I tried to make a suggested edit for a post1 that was otherwise great, but the OP had made a single-character typo. When I tried to correct the typo, I was told that the edit needed to be 6 characters. As it was, the OP had an image there with the default [image description goes here] text, so I just deleted that as unnecessary, but what is the correct way to do this? The comments in this post seem to suggest that you should just add some random unprinted nonsense to the question or something, but that can't possibly be right.

So, what is to be done? Seems like the options are:

  • Do nothing.
  • Suggest the edit and do something to circumvent the 6-character restriction (e.g. <!--add a comment-->).
  • Leave a comment so the OP or someone with higher rep might make the fix themselves.
  • Try and find something else more significant to "improve" about the question.

Seems like the first bullet is not a desirable outcome for the community, the second one can't possibly be the right recommendation, the third is apt to leave pointless detritus in the comments section, and the fourth is probably not always possible or desirable.

1 I don't want to call it out specifically because I don't want there to be a big public-facing record talking about a 1-character typo in an interesting and informative answer.

  • $\begingroup$ The edit was approved, for the record. Assuming it's the edit I think it is. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 20 '15 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, adding whitespace filler like this should get your suggestion rejected as no improvement whatsoever. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 20 '15 at 3:16
  • $\begingroup$ Unless that 1 character is something like the the 2 in $x^2$ being missing, it's probably not any sort of improvement anyway and probably needn't be made. $\endgroup$ – Jim Aug 24 '15 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Jim I do think fixing a misspelling of the name of G. 't Hooft is worth doing, and believe me: That apostrophe ends up in the wrong place all the time (in fact, I recently fixed it in one of Kyle's posts). $\endgroup$ – Danu Aug 28 '15 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ If it is a simple spelling mistake (such as over alloverall) the correct course of action is to simply let it be. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 31 '15 at 14:59

tpg2114 makes a good point that there is pretty much always extra improvement to be done. However I would suggest that in the rare case no other improvement can be found, then the right thing to do is leave the post alone.

Some background about how the site works: Edits bump a post to the front page. Any edits, no matter how small. This is intentional. The idea is that changes shouldn't go on behind the scene; they should be visible to the community.

Because there is a cost associated with edits (if nothing else the opportunity cost of users' attention that could be given to other posts), there is a lower limit to how small an edit is deemed acceptable. This is why the system doesn't allow small changes.

And it's not a system that should be circumvented. The fact is, this is the internet, not an immutable, copy-edited production. Typos happen. In fact, I know of typos in some of my own posts, and I don't bother to correct them because the posts are on the whole as good as they are going to get.

The only exception is if the typo critically alters the post (e.g. omission of "not," or some important factor of 2 misplaced). Then feel free to leave a comment to the post owner if there are not enough worthwhile changes to be suggested. It's okay to leave such comments (and you can even delete them yourself once the change has been made), and this is preferable to forcing changes for the sake of bypassing the system.

By the way, when you see [image description goes here], a good change would be to replace it with an actual description. This can be used for, e.g., visually impaired people, or for text-based browser types (ok, so only one of these groups should really be accommodated).

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    $\begingroup$ I'm sure you are referring to the visually impared as the group that actually should be accommodated, but I like my Lynks browser and I shouldn't be forgotten!!! After all, xkcd.com/1172 $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Aug 20 '15 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ Accepting this one over Kyle's (which is basically equally good) because of the edit bumping thing. I didn't think about that - I knew there was a reason this shouldn't be circumvented. (Mind you, the post I edited was already on the first page, so it was not relevant in that particular situation). $\endgroup$ – Paul Aug 20 '15 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ The image description is also rather useful for search engine optimization. $\endgroup$ – Bernhard Aug 23 '15 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Paul Does this imply that one should not make one character edits to one's own posts? $\endgroup$ – Michael Sep 2 '15 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael You can, but you probably shouldn't make a habit of it, and you shouldn't do it just to bump your own posts in the hopes of getting more votes. Also, you'll probably lead a generally less stressful life if you learn to ignore the occasional typo on the internet :) $\endgroup$ – user10851 Sep 2 '15 at 20:20

After noting that one-character mistake, your first action should be to look for more mistakes & correct those.

If all you can find is that one-character edit, then you need to think about whether that one character makes all the difference. If, for instance, the post writes that the kinetic energy is $$T=\frac{1}{2}kx2$$ (i.e. , no caret), then clearly suggesting the ^ would be wise. But if it's merely changing the spelling of a word do not suggest it. If you feel strongly about it, you can leave a comment1 with the suggestion, but please don't waste reviewers time with trivial edits like that.

So you should think about it this way: does changing that one character make the post any more readable or make the post correct? If it does not change the readability of the post, you shouldn't make it. If it doesn't change the correctness of the post, you shouldn't make it.

1 Commenting does require more than 50 rep on the site.

  • $\begingroup$ If a 1-character typo is too trivial to suggest fixing, should I also avoid making similarly trivial edits that don't hit that technical limit? (e.g. changing "inferring" to "implying" or something else where the meaning is already clear even if it's slightly wrong) $\endgroup$ – Paul Aug 20 '15 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, you should avoid this as well. That said, there is almost always something more to correct in a post, so maybe spend more time looking? $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 20 '15 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ When edits tackle one issue in a post, but there is obviously (much) more wrong with the post, I will almost always reject it and do most of the improvements myself. Don't waste reviewers time by doing only half of the work! $\endgroup$ – Bernhard Aug 23 '15 at 18:42

My best advice is to look for other ways to improve it first. Can you find a picture that illustrates a concept in the post? Can you add links to definitions of words that are used in it? Can you reformat equations to make them more readable? Can you fix a passive voice sentence? Maybe a split infinitive? Did they use "which" and "that" clauses correctly and include the comma if needed? Unless they have written an answer worthy of Annual Reviews in X-topic, can you add references for further reading?

On the off chance that you really did find a perfect answer where even Strunk himself couldn't find an issue to improve upon, then fix your 1 character and find a trivial way to alter 5 more characters. But I bet you could always find something else to change or an improvement/definition to add.

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    $\begingroup$ I've downvoted because I think your first sentence of the 2nd paragraph is entirely wrong. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 20 '15 at 3:34
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    $\begingroup$ I also disagree with that sentence. But I can't bring myself to downvote, because confusing "which" and "that" and misusing commas in subordinate clauses is a pet peeve of mine. (Is it that young people didn't grow up with Clippy correcting their grammar?) $\endgroup$ – user10851 Aug 20 '15 at 4:05
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I can imagine a case where there is literally nothing else to change or improve upon except for a single letter change. As scientists, we have to admit that possibility, no? :) Obviously I don't think that will ever actually occur but it is possible no matter how improbable. And if that does happen, fixing the 1 character to make it absolutely perfect is okay. However, given my list of grammar changes and my intentional inclusion of a few mistakes should somebody want to really edit my answer just to prove a point, I don't expect to ever see a 1 character change be acceptable $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Aug 20 '15 at 5:55
  • $\begingroup$ That said, I respect the downvote(s) that may result and they don't bother me. I stand by my answer as written and welcome dissenting opinions $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Aug 20 '15 at 5:57
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114: I accept that there could be instances in which a single character is the only thing that needs to be fixed, but I don't think that changing it is worth the bump and review effort (unless, as stated in my answer, it actually changes the meaning of a post from being wrong to being correct). $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 20 '15 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ If a single character edit is needed, leave it to folks with enough rep to be allowed to make such an edit. Don't ever advise the trivial 5. $\endgroup$ – Floris Aug 23 '15 at 19:04

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