Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Icons

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For the purposes of this guideline, icons are any small images, including logos, crests, coats of arms, seals and flags.

The use of icons in Wikipedia encyclopedic project content, mainly lists, tables, infoboxes and navboxes can provide useful visual cues, but can also present a number of problems. Guidance on principal issues is summarized below, followed by more in-depth discussion of each.

Generally[edit]

Avoiding icon problems[edit]

Appropriate use[edit]

For other uses, see Wikipedia:Images.

Icons may be helpful in certain situations:

  • Repeated use of an icon in a table or infobox. This should only be done if the icon has been used previously with an explanation of its purpose.
  • They are useful in articles about international sporting events, to show the representative nationality of players (which may differ from their legal nationality). Example: List of WPA World Nine-ball Champions.

Inappropriate use[edit]

Do not use icons in general article prose[edit]
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Icons should not be used in the article body, as in, "... and after her novel was published, Jackson moved to Bristol,  England, in April 2004." This breaks up the continuity of the text, distracting the reader (example).

Encyclopedic purpose[edit]
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Icons should serve an encyclopaedic purpose and not merely be decorative. They should provide additional useful information on the article subject, serve as visual cues that aid the reader's comprehension, or improve navigation. Icons should not be added only because they look good: one reader's harmless decoration may be another reader's distraction. An icon is purely decorative if it does not improve comprehension of the article subject and serves no navigational function. Where icons are used for layout purposes only, consider using bullet points as an alternative.

Do not use too many icons[edit]

When icons are added excessively, they clutter the page and become redundant, as in this sportsperson's infobox.

Do not repurpose icons beyond their legitimate scope[edit]

Icons can represent a specific entity and should not be repurposed to represent something else, e.g. because an actually appropriate flag is not available. For example, do not abuse the flag of the United Nations to represent the entire world, as this is not an accurate application of the official flag of that international organization.

Do not distort icons[edit]

Do not modify or use non-generic icons in a way that is not notably used outside of Wikipedia. See Wikipedia:OR#Original images for further clarification. One example of such a distortion is a user-modified fusing of North American flags.

Do not illustrate or introduce unpublished ideas[edit]

Remember accessibility for the visually impaired[edit]

Every functional icon should have alt text, which is text describing the visual appearance of the image. Failure to provide this alt text will often make the icon meaningless or confusing to those using screen readers or text-only browsers. To provide alt text, simply add the description to the end of the image markup: for example, "[[File:Commons-logo.svg|30x30px|link=Commons:Special:Search|Search Wikimedia Commons]]" generates an icon Search Wikimedia Commons that links to Commons:Special:Search and has alt text "Search Wikimedia Commons". Image maps should specify alt text for the main image and for each clickable area; see Image maps and {{English official language clickable map}} for examples.

Flags[edit]

For the purposes of this section of the guideline icons refers to flags and similar images unless otherwise stated.

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Note: Terms such as "country" and "nation" as used below should be understood to also apply to other uses of flags, such as national subdivisions, international organisations, etc. Furthermore, the bulk of these recommendations are also applicable to official seals, coats of arms, and other representations which serve similar purposes to flag images.

Avoiding flag problems[edit]

Appropriate use[edit]

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Flag icons may be relevant in some subject areas, where the subject actually represents that country, government, or nationality – such as military units, government officials, or national sports teams. In lists or tables, flag icons may be relevant when such representation of different subjects is pertinent to the purpose of the list or table itself.

Words as the primary means of communication should be given greater precedence over flags, and flags should not change the expected style or layout of infoboxes or lists to the detriment of words.

The use of ship registry flags and International Code of Signals flags in infoboxes of ship articles is appropriate.

See § Inappropriate use for when to not use flags even if the information seems pertinent (in which case, add it in word form).

Avoid flag icons in infoboxes[edit]

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Generally, flag icons should not be used in infoboxes, even when there is a "country", "nationality" or equivalent field: they are unnecessarily distracting and give undue prominence to one field among many.

Flag icons should only be inserted in infoboxes in those cases where they convey information in addition to the text. Flag icons are visually distracting in infoboxes and lead to unnecessary disputes when over-used. Examples of acceptable exceptions include military conflict infobox templates and infoboxes that include international competitions, such as FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games. The guidelines for a number of common infoboxes (e.g. Template:Infobox company, Template:Infobox film, Template:Infobox person, Template:Infobox football biography, Template:Infobox Weapon) have long explicitly deprecated the use of flag icons.

The use of ship registry flags and International Code of Signals flags in infoboxes of ship articles is appropriate.

As with other biographical articles, flags are discouraged in sportspeople's individual infoboxes even when there is a "country", "nationality", "sport nationality" or equivalent field: they may give undue prominence to one field over others.

Human geographic articles – for example settlements and administrative subdivisions – may have flags of the country and first-level administrative subdivision in infoboxes; however, physical geographic articles – for example, mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and swamps – should not. Where a single article covers both human and physical geographic subjects (e.g. Manhattan), or where the status of the territory is subject to a political dispute, the consensus of editors at that article will determine whether flag use in the infobox is preferred or not.

Accompany flags with country names[edit]

The name of a flag's country (or province, etc.) should appear adjacent to the first use of the flag icon, as virtually no readers are familiar with every flag, and many flags differ only in minor details. Nearby uses of the flag need not repeat the name, although first appearances in different sections, tables or lists in a long article may warrant a repetition of the name, especially if the occurrences are likely to be independently reached by in-article links rather than read sequentially. Use of flag templates without country names is also an accessibility issue, since the images rendered can be difficult for color blind readers to understand. In addition, flags can be hard to distinguish when reduced to icon size.

Country can sometimes be omitted when flag re-used[edit]

The country name may be omitted if a flag appears with its country name earlier in a list or table. When a flag icon is needed more than once, the flag-and-name template, for example {{flag|Japan}}, or its shorter variant {{flag|JPN}} should be used first, but may be reduced to {{flagicon|JPN}} in subsequent uses. However, some editors feel that some tables such as those containing sports statistics (example) are easier to read if {{flag}} is used throughout.

  • In this infobox, flags of participating countries are first given with their names. Following this, the flag alone is used to identify the nationality of military commanders.

Historical considerations[edit]

Flags change, and sometimes the geographical or political area(s) to which a flag applies may also change.

Use historical flags in contexts where the difference matters[edit]

Use a historical flag and associated country name when they have at least a semi-officially applicable rationale to use them. For example, in lists of Olympic medalists, the USSR flag and country name should be used for reporting before 1992, not those of the Russian Federation or the CIS.

In some military history contexts[edit]

It may in some narrow military history circumstances be appropriate to use flags, as they were used at the time being written about, including naval ensigns, provided that the flags are (as usual) accompanied at first occurrence by their country (or more narrow) names—our readers are not expected to be military historians. An example might be an in-depth exploration of a famous battle involving numerous forces with known flags; such flags might be used in summary tables to make it clearer which force was being referred to for a particular detail.

Entities without flags until after a certain point in time[edit]

Some subnational entities have not had flags until recently (e.g. the Welsh flag has only been official since 1959). While this flag can still represent Wales generally, it should not be used to represent the country when the context is specifically about a time period predating the flag. Some countries are also new, formed from parts of, or entirely subsuming, one or more other countries. It may need to be decided by consensus on a case-by-case basis what flag to use, when a topic crosses two periods and a conflict arises as to what country the topic pertains to in what contexts.

Political issues[edit]

Beware of political pitfalls, and listen to concerns raised by other editors. Some flags are (sometimes or always) political statements and can associate a person with their political significance, sometimes misleadingly. In other cases, a flag may have limited and highly specific official uses, and an application outside that context can have political (e.g. nationalist or anti-nationalist) implications.

Use of flags for non-sovereign states and nations[edit]

The exact definition of a "state", "nation" or "country" is often politically divisive and can result in debates over the choice of flag. For example, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are referred to by the British government as "countries" within the United Kingdom [1]; the Canadian House of Commons recognised the Québécois as "a nation within a united Canada";[2] and the United States recognizes many Native American tribal groupings as semi-independent "nations".

In general, if a flag is felt to be necessary, it should be that of the sovereign state (e.g. the United States of America or Canada) not of a subnational entity, even if that entity is sometimes considered a "nation" or "country" in its own right. This is partly for the sake of consistency across Wikipedia, but also because a person's legal citizenship is verifiable, whereas "nationality" within a country can be porous, indeterminate and shifting. An English person's passport describes them as a "British citizen", for example, not "English"; being English is a matter of self-identification, not a verifiable legality in most cases. Many editors, however, feel that the UK's subnations in particular are an exception in sporting contexts, and disputes are likely to arise if this sovereign state maxim is enforced in articles on subnational British topics.

See also #Do not use subnational flags without direct relevance.
Overbroad use of flags with politicized connotations[edit]

Some flags are politically contentious – take care to avoid using them in inappropriate contexts. Some examples are:

  1. Use of the flags of the Confederate States of America to represent all or part of the Southern United States prior to 1861 or after 1865.
  2. Use of the Ulster Banner to represent Northern Ireland in inappropriate contexts; see Northern Ireland flags issue and Wikipedia:Irish flags for details.
  3. Use of the 1928–1994 South Africa Flag instead of the present-day one.

Inappropriate use[edit]

Do not emphasize nationality without good reason[edit]

Wikipedia is not a place for nationalistic pride. Flags are visually striking, and placing a national flag next to something can make its nationality or location seem to be of greater significance than other things. For example, with an English flag next to him, Paul McCartney looks like an "English singer-songwriter from Liverpool who was in the Beatles"; without the flag next to him, he looks like an "English singer-songwriter from Liverpool who was in the Beatles". Emphasizing the importance of a person's citizenship or nationality above their other qualities risks violating Wikipedia's "Neutral point of view" policy.

Do not use flags to indicate locations of birth, residence, or death[edit]
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Flag icons should never be used to indicate a person's place of birth, residence, or death, as flags imply citizenship or nationality. Many people born abroad due to traveling parents never become citizens of the countries in which they were born and do not claim such a nationality. For example, actor Bruce Willis was born on a U.S. military base in Germany, so putting a German flag in his infobox, for any reason, might lead the casual reader to assume he is or was a German citizen. Similarly, many people die on foreign soil due to war, vacation accidents, etc., and many people emigrate, without any effect on their actual citizenship or nationality.

Do not use a flag when a picture of the subject is not available[edit]

A flag (or other symbolic image) should not be used as an image placeholder, such as in biographical articles. While it may be appropriate to use a flag or seal as the principal image in an infobox for the organizational entity it represents (for example, the FBI), in most cases these articles have an infobox with the flag or seal image (example).

Do not use subnational flags without direct relevance[edit]

Subnational flags (regions, cities, etc.) should generally be used only when directly relevant to the article. Such flags are rarely recognizable by the general public, detracting from any shorthand utility they might have, and are rarely closely related to the subject of the article. For instance, the flag of Tampa, Florida, is appropriately used on the Tampa article. However, the Tampa flag should generally not be used on articles about residents of Tampa: it would not be informative, and it would be unnecessarily visually distracting.

A common example of use of subnational flags would be that of a list concerned with subdivisions of a specific country.

See also #Use of flags for non-sovereign states and nations.

Do not use supernational flags without direct relevance[edit]

Supernational flags (those of international organizations) should generally be used only when directly relevant to the article. For instance, the Flag of Europe is appropriately used on articles related to the European Union, the Council of Europe and other situations where this flag can be used to represent Europe. In sport, supernational flags should only be used to represent a supernational team or a supernational competition, where the team or competition use the supernational flag. The European flag should generally not be used alongside a national flag in articles about residents of EU member states; it would not be informative, and it would be unnecessarily visually distracting.

Do not rewrite history[edit]

Flags should not be used to misrepresent the nationality of a historical figure, event, object, etc. Political boundaries change, often over the span of a biographical article subject's lifetime. Where ambiguity or confusion could result, it is better not to use a flag at all, and where one is genuinely needed, use the historically accurate flag.

For example, writer Oscar Wilde, a native of Ireland while that island was entirely part of the United Kingdom, should have neither an Irish flag nor a British flag, as either would confuse readers.

Biographical use[edit]

Flags make simple, blunt statements about nationality, while words can express the facts with more complexity.

For example, the actress Naomi Watts could be said, depending upon context and point of view, to be any or all of: British, English, Welsh, or Australian. She was born a British citizen in England, lived in Wales for a long time, then moved to Australia and became an Australian citizen. There is no single flag for that, and using all four flags will not be helpful.

Flags are discouraged in the individual infoboxes of biographical articles. Special care should be taken with the biographical use of flag templates in the following situations:

  • Never use a flag for birth or death place, since doing so may imply an incorrect citizenship or nationality; a great many people have been born or have died abroad.
  • In a case of reliably sourced renunciation of citizenship of a country, do not use the flag and name of that former country to indicate an article subject's nationality; if a flag is used at all, use that of the later nationality.
  • In cases of emigration, do not use the flag of the later country unless legal citizenship was achieved.
  • If someone's citizenship has legally changed because of shifting political borders, use the historically correct country designation, not a later one, and perhaps mention in the article prose the new country name, e.g. "Belgrade, Yugoslavia (today in Serbia)"; it may also be best to avoid using any flag at all.
  • Use the flag and name of the country (be it a state or a nation) that the person (or team of people) officially represented, regardless of citizenship, when the flag templates are used for sports statistics and the like. If a French player is awarded a medal for playing in a German team, the German flag would be used in a table of awards. The Scottish flag would be used with regard to the FIFA World Cup, but that of the UK for the Olympics. Caution should be used in extending this convention to non-sporting contexts, as it may produce confusing results. And a countervailing example would be an article about a sports team that officially represents a particular country but is composed of members who are citizens of several countries; a table of players at such an article might list them by their country of actual citizenship or professed nationality.
  • Avoid flag usage, especially to present a point of view, that is likely to raise editorial controversy over political or other factual matters about a biography subject.
See also "Historical considerations" for other relevant recommendations.

Use of flags for sportspersons[edit]

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Flags should never indicate the player's nationality in a non-sporting sense; flags should only indicate the sportsperson's national squad/team or representative nationality (and it is not an exception to #Avoid flag icons in infoboxes).

Where flags are used in a table, it should clearly indicate that they correspond to representative nationality, not legal nationality, if any confusion might arise.

Flags should generally illustrate the highest level the sportsperson is associated with. For example, if a sportsperson has represented a nation or has declared for a nation, then the national flag as determined by the sport governing body should be used (these can differ from countries' political national flags). If a sportsperson has not competed at the international level, then the eligibility rules of the international sport governing body (such as IRB, FIFA, IAAF, etc.) should be used. If these rules allow a player to represent two or more nations, then a reliable source should be used to show who the sportsperson has chosen to represent.

If a sportsperson most usually represents a specific country (e.g., Germany) but has represented a larger, supernational entity on some occasions (e.g., Europe) it may be more appropriate to use the national flag; this will often need to be determined on an article-by-article basis.

Subnational flags (e.g., England rather than UK) are traditionally used in some sports, and should not be changed to the national flag without consensus.

Clarity[edit]

If the use of flags in a list, table or infobox makes it unclear, ambiguous or controversial, it is better to remove the flags even if that makes the list, table or infobox inconsistent with others of the same type where no problems have arisen.

Logos[edit]

"WP:MOSLOGO" redirects here. For the Wikipedia guidelines on logo usage, see Wikipedia:Logo.
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The insertion of logos as icons into articles is strongly discouraged: While illustration of a logo may be appropriate at the main article on the topic to which the logo pertains, use of logos as icons is not useful to our readers, and often presents legal problems.

Non-free images[edit]

Use of company logos, sports team crests, and other images protected as intellectual property (including as copyrights, trademarks, and service marks) in articles can only be done on a fair use basis. Use of such images is nearly always prohibited (for more information, see Wikipedia:Non-free use rationale guideline and Wikipedia:Logos).

Free images[edit]

While legal problems may not be present (no intellectual property right being claimable), all of this guideline's rationales against use of icons as decoration still apply. Generally, addition of logos to article prose or tabular data does not improve the encyclopedia and leads to confusing visual clutter.