Wikipedia:Encourage the newcomers

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Everyone should help out the newcomers; someday, they will run Wikipedia.

It can be difficult to be a newcomer to Wikipedia. Newcomer's edits are automatically singled out for intense scrutiny, and reverting is easier than fixing. Increasingly, newcomer's first edits are rejected without guidance, which makes newcomers much less likely to become regular editors. Retention rates have dropped below replacement; Wikipedia is slowly dying as more people leave than join.

Vandalism is often best reverted without comment. But anyone who is trying to improve the encyclopedia, however ineptly, should be welcomed and assisted to make productive edits. Research has shown that established editors generally agree on whether an editor is good-faith (trying to help) or bad-faith (vandals and pranksters). They often disagree on whether an editor's first edits should be retained. If in doubt, leave it in, fix it, or inline-tag it so the newbie can fix.

There is a lot for a new editor to learn. Scholarly skills are needed to research and write good content. Social skills are needed to interact productively with other editors. There is also an ever-expanding swamp of rules and jargon which can make objections raised by established editors incomprehensible. Even help pages have become less helpful to a newbie; they are increasingly written for an audience of established editors, not new ones.

Biting the newcomers convinces them that Wikipedia is not the place for them. However, we must go beyond not biting: in order to keep an ever-growing and loving community that allows everyone edit peacefully in a friendly environment, we must encourage the newcomers.

How to train and retain a newcomer[edit]

  • Respond promptly. An immediate response wins more engagement.
  • Criticize the newbies. Personalized constructive criticism not only improves editing skills, it increases the chances that an editor will stick around;[1] it is even be taken as praise.[2] Give helpful information as it is needed.
  • Give the newbie models of good editing, say by fixing their edits and being civil (this also improves their chances of becoming constructive regular editors).
  • Move, tag, or fix their edits wherever you can. If newbies' edits are rejected, their chances of becoming regular editors drop from three-in-five to one-in-five. Newbies want to contribute. They want to have made a difference.
  • If you must revert, your job is not done. Help them make at least one retainable, productive edit. If they do, there is a good chance that you have won Wikipedia an editor and multiplied your contribution to the project. Even just referring someone to the Teahouse improves retention.[3]
  • Write instructional pages so that they clearly instruct newcomers in what they most need to know. Prioritize the newcomer; the established editor will be more skilled at digging to find the information they need. This is especially important for the pages linked from inline tags, as these seem to be the usual entry point for newcomers[citation needed] ("Someone added "citation needed" to my sentence! What do they want me to do? I have no idea how to add a citation!").


Hostility is never the answer to a newcomer. A hostile attitude will gain you more opposition.

No new editor has the competency to edit Wikipedia. You can help them acquire it.

Avoid giving new editors any feeling of hostility. People tend to underestimate the friendliness of strangers.[4] In a text-only communication channel, no one can read your tone of voice or your facial expression, so it's easy to be misunderstood. Using emoticons has been shown to make text interpretation more consistent.[5] Try reading your edits to yourself in a really hostile tone of voice before saving. If it sounds utterly laughable, save. If it sounds hostile, rewrite. A new editor will not accept guidance from you if they hate you.

It's even harder for a new user to communicate without misunderstandings. Being a new editor can also be frustrating, especially if you encounter editors who are oblivious to your struggles to learn, or even rude about them. Assume good faith a bit harder than usual, and answer rudeness with kindness. You are setting the example for how people behave on Wikipedia.

Where possible, phrase guidance as information, not as orders. Anyone editing here probably likes to be given information; no-one likes to be ordered around. Avoid any hint of coercion, especially threats. Avoid causing reactance. When describing consequences, depersonalize conflict: "Do it again and I'll revert you" is not as good as "Edits like that will tend to get reverted". Try to describe consequences in positive terms, and make your requests specific and easy to enact: "Edits like that will get reverted" is not as good as "If you could support that statement with a citation to a source that meets the criteria at WP:MED, I'd be happy to restore it. There might be something on PubMed". The lower-level warning templates avoid threats of sanctions for good reasons.

Explain. Link to descriptions of community norms. Where needed, explain the intent behind rules (in the talk space or documentation). Sometimes linking to the situation that motivated the rule's creation is a good inductive way to explain the purpose of the rule. Wikipedia's norms are generally sound, and we can amend them. Defending them by blatant assertion is not necessary (just quick and easy).

Improve the instructions[edit]

Wikipedia comes with an editor's manual

Most Wikipedia editors like to read. Make it easier for them to learn about Wikipedia by reading. This is an especially good way for introverted and editors who are good at logical perspective-taking to help newcomers; a lot of experienced editors have trouble imagining the perspective of someone who knows much less than they do. Respect the time of new and established editors: make documentation succinct and easy to grasp.

Newcomers rarely edit instructional pages. They should be encouraged to be bold and either fix any problems they find, or explain their problems on the talk page so someone more knowledgeable can fix.

Specific guidance pages[edit]

Put basic information on what templates mean in the lede, including what the template is for and what should the editor do. Technical details on how the template works, what parameters it takes, and so on, can come later in the page. After all, no-one would be wanting to use the template if they didn't know what it meant. Prioritize the newcomer; the established editor will be more skilled at digging to find the information they need.

Keep it as simple as possible. Try to cover the most common newcomer problems. Don't try to cover all the rare cases if it will make the section harder to understand or substantially longer. Wikilink any term a new editor might not understand. Don't force the editor to remember things from other sections unless it is really necessary.

General guidance[edit]

There are also many pages offering general guidance to new editors. Some are general, such as Wikipedia:A primer for newcomers; others have specific target groups, like Wikipedia:Wikipedia editing for research scientists. These are often useful resources for new editors. Suggest them politely, as information resources, not as a correctional measures. An editor reading such pages in a sulky and resentful mood is unlikely to gain much from them.

Dealing with bad-faith editors[edit]

If a new editor is vandalizing/trolling/making test edits, revert it kindly, guide them and tell them why what they did was incorrect. That way, a newcomer will start to get a feel for what editing Wikipedia is really like. Going to WP:AIV might seem a bit too harsh on newcomers, and might not be very beneficial. Carefully watch the editor for a week or two before reporting them for vandalism or other faults. We are all on the learning curve, and yes, we all do make mistakes. After all, we are humans, not some automatons from outer space.

If the editor continues to troll or is clearly demonstrating an attitude/behavior that they are not here to help, then that's where you decide appropriate actions need to be taken by administrators. If possible, you might want to adopt them, and guide them, but that's really the newcomer's decision.

How to stop banned editors from treading the wrong path[edit]

Not a good path.

If a good-faith newcomer you recently met just got hit with an indef-block, suggest two options: either a mentorship, or a standard offer. These are good ways to give an indef-blocked editor a chance to come back and edit. Don't encourage them to take up new accounts and edit under new names, and don't encourage them to take the wrong path. Encouraging trouble won't help you nor will it help the newbie, and encouraging bad behaviour makes you look like a jerk in front of the whole community. Remember that this could potentially be troll feeding.

See also[edit]

  1. ^ a b Choi, Boreum; Alexander, Kira; Kraut, Robert E.; Levine, John M. (2010). "Socialization tactics in wikipedia and their effects". Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work - CSCW '10. p. 107. doi:10.1145/1718918.1718940. ISBN 9781605587950.
  2. ^ Becoming Wikipedian: Transformation of Participation in a Collaborative Online Encyclopedia
  3. ^ "Evaluating the impact of the Wikipedia Teahouse on newcomer socialization and retention" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Boothby, Erica J.; Cooney, Gus; Sandstrom, Gillian M.; Clark, Margaret S. (5 September 2018). "The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think?" (PDF). Psychological Science. 29 (11): 1742–1756. doi:10.1177/0956797618783714. PMID 30183512. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  5. ^ Edwards, Renee; Bybee, Brock T.; Frost, Jonathon K.; Harvey, Adam J.; Navarro, Michael (19 August 2016). "That's Not What I Meant". Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 36 (2): 188–210. doi:10.1177/0261927X16662968.