Wikipedia:A researcher's guide to discussion pages
|This unofficial guidance essay contains comments and advice of one or more Wikipedia contributors. It is not a Wikipedia policy or guideline, although it may be consulted for assistance. It may contain opinions that are shared by few or no other editors; potential measure of how the community views this essay may be gained by consulting the history and talk pages, and checking what links here.|
This researcher's guide to discussion pages is intended as an aid to people who are researching with Wikipedia. Experienced Wikipedians often glean a great deal about an article from looking at its discussion page (a.k.a. "talk page"). This page describes some of these tricks of the trade.
Talk pages in general
As with consulting the article history, looking at the talk page gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the formation of the article. If aspects of it are controversial or disputed; if there has been question over its appropriate scope; if there has been a serious disagreement over sources, balance, or point-of-view issues; you will probably find it there. You are also likely to find someone's suggestions of subject matter that the article should cover, but does not, or whether questions have been raised and not answered. You also may be able to evaluate the cluefulness (or otherwise) of certain contributors to the article by their contributions on the talk page; similarly, looking at the contributors' user pages and user talk pages. (Similarly, their user contributions page lets you get a look at their other work on Wikipedia.)
In contrast to the article itself, which is continually being honed, remarks on talk pages usually remain in place once they are made. With the exception of fixing blatant vandalism, it is usually frowned upon to edit anyone else's talk page comments, and very few contributors consider it appropriate to edit their own (except to make grammar and spelling corrections, or to strike through—but not remove—anything they wish to retract). When you combine that with the convention of signing and dating talk page comments, there is rarely a need to look at the history of a talk page, because its history is essentially on display.
Watchlists and using a talk page for a research query
Usually most active contributors to an article have it watchlisted, which implicitly also places the talk page on their watchlist. Different people check their watchlists with different frequencies, but on any article with a reasonable number of participants, it is a pretty safe bet that a detectable number of people are keeping an eye on the article and its talk page: not exactly in realtime, but any edit will usually be noticed within a day.
Because people are watching the page, it can be a great place to ask questions. However, keep in mind that talk pages are not for general conversation about the article's subject - discussions should be focused on how to improve the article. Please read the article before you ask your question, then if you doubt the accuracy of something in the article, or if you think that the article currently omits an aspect of the topic, the talk page is a great place to ask.
If you create an account for yourself, you can add the page to your watchlist, making it easy to keep track of when it's been edited. If you follow convention and sign your comment with ~~~~, when you save it, your account name and a UTC date/time stamp will be added. This tends to get more attention than an anonymous remark and also gives people a chance to get hold of you on your user talk page or (if you provide an email address with your account) to email you without you revealing your email address. All of this greatly increases the chance of your question getting an answer.
Featured articles, etc.
For many of our better articles, the top of the talk page will indicate that the article is a featured article (which means that a version was extensively peer reviewed, although you should consult the article history to make sure that it has not deteriorated since it was granted featured status), good article (a less stringent standard, but still not casually granted), etc., or that a featured/good version exists in another language. You may also find pointers to former peer reviews, a failed feature article candidacy discussion, etc.
You may also find that an article is:
- Part of a WikiProject, so that there is a group of people to whom you might be able to address related questions that go beyond the scope of the particular article.
- Considered controversial: there is no strong consensus about this topic, and at any given time the article may not reflect a true consensus of the contributors. You will almost check the article's page history to see if the article is stable, or to find the last stable version.
Talk page archives
Busy talk pages often have an archive of older discussion. Usually, that will be linked from a section near the top of the talk page.