Wikipedia:Historical archive/Rules to consider
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Since this is a WikiWiki, there are no (official) editors. We must rely on developing our own good habits and occasionally taking a bit of time to correct the results of someone else's bad habits. But it might help to specifically enunciate particular rules that some of us wish we'd make an effort to follow. So here's a page containing such rules. Two suggested features of this page are: add your name to a list of the rule's "supporters" or "opponents" to get an idea of how strongly Wikipedians support a rule, and create wikipedia:Name Of Rule debate pages where we can talk about the merits of the proposed rule. (The latter will help keep this page nice and clean for those people who are mainly interested in the rules themselves.)
Rules are established according to the vigor of their enforcement; but realistically, enforcement depends on whether enough supporters of a rule keep track of changing pages and newly created ones. In practice, this community gets most vigorous about enforcement when a page has just been changed.
Ignore all rules. If rules make you nervous and depressed, and not desirous of participating in the wiki, then ignore them entirely and go about your business.
Always leave something undone. Whenever you write a page, never finish it. Always leave something obvious to do: an uncompleted sentence, a question in the text (with a not-too-obscure answer someone can supply), wikied links that are of interest, requests for help from specific other Wikipedians, the beginning of a provocative argument that someone simply must fill in, etc. The purpose of this rule is to encourage others to keep working on the wiki.
Make omissions explicit. When writing an article, always aim for completeness. If, for some reason, you can't cover a point that should be covered, make that omission explicit. This has two purposes: it entices others to contribute, and it alerts non-experts that the article they're reading doesn't yet give the full story.
Explain jargon. It would be great if you would hyperlink all jargon (area-specific terminology that someone who might happen not to have had a college course in your subject might not understand) and explain it, and then explain all the jargon you use to explain that, until you've reached terms that ordinary educated people can understand.
Opponents include: 24 (See debate)
Wikipedia is not a dictionary. If, on the other hand, a word is not jargon, please don't just write a definition of a word and then stop; please don't just list the different senses that a word has. People who read an encyclopedia are not interested in words per se and their bare meanings, but in knowledge, information, facts about the items that the words identify. This doesn't mean we want only long articles, or that we don't want "stub" articles--it does mean, though, that "stub" articles should not consist just of a definition of a term.
Opponents include: 24 - (See wikipedia:Wikipedia is not a dictionary debate)
Avoid bias. Since this is an encyclopedia, after a fashion, it would be best if you represented your controversial views either (1) not at all, (2) on *Debate, *Talk, or *Discussion pages linked from the bottom of the page that you're tempted to grace, or (3) represented in a fact-stating fashion, i.e., which attributes a particular opinion to a particular person or group, rather than asserting the opinion as fact. (3) is strongly preferred. See the neutral point of view article for elaboration.
Opponents include: 24 - (See debate)
Integrate changes. When you make a change to some text, rather than appending the new text you'd like to see included at the bottom of the page, if you feel so motivated, then please place and edit your comments so that they flows seamlessly with the present text. (But note that being bold in updating pages does not mean add all new material in bold type.) Wikipedia articles in the end shouldn't be a series of disjointed comments about a subject, but unified, seamless, and ever-expanding expositions of the subject. (Rule introduced 29-Mar-2001)
Supporters include: Larry Sanger, LinusTolke, Pinkunicorn (strongly), Koyaanis Qatsi, and sjc, Janet Davis, drj, mike dill (hard isn't it?), Damian Yerrick (who personally doesn't think it's that hard), GWO, tbc, AxelBoldt 24, Enchanter
Delete patent nonsense. When you run across patent nonsense, simply put the deleted text on the Bad jokes and other deleted nonsense page. The problem with this is that people disagree about what is patent nonsense. So be careful, anyway. It's possible that this makes supporters of this rule "wiki reductionists".
Opponents include: 24
Give the author a chance. Add comments at the bottom of a page instead of within the text when you disagree with an author and deleting or re-writing portions of his or her material would substantially alter its meaning. Then the author may make changes in his or her own style, and/or discussion of the material can be moved to a Talk Page. Of course, when you encounter obvious vandalism of another's work, delete the patent nonsense.
Opponents include: clasqm (This rule assumes that all authors periodically check everything they have written so far. Too much of an assumption), AxelBoldt (either rewrite, or start discussion on /Talk), agreed 24 (once you've touched it, basically, you own it, Talk increases the chance that someone will respond), Damian Yerrick (Give the author a chance? What is this, E2?), Robert Merkel (in general, see the debate article for more details). JHK
Establish Context. Almost every entry in the Wikipedia should begin with a line or two that establishes context. These opening lines should include the most basic facts about the subject, including a short description/definition.
An article on Charles Darwin should not begin with "Darwin created controversy with the publication of the Origin of Species...." It should begin with "Charles Darwin was a 19th century biologist who proposed the modern theory of evolution."
Opponents include: 24 (See debate)
Define and Describe similar to Explain Jargon
Opponents include: 24 - in my experience people learn jargon far better from good examples, good in-context use. This would be a better rule: ALWAYS include an "i.e." ("that is", restating the thing in different words), ALWAYS include an "e.g." ("for example", giving a more specific case).
Build the web. Articles in an encyclopedia are nodes in a hypertext system. Don't just write the article, but also consider its place in the link web. Make upward links to categories and contexts (Charles Darwin was a biologist, Sahara is a desert in Africa, enlightenment happened in the 18th century). Make sideways links to neighboring articles (for proton see also electron, Oregon borders on California). Don't build category trees too deep and narrow, or too flat. Writing category directories first (top-down) will help ensure that subcategory articles get useful names (church names are not good now). --LA2
This may be found to contradict the "Make only links relevant to the context" rule.
Don't use external links where we'll want Wikipedia links. Don't put in links like this to external URLs linking text that we will want articles on Wikipedia about. Put external links in a "links" section at the end of the article. For example, if you're writing an article about Descartes and you know of a great article about Rationalism online, don't link the word "Rationalism" to that article. Put in a "Links" section and simplify wikify the word "Rationalism" like this: Rationalism. (Rule introduced June 29, 2001.)
Cite your sources. When external sources are consulted in the writing or verification of an article, provide a list of references (books and articles as well as web pages). If an article is about a person or organization, list its homepage. Not only is this intellectually honest, but it will help readers to find more information. Do it especially if topic is controversial (like Genocide). If an article has a large number of sources, consider creating a separate /Bibliography subtopic.
Supporters include: Janet Davis, Larry Sanger, drj strongly, sjc, mike dill, Taw, Damian Yerrick, tbc (strongly!), AxelBoldt, Koyaanis Qatsi (mostly just concerned that controversial statements be attributed & not presented as "Wikipedia-opinion") JHK strongly Dan Keshet strongly, Enchanter (strongly)
Opponents include: 24 - (See debate)
See also: Wikipedia talk:Cite your sources debate
List links to references and primary sources List external references and primary sources, using links to web resources. You can take advantage of Wikipedia's autofootnoting of bracketed urls and/or make a list at the bottom of the page. See the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack pages for examples.
(The Open Directory Project database would be excellent for this if it were actually open, and not under AOL's control. A wiki/FDL/public domain web directory would be an excellent complement to Wikipedia.)
See also the "Cite Your Sources" rule above and "Proper referencing" below.
Use proper references. References and external links relevant to an article should be collected at the end of the article, clearly separated from the rest of the material. Every book listing needs to have at a minimum author and title. Every article needs to have author, title, journal and issue, link to online version where available. Every Internet resource needs to have author (if known), title (so that the resource can still be located even if its URL changes) and URL, which should be given in plain view (like http://wikipedia.com) to make the reference useful if printed out. Preferably, every reference should come with a one sentence summary.
Opponents include: 24 - hypertext has different rules. Don't provide data easily discoverable on google or bookfinder - but yes do make the references visible in a printout - names of authors should ALL have their own wiki entries, even if totally obscure - that helps us differentiate - also use the longest form of the name to allow for future Albert Einsteins, etc.
But watch out for the following:
Don't infringe trademarks. Don't cite your sources in such a way as to create confusion between Wikipedia and say, Encyclopaedia Britannica™.
Supporters of this rule include:
Opponents include: 24 - to hell with trademarks - kleenex, xerox, etc., are legitimate verbs if they serve the purpose of illustrating a point, and things like informatics or metadata even more so. But keep your citing within fair use, don't confuse generic and proper use, e.g. don't say MetaData if you mean metadata, and don't mention any source that actually cares about trademarks
Always fill Summary field. Even a short or silly summary is better than no summary. We've found that it often piques someone who has more expertise than the article creator to flesh it out. This may not be as necessary for "minor changes", but "fixed typo and spelling" would be nice even then.
Supporters include: Taw, Geronimo Jones, tbc, The Cunctator, MichaelTinkler, AxelBoldt, Enchanter 24 - in talk files, summarize what you said to who so it can be prioritized - in articles, summarize the claims in quick phrases taht you added adn documented
Use color sparingly. You do not know how much color is presented on the recipient's machine if at all. Wikipedia is international; colors have different meaning on different cultural backgrounds. Too many colors on one page make them look funny but unencyclopedic. Use the color red only for the purpose to alert something, show up serious errors, and even then make it a dark red.
Supporters include: StefanRybo, drj strongly, sjc, GWO strongly, tbc, Damian Yerrick, Josh Grosse, AxelBoldt, Enchanter, 24 strongly - color should be added by the user interface for other things, it should never be part of the text itself.
Do not highlight every instance of title item in text body. The reader knows what article he or she is reading from both the title at the top of the page and the browser's title bar. Making every instance highlight with bold typing style is unnecessary.
Opponents include: 24 - ok, I support this rule mostly. But if the sense in which the words in the title are being used is important, i.e. you are defining them specifically in the context of the phrase, then you should boldface that usage in the text where it matters, i.e. use of any other word would be wrong. Also, in the title itself, I like linking the words if and only if what the user sees on the other end is going to be wholly relevant to the phrase that I'm defining
The complementary rule:
Bold the phrase or word that the article is about. When writing an article, put bold markers around the word the article describes. This makes it easier for the casual reader to identify the topic.
Opponents include: Josh Grosse - the title tells you what the article about, the bold just annoys you by constantly directing your eyes to something you already know.
A very similar rule:
Link only one or a few instances of the same item. Do not link all instances of it. Make links relevant. There's also a rule about this below; see below and see Make only links relevant to the context debate.
Supporters include: StefanRybo, Larry Sanger, Koyaanis Qatsi, Josh Grosse, AxelBoldt, Enchanter, 24 - link the few instances where you have actually encapsulated complexity, i.e. where you could have gone on for a page here but decided you couldn't. It's fair to use the same phrase in incidental explanation, where it's not absolutely essential to understanding, but signal that it's not so critical here by not linking it. In other words, when someone actually sees a link, it should be because you thought there was a reasonable chance they would need to follow it.
Use font size less than the size of the page title for headings, and use font size only one step size larger or smaller than the group of text it refers to. (Very big fonts only make sense if you have a detailed outline structure that needs several levels of headers.)
Opponents include: 24 - use only one font size - let the user interface handle this as per color.
Group things to about seven items plus or minus three. The human who is information processing has a capability to store this many items in short term memory. Longer lists, unending prose and unwieldy sentences are uncomfortable for most readers to process. Use all kinds of grouping instead. Use lists, sublists, paragraphing. And use short sentences.
Opponents include: AxelBoldt (strongly). ("Short sentences", "Seven items"?? Are we writing a powerpoint presentation?) JHK what Axel said 24 strongly - the topic is as complex as it is, period. That said, likely you are putting too much in one article if you find you have just long laundry lists, which probably should only apply to names... also multiple layers or subheadings helps. LDC The study that came out with the "7 +/- 3" statistic was fatally flawed, and it's basically nonsense. Einstein said it best: "Things should be a simple as possible, but no simpler."
Balance parts of a page. Let there be a balance in weight of the parts of an article according to its length (e.g. content, bibliography, etc.) It does not make sense to have a few sentences on a topic and a huge list of literature links. (This may be difficult to obey when an item is new, though.)
Opponents include: 24 strongly - some topics are so controversial this is the best you can do.
Avoid statements that will date quickly.
Phrases to avoid include "recently", "in modern times", "now considered", "is soon to become", and "the sixties"; instead use phrases such as "as of October 2001" or "the 1960s." Imagine someone is reading your words in 1,000 years time. Will they make sense of it?
Make only links relevant to the context. It is not useful to mark all possible words as hyperlinks; only mark words that are relevant to the context. In particular, when editing the text for a random topic, don't link to years and dates; unless an article relies heavily on the surrounding historical context, the article for a particular year or date is relevant to very few of the articles that link to it.
Pay attention to spelling, particularly of new page names. Articles with good spelling and proper grammar will encourage further contributions of good content. Proper spelling of an article name will also make it easier for other authors to link their articles to your article. Sloppiness in one aspect of writing can lead to sloppiness in others. Always do your best. It's not that big a deal, but why not get it right? Use free Internet resources like http://www.m-w.com/dictionary or http://www.dictionary.com.
Supporters include: 209.122.212.xxx, Larry Sanger, mike dill, drj (articles with good spelling and proper grammar will encourage further contributions of good content), tbc (ditto) (Sloppiness in one aspect of writing can lead to sloppiness in others. Always do your best.), Josh Grosse (spelling would be easily amended by others, but incorrect page names quickly get copied all over the place, making it difficult), AxelBoldt, Koyaanis Qatsi JHK, 24
Opponents include: GWO (good content is king, other wikipedians easily amend bad spelling), Larry Sanger :-) (I agree with that too), Taw (if mozilla had a spell checker then maybe), Enchanter (Don't worry, be bold! Some very good articles have started off as poorly written by people who don't even speak fluent English)
Don't include copies of primary sources in Wikipedia. If working with primary sources is your thing, go to Project Gutenberg instead, unless your article analyzes the primary source paragraph-by-paragraph.
Supporters include: clasqm (If working with primary sources is your thing, go to Project Gutenberg instead), Damian Yerrick (if you just want to mirror a Gutenberg etext with links, go to Everything2 instead.) JHK Sources aren't encyclopedic -- descriptions/discussions of sources are Enchanter
Opponents include: Geronimo Jones (strongly!), tbc (strongly!), The Cunctator (though I think a better long-term solution is needed), Damian Yerrick (literary analysis benefits from having a copy of the primary source close by) 24 - sometimes the best thing to do is cite and let the reader decide. For instance Gulliver's Travels is an old book, it's hard to read to find the fun passages, so I plucked them to illustrate the point. If I plucked too mcuh, someone else removes the excess.
Warn people before discussing plot twists in novels, movies, plays, etc. For instance, include something to the effect of "Wikipedia contains spoilers. Wikipedia is an online open content encycylopedia; as such, it does discuss plot points of movies and books which you may not wish to read if you have not yet seen the movie or read the book." Not everyone coming to the site immediately recognizes Wikipedia as an encylopedia, despite the name.
Opponents include: The Cunctator, Josh Grosse (not that we should tell people the butler did it, but in historical and mythological materials the audience might as well know - thinking of the Odyssey here), 24 let's give 'em the answers to the test on Friday too
For debate, see talk:Wikipedia contains spoilers
Remember that the main purpose of Wikipedia is being useful for readers. Do whatever you see fit, if you think it will make Wikipedia more useful for readers. Try engaging in such Wikipedia-related activities that improve Wikipedia's usefulness most. You should decide yourself whether it's more important to write articles or to promote Wikipedia, whether it's more useful to write new articles or to improve existing ones, etc.
Opponents include: The Cunctator
A corollary to the above: Consider the audience in your writing.. An article entitled "Use of chromatic scales in early Baroque music" is likely to be read by musicians, and so technical details and jargon are entirely appropriate. But an article entitled "Rap music" is likely to be read by laymen who want a brief and plainly written overview, with links to more detailed information if available.
Opponents include: 24 - as a protest - law and physics and economics like to steal short words and make them meaningless to everyone else, e.g. "cause", "Standard Model", "fiat" - we are not writing textbooks here with one point of view of one professor - if a field steals a short word, we should challenge that theft if their usage is anything but completely general.
Look to see whether someone has written an article before you start one yourself. A chronic problem we experience here is people writing article stubs (and sometimes full-blown articles) when they don't realize that other related articles, perhaps articles on the exact same subject, already exist. This is a problem. (Rule added Sept. 28, 2001.)
- Corollary Look for these under alternate or possibly misspelled titles.
Opponents include: Damian Yerrick (Doing this is highly non-trivial until Wikipedia begins to allow searching for phrases and for words shorter than four letters. Once this happens, move me to supporters.)
Write stuff that is true; check your facts. Don't write stuff that is false. You should write that P only if it is true that P; contraposing, if it is not true that P, you should not write that P. This might require that you check your alleged facts. (Rule added Sept. 29, 2001.)
Make smart use of soft line breaks. This is mere formatting, but it makes the diffs of articles much easier to understand. For instance, the lists of Wikipedians supporting/opposing rules on this page used to be on one, unbroken line. By adding each new name on its own line, it is easy to view the diff of the article to see exactly what changed. When you edit a paragraph in an article, add a soft line break after each sentence or so. For another example, have a look at how brilliant prose is organized. (Rule added Sept. 29, 2001.)
Avoid making your articles orphans. Link and link. When you author a new article page make sure at least one other page links to it (preferably more to increase your chances that your article does not become an orphan through someone else's refactoring). Otherwise, when it falls off the bottom of the Recent Changes page it disappears into the Mists of Avalon. There should always be an unbroken chain of links leading from the Home Page to every article in the Wikipedia; following the path you would expect to use to find your article may give you some hints as to which articles should link to your article.
Opponents include: AxelBoldt (a chain of links is desirable, but orphans really don't pose a problem, since most people use the search engine anyway)
Use other languages sparingly. In English-language wikipedia, the English form does not always have to come first - sometimes the non-English word is better as the main text with the English in parentheses or set off by commas after it and sometimes not. Non-English words in English-language wikipedia should be given emphasis - either bold or italic, depending on context. Non-English words should be used as titles for entries only as a last resort.
Opponents include: Anders Torlind (nota bene only in cases where not supplying foreign article names violates the Useful for readers rule. Example: People searching for the Swedish kings are very likely to be swedes, and so a redirect from the swedish name (or to it, doesn't matter) would be appropriate)
Contribute what to what you know or are willing to learn about and Create stubs responsibly One of the things that makes the Wikipedia great is that anybody can contribute. Another thing that makes it great is that it encourages Wikipedians to stretch their interests and learn about new things, so that they can add to the 'pedia. A third great thing is that it's so easy to create new articles and to learn to wikify articles. The ease with which new articles can be created, however, can be seen as problematic when users get into "creation mode" and create more stubs than coherent articles. This can even be irritating, if the stub is accompanied by a "I don't know much about this -- would someone who does please write the article?" message. So...if you can't create a stub that's accurate and helpful, maybe you should leave that topic for someone else to do by choice, rather than because they feel obligated to edit.
Opponents include: 24 - if you think it should be there, that's useful to others, so write that seemingly useless stub - that's a bit more information than they had before
When a debate becomes "personal," confer about the problem in e-mail. If parties to a dispute start exchanging insults or other unpleasant words, it's preferable to confer privately in e-mail rather than continuing to expose Wikipedia to the unpleasantness. This is not to say that the debate should be moved to e-mail, because the debate is in most cases of genuine public interest. So the substantive debate should remain where it is; the unpleasant personal problems should be discussed, as necessary, privately. (Rule added Oct. 15, 2001.) Cf. Wikipetiquette.
Supporters of this rule include: Larry Sanger
Opponents of this rule include: 24 strongly, either the "unpleasantness" is irrelevant to wiki or it is vital to wiki - in the former case cut it out, in the latter case everyone must hear it out because it probably isn't "personal" but illustrates an ideology or cosmology or ethics dispute; JHK because the people I disagree with almost always end up being people with whom it is clear that productive dialog will never exist. wikipedia:Confer In E-Mail debate
Sign your posts on Talk pages. It makes it easier to follow discussions and understand who said what.
Opponents of this rule include: Anon.
No personal attacks on the Wikipedia, period -- Explanation: no calling people trolls, no calling people Stupid White Men, no accusations of any kind relating to the character of another person, nor their race, creed, sex, national origin, etc. The only thing that matters is the articles, not the people who write them.
Unlike the other rules, which are community conventions enforced only by our mutual agreement, this one may also be implemented in extreme cases as policy, i.e. grounds for banning that go beyond our traditional "sheer vandalism" threshold. If you support this rule, then you support the idea that Jimbo should, in extreme cases after considerable consultation with the community and the offender, actually cut someone off from participation.
Supporters of this rule include: Ed Poor (I promise to avoid calling others names, whether they offend me or not), Jimbo Wales Bryan Derksen, maveric149, Chuck Smith, Larry Sanger (with the exception of naming and shaming trolls, which I highly recommend you read about; in almost all other cases, I very strongly oppose anything that can be construed as "personal attack"); JHK -- except in the case of trolls, etc., Enchanter
Opponents of this rule include: Lee Daniel Crocker - (See debate) 24 (See debate)