Wikipedia:No excessive literalism

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This essay discusses existing policies and guidelines regarding excessive literalism.


Excessive literalism is contrary to Wikipedia:Use common sense in the application of policies and guidelines, especially when it is applied by those trying to subtly push a POV. Each of the policies and guidelines make clear they are intended to be interpreted and applied reasonably and with appropriate discretion.

It can be instructive to examine articles that contain the phrase "excessive literalism" to see how it has been a problem throughout history in many fields, espectially theology and law.

Treating label as the thing[edit]

This can take several forms:

  • Invoking an essay like WP:REL to reject material that does not contain the exact complete phrase of the article name, without considering abbreviated usage, synonymous terms, and descriptions that can be reasonably interpreted or summarized as having the same meaning as the label chosen for the article (or section) title.
  • Treating the subject matter of an article as only about the usage of the title rather than about the object, or denotatum, to which the name refers.
  • Insisting the object of the usage didn't exist before it was given the name, or the usage was applied to it.
  • Insisting on separate articles, with no overlapping content, for each of several synonymous names, without even allowing for redirects.

Citation guidelines[edit]

Similarly, it can involve rejection of a cite:

  • Because it does not contain the exact phrase cited, rejecting even the most reasonable summarizations as violations of WP:OR.
  • Demanding a cite for every sentence or phrase when the entire paragraph is supported by a source.
  • Rejecting a cite as "unverified" without making the effort that verification requires for that kind of cite, such as rejecting a newspaper article because it cannot be found online, when to verify newspaper articles one usually has to research physical archives, especially for articles published before newspapers started keeping publicly accessible online archives of some of their past articles, usually only selectively, and only after a certain year.
  • Rejecting an entire source or publisher as "unreliable" because someone once found a few errors in something published, even in another work.


Reference guidelines[edit]

Similarly, it can involve rejection of a reference:

  • Because it does not contain the exact phrase of the article name, rejecting background works that deal with the subject more generally.
  • Because the publisher of a book does not do the kind of fact-checking that may still be done by some professional journal articles, but is no longer often done by most book publishers. Consider this excerpt from "Publishers Say Fact-Checking Is Too Costly", By Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2006.

External link guidelines[edit]

Similarly, it can involve rejection of an external link:

  • Because it does not contain the exact phrase of the article name, rejecting subjects that deal with reasonably related and relevant matters.

Conjoining policy statements[edit]

Some ways this can be done:

  • Insisting that two policy statements, expressed as independent sentences, must both be satisfied. An example would be to insist that the first two sentences of WP:NOR#Citing oneself must both be satisfied, rather than either of them.

Obvious errors[edit]

This can involve:

  • Insisting on inserting material that is obviously incorrect, without at least pointing out the error, because it seems to come from a reliable source. E.g., a statement that an event occurred on "April 31" when that month doesn't have a 31st day, and the correct date "April 13" can be easily seen from the rest of the source. Then, if another editor wants to just delete the date, or say "in April", or comment that the rest of the source indicates what the correct date is, he rejects and deletes the entire passage as an WP:NOR violation.

Summarizations as OR[edit]

This can involve:

  • Rejecting even the most obvious summarizations as OR. E.g., having a source that says "A came in the room." Then says "B came in the room." And the editor summarizes as "A and B came in the room." But the obsessive editor insists on a source for "A and B".

Also see[edit]

Obiter dictum[edit]

Editors are invited to expand on these items, and make arguments on them, but please don't use discussion here as a substitute for other solutions:

  • Propose a rewording of the policy that clarifies its meaning (that can be done in a number of ways, including just doing it, and seeing how people react, then taking the matter to the policy talk page), or to initiate an RfC regarding its meaning.
  • Use dispute resolution process for content disputes.

This essay started as an entry in the Village pump.