Wikipedia:Avoiding talk-page disruption
|This is a guidance essay containing the advice of one or more Wikipedia contributors.
|This page in a nutshell: Use clear, expository, and even-handed responses in clashes over a new contribution.|
This essay aims to reduce controversy over proposed additions to existing articles.
It is important for editors with an established interest in a page to be welcoming to new contributors, to respond to new opinions on an article's direction with an open mind, and to reject changes appropriately, should rejection be warranted.
Likewise, there are a number of steps a new contributor to a page can take to gain serious consideration among the established editors.
One of Wikipedia's Five Pillars is to provide a contribution environment that is respectful and civil. That goal is served by carefully considered responses to contributors' requests for clarification when their contributions are rejected. Listening and responding thoughtfully can be the difference between a collaboration with a potentially valuable new editor and irrevocably souring their view of the community on that page, and perhaps WP as a whole.
For the contributor:
- Respond directly and succinctly to specific criticism.
- Remember you have to persuade the community, and act accordingly.
For the established editors:
Upon rejection, it is natural for a contributor to attempt justification of their addition. Upon initial refusal, a contributor will make what they believe to be a more careful explanation. Some sensitivity to the efforts of the contributor demands more than an off-the-cuff rejection:
- Avoid summarily dismissing a contributor's explanation, especially by citing Wikipedia:Too long; didn't read. Rationalizations for rejection that appear as curt or haughty or snide rarely result well.
- Present counter-arguments with some degree of detail, rather than merely linking to a policy. Reasons for rejection will help the back-and-forth to converge, and offer the best chance of ultimately resulting in understanding, for both sides.
Handling pre-existing consensus
For the contributor:
- A consensus may exist among the established editors involved with an article. Be prepared to deal circumspectly with the majority.
- Major edits, especially those that pose a conflict with the article's current direction, are best aired on the talk page before implementation to see what the reaction will be. Human nature is to view a major undiscussed change as unwelcome.
For the established editors:
- A presently prevailing majority opposition does not validate a prima facie claim that the new proposal is an attempt to upset consensus. A new addition may, in fact, provide something new to consider, regardless of the immediate negative emotional response that such a change might normally evoke.
- Where a proposal repeats a previous one, and consensus against the proposal resulted, the new contributor should be provided with appropriate diffs, and an explanation of why it seems that their proposal is a rehash of the prior one.
- A proposal that appears repeatedly from new contributors, despite existing consensus for rejection, may be in fact a sign that the proposal is worth revisiting.
- One reason for contributions that rehash old issues is that the article in its present form is accurate but not clear, leading to misunderstanding or confusion by readers — and may be a sign that the article is in need of revision.
Established editors should bear in mind that their involvement in previous discussions of various proposals may give them a mindset that is blinkered to the novelty of a new proposal that is only superficially similar to an old one. A useful guard against such a mindset is the process of explanation of the similarity, which provokes some thought about the new contribution and avoids knee-jerk rejection.
Building a new consensus
It is natural for some controversy to arise over the value of proposed additions.
For the contributor:
- Be responsive to suggestions. A failure to respond to explicit and clear suggestions may constitute a refusal to engage in consensus building.
For the established editors:
- An extended discussion does not in itself constitute interference with building consensus.
- Do not simply assail an unwelcome view. Avoid use of WP:OR, WP:Soap, WP:Fringe and the like as unsupported denigration.
- Make clear how consensus can be achieved: suggest rewording and identify points needing sources.
- It is easy to be caught up in a my way or the highway controversy. It is natural, but unfortunate, that human nature tends to take the personally familiar view as correct, and other views as ignorant. That predilection should be acknowledged and resisted. Counterproductive argument can be avoided by assuming at the outset that there is a valid plurality of usages and views, and by subduing expression of strong attachment to one's initial conceptions before the discussion matures.
- A variety of views sometimes find support from a variety of sources. Finding sources for one view does not necessarily invalidate another, and a debate over which sources are most reliable or most pertinent might not be decisive. Where valid but different views exist, the goal is to find sources supporting various usages and viewpoints to result in a resolution based upon WP:NPOV.
Critiquing with guidelines and policies
WP guidelines and policies are spelled out on their respective pages, and provide guidance toward good content and productive behavior. But the application of the general policy to the particular case takes judgment that may be controversial. The appearance of cavalier rejection without explanation is inflammatory and may result in a hostile encounter on Talk pages that is hard to correct.
- Become familiar with relevant policies and guidelines suggested by critiquing editors.
- If policies and guidelines are unclear, or their relevance is obscure, politely request clarification.
For established editors:
- Don't just link to a policy without explanation of your reasons why the policy applies; policies are complex and contain many details and cases. Mention what part of the policy is relevant to the discussion.
- Identify what part of the disputed content is not compliant with the relevant policy, providing quotes of the offending material.
- Take extreme care with links to WP:OR, WP:Syn, WP:RS, WP:POV fork, WP:Fringe, WP:Undue, because unsupported links can be seen as a pejorative and hastily conceived reaction by the editor raising the concern.
- It should be borne in mind in citing WP:RS that primary sources are acceptable for establishing particular facts when worded properly to maintain a WP:NPOV.
- Citing WP:Undue suggests that a minor topic is being given more prominence in the article than it deserves. That objection may be mitigated by suggesting detail of the minor topic be explained under a separate page devoted to the minor topic.
- A separate page requires establishment of notability. Secondary sources are necessary to establish notability only for the subject of the article as a whole, and WP:Notability is not an issue for a subtopic. In creating a new page, care must be taken to distinguish discussion of a topic from presenting a point of view per se, as the latter is subject to criticism as a WP:POV fork. These two often can be separated by a careful choice of wording and sources.
- Compare the comment accompanying a rejection or reversion of a contributions that says simply:
- This contribution doesn't satisfy WP:SYN.
- in contrast with,
- The statement "so-and-so" appears to go beyond the statement "thus-and-thus" provided by the source x: please provide additional sourcing as required by WP:SYN.
- Reading the first version, the contributor is simply mystified that their contribution is not accepted, and their attention may not turn at all to the offending statement "so-and-so". They are likely to feel the first version is abrupt, vague, and ill-considered. In contrast, the second version indicates exactly what is thought to be the problem and how to fix it. The contributor may not agree, but it looks like the contribution was read, and like some change might fix matters. A constructive interchange appears more likely than in the first case.
- It doesn't suffice to link policy without explanation. A policy must be judged to apply, and that judgment has to be explained, both as to how the offending text can be seen to be an example of what the policy deals with, and also an identification of just what part of the text constitutes that example.
One-line edit summaries
- Expand on important information. Readers who see only the summary might not get the entire picture. Prevent misunderstanding: If an edit requires more explanation than will fit in the summary box, use the Talk page to give more information, adding "See Talk" or "See Discussion Page" to the summary.
When material is rejected, the terse one-line summary without Talk-page amplification works best with obvious reversions. A reversion with a one-line edit summary hardly ever works for serious, extended contributions; the one-line edit summary easily can lead to an unproductive and unpleasant Talk-page exchange.
If the one-line edit summary employs links to a policy or guideline like WP:OR, WP:Syn or so forth, it is quite likely to result in a Talk-page engagement because the contributor is unlikely to view their addition as a violation. With that in mind, the one-line edit using such links should be supplemented with a Talk-page explanation that frames subsequent discussion, or worded in a way unlikely to set up an irritated Talk-page exchange. For example, a conciliatory one-line edit summary:
- "This edit appears to violate WP:Syn. If you differ, please discuss it on the Talk page."
might avoid an edit war.
- Wikipedia:Editing environment
- Wikipedia:Talk page guidelines
- Wikipedia:Dispute resolution
- Wikipedia:Navigating conflict
- Wikipedia:What is consensus?
- "Failure or refusal to "get the point"". WP:Disruptive editing. Wikipedia. 12 March 2012.
- That is, a new contribution that opposes existing consensus is not necessarily an instance of "continuing to edit in pursuit of a certain point despite an opposing consensus from impartial editors". See "Signs of disruptive editing: Rejects or ignores community input". WP:Disruptive editing. Wikipedia. 12 March 2012.
- "Consensus can change". Wikipedia:Consensus. Wikipedia. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-20.
- "Signs of disruptive editing: Does not engage in consensus building". WP:Disruptive editing. Wikipedia. 12 March 2012.
- For criteria regarding such interference, see "Signs of disruptive editing: Does not engage in consensus building". WP:Disruptive editing. Wikipedia. 12 March 2012.
- "Attributing and specifying biased statements". Wikipedia:Neutral point of view. 13 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
- "Notability guidelines do not limit content within an article". Wikipedia:Notability. Wikipedia. 27 February 2012.
- "How to summarize". Help:Edit summary. Wikipedia. 15 February 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-15.