I occasionally come across a question that is poorly or awkwardly written, perhaps because the author doesn't speak English natively. How far am I allowed to go in editing the question?

  • Should I make as few changes as necessary?
  • Or may I maximize clarity by heavily rewriting the question?

For example, may I replace:

In one task that measures the times that participants take to respond to each item of a task some of the response times were considered outliers as they are more than 3SD above the mean of the participants' responses.

With something like:

In an experiment measuring response times, I observed several outliers more than three standard deviations above the mean.

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    $\begingroup$ Several previous threads on editing e.g. meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/2810/… $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Jul 7, 2016 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say your example is too heavy an edit. In the original it's clear that being 3 SD above the mean is considered a criterion or definition of outliers; it's not so clear in the revised version, which is at least ambiguous: were there other points also considered outliers? Naturally aiming at clearer, more concise text is otherwise good in itself. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Jul 7, 2016 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ If you find the question worth asking, but the one that you seen is hopeless, then you can always ask your own one that re-phrases it: meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/3186/… $\endgroup$
    – Tim Mod
    Jul 8, 2016 at 7:21
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    $\begingroup$ Always ask yourself if it is worth your time to do so. Often such questions are rather basic stuff, that is answered by Wikipedia and may have several duplicates already - I don't think we need such questions then. $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2016 at 19:39

1 Answer 1


Please don't guess what the original poster (OP) intended. When the meaning is clear but poorly worded, then rewriting should be fine. The danger lies in making implicit assumptions (of which you might not even be aware) in formulating your original understanding of the question. Be cautious.

This is what the commenting mechanism is for: post a comment asking for clarification. If possible, be specific about what needs clarifying and how that could be done. Would it help to use grammatical english? Provide a statistical context? Explain terminology? Given some sample data? Then suggest so.

In some (very rare) cases, when the problems appear to stem from poor skills in communicating in English or mathematics, people will edit more aggressively. When they do, they also post comments alerting the OP to the changes and asking them to perform a critical review of them.


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