I've just edited a post which was, in my opinion, quite a mess to read - http://rpg.stackexchange.com/a/18590/1381

For a moment I considered asking in the comment to "use a spellchecker and differentiate between its, it's and other situations where apostrophe is used" but I though I'd sound condescending, so I just ended up with a small note.

What is the preferred way to handle such situations by the community? Should I do as I did, edit the answer silently or publicly tell the person about the communication issue?

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4 Answers

up vote 25 down vote accepted

We're encouraged at SE to edit each other's posts to improve them: The edit button is right there; all text is Creative Commons–licensed; we get badges for doing a lot of editing; the review system includes an "Improve" button. Everywhere, the site gives us permission to fix each other's mistakes.

So the way to handle poor grammar is to edit it. Leaving comments is unnecessary – no-one would suddenly majorly improve their grammar just because someone says to, because anyone who would be receptive to the message is already paying as much attention to good grammar as they are able. On the flip side, someone who doesn't improve their grammar when they see their post edited is never going to improve it – they're either unable or unwilling to change their grammar skills. A comment is just going to be unconstructive.

The whole point of SE is that the collective wisdom and skill of the community is greater than any one person could have, so it gives us tools to harness everyone's abilities to make the every page as high-quality as it can be. That includes the quality of the spelling, grammar, and formatting in questions and answers.

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I guess you've nailed it best. It is highly unlikely someone will improve their grammar if scolded publicly. –  Maurycy Zarzycki Nov 7 '12 at 11:06
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Exactly right. Bear in mind, many people display poor grammar because English is not their native language. Likewise some people have trouble with writing or keyboard use. The solution is to transparently rewrite the post. –  Tynam Nov 7 '12 at 18:18
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As someone who's grammar and typing can sometimes be lacking, I both appreciate the corrections that other provide, and take greater care to not write a mess, knowing that others in the community feel the need to tidy up such messes. By editing others poor posts, you help remind everyone that good quality posts are desired. –  Simon Withers Nov 8 '12 at 3:45
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The first time or two just fix it an move on. If it's an obvious language barrier just move on, the person is trying to contribute, if they struggle with English we can help them (specially if they are asking good questions). A kind "Welcome to RPG.SE I've edited your post to correct some grammar, and format it" would be the most that I'd do here, but I'd probably just edit it and leave it alone or welcome them without mentioning the edit.

If they repeatedly use terrible grammar/spelling etc, a comment after a few posts politely asking for them to spell check or read over their posts might be appropriate. Perhaps even to note the changes you made on the edit.

Overall though I want to stress trying to be kind to new users. You did a good job editing his post, and I think that's where it ends. We want the new folks to get an idea of what we expect here, but we don't want to kick them in the face with it.

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From A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community by Chuq Von Rospach

It is important to remember that we all make mistakes, and that there are many users on the net who use English as a second language. There are also a number of people who suffer from dyslexia and who have difficulty noticing their spelling mistakes. If you feel that you must make a comment on the quality of a posting, please do so by mail, not on the network.

As someone with dyslexia I am happy to have my post edited and corrected. In fact I have thanked people that have in the past. I would be insulted if you where to tell me I have a "communication issue".

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I didn't mean that everyone who makes a couple of typos has communication issue, not even this exact case (though I wasn't able to understand what the poster meant without concentrating real hard on the text, I am not a native speaker), it was just an example. Anyway I agree with that, but as far as I know, there is no Private Message functionality on stack sites, so I wouldn't be able to make a private remark anyway, hence my question here. –  Maurycy Zarzycki Nov 6 '12 at 17:34
    
@MaurycyZarzycki the fact that there is no Private Message option is a problem that the designer does not see, so we have to live with it. All I want to raise is that that is is not as simple as pointing out that some one needs to correct there spelling and grammar. I can stare at a sentence for hours and not spot an obvious mistake. –  David Allan Finch Nov 6 '12 at 19:56
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I am not a native speaker and I write a lot of mistakes. I always thank private or public corrections, even on my mother tongue. I prefer polite corrections, but I thank even harsh ones.

But in my experience, not all people see this kind of help with the same good eyes. Some can be quite angry about that, actually.

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