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I have old answers here that would really profit from an edit, e.g. linking to later answers, or to other resources I have become aware of. What should I do here?

  • I could edit the answer. That would bump the thread, which does not really seem commensurate with the interest in it. (I found the old answer through it being upvoted today, so it is being read, but otherwise there has been no action on it for multiple years.)

  • Or I could post a comment to my answers. But "comments are ephemeral", and I am a bit afraid of SE sometime deciding to hoover away all old comments.

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    $\begingroup$ I think that one possible issue would be with monopolizing for too long the "top questions" page, by making a lot of successive edits to many different answers at the same time. But I guess it's not what you have in mind. Besides that, I think that bumping old threads would benefit the community, as it highlights (hopefully) interesting questions that would have stayed in a relative obscurity otherwise. $\endgroup$
    – J-J-J
    Apr 4 at 14:51

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I have old answers here that would really profit from an edit ...

Sure, Stephan! That's enough of a reason to edit your old posts. I agree with Nick Cox -- remember, the goal of this community is to create and maintain a high quality repository. Whatever drives towards that goal, we should adopt that.

The basic premise of a possible edit could be varied but for all intents and purposes, it is to provide a clearer, more precise, meaningful post, namely through

$\bullet$ removing typos,

$\bullet$ removing legacy codes and supplying new one,

$\bullet$ removing dead links and replacing them with archived ones/active ones,

$\bullet$ modifying the content after gaining a new perspective over the years,

$\bullet$ adding links to other relevant posts,

$\bullet$ formatting.

Trust me, over the two(ish) years of my presence here, I have accounted for hundreds of edits of old posts that (sometimes direly) required formatting, typesetting, and in the process providing archived links of all sort, when needed, so that the posts remain helpful.

However, major structural changes should come from the authors and that is one of the traits of a responsible user who has the sight and readiness to dig their past posts for the sake of rejigging those and I think any other user of the community would appreciate that.

And while some others might disagree, imo, even a minor formatting or typesetting edit, if it helps in increasing the readability, should be done without thinking twice.

Re comments, I think you can, although it's not new to us about the longevity and sustainability of providing valid info via comments. I have noticed some folks do that, but I always urge people if you want to add something relevant but feel that might not go well with main content of the post, add as remarks beneath the post and not as a comment. It ultimately also boils down to one's own taste, so, you better decide what suits your purpose.

Crux is, if you think your posts would "really profit from an edit", please go ahead and do this. Don't bother about the bumping of the posts. Just because it's not on the main page, doesn't mean it's inactive -- there are many un-signed users who would be browsing and reading your posts and sometimes even new users would go through (and leave an upvote). Even community occasionally bumps up unanswered questions too. In fact, your edit might allure new attentions that might propel new feedbacks/answers from other perspective too!

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It's entirely good practice to edit one's own answers, even and perhaps especially some years after first posting.

You might have something more to say -- or at one extreme need to correct a mistake or to clarify a statement that could all too easily be misread.

Or a revision might be the best way to respond to comments that have just been made -- or that you have just noticed.

There are arguments both ways on whether you should flag later edits as being later edits, but they start with not needing to flag if the change is trivial and definitely needing to flag if the change is not trivial. If in doubt, then flag in some suitable way. Anyone regarding the flags as unneeded can always ignore them but the opposite isn't true.

If anyone sees a revised edit and wonders what was changed, the threshold for being to follow the history of edits is very low -- is there even a threshold at all? -- and even with such a reputation it is easier just to read a comment on what was changed.

A moderately extreme example of editing one's own answer is at "-iles" terminology for the top half a percent I can speak authoritatively that my major motive was amusing myself.

People who write and maintain code will recognise the small issues. In some workplaces, there are absolute rules about documenting changes to code. Even if you are your own boss about your own software, you may still be making it available to others. Then being detailed in documenting changes is usually harmless but it is occasionally crucial for establishing what was done or not done by successive versions of the code.

On comments rather than answers: In one Meta thread, I have compromised in adding a series of comments one by one and then transferring them as edits when there were several. The hope is that while some regard bouncing a thread to the top as a side-effect of one minor edit as outrageous, bouncing because of several minor edits may seem less outrageous.

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First, I agree with the other answer posters that these edits are important and valuable (regardless if they currently "seem useful"). In the spirit of writing a detailed/accurate repository of information, every edit counts! And these edits should be made to the post itself and not as a comment, since -- as you say -- comments are meant to be more ephemeral.

I'll just add an additional thought:

If you are concerned about "spamming" the top of the question page with your posts with minor edits or with questions you no longer think are popular, then I just suggest that you make such edits to older posts in a spaced out fashion. Perhaps edit and bump one post on one day and then wait a few days (or, honestly, maybe just a few hours) to post another. It all gets lost in the "noise" (i.e., constant flow of new/edited questions).

  • Or, honestly, don't worry about it, especially if its a rare event anyway.

BONUS: maybe that bump to the top of the active question page brings your knowledge back to the awareness of somebody who had not seen it before and may benefit from it :).

So, EDIT AWAY!!! :D

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