Wikipedia:Expect no thanks

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Wikipedia has a wonderful, noble purpose: creating a high-quality, free, online encyclopedia that will contain all the sum of human knowledge (cue rapturous and inspirational symphonic and choral music and images of dramatic sunrises and pictures of the vast expanses of the cosmos)… However, the day-to-day and week-to-week experience of being a volunteer editor on a massive online project like Wikipedia can sometimes be less than inspiring.

The sense that your contributions are not appreciated is not a problem unique to Wikipedia. Junior office workers employed in large, bureaucratic organizations may also feel like insignificant parts of a machine, and they may feel that their efforts are not appreciated.

Part of the challenge is not unique to Wikipedia. Indeed, a person working as a rank-and-file member in any large group, such as a junior staffer working in a cubicle in a huge government department or massive multinational corporation or an orchestra player in a large string section can get feelings of insignificance and she may feel that she is not being recognized for her contributions to the larger project. Mike Judge's movie Office Space captures many of these issues.

Because Wikipedia is edited online by anonymous editors who come from all over the world, you may not even get that occasional encouraging "sounds good" comment that a string section player may get from time to time from her section leader, or the occasional "good work on the Smith file last week" that a junior staffer may get from a manager or supervisor in the hallway or via e-mail. In fact, since there are no managers or leaders on Wikipedia overseeing the work of editors, you might never hear these types of encouraging words. The only feedback you get is from fellow editors like yourself, who have not been tasked with the job of encouraging or developing other editors. Unfortunately, feedback from fellow editors tends to skew to the negative side of the continuum.

So you may devote much of your free time to creating articles, fixing errors and improving writing, but the only feedback you get from weeks or months of work may be curtly-worded edit summaries such as "Revert unnecessary text", "Rvt poor writing" or even "Revert junk" or "Revert crap" (the latter two edit summaries are arguably contrary to WP:CIVIL). Sometimes, you may get a longer, more detailed form of feedback via a Talk page message, but instead of beginning with thanks for all the good things you have added to articles from a certain topic, the editor launches into a critique of your non-standard reference citation parameters and your non-compliance with various formatting guidelines. Or worse, an editor may accuse you of being a "lazy" editor whose "sloppy writing" and "careless work" is bringing down the standard of the encyclopedia. Ouch!

Changing our mindset[edit]

The players in this double bass section may never get a "thank you" or praise. But they still enjoy playing, because they know that their contribution is part of what makes the whole orchestra concert sound great for the audience.

One thing that can improve your experience when you are participating in a large initiative or project is to change your mindset. Instead of participating in the project with the hopes of recognition and praise for your contribution, participate for the joy of contributing to a great, worthwhile initiative. Let's return to the analogy of playing as a string player in a huge amateur orchestra. If you are the 10th double bass player in the section, at the back of the orchestra, no one will say "good job" or "thanks for your great playing". But it is still worthwhile to play as a volunteer, because if YOU know that you are playing well, you know that you are contributing to a greater purpose: making beautiful music for the listeners.

Returning to Wikipedia, if you think about all the good things you are contributing to the encyclopedia—updated information, new statistics, additional examples, grammar corrections, formatting fixes, etc.—you can have a good feeling about your contribution to the larger, greater project of creating and maintaining a reliable, high-quality encyclopedia. If you believe that on balance, you are adding to the value of the project and improving the encyclopedia, this sense of self-worth can help to sustain your motivation during long periods of editing in which you get either no positive feedback, or even just negative feedback ("revert useless added text"), or critical Talk page messages: "Your edits are lowering the quality of article X...the article was better before you started making changes.") Just like the double bass player at the back of the section, you need to believe that you are helping to contribute to the larger project.

How we can improve[edit]

The addition of the "Thanks" button, which allows editors to thank other editors for their work is a step in the right direction. It is a great tool to send a quick "thanks" when you like the new text an editor has added, the work she has done to fix some grammar, or the new article she has created. But as editors, we need to do more than press the "Thanks" button from time to time.

We all need to work more on improving how we provide feedback to our fellow editors. Yes, editor X is adding content to an article with references using an incorrect formatting style, which is not the style that was agreed to on the article last month after an extensive Talk page discussion. But remember that she is adding material to the article in good faith to improve the article and contribute to the project. She may not be aware of the talk page consensus. So respond to her in good faith.

If you want to make an editor aware of her formatting errors, remember that, as Mary Poppins says, "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." Instead of starting off your message with criticisms, start with positive statements: "Thank you for adding new material about issue X to the Y article. The article was really lacking text on issue X." Then, after thanking the editor for his or her contributions, you can respectfully and civilly raise the matter of formatting: "You may not be aware, but last month, the editors on this article came to the consensus that we would use XYZ formatting style for all references. A how-to-guide on using this formatting style is available at [add link]." And why not close with a friendly line: "Best wishes with your editing, and thank you for the work you're doing : )"

Another approach would be to simply correct the formatting error and use a neutral, factual wording in the edit summary that does not criticize the editor who made the error, e.g., "Apply WP:MOS formatting to article." If the editor who made the formatting error is watching the article, she will see the correction and the edit summary, which will help her to learn about how to improve it.

By showing more genuine thanks and gratitude to our fellow editors for the good work they are doing on the project, it can help to improve the editing environment, which can reduce editor drop-out rates and help encourage new users to join the project. Then, perhaps we will all feel more like this when we edit:

Inspired by Wikipedia's lofty goal: a comprehensive collection of all of the knowledge in the world.


See also[edit]