Wikipedia:Avoid instruction creep

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Avoid instruction creep to keep Wikipedia policy and guideline pages easy to understand. The longer, more detailed, and more complicated you make the instructions, the less likely anyone is to read or follow whatever you write.

Problem[edit]

Like kudzu vines, instructions can grow much too fast.

Nobody reads the directions from beginning to end. And increasing numbers of directions result, over time, in decreasing chances that any particular rule will be read at all, much less understood and followed. Spread out over many pages, excessive direction causes guidance to become less coherent and increasingly drift from actual community consensus. Further, having too many rules may drive away editors. To avoid these outcomes, keep Wikipedia space pages broad in scope, not covering every minute aspect of their subject matter.

Prevention[edit]

Keeping policies and guidelines to the point is the most effective way of preserving transparency. Substantive additions to policy should generally be rejected unless:

  1. There is a real problem that needs solving, not just a hypothetical or perceived problem.
  2. The proposal, if implemented, is likely to make a real, positive difference.
  3. All implied requirements have a clear consensus.

Ensure that additions are placed in a logical context, and do not obscure the meaning of the surrounding text.

It is usually better for a policy or guideline to be too lax than too strict. Content not clearly prohibited by any policy is still subject to editor discretion. Consensus-building on article talk pages can be undermined by an over-strict policy, as an editor who wants to follow it literally can claim that the issue is already decided.

If you just think that you have good advice for Wikipedians, consider adding it to an essay.

Fixing[edit]

An issue perhaps better left to editor discretion (though the handwash is a thoughtful touch).

Since things often "creep in" without scrutiny, even longstanding instructions should be subject to review.[1] The amount of time an instruction has been present does not strengthen consensus behind it, though one should be wary whenever removing a longstanding part of policy.

If an instruction does not make sense or does not seem to describe community consensus, check the page history to see when it was added and how it may have changed over time. Then check the talk page and talk archive, to see whether there was any related discussion.

If you decide to change the instructions, either explain your change on the talk page or boldly make your changes, giving your rationale in the edit summary. If you meet with disagreement, discuss the matter further. Those who oppose complete removal may still be willing to compromise on changes.

Linking to this page[edit]

Additional instruction can be helpful when it succinctly states community consensus regarding a significant point, but it is harmful when the point is trivial, redundant, or unclear.

If someone cited this page to explain their view, they mean that they think the rule is at least unnecessary and unimportant, if not downright harmful by creating a lot of burdensome bureaucracy or a rule that will be ignored because it prevents editors from writing good articles. It's rare that what Wikipedia really needs is yet another rule.

If you cite this page to support your opposition to "creepy" rules, remember that some editors really need to have this concept spelled out for them. They're usually dealing with a problem that seems significant to them, and they believe that writing down a rule somewhere will somehow solve their problem, even though 99.9% of editors will never even read the rule they're proposing, much less follow it. So don't say "Oppose per CREEP"; instead, say "Oppose the creation of this unnecessary and complicated rule for a very uncommon situation that could just as easily be solved by editors using their best judgment to apply the relevant existing rules as explained at WP:CRYPTIC" – or whatever the facts of the case at hand are.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Calcification in rule-making drives away new editors. Vergano, Dan (January 3, 2013). "Study: Wikipedia is driving away newcomers". USA Today. Retrieved June 17, 2021.

External links[edit]