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Wikipedia:Coatrack articles

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This coat rack is partially obscured by a hat and coats.

A coatrack article is a Wikipedia article that gets away from its nominal subject, and instead gives more attention to one or more connected but tangential subjects. Typically, the article has been edited to make a point about something else. The nominal subject is functioning as an overloaded coatrack, obscured by too many "coats" – additional topics that were grouped together to make it appear as if they were all examples of the same thing. A similar effect can result when an article's original author writes too much about the background and loses sight of the title. Either way, the existence of a "hook" in a given article is not a good reason to "hang" irrelevant, undue or biased material there.

Problems with coatrack articles[edit]

A coatrack article fails to give a truthful impression of the subject. In the extreme case, the nominal subject gets hidden behind the sheer volume of the bias subject(s). Thus the article, although superficially true, leaves the reader with a thoroughly incorrect understanding of the nominal subject. However, this does not include largely critical articles about subjects that actually are discredited; see the tips laid out at WP:FRINGE (Wikipedia:Fringe theories) for more information.

Enforcement of the policies on biographies of living individuals and what Wikipedia is not makes it clear that "coatrack" articles are a particularly pressing problem where living individuals are concerned.

Coatrack articles can be created purposefully to promote a particular bias, or they can accidentally evolve through excessive focus on one or more aspects of the subject. In either case, the article should be corrected.

Coatrack articles run against the fundamental neutral point of view policy - in particular, the requirement that articles be balanced. When a biography of a living person becomes a coatrack, it is a problem that requires immediate corrective action. Items may be true and sourced, but if a biography of a living person is essentially a coatrack, it needs to be fixed.

Typical coatracks[edit]

Below are simplified sketches of some common types of coatracks in articles. (Of course, Wikipedia policies disallow texts like "a terrible general", but a "politically correct" way to say so would make examples much longer, up to the TL;DR threat.)

Compilations of Something Very Bad[edit]

An article about some phenomenon might include multiple subsections, each of which is supposedly an example of the article's subject. If there is good sourcing that unifies all of these examples under one general topic, then that can be appropriate. And if the examples include both good and bad, or favorable critiques as well as negative criticism, that can be neutral and encyclopedic.

But if editors have just strung together a lot of things that might seem related but are not linked together by references, and then present these individual article sections as Bad ThingsTM, the act of connecting these article sections to the parent article to associate the subject with them makes the parent article a coatrack. It's undesirable because it's unsourced overall - even if each subsection has its own references, and because it implies that the original subject (the "rack") is itself something that is very bad because of the added subsections. Sometimes, when there is already a well-balanced article about a subject, someone who wants to push a more biased view of that subject will create a separate coatrack article on which to hang all the "bad" things, and only the "bad" things, about that topic; a sort of walled garden for criticism of the subject. The same problem also arises when a coatrack is loaded with coats that present only a favorable view of the subject.

All About George[edit]

In an article whose article subject is XYZ (a location in America)

George Washington visited/slept/worked/ate at XYZ; George Washington was a terrible general and a lousy President, he owned slaves, lied about chopping down a cherry tree, … (followed by paragraph after paragraph of content, all about George and with little - if anything at all - to do with XYZ).

While the article talks about XYZ and its relation to George Washington, it does so very briefly and quickly moves on to applying biased negative opinions ("a terrible general, a lousy President") and facts (perhaps George Washington did own slaves at the time: nonetheless, the presentation of that fact is likely to cause a strong emotional reaction in the reader) and statements that are spurious, uncited, and unsourced (did he lie about chopping down a cherry tree? If so, can this be sourced?). The rest of the paragraphs have little to do with XYZ – the main Article – itself and continue to "hang" other negative unsourced "coats" on this coatrack, leading to a biased, slanted article. Since the example here is linked to a person of high notability, the statements most likely will be called into question and/or deleted on the spot without discussion.

It's better to just say "George Washington ate at XYZ on a date", and link to a George-specific article. "General George Washington slept here during the XYZ campaign" is also reasonable, if being a military general on the campaign was part of the reason he slept here. So is "Future President George Washington visited", because it briefly explains why someone might care that George Washington did so.

Remember that, according to transparency of piped links, we should add context, and not take it for granted that the reader knows who is Washington or will follow the link. The context, however, should be limited to what's needed for the current article. In this example, "President George Washington" or "General George Washington" (as opposed to just "George Washington") would be enough, as it clarifies why he would be considered a notable visitor. Try to keep a balance: provide context about other topics that may be relevant to the topic of the article, but don't lose focus of the current article and don't provide more context than what would be really needed.

A Journalist Mentioned It in Passing[edit]

Amanda Portemanteau is a journalist. One day she wrote an article about Conspiracy Theory X. The main points of Conspiracy Theory X are as follows... followed by paragraph after paragraph about the conspiracy theory.

In this example, the topic seems to be a journalist named Amanda Portemanteau. She also appears to have written one news article about Conspiracy Theory X. Suppose that the conspiracy theory was about why chickens cross the road. Does this help explain Amanda Portemanteau as a whole? Not really; this section simply rambles on about the conspiracy theory without linking back to her again. This section only mentioned her once and never again linked it back to that conspiracy theory. We don't clearly know for sure whether it's about the journalist or the conspiracy theory.

However, it may be the case that a person may be notable for propagating an outrageous conspiracy. If there is such a significant connection between the object (the conspiracy theory) and the subject (the author of the conspiracy theory), the conspiracy theory should be explained in the article in a way that connects the object and the subject together. The point of this example is that any further added content must be linked back to the original subject; in this fictional example, relevant content was added about the subject Amanda Portemanteau, but there is no text describing this.

Some Famous Dude Did It so It Must Be Good[edit]

Jim W. Hales is a notable athlete/musician/actor. On Day XX/XX/XXXX (Day/Month/Year) he converted from religion X to religion Y. Isn't it nice how he saved his soul that way? Here are some more fun facts about religion Y, the greatest religion in the world: (endless paragraphs, and bullet lists describing the positive side of Religion Y)

This is "All About George" but in reverse, instead of having an Ultra-Negative bias (negative, unsourced comments, facts presented in a non-neutral fashion/light), this Coatrack has an Ultra-Positive bias (expounding on and singing the praises and all the positives about Religion Y, never mind the negatives) totally goes off the deep-end and leaves the rest of Mr. Jim W. Hales's Personal Life in the dust.

The Mono-Topic Fringe Biography[edit]

Dr. Fronkensteen is a doctor known for his extensive research pioneering wongo juice as a cancer cure … Article then glosses over normal biographical details, except when useful as appeal to authority, and instead focuses on material relating to wongo juice.

The Criticism Gambit[edit]

Criticism section used to connect otherwise unrelated issues.

A halibut is a species of fish. Brief factual information about halibuts.


It has been reported[crackpotreference][nutcaseblog][outofcontextquote] that halibuts may be evil invading robots from the planet Ko-trak. I shall now take this opportunity to give you a long lecture on extraterrestrial robots: … (Conspiracy Theories to follow).

The Attack Article[edit]

Wikipedia policy specifically prohibits articles whose primary purpose is to disparage a particular person or topic. Articles about a particular person or topic should not primarily consist of criticisms of that person or topic. For example:

John Doe works as a journalist. He has given over 30 years of long and faithful service to his newspaper. However, one day, he made the terrible mistake of nearly reporting an unchecked fact that came within a whisker of ruining an innocent person's life. Because he did this, he is an evil person. Here is some more information about this incident… (and so on, and so forth).

The Yo Mama Article[edit]

An especially nasty type of article also violates multiple taboos and Wikipedia rules, like a poorly written Yo Mama joke:

Marion Crane is the mother of Thomas Washington, an American politician of the Independent party, who had him when she was 16 years old and was an unwed teen mother. Crane raised him as a single mother, and ... (here are personal details and attacks about the poor, otherwise non-notable woman .... ).

The Flea[edit]

The wolf, or Canis lupus is a mammal with fur. In this fur, there are many fleas. The flea is an insect of the order Siphonaptera which is wingless insect with mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. Fleas are external parasites, living by hematophagy off the blood of mammals (including wolves and humans) and birds... (ad nauseam about all the different kinds of fleas there are in the world)

This sort of case begins with facts about the main topic (perhaps a type of flea which is specific to wolves), then launches into more sub-topics (still dealing with fleas, but on a much broader scale) about which the writer has prepared way too much information and may make occasional tangential reconnections (hopefully) to the original main topic ("Wolf") in an attempt to hide the coatracking. If the excess content is accurate and well-sourced, it may be appropriate to move it to a more relevant article (in this example, maybe "Flea").

"But it's true!"[edit]

The contents of this type of coatrack article can be superficially true. However, undue attention to one particular topic within the scope of the article creates an article that, as a whole, is less than truthful. When confronted with a potential coatrack article, an editor ought to ask: what impression does a reader unfamiliar with the topic get from this article?

  • If an article about a famous journalist mostly describes a conspiracy article he once wrote, the reader will leave the article with the false impression that the journalist's career is mostly about that conspiracy theory, and possibly that he is a vocal advocate of the theory (which can cause major problems if the journalist is alive). The coverage of the journalist in Wikipedia needs to reflect the coverage of the journalist in reliable sources.
  • An article might have a disproportionately large "criticism" section, giving the impression that the nominal subject is hotly contested by many people, when in fact the criticism is merely selected opinions. This, too, gives the reader a false impression about reality, even though the details may be true.
  • If an article is mainly on a criticism of a person or a topic, critical sources must keep focus on the scope of the article. This type of coatrack can occur when an editor tries to discredit a person or a controversial topic rather than keeping focus on the aim and scope of the article (see WP:IDONTLIKEIT). For example, in Criticism of religion and Criticism of atheism, unacceptable material would include sources which focus too much on individuals. In articles which focus on criticism of an individual, such as Criticism of Muhammad, unacceptable material would include sources which extend too much beyond the individual, such as sources which focus on criticism of Islam in general. The same principle applies to sections within an article; critical sources must keep focus on the scope of the section and must not deviate from the subject at hand (for more information, see WP:CSECTION).
For example: in Source 1, Alice says something related to Topic A. In Source 2, Bob says that Alice is a bad person. Source 2 should not be used to criticize Alice in an article on Topic A.
  • In short, if something distracts too much from the focus, scope, and aim of the Wikipedia article, it is probably a coatrack.

Fact picking[edit]

A biased bowl of exclusively red cherries, which in this case excludes the dark purple cherries. This is similar to how the coatrack is being obscured by the clothing.

Often the main tool of a coatrack article is fact picking. Instead of finding a balanced set of information about the subject (positive and negative), a coatrack goes out of its way to find facts that support a particular bias. As such, fact picking is a breach of neutral point of view by a failure to assign due weight to viewpoints in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint in the published, reliable sources.

A common fact picking device is listing great numbers of individual people's quotes criticizing the nominal subject, while expending little or no effort mentioning that the criticism comes from a small fraction of people. That small fraction thus gets a soapbox that is far larger than reality warrants.

Even though the facts may be true as such, the proportional volume of the hand-picked facts drowns other information, giving a false impression to the reader.

What to do about coatracks[edit]

Responding to a coatrack article depends on the nature of the article. If the article discusses some second subject more than the subject in the title, and it's otherwise a good article, often the easiest solution is to simply rename the article so that its title matches its content. Then, re-format the article as required. As an example, the article once titled legal death did not discuss the law at all, and instead discussed how doctors declare a person as dead. In this case, the article was renamed to Medical definition of death.

If the coatracked content consists of bias and opinion, the best response is to be bold and trim off excessive biased content while adding more balanced content cited from reliable sources. In extreme cases, when notability is borderline, and if there is little chance the article can be salvaged, deletion of the entire article may be appropriate.

Editors are not required to fill out the article so that more time is spent on non-biased matters in order to keep biased content. Instead, editors may fix an article by balancing it out with more facts but are in no way required to do so. It is inappropriate to "even out the percentage of bias" by adding fluff, such as minute details of a subject's life. These are considered scarves, hats, and gloves, and along with the coats, obscure the coatrack, and are also good candidates for removal.

What is not a coatrack[edit]

An article about an astronaut might mostly focus on his moon landing. A moon trip that took only a tiny fraction of the astronaut's life takes up most of the article. But that does not make it a coatrack article. The event was a significant moment in the subject's life, and his main claim to notability. A reader is not misled by the focus on the moon trip. In some cases where an event in a person's life is the only notable thing about them, it may make sense to only have an article on the event and not have an article on the person at all. An article that presents factual information (including criticism) about a discredited scientific theory is also not a coatrack; relevant guidelines are at WP:FRINGE.

An article with a title that can have several meanings, or a term that is used differently in different fields of study, is not a coatrack if it only covers one definition. In this case, the article should be properly framed by beginning with "{In the field of X} topic Y is…" or by using a specific title possibly using parenthetical disambiguation, to show the article's limited scope. When the article is properly framed this way, it is not necessary to expand the article to cover every possible usage for balance – that content can be added over time and either merged or split through normal editing.

It would be reasonable to include brief information of the background behind a key detail, even if the background has no direct relevance to the article's topic, as long as such information is used sparingly and does not provide any more explanation than a reasonably knowledgeable reader would require. An article on the anatomical feature Adam's apple could explain that the term arose from the biblical character Adam; a regurgitation of the Book of Genesis, or an outline of the full story of original sin would not be necessary.

Material that is supported by a reliable, published source whose topic is directly related to the topic of the article, is not using the article as a coatrack.


The use of coatracks, though not the term, dates to the influential 18th century French encyclopedia Encyclopedie, where they were used to hide biographies. The editors of the Encyclopedie were ideologically opposed to biographies, thinking too much ink had been spilled on hagiographies of "Great Men" (kings, church fathers) instead of the common person, and largely banned biographies; dissenting contributors would then hide biographies in other articles – for example, a biography of Isaac Newton was hidden in the entry on Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, his birthplace.[1] Conversely, encyclopedias which were centered around biographies of prominent figures would embed social histories in their biographies; e.g. the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica presents all information on the post-Roman "Migrations Period" of European History under the biography of Attila the Hun.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Encyclopédistes (1751). Diderot, Denis; d'Alembert, Jean-Baptiste (eds.). Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers [Encyclopaedia or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts] (in French). Vol. 17 (1 ed.). France: André le Breton, Michel-Antoine David, Laurent Durand, and Antoine-Claude Briasson. pp. 630–635. Retrieved 8 July 2013.