User:Sdedeo/Advice for wikipedians

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These are some rules of thumb that I've come up with after working on wikipedia for awhile. I don't claim they're exhaustive, or perfect, nor do I claim to have followed them as closely as I should. But I do believe they are an excellent place to start when thinking about how to deal with conflict.

The fundamental rule[edit]

The only way you're going to resolve a problem is by coming to a compromise with your opponent. This does not (should not) mean that you simply split the difference on your original demands, but rather that your demands and theirs evolve over the course of discussion. Keep this in mind, and act accordingly. Resolving a dispute will often (not always) involve learning more -- about both the subject itself, and how wikipedia (and interpersonal conflict in general) works.

Take it to talk[edit]

When something appears to be a problem, take it to talk. Do not try extended communication through the edit summaries. When an edit war is brewing, immediately put a polite note in your most recent edit directing people to go to the talk page.


In your exchanges, be:

  1. brief.
  2. informal.
  3. polite.
  4. precise.

Be brief because otherwise your point will be lost in the fog. Nobody is going to do a detailed reading of your opus, especially not third parties. Be informal because formality is usually aggressive; do not style your prose in the form of a legal brief. Be polite for obvious reasons. Be precise because it will speed things up.

Respect others[edit]

This is really the cornerstone of wikipedia. In all interactions, and especially in all first-time interactions with other editors, strive to be as respectful as possible in both language and tone. There is no excuse for being rude, for name-calling, or even for subtle implications about another editor's competence or honesty. Even if you think another editor deserves personal attack, do not do it. Apologize when necessary, and even when you think you shouldn't have to; in the face of rudeness or incivility, respond with the opposite: sympathy, respect, and good grammar.

By doing this, you can often bring out the best in others. For example, do not say "well, I'm going to do this, but I'm sure you'll fill it up with your usual leftist garbage." Instead, say "I'm going to do this; I'm sure we will have to have a further round of edits to attain NPOV." Speak to other editors as if they were very noble people; even if you think you have hard evidence otherwise, pretend. You will sometimes, even often, be surprised.

Do not threaten others with banning (or, what amounts to the same thing, suggest that they are at risk of being banned by "authorities.") It is very hard to get "banned" from wikipedia unless you are performing repeated, unambiguous vandalism that has no connection to a content dispute -- and even then, the ban is only temporary. Banning for "judgement" call issues like violating WP:NPA, WP:NOR, WP:NPOV is very rare, and takes a great deal of time. You have to go through something called arbitration, which takes (literally) months to finish, and the arbitrators are generally rather liberal and evenhanded to a fault. Everyone I have watched (as a member of the mediation cabal) go through formal arbitration has left completely unsatisfied (probably a good thing.)

Avoid conflict[edit]

I believe many edit wars and conflicts can be stopped before they start. When someone makes a contentious edit that you disagree with, find ways to first establish common ground. For example, an edit may contain some things you are fine with, and other things you strongly disagree with. Begin by highlighting your points of agreement; praise good edits when they come mixed in with bad.

More generally, seek to establish common ground about wikipedia policies. Remind others of things like WP:NPOV, WP:NPA, WP:CIVIL, WP:NLT, WP:CITE and so forth. In some cases, it may be wise to establish agreement on these principles before going into details about a particular edit. The wikipedia policies are generally very hard to disagree with, and editors who break them are usually people that can be drawn to the attention of administrators. Be careful not to accuse others, especially of more "judgement call" things such as violating WP:NPA. Resist being drawn into lengthy discussions on these things.

Very general common grounds can often be found. "Making the article as good as possible" is one. In general, try to generate as much goodwill as possible, in any way you can. It will be valuable when things get difficult. This does not mean making concessions that violate the wikipedia ground rules, but it does mean that you will probably not be able to completely revert another editor's work.

A counterpart to this is to be clear. Be very clear about what particular things you have a problem with. Suggest possible avenues for compromise. Avoid describing what you consider to be unacceptable resolutions to the conflict; see WP:BEANS. Make sure the other person is clear on what exactly the conflict is over, and how you can work together to resolve it. Err on the side of obsequiousness as opposed to brevity.

Finally, do not generate conflict. When an issue is settled, cease discussion. Do not continue to argue about an issue that has been resolved to your satisfaction. Sometimes people will recognize consensus, but feel the need to "stick in a last word". If no new edits are made, let it go.

Avoid outside identification[edit]

Beware of seeking common ground with another editor by making reference to presumably shared political or religious points of view. A cornerstone of wikipedia is NPOV, and you undermine this by trying to establish consensus by telling other editors that you are "also" a Republican, a Democrat, anti-racist, pro-liberty, or whatever.

There are many reasons to avoid this. Again, every time you do this, you undermine NPOV by suggesting that wikipedia is a place to "take sides." Furthermore, later editors may come along who do not share your political background, and will immediately distrust, if not revert, the edits you have made. Finally, you will often be very surprised to discover that someone you thought shared your general POV remains adamantly opposed to your particular choice of edits.

Sometimes you (or a fellow editor) may have a personal connection to the subject at hand. My advice is to keep mum about it. It can only be prejudicial to your case, and the discussion at hand, if you tell people your boss told you to "come fix things." (Strangely, sometimes people think this will gain them sympathy!)

A counterpart to this is that you should steer clear of "accepting" an outside label from other editors. Try not to let people "peg" you as a certain political party, and ignore it when it happens. Many conflicts arise because one editors imagines a political affiliation for another editor: "oh, he's just a leftist." Try to be a little unpredictable, and be sure you are not yourself simply pushing the POV of an external political party. Resist being drawn in to general political discussions; stay focused on the article at hand.

Let others come to your aid[edit]

In many situations, you will find that conflicts can be solved by bringing in third parties. Third parties make things less of a "you versus them" situation and can allow for a "graceful exit" for people who would otherwise continue to fight over issues for egotistical reasons.

Be careful: bringing in new editors may be seen by the person you're in dispute with as an attempt to "gang up" on her. The best solution is to not attempt to contact other users; on heavy-traffic pages, there will be many people watching. Wait, and allow others to join in. (There is also the mediation cabal, a fine group of fine people.)

A flip-side to all of this is to allow, and indeed, encourage others to edit the page during a conflict. When someone criticizes an aspect of the article, invite them to change it as they see fit. Doing so allows all editors involved to feel that they have a stake in the article, discourages "you-v-them" situations, and is an important way for people to get clear on what the disagreement is about.

Take a break[edit]

Edit wars can flare up very quickly. You may find it helpful to take a break from working on an article for a few hours, or even a day or so. Come back to the article later, and see if others have stepped in. See if the edits someone else made still seem as bad as they did before. See if tempers have cooled. Many fights are defused by the slow action of time.

Furthermore, you may be dealing with someone who wants conflict, and enjoys winding you up (a troll.) You make a troll bored by waiting; he or she wants immediate responses and lots of emotion. By taking a step back and waiting, you seriously reduce the pleasure trolls get out of causing trouble, and nearly all of them will go away after a few hours. This is especially true for anonymous IPs.

There is no perfect article[edit]

There really is no perfect article, and be wary of thinking so. Every article can be modified, either substantially (through clarification, or addition), or by simple changes of phrase. Give others wide latitude on these kinds of changes; do not take edits of your writing personally.