I was quite surprised when I was told after making an edit to this question that "it is better to comment (and optionally ask OP to change question) then correcting misconceptions". Embarrassing enough that I mixed up "encryption" and "decryption" so that our master guru had to correct me once more...

I understand the intention of commenting as teaching the questioner but IMHO

  1. this wastes time
  2. this creates unnecessary comments (which I think should generally be avoided)
  3. the correction should usually be better if done by the one who noticed the problem than if done by the one who made the mistake (at least with misconceptions); not just better but easier and faster
  4. the teaching effect should be reached by looking at the edit and its comment, too. If not then the questioner may extend the question.
  5. I get reputation points for editing (but not for commenting), the questioner doesn't :-)

So what are the "rules" / attitudes about this? Edit yourself for corrections that need not be explained, edit everything?

2 Answers 2


This and another recent question seem intimately related, so I'll try to avoid repeating myself too literally and address your points WRT comments vs. edits:

1. this wastes time

I guess that is subjective, but I would have said making a comment is often easier than an edit. Put another way, if you are just correcting a typo, then sure, an edit is easier. If it is something more complex, then an edit should seem harder than a comment -- if not, I worry you are using too big a hammer (pounds nails in faster but tends to damage the surface too).

Of course, doing something one way because it is easier or faster does not always make it the best choice anyway.

2. this creates unnecessary comments (which I think should generally be avoided)

No doubt almost everyone thinks unnecessary comments should be avoided. However, I don't think it is a good idea to encourage people to make edits instead of comments on the premise that all comments are ultimately unnecessary because the ideal Q&A has no comments; first because if the powers that be thought that was so, SE would not have comments, period, and second because that is begging for disasters of a much more serious sort.

I'd rather see a few "unnecessary" comments than watch a question mutate as 3 or 4 people decide it needs to be edited.

3. the correction should usually be better if done by the one who noticed the problem than if done by the one who made the mistake

You raise a good point in so far as the questioner may decide to edit something based on a comment and misinterpret it. IMO, though, in many or most cases it is better to give them the chance and correct their attempt if necessary rather than do it pre-emptively.

4. the teaching effect should be reached by looking at the edit

There is value in that for some simple things but I would not rely on it or stretch it too far! It is probably much easier to misinterpret an edit than a comment.

"It's not a discussion forum"

This is certainly worth noting to newcomers, but I sometimes see it repeated with a bit too much zeal. To me, the point is simply to make clear the difference between SE and traditional forums. It is not to say there should be no dialogue of any kind.

As is, extended discussion is (effectively) discouraged largely by the mechanics of comments: they have to be short, you can't use a lot of features, you can't edit them past 5 minutes, and if you go back and forth you are reminded of/invited to the opportunity to chat. Currently, I don't see any serious problems with that system, or the behaviour it produces. A question or answer with 20 comments on it should not by definition be seen as something which needs "cleaning up" or "correcting". It may, but IMO it may just as easily not. Notice despite all the other restrictions, there is AFAIK no limit to the number of comments that can be made.

There are certain kinds of information best left in a comment, just as there are certain kinds of information best left in a footnote. Cramming footnotes into the main body of a text does not automatically make it clearer (or less cluttered) and can easily do the opposite.

All that said, the final point I'd make is that different people think differently and making more rules to discourage such differences is not good for any community.


I am a bit reluctant to post this as to my direct involvement, but to clarify.

We have the review feature at SE. Coming across the OP (Original Poster) mentioned edit I asked myself whether to accept or decline. As of the comment:

decrypting and mounting are completely different actions

my interpretation, also from reading question, was that IMHO I was not sure whether this was a misconception or ambiguous wording from OP's stand. As one can't skip + leave comment I left a comment where I found it most suitable: below the question. Not meant as a bashing bad critique or imprecations – merely as a hint. Nor as a habit or my new standard.

Reasoning: My initial perception was that it was not clear if this was a misconceptions revealed or a less then perfect use of words. As inclined to assume the former as much as the latter my response lead to leave a hopefully constructive comment mere then a uncertain decline or approve trough the power of review.

A broader argument for the comment would be that if OP reveals something that can be construed as a misunderstanding it is better, for the sake of OP, to give a chance to both respond, correct and consume positive critique in a way that increases knowledge for the initiator. After all this is for one a knowledge base, but also in its more crude sense a Q and A site where one should respect OP as much as possible.

I am always, perhaps often to much, very cautious about changing OP's phrasing.

For one it can severely affect already in edit answers, already posted answers, and the like. I have witnessed this on occasion where question is being edited making answers seeming out of context – or straight out wrong. Also, and perhaps more important, (again), is to ensure the OP really gets what one mean. One also stand the chance of making edits, perhaps especially in answers, where one have misunderstood the meaning of OP, AKA the OP is ambiguous (a fate I suffer under quite so often).

To head (or perhaps post) line: Iff OP has a misconception – address it trough answer or comment. At least as step 1.

I completely agree with the thorough answer given by @goldilocks – and at the same time as yes It's not a discussion forum – I clearly mean that one has to allow communication between fellow users and participants of the service of SO. In a limited form. I also have the habit of (often) deleting comments when I see issue resolved. (Don't know if this is good or bad).

(English is not my first language and I apologize for any wrong wording. Some days I feel my English is a gray mess.)

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