Wikipedia:Essays are not policy

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Generally, it is not a good idea to quote personal essays – including this one – as though they are Wikipedia approved policy. Essays can be written without much – if any – debate, as opposed to Wikipedia policy that has been thoroughly vetted. Giving a link to an essay without explanation risks misrepresenting it as more than it is – the opinion of one or more editors.

A Wikipedia essay may be written by a group of Wikipedians or a single Wikipedian who have or has particular ideas about a given subject or way of doing things on Wikipedia. Essays may be rants about a given topic or may be advise and suggestions on Wikipedia etiquette. Essays may not even necessarily be restricted to such genres! As such they can be valuable in understanding how a particular segment of the Wikipedia community thinks about particular things at any given time, and may even at times give a good idea about general consensus about issues in the encyclopedia. A place with even more essays is Metawiki, which was designed for such a purpose.

However, no matter how valuable essays may be, when reading them it is a good idea to keep in mind that they are neither policies nor guidelines, and may be opposed by other Wikipedians. One essay may give the viewpoint of one group, but either ignore another segment with opposing ideas on the matter written about, or may even misrepresent those views.

What's the difference?[edit]

An essay is an individual's or group's point of view. Sometimes they are created because there is not enough consensus that the expounded point of view should be imposed on the community and it therefore cannot become a policy. Sometimes an essay may be written to invite discussion or offer a critique about a particular issue related to Wikipedia. A policy or guideline is a concept that is generally agreed is a good idea and that should be enforced to allow the community to function. An essay explains a concept and may give pause for thought, but is not binding on the community. A policy or guideline is a clear treatise that details how an editor is expected to behave on Wikipedia.

If I see an essay that I disagree with, what can I do?[edit]

There are a number of things an editor can do when faced with an essay they disagree with strongly. An editor can:

  1. Edit the essay to balance it. This is usually a bad idea. Essays are meant to express an opinion, not present a neutral point of view.
  2. Propose that it is too divisive and submit it to Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion with a good reason for doing so.
  3. Write an opposing essay, detailing the other point of view.

Bear in mind that essays, as well as being useful, can potentially be a divisive means of espousing a point of view. NPOV need not apply to such essays, and this can lead to problems. If an essay is modified, and another editor doesn't think the essay should be changed, they may legitimately revert the edit(s). However, please don't let this lead to edit warring. Instead, please follow normal dispute resolution processes to resolve the issue, as edit warring is frowned upon across all namespaces and may lead to disciplinary action. Similarly, a lot of heat may be generated if the article is put on miscellany for deletion. It may well be easier and less divisive or disruptive to write a new essay with the opposing point of view. However, here, also, it may be difficult, and lead to accusations of an editor disrupting Wikipedia to prove a point. In these cases, try to remember to stay cool and explain your situation calmly, assume good faith and avoid personal attacks.

Someone is quoting essays like they are policy, what can I do?[edit]

If someone quotes essays like they are policy, a gentle reminder that the essay is not binding on the community may be necessary or desirable. In doing so, remain polite but note that others have an opposing point of view, and also bear in mind that the point of view you object to may be as valid and clearly thought through as your own. It would be most helpful to state what the opposing points of view are. Here it may be useful to quote an opposing essay or, if you can think of a cogent argument, perhaps write a new essay detailing what this may be.

Note that this is not policy[edit]

While some people state that "essays are not policy", do note that pages in the project namespace tend to be mislabeled, because hey, this is a wiki, and a wiki is always a work in progress. Occasionally, pages marked as policies are actually guidelines, or even essays, though this circumstance usually does not last long. On the other hand many pages marked as essays have effectively become guidelines over time but have not been marked as such yet, and some will eventually even be policy. So, while the theory of their clear separation is good, in practice, things tend to get a little mixed up.

If someone references a page in the project namespace, they're mainly doing so to save themselves some time explaining concepts that (part of) the community has consensus on. Remember that the actual rule at all times is that you must have a consensus.

Basically, at the end of the day, don't let yourself be confused by labels and tags at all, but instead, use common sense.

See also[edit]