main meta in the past: "can you turn the post into a useful question that will get the answer the author wants?" – Anyon May 26 at 1:16
  • I broadly agree, but I see "take an educated guess about what the asker wants to know" as too low a bar. If it is clear what the intent of a question is (even if that's not strictly what was asked) then I support editing to clarify. IMHO if there's some level of guesswork involved then it should be put on hold and the OP asked to clarify. – Flyto May 28 at 21:44
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    @Flyto: I have no problem with writing instead: “if you can reasonably sure what the asker wants to know, edit it in”. However, I do not see think this is a big difference. Every edit we talk about here is inevitably a guess to some extent and educated guesswork is the best we have. – Wrzlprmft May 29 at 5:53
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Let me comment on my actions in editing a question that started this conversation. The OP of the question asked about facilitating the translation of a popular, but non-academic, book. The question was closed - rightly so. Perhaps the OP asked the question thinking that academics could probably provide answers about getting translations done.

This is the current version of the question:I want a book to be translated into my native language?

I then changed the question to one specifying the translation of an important academic book (but unnamed). My purpose was less to "save" the question, but to elicit answers (such as my own) which would actually help the OP with his/her question as well as those with a more on-topic issue of translation. My thought at the time was that any answer to the new question would probably also be valid as an answer to the question originally posed.

What I did wan't exactly a generalization so as to cover academia, but a question whose answers would likely be broader than either specific question.

But, I doubt that my edits would have been rolled back had I just done a pure generalization that covered both the OP's concern and typical academic concerns. Or at least, not rolled back as readily. I might, I suppose, just have removed the specific series title mentioned by the OP and left it at "book" or "book that I consider important". Would the same objection be made, I wonder?

So, in some ways, it may be more important to ask "What is useful here?" rather than to be too "picky" about details. If my question was useful, both to the OP and to others, then it might have been ok to leave it. Or at least have a conversation in the Ivory Tower first.

But note that I'm not arguing with the decisions made, but am interested in guidance for the future.

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