Wikipedia:What were you thinking?

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While your work may seem perfectly obvious to you, that doesn't mean other people won't look at it and wonder what you were thinking when you did it.

Eventually, someone will comment on an edit you have made and ask, "What were you thinking?" Try not to take offense. Not everyone thinks the same way, and sometimes that which you consider perfectly obvious simply won't occur at all to someone else.

When someone asks what you were thinking, assume the assumption of good faith on their part. They probably really do want to know what you were thinking, because they know you had some reason for what you did. If you explain what you were thinking, they might agree with it.

On the other hand, if you don't explain what you were thinking, it's in human nature that other editors will probably try to guess what you were thinking. Their guess will most likely be wrong. You may find that those guesses paint you in a bad light. Therefore, although you're never required to explain your edits—you can always allow someone else to revert them—it's usually in your best interests as an editor to explain your thought process when other people are puzzled by your actions.

Asking "What were you thinking?"[edit]

When you're confused by another editor's actions, remember to assume good faith. It's fine to ask someone what they were thinking because you want to understand their actions; it's uncivil to use the question as an insult.

To avoid bad feelings, try explaining why you're asking: "It seems to me like the source you just added isn't something we usually permit. Could you explain why you added it? Perhaps I missed something." This approach is collaborative, and keeps the other editor from feeling attacked.

Be open to the answer you receive. Everyone has a reason for their actions. It may not be a good reason; it may be ill-considered, or it may have been made in innocent ignorance of a rule. Sometimes, it may have been malicious, but you should never assume that it was. Remember, the goal is to have a better encyclopedia, and it's possible that a viewpoint that is utterly foreign to your usual way of thinking may actually bring really good ideas to the table.

Answering "What were you thinking?"[edit]

When someone asks what you were thinking when you made an edit, the first step is to ask that question honestly of yourself. What were you thinking? (Sometimes, you may find you end up asking yourself, "Was I thinking?"[1])

You may find that the answer you give yourself isn't one that you wish to share with the world. This happens; it indicates you made a mistake. You should admit the mistake, drop any sticks, and move on. You might even want to self-revert, if it's appropriate in the circumstance. You need not share details, but do admit to being wrong. Editors who can admit their mistakes are more likely to get good faith when their actions seem questionable at first.

Chances are, you will think you had a perfectly valid reason for your edit. However, simply citing a policy to justify your edit may not be enough. Remember, someone asked "what were you thinking?" because they didn't understand why you did what you did; a policy may justify an edit, but it doesn't necessarily explain it.

When explaining, don't take offense, and try not to be defensive. Your personal opinions are valid, but so are everyone else's. Your opinion may also be in error. Be open to the idea that you might not have all the facts. Explain the path your mind wandered as you considered your edit, in neutral language.

Others may point out what they feel to be flaws in your logic. Remember to assume good faith: They are probably trying to help you in our mutual goal of improving Wikipedia, and they're willing to take the time to point out things they feel you've missed.

Choosing not to answer[edit]

No one on Wikipedia can compel you to answer the question "What were you thinking?" You can ignore the question. However, this may lead other editors to invent answers to the question in their own heads. This may have consequences that you don't desire.

If you find that your actions are repeatedly questioned, and you routinely decide not to explain them, don't be surprised if other editors have an increasingly difficult time assuming good faith. An editor working in good faith will usually have no problem explaining their train of thought; an editor who never explains might be assumed to lack any good explanations at all. This could lead to dispute-resolution proceedings seeking to draw out those reasons.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ If you come to ask yourself this question, carefully consider whether or not your edit is defensible. Also ask yourself why you weren't thinking: Too little sleep? Not enough food? Whatever the reason, try not to do it again!

See also[edit]