This page is an essay on conduct policy.
When a discussion is unproductive, incivility is often blamed, but this puts the cart before the horse: incivility is often a result of unproductive discussion, not its cause. Productive discussion demands going beyond civility: while civility is very important, three other patterns of behavior are just as important to reaching a productive outcome:
- 1. Acknowledge precedent.
- "Precedent" includes (in decreasing order of priority): all the policies, guidelines, and closed discussions that bear on the matter at hand. Precedents are built by consensus, and, while no consensus is written in stone, it's vital to understand how similar situations have been handled in the past, and to act in light of that understanding. Ignoring precedent, intentionally or not, leads to repeating old arguments, which can be very frustrating to all involved. Even if you don't think a particular precedent ought to apply to the present situation, acknowledge it and explain why you think it doesn't apply. If you want to challenge the consensus itself, do so at the right venue. The discussion can then move on, instead of devolving into complaints that precedent is being ignored.
- 2. Avoid logical fallacies.
- Fallacious arguments don't convince, they only frustrate productive discussion. Make sure your conclusions are relevant, objectively and succinctly stated, and follow logically from the available information. Justify your assumptions and generalizations. Be precise. Understand where the burden of proof lies, and what the status quo is. When you see logical fallacies being committed, point them out – civilly of course.
- 3. Don't repeat yourself.1
- If you find yourself making the same argument over and over in the same discussion, and particularly to the same person, stop. Consensus is determined by the soundness of arguments and the support they receive from different editors, not how often they are expressed, or whether they have the last word. Closers will review the discussion with this in mind. Repeating yourself to someone who wasn't convinced the first time won't produce your desired outcome – it will only generate aggravation. If you need to clarify a point or address a misunderstanding, go ahead – but make sure you're not just saying the same thing over again.
If you knowingly ignore precedent, employ a logical fallacy, or argue by exhaustion, even if you use a civil tone, you are not editing in good faith. So repeat these rules to yourself like a mantra: Acknowledge precedent. Avoid logical fallacies. Don't repeat yourself. While these rules can't guarantee a productive outcome every time, they will make one much more likely.
- ^ 1. This does not apply to user talk warnings; if an editor is engaging in behavior that the community has clearly deemed unacceptable, repetition and escalation of warning messages is standard procedure.