I have just came across the ingeniously enforced "small, single-character edits should be avoided" policy. I was trying to change a "$-$" in a formula into a "$+$". I succeeded after a prolonged fight with the "at least 6 characters" script.

This is a math site, people. A single "$-$", or a "$2$", or a "$1/\pi$" is frequently crucial. How do we go about removing this silly restriction on truth?


2 Answers 2


The help on editing lists some circumstances in which it's okay to edit posts (i.e. questions and answers). These include:

  • To fix grammar and spelling mistakes
  • To clarify the meaning of the post (without changing that meaning)

The first suggests that typos should probably be fixed, and the second clarifies that we must be careful to preserve the intent.

In this specific case, the intent was pretty obvious, and I think it's an error of the same kind as a 1-letter typo that results in a completely different word which results in a grammatically possible but plainly unintended meaning - the error is minor (the intent being correct aside from a typo), but a naive reading would be grossly misleading. Generally it's better if the person posting the answer fixes it, but if that may not happen for a long time (or at all), it would seem to be better to edit in spite of the limitation.

While one-letter corrections are to be avoided, where a naive reader would be likely to be misled, and the OP isn't likely to change it soon, I think an edit is okay, and indeed, in keeping with the sense I get from the guidelines in the help ... but I think it's incumbent on us to carefully label the reason for the change when making the edit, and generally, to highlight the change in comments.

I think this is broadly consistent with the help.

  • $\begingroup$ I cannot understand from your answer if you are for or against OP's proposal of removing the at-least-six-characters edit limit for formulas. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Jul 20, 2017 at 8:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @amoeba I point out that being able to make such a change would be consistent with the policy on editing (in the absence of the limit), and aside raising some precautions about it (such as being sure to give a clear reason for it), I believe my answer is clearly in favour. (if subdued in expression). $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Jul 20, 2017 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ OK, thanks for clarifying. Your position was not very clear to me because one could argue that removing six-char limit altogether would be consistent with the policy on editing ("to fix spelling mistakes") as well. Nevertheless, this limit exists and I am guessing it is unlikely to be removed any time soon. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Jul 20, 2017 at 8:58

Edits which change the technical content of someone else's question should be avoided, even if a part of the subject is not correct. This is because the edit could be the question's answer (or part of it).

One thing to do in this situation is to leave a comment to the OP pointing out what should be edited/clarified.

See the following Meta Stack Exchange post for more information:

Should Suggested Edits change the technical content of a post?

About edits with less than 6 characters, this is to avoid abuse in the Stack Exchange system, once even non-registered users can suggest an edit in whichever post.

Yes, sometimes this feature does not encourage editing, but generally it does more good than harm.

  • $\begingroup$ (1) The same policy is also applied to answers. (2) OP frequently becomes unresponsive. $\endgroup$
    – AVB
    Mar 4, 2014 at 18:00
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @AVB, Yes! Some workaround options: if the OP is unresponsive to comments, use your votes. Moreover, if one believe an answer is incorrect (and you know what that is), post a better one. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 18:06
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ In this particular example, the error was obvious, serious and noted by more than one person. I'd have made the change myself eventually (I commented, hoping for the person who owned the answer would fix it; AVB was the person asking the question, to my recollection). While caution is certainly called for I don't think we should be overly dogmatic about never doing it, since mistaken edits can be undone (and in this particular case, the suggested edit would be reviewed). High reputation users would need to be extra-extra-careful because their edits will go through unreviewed. $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Mar 5, 2014 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ Incidentally, the fact that it won't let you make a one-character edit is a good thing (since it's a reminder to think very very carefully about what we're doing), but it's easy to get around. For example, $\text{ }$ at the end of a paragraph (perhaps with a note in the explanation of the edit - e.g. fixed formula, "$\text{ }$" because of 6 char. limit); that can easily be removed by a subsequent edit if any further edits are made. $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Mar 5, 2014 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Glen_b, If that situation was obvious, then just using the good sense is ok. The answer was written more in a general context. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2014 at 1:24

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