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I proposed this edit suggestion (link to Q/A) and removed the trailing question "Could anybody help me?" as I thought it improved the quality of the question a bit.

I did find this guidance on the meta site and more on the main SO meta, which has some references which include

Yes, absolutely remove [fluff].

Anything that is not relevant to the question/post is noise and should be removed.

That includes salutations, signatures, 'thanks' and the kind of content you have highlighted.

Supposing, that this also applies to U&L, it should have been correct to remove (or else I would expect to get "edit was not helpful").

Now two experienced reviewers both concluded

This edit deviates from the original intent of the post. Even edits that must make drastic changes should strive to preserve the goals of the post's owner.


How does it change the real content/intent (so the question)? I would not even consider my edit drastic.

Or is the review just inaccurate?

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  • If I saw that in the suggested edit queue, I might "improve the edit" to turn "Could anybody help me?" into something more specific, like "how do I turn the mouse scrolling the other way?" or something similar.
    – Jeff Schaller Mod
    Jun 20, 2023 at 18:59
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    If the post makes it clear what the asker wants, then a stock phrase asking if anyone can help is just noise. Then again, if an edit suggestion on an, umm... 6 year old question at only removes a stock phrase without making the question any better, is also noise.
    – ilkkachu
    Jun 21, 2023 at 15:11
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2 Answers 2

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I find it very hard to read "can anyone help me" as anything but noise. I just don't see that it adds any value or justifies the post's existence in any way. As a request it's implied by simply posting a "question".

There is a long standing convention in "hacker" circles predating stackoverflow, which suggests such requests should be removed:

Resist the temptation to close your request for help with semantically-null questions like “Can anyone help me?” or “Is there an answer?” First: if you've written your problem description halfway competently, such tacked-on questions are at best superfluous. Second: because they are superfluous, hackers find them annoying — and are likely to return logically impeccable but dismissive answers like “Yes, you can be helped” and “No, there is no help for you.”

Personally I count myself as one of those who find such "semantically-null questions" annoying, but I try to hold back because I fear making those edits can sometimes conflict with StackExchange's "Be Kind" policy.


I'm not in the game of second guessing other reviewers so I can't comment on their decision making here, but personally I might have allowed this edit through if I'd seen it.

If I was the one making the edit I might have have chosen to replace it with an actual question, mostly for the aesthetics of finishing a "question" post with the actual question. Though I'd be on the fence over exact wording because I'm not sure "uninvert" is a real word.


Responding other another answer:

I strongly believe any post published as a question should contain an actual explicit question. Personally I prefer it in the body, but if it's only in the title then it's not that bad either. Having no question at all is bad.

I actually disagree with the application of this statement here. To me the correct requirement is that a post published as a question must make clear the desired outcome of the poster.

Posts just stating "my screen is blank" would rightly draw comments that a question was required.

But otherwise a statement of "no matter what I try, I can't get anything on my screen, it's just blank" makes the desired outcome very clear. Asking a user to add a question to that would, IMHO, just be somewhat trollish pedantry that's not really helping anyone.

I acknowledge that "could anybody help me?" is an awful question to ask as the only question

It's not just awful it's off-topic. The user's ability to help is most definitely not within the scope of U&L and, as a question, would be better placed on unix.meta.stackexchange.com

For the question to remain on-topic we must we must accept that it's not actually a question at all. It's a plea for help.

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I strongly believe any post published as a question should contain an actual explicit question. Personally I prefer it in the body, but if it's only in the title then it's not that bad either. Having no question at all is bad.

IMO removing the only question from a question (from a post, i.e. body+title) makes the question (i.e. the entire post) worse. I acknowledge that "could anybody help me?" is an awful question to ask as the only question. The answer is either "yes, somebody can" or "no, nobody can", not constructive. I don't think these are answers the OP hoped for.

If in the post there was a better question along this awful one, then I would totally support removing the awful one because it's indeed fluff.

But since it's the only question in the post, removing it would turn the post from a question into a story. This is a Q&A site, we want questions to be questions. Several times I commented under various "questions" like this:

Your "question" is just a story, not a question. Please edit and ask an explicit question. It may be "…?" or "…?", they are not equivalent and demand different answers; or it may be something else. Don't let us guess what your question is, ask explicitly.

If your edit was accepted and I saw the result, I might be tempted to post a similar comment. It would be unfair to the owner of the question, because he or she did originally ask a question; an awful one, but still. The "question" not containing a question would be your fault, not the owner's.

After seeing "could anybody help me?" I may ask the owner to formulate a better question. This is fair because the awfulness of the original question is the owner's fault.

This is why I think your edit would not "preserve the goals of the post's owner", it would make the post worse.

The post should be improved by replacing this "could anybody help me?" fluff with a substantial, technical, specific, explicit question, not just by removing it. Ideally the owner should do this, but if you think you know what the owner's unwritten explicit question is, and if you think it's obvious enough so reviewers will agree with you, then you can replace.

Then it won't be just "removing noise" (with a side effect of turning the question into a story, so making it worse); it will be "improving the explicit question" from a cliché to a specific one.

I don't know if the reviewers who rejected your edit did this because they think like me. My answer to

Is it noise to ask "Could anybody help me?"?

is: yes, usually; but not always fully. The content is noise, but the form may be something that matters. In some cases removing it may make the post worse. I believe this was such case.

Always try to improve a post as a whole. Any question or answer should "sound" neat as a whole. A phrase that is usually noise should get your attention as a candidate for removal, but do not remove it blindly, consider a broader picture.

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  • I personally cannot agree with the words I strongly believe any post published as a question should contain an actual explicit question. That seems to justify a belligerent disregard for the obvious fact the OP has expressed what they need to discover. The lack of a literal ? in the post makes little difference to it's value. Jun 20, 2023 at 19:15
  • ... Now that I have a quick look, under this definition 5 out of the newest 10 questions here have no actual question sentence. YMMV but this doesn't look like a genuinely enforced rule. Jun 20, 2023 at 20:20
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    @PhilipCouling if the question is otherwise implicit from the phrasing, sure. But every now and then we have a post which has no question, implied or otherwise. Basically they could be asking if this is the expected behaviour, or why something is happening, or a workaround for achieving something. And you know people have explicitly asked for each of those here in various posts, so you can't just assume one of them.
    – muru
    Jun 21, 2023 at 0:55
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    @muru I'm saying that the need for a question is redundant because the OP expressed what they need to discover without one. The instances you describe don't express what they need to discover and that is a problem. But in this instance the question plainly stated "i have a problem with my install" and the word "inverted", in english, carries the nuance of a thing being incorrect. "please help" might hypothetically demonstrate the difference between asking if it is expected vs how to change it, but I can't think of a case where this ambiguity would affect the resulting answers. Jun 21, 2023 at 7:55

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