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In regard to the chicken question meta post one of the answers included this paragraph:

This opinion is based purely on the actual question, and ignores the silly story. Surely the silly story can be edited out of the question, and corresponding silliness in the answers can be edited out as well.

This statement indicates that removing "silliness" from a question in order to clarify the physics question could be appropriate. In other statements in policy locations (I can't rmember where at the moment) and in responses from mods when I have flagged some posts, the idea of editing a question to "make it better" has been encouraged.

How much editing to improve a question and bring it on-topic is allowed and even encouraged? Would removing the context of a chicken army and simply highlighting the possible physics concept/practice be an acceptable edit?

It might be helpful for the Phys.SE community to discuss this offsite and then develop some examples of allowed extensive edits as well as overly invasive edits.

We need to remember, the goal of PSE is to have good physics questions and answers.

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    $\begingroup$ To your suggestion about moderators providing examples for allowed/forbidden edits: I understand the position of moderators not as makers of policy, but rather as guides in developing it and then its enforcers when it has been developed. So it's not us moderators who get to decide in our secret lairs what kinds of edits are appropriate and then hand that guidance down from on high - it's all of us users together. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Mod Apr 1 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind: Changed wording from mods to Phys.SE community. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Mod Apr 1 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @BillN Do you want to discuss this in the context of the chicken question, or in general? In the latter case, it might make more sense to remove the chicken reference from the question. The issue I see that for this question, even an edit which would keep all the serious parts of the question (i.e. that it is about measuring surface of chicken) would render most answers somewhat silly, since the only reason people provided silly answers was the silly question. I think this is a rather non-standard (and IMO undesired) case, so we shouldn't discuss a policy based on that. $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Apr 1 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ @NorbertSchuch The discussion about the chicken question in the Meta post generated the statement about editing a question. That reminded me of other times when moderators have implied that editing a question to make it a better question (not merely fixing Mathjax or punctuation, but actually re-wording to change an poor question to a good one. But without examples of acceptable vs invasive all we are left with is 1) don't edit content or 2) be subject to the slings and arrows of the community lacking guidelines. My issue is not chickens $\endgroup$ – Bill N Apr 2 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @BillN Happy to hear that you have no issue with chickens! My point was more that the chicken question is not a good example to establish a general strategy (at least as the only example) - unless you hope to have more chicken questions here! $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Apr 2 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @NorbertSchuch :) $\endgroup$ – Bill N Apr 2 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ @BillN To be honest, it's more egg season currently! $\endgroup$ – Norbert Schuch Apr 2 at 21:18
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In general, there is no threshold for how much editing a question can go through - as long as it is unanswered.

But when a question has already received answers, and in particular these answers have been voted upon, editing becomes a bit more difficult - we discourage edits that change the question in ways that invalidate existing answers. Once answerers have poured effort into creating answers, it would be unfair if we just deleted their now "not an answer" posts, but leaving them there might similarly incur downvotes and comments from users who haven't looked at the edit history that are unjustified in the context in which the answer was written.

So the one rule for the size of edits is: Do not make edits that invalidate existing answers. There is broad implicit support for this position in prior meta discussions, e.g. here and here.

Note that except in certain rare cases where the asker has a track record of bad questions and is rate-limited in posting new questions, there is not really a reason not to just post an "edit" that changes a question in a way that invalidates answers as a new question on its own.

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Please do keep in mind that the linked question was very polarizing and quite exceptional, so it is a bad example when it comes to setting precedents/crafting policies. [FWIW I don't want to play into in both-sides-ism: the question was polarizing due to its unusual exposure to "HNQ outsiders". Any (reasonable) habitual user of physics.SE would agree the question is subpar, to put it mildly.]

In this particular example (where the post is 95% silliness by volume) I would say heavy editing is justified/required. Or, even better, let the question die and collectively pretend it ever existed.

In the general case there is no hard cutoff. Any editing that improves the question (without changing its essence) is in principle encouraged, without explicit limits. Of course if the OP manifest a wish against a particular edit the etiquette is to step back, or call for mod attention if OP is being silly.

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  • $\begingroup$ In the general case there is no hard cutoff. Any editing that improves the question (without changing its essence) is in principle encouraged, without explicit limits. ACM's answer does give some limits $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Apr 1 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist I don't think the two POVs are incompatible. An edit that invalidates answers also changes its essence, and viceversa. We're saying the same thing, with different degrees of emphasis. I am happy to concede that I was not clear enough, and its great that ACM posted a second, better answer. $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Apr 1 at 21:24

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