Wikipedia:Don't overuse shortcuts to policy and guidelines to win your argument

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In the course of a disagreement on Wikipedia, participants may post links to policy and other pages in place of reasoned arguments. Even when done in good faith, such actions may sometimes be confusing to the readers, especially when linking to large and complex page. It may be unclear which of the many points in that page one intends to refer to. Such behavior may also be interpreted as equivalent of saying "talk to the hand", i.e. uncivil.

This type of behavior is especially common in articles for deletion, where links to arguments to avoid in deletion discussions abound.

Biting newcomers[edit]

Familiarity with various policies, guidelines, or essays is something that comes from experience with the project. Only people who have already committed themselves to fairly extensive involvement in the project get deep enough into the mechanics and politics of editing to read that material.

As such, quoting them as gospel to newcomers to the project is intimidating, may be seen as hostile, and contradicts current guidelines: "Nothing scares potentially valuable contributors away faster than hostility or elitism". It is a bad idea to announce that opinions on these discussions will be discounted unless they are argued with reference to insider jargon.

Insulting the regulars[edit]

Participants in debates should ask themselves who their audience is: and specifically, if the person to whom a policy, guideline, or essay is cited can realistically be expected to be familiar with it. If not, the discussion takes on the unwelcoming demeanour of insiders lecturing outsiders on the Way Things are Done. The goal ought not to be to impress Wikipedia admins with forensic skills, but to assume good faith and assist the creators or editors of flawed articles to write better ones.

Some issues specific to deletion debates[edit]

What's wrong with saying something is "encyclopedic"?[edit]

UNENCYC discounts reference to what is "encyclopedic" or "unencyclopedic" as arguments.

A body of cultural expectations about the sorts of things you could expect to find in an encyclopedia existed long before Wikipedia, and long before the World Wide Web. The words "encyclopedic" and "unencyclopedic" are used by some editors to identify conformity or non-conformity with those expectations. You'd expect an encyclopedia to contain information on ancient Romans whose recorded contributions to history are rather sketchy, obscure nineteenth century politicians, and species of lichen that grow in Greenland. "Notability" is a poor fit for a word that describes why these topics belong. Being encyclopedic—encyclopedicity?—is a much more satisfactory label.

Of course, what printed encyclopedias contained was largely at the discretion of their editors. Diderot's Encyclopédie contained a gunpowder recipe. The 1954 Encyclopedia Americana contained a long list of trivia about the King James Bible, including data of a kind disliked by some editors: the longest name appearing in the Bible, the middle verse, word counts, and other such adventitious features of the text. An encyclopedia from the 1950s aimed at children, The Book of Knowledge, contained instructions on how to build a shortwave radio, verbatim poems or extracts of poems, and retellings of fairy tales. Original research and fringe theories were occasionally presented as fact in printed encyclopedias; for a long time, from 1929 until 1969, the Encyclopædia Britannica contained an article on witchcraft written by Margaret Murray, in which she advanced her contested theory of pagan survival. (Later editions have revised the entry considerably.) Such matters are "encyclopedic"; they have, in fact, appeared in printed encyclopedias. The references cited in print encyclopedias are often lacking; only longer articles even have them.

The point is that analogical arguments based on the sorts of articles that have in fact appeared in printed encyclopedias are not always valid, but not necessarily invalid. There is no grounds to preemptively dismiss arguments from analogy from printed encyclopedias. Those works give rise to legitimate expectations, and referring to them by a shorthand phrase does not make an argument discountable or invalid.

Why aren't we allowed to say "I like it" or "It's useful"?[edit]

WP:ILIKEIT seeks to preempt opinions that observe that an editor likes or is fond of the subject of an article.

Given that Wikipedia is edited by volunteers, they will be drawn to subjects that they want to write about. The first qualification for writing about exotic birds is an interest in birds; the same goes for symbolist poets or mathematical subjects. One of the draws of the project is its opportunity for enthusiasts or autodidacts to educate others on their favourite subjects.

A certain amount of leeway for fannishness should therefore be extended. In Aristotelian terms, the efficient cause of any Wikipedia article is the author's interest in the subject. A reader-editor's claiming that he or she likes an article is an indication that its subject is "notable", that it is a topic of interest to at least one person, and is indirect evidence of the likelihood of any article's re-creation. In the absence of conflict of interest, "I like it" is a valid opinion and ought not to be preemptively excluded from the formation of consensus.

What's wrong with arguments from analogy?[edit]

There's also an essay that discusses what it pleased its author to label the Pokémon test. This is explicitly designed as a device to preemptively belittle and disqualify "keep" opinions.

In the words of this essay's author:

The Pokémon test is a device sometimes used . . . in defense of a keep vote. In particular, it asserts that the subject of that article is "more notable than the average Pokémon". In that, it is frequently used in error, given the amount of publicity and renown the "average Pokémon" has gotten worldwide, as part of a multinational billion-dollar enterprise.
Each of the 493 Pokémon has its own page,[1] all of which are bigger than stubs. While it would be expected that Pikachu would have its own page, some might be surprised to find out that Bellsprout has its own page, as well. Some people perceive Pokémon as something "for little kids" and argue that if that gets an article, so should their favorite hobby/band/made-up word/whatever.

It is true that our articles on Pokémon are one of the marvels and glories of the encyclopedia. They have been carefully tended and grown by authors who are interested in that series of entertainments. And, eventually, most of the stub articles about individual, lesser known Pokémon were merged, preserving the majority of the information.

What this argument does, however, is to seek to preempt perfectly valid arguments from analogy. In fact, precedent and analogy are perfectly good arguments to use in deletion discussions. WP:NOT observes that "there is no practical limit to the number of topics we can cover, or the total amount of content;" if it pleases our editors to expatiate at obsessive length on comic books or 1970s TV shows, they should be encouraged to do so provided their contributions are verifiable, sourced, and original. The fact that our Pokémon articles are thorough and informative stands as a testament to the power and usefulness of "fancruft". And the argument that a similar series may eventually become its equal is a perfectly valid argument from analogy. It does not deserve to be belittled or preemptively discounted.

Some things are, indeed, useful and interesting[edit]

Searchability, indexing, and browser-friendliness (in the sense of human browsers, not web browsers) remain issues to which lists (the source of endless and tiresome arguments, it seems; some people seem to hate any and all lists) and categories are as yet only imperfect solutions. Useful lists and directories that point readers to related articles ought therefore to be welcomed. The mere fact that someone has chosen to arrange a list in a way she finds interesting or useful is a perfectly valid argument that ought not to be preemptively discounted.

Answering questions from the curious is ultimately our reason for being here. The fact that people consider the observation that an article is "interesting" or "useful" an invalid or even a weak argument for keeping an article ought to boggle the mind.

Weighting arguments[edit]

Admins should not perform a "headcount" when closing a debate, but should give appropriate weight to comments that provide the most convincing arguments based on policy. If a party in the debate claims that the references used in the article are reliable sources, and gives an explanation why, this argument should be given more weight than an argument that merely claims the references are not reliable with no explanation. Similarly, if another party claims that the article is not notable and provides strong reasoning for why this is, the comment should be given more weight than someone who simply claims that the article is notable. Explanations for votes provide the strongest basis for arguments, however, numbers can sometimes be an indication of consensus: uncomplicated agreement may represent the best evidence of consensus. Your "just a vote" shows that you concur with another editor's judgement.

Constructive suggestions as to what to do with problematic articles should always be encouraged. If you have nothing more to add to anyone else's comment, you should not be discouraged from saying so. Delete per nom. or Keep per User:Username are not useless gestures that add nothing constructive to a debate, especially if an issue is contested. To announce that these opinions should be preemptively disregarded is to ignore the fact that they do constitute evidence of consensus.

Alternatives[edit]

If the aim of posting links is to educate newcomers, consider making one comment which points to Wikipedia:Arguments to avoid in deletion discussions and recommend that newcomers read it. By using this method, you won't end up insulting someone by implying that their opinion doesn't matter, or their opinion should not be considered, like you would if you posted an insulting link to Wikipedia:Arguments to avoid in deletion discussions.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Not the case anymore, minor characters are now grouped in lists

See also[edit]