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Notability, while not an official policy on Wikipedia, is a term often employed when discussing the worth of an article in the course of an AfD debate. There are a number of reasons why notability is not considered a good standard for deleting an article; these are outlined in Wikipedia:Notability/Arguments#Arguments against deleting articles for non-notability.
Specifically, the distinct lack of objective criteria is most important, as it can lead to systemic bias in deletion debates based on the interests (and disinterests) of Wikipedia participants. As Wikipedia:Notability/Essay points out, most articles described as non-notable usually fall short of Wikipedia policy in another area: original research, vanity, or (most often) being unverified. The objection to 'non-notable' is therefore characterised as "arguing semantics", and 'non-notable' has become perhaps the most commonly cited reason for deletion in AfD debates.
However, overuse of this term can have an unfortunate side-effect. AfD is one of the front lines of Wikipedia, where new editors encounter policies and process for the first time. When a new user sees their article up for deletion, with the critera given as 'not notable', the inevitable reaction is "says who?" The debate becomes an argument about who is qualified to make such a claim, whether the participants know anything about the subject under discussion, what notability means anyway, and so forth. Good faith is lost. The new user is more likely to see Wikipedia as a cabal aligned against them, uninterested in their topic or their contribution. Under such a circumstance it is unlikely they'll want to continue contributing to the encyclopedia. If they do, they will aggressively defend the notability of their articles, but won't improve them in a more constructive fashion.
AfDs should be conducted so that new contributors are encouraged rather than discouraged from editing articles according to accepted policy. Using 'non notable' hinders this aim by raising the spectre of subjectivity, and putting the deletion discussion in those subjective terms. There is an alternative: use terms that are less confrontational and more objective. Use terms that allow for the possibility of improvement.
- NPOV; for biased articles, rewrite aiming for objectivity
- Unverified; for unverified articles, find reliable sources
- Original research; for original research, demonstrate if anyone has written about this position or opinion.
All the policy reasons for deleting an article are constructive, and they put the onus on proof rather than opinion. Article objectivity may be achieved. Reliable sources may be found. In any case, the new editor is encouraged to reach towards the basic principles of Wikipedia rather than forced into a subjective debate. The semantics are important: they're part of the public relations of Wikipedia, and we can control how we come across to newcomers.