So here we are.
When you post a story to this wikia there’s a real chance someone will come along and molest it and sometimes that means changes are helpful and sometimes it means someone replaced half your story with a hardcore non-con fanfic featuring Batman and Draco Malfoy. Anyone can change anything about anyone’s story (barring a few protected entries) and this wikia has load of rules and various positions like rollback, admin, and bureaucrat to manage and police this system. The hope is that the freedom allows people to quickly and easily address painfully-obvious mistakes while our community catches vandals and erroneous edits.
And for the most part that system works.
Edits are overwhelmingly positive. Vandals are exceedingly rare and are usually dealt with very rapidly when they raise their head. That’s great. That’s a great situation for us to be in.
But there’s a creeping tendency for edits that are… less than valuable. More and more I’m seeing edits that are, for the most part, cosmetic and unhelpful. This can be a problem because we don’t want to encourage an environment where authors feel that busybodies with overly-rigid views on grammar can rewrite their stories. And, more importantly, we want editors to put their time to good use. There are… lots of subpar stories that need tender, love, and care. And we want people to know the difference between a useful edit and a not-so-useful edit so that their time is put to maximum use.
So, we have two methods to help ensure people make valuable edits.
First – we have an enormous rule section that details many of the specific and non-specific examples of what is and isn’t accepted.
And second – we have me, Hel, and all the other admins. And part of that means admin blogs. That’s what this blog is here for. It’s here to outline the overall philosophy and rationale that should distinguish a useful vs non-useful edit. Before you move forward though, check out Empy's blog because it covers a lot of the same points and is definitely worth a read.
So let’s begin.
Prescriptive Grammar AKA Don’t. Just Don’t
Language is what we speak. It’s governed by rules and some philosophers argue that these rules are innate representations of the biological structure of our brain (i.e. we are all born with the rules of language inside of us) and others argue we make the rules up as we go along. But that’s irrelevant, what matters is this – language has rules.
Well it’s because linguistic rules help eliminate ambiguity. In any language that’s important but good Lord it’s essential for English. English has grammar to deal with ambiguity. That’s the purpose of written linguistic rules. They aren’t just decorative – they serve a discrete function. They have value.
But some time ago some inbred mouth-breather created prescriptive grammar. Why? Probably because it makes them feel good about themselves. Linguistic rules tend to evolve with the language they govern. But for some reason a few hundred years ago some tool decided that the way linguistic rules should work is that they should all be written down and that no consideration should be given, whatsoever, to their function or value. Rather, grammar was treated as a set of rules that were prescribed by people older and smarter than you and that was the end of it.
You followed those rules and if you didn’t then your writing was bad, and you were bad.
But this isn’t the best way to view grammar.
Grammar is a set of rules and conventions but taking a prescriptive stance is just begging for trouble. Let it evolve, let it change, and instead of adhering to silly rules about never starting sentences with conjunctions (a completely horse shit rule ), just use grammar to fulfil its original purpose.
Use grammar to eliminate linguistic ambiguity and improve the clarity of the written word.
There are lots of arguments in favour of convention and tradition, sure, but that’s something you can apply to your own writing if you feel it’s that important. What matters, what really, really, matters, is that what a person has written makes sense. Most grammatical rules serve the purpose of removing ambiguity and improving clarity. But don’t lose sight of the forest because of the trees. Don’t become bogged down in every little change or edit you can make, and don’t put yourself in a position where the only possible justification for an edit is “here look at this wikipedia entry saying I’m right”.
Rather, the justification behind an edit should be,
“It didn’t make sense before, now it does.”
How this helps us make valuable edits
You need to ask this one question;
Will correcting this grammatical error make the sentence clearer? Or am I just making the edit to conform to a rule that I read somewhere on the internet?
A great example – the Oxford comma. There’s always some inbred horseshoe-crab-of-a-man waiting out there with an opinion on Oxford commas and they’re usually as stupid as you’d think they are. The truth is there is no universal rule for the Oxford comma. There are times when it works and times when it doesn’t.
Pass me the jam, bread, and butter. Vs. Pass me the jam, bread and butter.
Are those two sentences semantically equivalent? Do they mean, essentially, the same thing? Yes? Then there’s no bloody argument to be had. The difference is pitiful and serves no real function. It’s up to the author, and yet you’ll still find whole communities of troglodytes arguing over something that, at its core, just doesn’t matter.
I saw a sequence of chemicals including potassium, magnesium, hydrogen, and chlorine.
I saw a sequence of chemicals including potassium, magnesium, hydrogen and chlorine.
Are those sentences equivalent? No. They aren’t. One lists four separate things, the other lists three. They’re different sentences with different meanings so switching between the two on a whim isn’t an option. To the chemist trying to grab items from a list then it could be the difference between a safe mixture and a bomb.
So the Oxford comma serves a function, but there’s no point arguing over it unless that function genuinely matters.
So, when you make an edit you should ask yourself,
“Am I mindlessly correcting something because I once read that the rules said commas should be used differently? Or is this edit vital to the mechanics of this sentence?”
In other words, if the sentence makes sense leave it alone. If it doesn’t make sense and needs clearing up (and there’s an obvious right choice) then fix it.
Commas, commas,, commas,,, commas,,,, and,,,,,,,, more, bloody, commas,.
I walked down the shop, and noticed something remarkable.
See that sentence? Don’t edit that. Yes I know the comma is unnecessary but y’know what? It’s up to the author. Maybe they feel the cadence demands a pause, maybe they just wanted a comma there. It’s up to them. You are not eliminating ambiguity by deleting that comma. Don’t waste time deleting it.
Commas serve multiple purposes. They generally staple clauses together but they do also function as a means for the author to convey a momentary pause in the rhythm of a sentence. Technically you should aim to have as few commas as possible, but convention and good taste aren’t excuses to mess with someone else’s story. If the passage makes sense, leave it alone.
What to look out for
Homonym substitutions – I stood around waisting/wasting my time.
Misspellings – I’m afraid that I’ve injurred/injured myself.
Blatant punctuation errors – I love cats, They’re loads of fun. / I love cats. They’re loads of fun. (the capital T tells you the author’s intention to start a new sentence).
Capitalisation errors – I visited paris. it rocked. / I visited Paris. It rocked.
Errors in formatting and spacing. – I pet the cat.It was furry. / I pet the cat. It was furry.
I made an edit I’m not sure about
No one’s going to jump down your throat if you make the odd edit here and there that isn’t absolutely essential. Maybe you see two independent clauses stapled together using a comma and you change it to a full-stop. That’s fine. The problem is if you persistently make edit-after-edit that isn’t strictly necessary. When you have an edit count in the hundreds and over 75% of them look like pedantic minor changes that could easily be rolled back without any real impact to the wikia or story in question then a) this will seriously hurt any effort to get promoted in the future and b) some questions about points gaming may be raised.
But perhaps most importantly, you’re just wasting your time. And that’s a bummer. Put your time to good use. I like to personally use the following rule:
If MS word underlines it in red then I fix it.
If MS word underlines it in blue then I take a much closer look at whether the edit is absolutely necessary. 99% of the time I don't make the correction. Grammar, just like word choice, reflects an author's decision and unless I'm 100% certain that the author made a mistake that they would correct themselves if they were aware of it, then I won't change it.
Don’t waste your time editing a story with a delete now tag.
Don't edit older stories that have already been looked over by an admin. If it's from pre-2014 then it's a good idea to leave it alone.
Don’t do other people’s job for them. If a story is garbage and you have to spend over an hour patching up capitalisation errors, adding paragraphs, and fixing misspellings then just add a delete now tag and leave them to the wolves. No one should write another person’s story for them. If at any point you feel like you’re putting more work into a story than the original author then just tag it and leave it and let us delete it.
Tense swaps are difficult to parse. Ideally the author themselves should fix them but sometimes a single error can be fixed by you there and then and it’s so much easier than messaging the author. Ultimately it’s up to you, but be careful. Try to avoid changing past to past-perfect and so on. Focus on blatant and explicit errors, like someone changing tense half way through a sentence.
What can I do?
Keep editing. We love you. We just hate to see you using your time in a way that isn’t very helpful to you or anyone else.
We just want what’s best for you <3