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Escalating alphabeticals is a pathological phenomenon on Wikipedia where coherent discussion is drowned out by reference to policy by use of acronyms. In the EA condition, editors respond to use of an acronym with a countering acronym, and the cycle repeats. This is harmful to cooperation on Wikipedia in several ways:
- Use of the original acronym is a shorthand which often does not explain exactly why the user feels some policy or guideline is being violated.
The responding acronym:
- fails to elicit the precise meaning of the original statement, but instead ignores it
- allows the responder to avoid responding to the valid concern by redirecting or reframing the discussion
Often a condition of escalating alphabeticals will be initiated or worsened by a third participant, who instead of addressing the original point raised, invokes a simplistic policy response. This can have the effect of sidetracking a discussion into policy interpretations rather than the original issue raised.
Another strategy often used in EA is to repeatedly use the entire alphabet, i.e. make an extremely lengthy post which discusses a wide variety of issues, some of them almost, or completely, unrelated.
Additionally, the threaded nature of talk pages and noticeboards means that discussions can evolve to incoherence as various escalations are continued. Each use of an acronym can lead to a "thread fork", and each acronym adds to the "wiki-stack" for the thread.
Successful resolution requires unwinding all the forked arguments. An alternative is for an editor to declare a STACK_OVERFLOW in order to return to the original argument raised.
A typical EA sequence might look something like this:
(#1) Editor A: I don't understand why you have reverted my sourced edit to article Q?
(#2) Editor B: Because your edits violate NPOV and they are ridiculous.
(#3) Editor A: Your response violates CIV and it is ridiculous of you to suggest that.
(#4) Editor C: Editor A, you should AGF that Editor B is trying to resolve this.
(#6) Editor A: Editor C, why should I AGF when Editor B won't AAGF?
(#8) Editor C: Editor A, you should AHI.
(#9) Editor D: Editor C is a TROLL.
(#5) Editor B: Editor A, I didn't violate CIV, I called your 'edits' ridiculous, not you. You've violated NPA.by calling me ridculous.
(#7) Editor A: Editor B, you did so violate CIV, you say my edits using RS are ridiculous, that is a PA.
(#10) Editor C: You should use the talk page.
(#11) Editor A: We are on the talk page.
(#12) Editor D: If you have a dispute, file an RFC.