Wikipedia:Articles for deletion is not a war zone

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This is a draft essay and is open to editing by all. Participation from those interested in deletion discussions is especially welcome.
Deletionists and Inclusionists conduct their internecine war on the plains of AfD

Deep within the lower depths of our encyclopedia, a mostly silent battle has been raging. Bitter, pitiless and endless; reliable sources have held up the conflict as a possible cause for Wikipedia's stagnating new article creation rate.[1][2]

The site of this conflict is Wikipedia:Articles for deletion, widely known as AfD. The two factions are known as Inclusionists and deletionists. Not all agree that these labels are helpful, and indeed many or most participants in AfD don't neatly fall into either camp. However, no better words exist for identifying the opposing philosophies.

This essay discusses the different perspectives that drive the conflict, in the hopes that once participants can come to respect the opposing camp, all will be able to conduct themselves in a collegial and constructive manner.

Inclusionism[edit]

Inclusionism is the view that one can best help the encyclopedia by retaining as much content as possible, demonstrated by a tendency to !vote keep at AfD discussions. Adherents often think the people's encyclopedia should cater to all tastes, and with the exception of attack pages, hoaxes & obvious spam, they generally hold that if someone makes the effort to create an article, it should be retained; Wikipedia is not paper. If they worry about how the outside world views the project, they tend to think it will be judged on breadth and quality of content, and that having articles on relatively trivial or fan-related subjects is in no way a problem. They argue that overzealous deletion is a case of biting the newcomers, and that it discourages potentially useful contributors.

Deletionism[edit]

Deletionism is the view that one can best help the encyclopedia by ensuring that readers can trust that all material on it is reliable, accurate, and presented in terms of its impact on the real world. Since encyclopedias are supposed to use secondary sources to build articles, they take a dim view of topics that do not have secondary sourcing. To them, an article that uses only primary sources is original research and would be more appropriate somewhere else on the internet. They believe the various gems our project contains are diminished if they're presented alongside trivial or otherwise undesirable articles. Some of them worry that including trivial and fan-related articles reduces the project's academic respectability, and that unwatched articles on trivial subjects will be vandalized.

The results of holding these views too strongly[edit]

Both views are in their own way noble. But sometimes they are so passionately held they cause their adherents to behave in non-constructive ways – insulting other editors, trying to prove a point, engaging in passive aggression, and underhanded tactics.

Leaving aside the direct effect on the more sensitive editors, these kinds of behaviours perpetuate themselves by causing editors on both sides to become locked in a vicious circle of opposition. The result is a corrosive atmosphere that damages Wikipedia in many ways. Editors are drawn away from editing to instead engage in protracted arguments, and many editors avoid deletion discussions leaving only the battle-hardened few.

Breaking the circle[edit]

Offer an olive branch
If even politicians can shake hands after a debate, so can Wikipedians

All who take part in AfD will elevate the environment towards lasting peace if they conduct themselves in a calm and civil manner. Here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Remember that the vast majority of editors are motivated by a desire to the improve the encyclopedia, just as you are. You may not agree with them, but mutual respect goes a long way.
  • By behaving well you encourage others to, which creates an upwards spiral of harmony that helps the encyclopedia. Do as you would be done by.
  • Almost everyone feels aggression sometimes, but AfD is not the outlet for it. Better arenas are online war games, un-moderated forums, contact sports, or you may even be able to find an ongoing low-intensity war that accepts foreign combatants.
  • Voting is evil. Casting an unreasoned Keep or Delete isn't worth your while, as it will be ignored by the closing admin, but it will rile other editors. Explain your position, don't just state it. A well-reasoned statement of your argument is much better than an abbreviated WP:VAGUEWAVE towards a policy. Refer to policy without wikilawyering, read policies and guidelines before referring to them to make sure they say what you think they say, and try to avoid common weak arguments.
  • Read the article and quickly look for sources before you read the deletion discussion, so your comments are based on the article rather than what others think.
  • Remember that there may be no one right answer. Although there are common outcomes, different Wikipedians at different times may come to opposite conclusions. Many of our policies and arguments involve subjective judgement calls and may be contradictory. As User:S Marshall once said, "Wikipedia guidelines are like scripture: somewhere in the labyrinthine network of rules, you can find support for any position."
  • Debates often hinge on notability. The general notability guideline is a good rule of thumb. Notability is not binary; there are grades of notability, and where we decide to draw the line is often a difficult decision. In particular, there is no community consensus on notability for fiction.
  • Avoid badgering those who disagree with you. Comments that clarify positions or correct misunderstandings are useful, but replying to every comment that disagrees with you tends to be unhelpful. Trust other editors and the closing administrator to be able to judge the arguments on their merits.
  • Read your comment in the preview window and ask yourself:
    • Does it say something that you didn't say already?
    • Does it focus on the article's merits, or some broader issue (e.g., a deletion philosophy) that should be discussed in another venue?
    • Has the point you are making already been made more than once by other editors?
  • Don't beat a dead horse.
  • Read and consider all the arguments. There's no shame in changing your mind.
  • Nobody wins or loses at AfD; it's the encyclopedia that matters. Put aside your personal feelings.
  • If you make an error or lash out, an apology can clear the air. Why not have a nice cup of tea and a sit down with the editor you're in disagreement with?
  • Make love not war!

If you wish to argue for deletion[edit]

Having an article you've worked on up for deletion can feel like facing the firing squad
  • Following WP:BEFORE helps avoid making invalid nominations, and can remind you of alternatives to deletion. Have you identified other articles that already exist where the content can be merged?
  • While checking the article history for signs of previous deletion nominations, also check the article view statistics. If an article is on a popular topic, it will tend to have secondary sources written about it and may have potential. Was it once in a better state, but has since succumbed to vandalism and inexpert edits?
  • Consider if your search for sources was comprehensive enough. Did you use the wrong key words? Did you only look at the Google News hits for the last month instead of at the archive? Many news sources aren't included in Google News, or even online at all. Especially for articles that cover something technical, in a non-English speaking country, or from before Al Gore invented the Internet, sources may exist but not be immediately apparent. Are you taking care to counter our systematic biases? We may even need to resort to looking for sources in dead trees, or asking other editors for help.
  • Once you determine that its necessary to nominate the article, be responsive to changes in the article during the discussion. It is not uncommon for articles to be improved to the point that deletion is no longer needed. If this happens, withdraw your nomination.
  • It is good practice to leave a note on the article talk page and the page of the article creator. Consider a personalized message rather than a template.
  • Be wary of nominating multiple articles in the same AfD. It can be appropriate in some circumstances, such as a group of obvious hoaxes, but it is good idea to only list one article at AfD and see how it goes, before listing an entire group. A bundled nomination can be overwhelming for participants in the deletion discussion, and may cause a backlash that results in all the articles being kept.
  • Do not nominate a large number of articles on the same topic in a short period of time, as this can be perceived as an attempt to deluge editors who are attempting to find sourcing. Instead, nominate one or two of the articles that seem the least controversial of the bunch and nominate others if the community agrees that deletion is appropriate.
  • The word "cruft" is wonderfully succinct, but it can be seen as pejorative and unhelpful. An acceptable alternative may be "unnecessary detail."
  • If you tend towards the deletionist end of the spectrum, remember you don't have to win every battle; the article can always be re-nominated a few months on, when the dust has settled.
  • See the other side of the coin - find an area which is lacking and start or improve an article. Content building can be hard work!
  • Deletion sorting and the Article Rescue Squadron are not canvassing; the aim is to focus the efforts of interested editors. Anyone can look at the list of AfDs collected by these pages and join those debates.

If you wish to keep the article[edit]

Stop! Do we need another article on Pokémon?
  • The time to consider whether a subject meets our inclusion guidelines is before its creation, not after it has been nominated for deletion.
  • Instead of engaging in a protracted argument with an intransigent opponent, work to improve the article using reliable sources. Without good sources, articles are not verifiable and notability cannot be demonstrated.
  • Be skeptical of your sources - are they really reliable? Do they cover this topic directly and in depth? It is easy to engage in wishful thinking and improper synthesis on topics we like.
  • Discuss alternatives to keeping an article, such as a merge or a change in the scope of the article - but it is best to avoid carrying out these plans until the discussion is closed.
  • If an editor has nominated an article for deletion that is ultimately kept, don't begrudge them. They believed in good faith that the article did not meet our guidelines, and hopefully the article will have been improved in the process.
  • See the other side of the coin - look at the new page patrol, and see how editors there are under siege by articles that in all likelihood will never meet our guidelines. It is no wonder they can become cynical.
  • The Article Rescue Squadron is intended to focus efforts on improving salvageable articles, not to seek additional editors to vote keep.
  • Make sure that all those great sources that have been identified during the AfD actually make it into the article. Remember the ultimate goal is not to "win" at AfD, rather it is to produce an article that serves our readers.
  • If you tend towards inclusionism, note that deletion is not necessarily the end of an article. You can ask for it to be userfied, copied to the WP:Article Incubator, or it can be copied to another wiki.

The middle ground[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ BOBBIE JOHNSON (2009-08-27). "Editors do battle over Wikipedia's soul". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  2. ^ originally from The Economist (2008-03-17). "The battle for Wikipedia's soul". Financial Express. Retrieved 2009-09-24.