Wikipedia:Be neutral in form
|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.|
Articles on Wikipedia must conform to a neutral point of view, being neutral in both content and in form. Editors have had many successes in dealing with non-neutral content, by verifying facts and removing (or properly attributing) opinions. However, Wikipedia has greater difficulty with achieving neutrality in form, as it is not always obvious how the structure of an article can favor undue weight on a single perspective.
Some forms and structure often lead to disputes over point of view (POV). This essay suggests better practices to use in their place.
The following is a list of red flags that may help identify reasons why an article suffers from constant debate and POV-pushing. Not all red flags are indicative of a problem. This list should be taken as a way to begin a discussion, and find ways to change the fundamental form of an article to ensure a more neutral point of view.
"Criticism of..." articles
"Criticism of..." articles inherently focus on the negative aspects of a phenomenon. By virtue of its title, praise for that same phenomenon is out of place. One man's trash is another man's treasure, but the article is inherently designed to focus on the first man's opinion to the exclusion of the other man. It makes it difficult to represent "fairly, proportionately, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views", in accordance with the policy on neutral point of view.
This is less of a problem for "criticism of..." sections within articles, but may still lead to undue weight on the negative aspects of a phenomenon. Likewise, "praise of..." articles and sections may run into the same issues.
The best way to provide context is to re-frame the article, beginning with the topic. "Reception of..." allows praise and criticism to be provided in context with each other. Creating an article or section about a phenomenon's reception is not meant to be a complete list of all praise and criticism, but to provide readers with a representative sample of how that phenomenon has been received.
It is typically better to add context to criticism articles than to delete them. Consider revising "criticism" with a proportional amount of "praise", or up-merging the "criticism" back into the main article.
Articles named after loaded terminology
One way to control a debate is to control the use of language. In George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the repressive government promotes "newspeak" as a language to control how its subjects talk about the world. In real-world politics, different parties use language to frame the parameters of the debate. This tactic of using "loaded language" has risen with the growing power of marketeers.
A notable example of this tactic is the debate over the legalization of abortion. Supporters of legal abortion describe themselves as "pro choice", thus allowing them to describe their opponents as being against choice. Critics of legal abortion describe themselves as "pro life", thus allowing them to describe their opponents as being against life. This difficulty can be avoided by side-stepping these labels, and writing articles about "support for the legalization of abortion" and "opposition to the legalization of abortion".
Wikipedia makes it a policy to avoid writing articles about neologisms and other terms invented recently. This is seldom an issue for new scientific terminology. It is more problematic for terminology popularized in the political arena, or around other public figures.
One solution would be to rename the article to a scientific term, or to use a short description to unpack the term. Another option is to merge the article about the term into a section of an article about the larger topic. If the term is sufficiently popular to write a full article about it from reliable sources, it is preferable to balance perspectives from sources that talk about the term, and avoid giving weight to sources that merely use the term.
Evolving concepts without a "history" section
Organizations, governments, corporations, and religions are all constantly evolving. When writing about a phenomenon that has changed over time, use a "History" section with chronological headings to present information in a neutral form.
Writing about an evolving concept in sections will allow readers to understand its evolution. This includes the initial intentions and reactions to the concept, how the concept changed as it impacted the world, and the current status of the concept. This also allows periods of extreme success or failure to be presented in a historic context.
Beware of editors who are opposed to writing about an evolving concept in a chronological structure. Some may intentionally do this so that one part of history can gain undue weight over another, to present that topic in its most negative or positive light. Even if done unintentionally, failing to distinguish between historic facts and current facts will make it difficult for readers to understand how a concept has changed over time.
Sections about a short-lived controversy
Wikipedia articles cover controversies. However, not all controversies are covered equally, and some not at all. It is sensible to cover a controversy when someone is accused of a crime and they are convicted. It is typically reasonable to cover criminal disputes even if someone is found to be innocent, if the trial became notable to reliable journalists and scholars. But in instances where a criminal accusation is found to be completely without merit, writing about it in Wikipedia may only give undue weight to a frivolous complaint.
This is even more difficult for writing about accusations that someone lied or behaved inappropriately. Journalists may spend several weeks examining a debate over whether someone lied, which inevitably leads to a discussion about the magnitude of that lie, and whether they should apologize. This does not mean that the incident should be covered in its own section, or at all.
When writing about a topic, only write about controversies that had a lasting impact.
- meta:2010 Wikimedia Study of Controversial Content
- Wikipedia:Avoid thread mode
- Wikipedia:BOLD, revert, discuss cycle
- Wikipedia:List of controversial issues
- Wikipedia:NPOV tutorial#Accusations
- Wikipedia:Pro and con lists
- Wikipedia:Words to avoid
- Help:Talkspace draft