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Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines

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Wikipedia policies and guidelines are developed by the community to describe best practices, clarify principles, resolve conflicts, and otherwise further our goal of creating a free, reliable encyclopedia. There is no need to read any policy or guideline pages to start editing. The five pillars is a popular summary of the most pertinent principles.

Although Wikipedia does not employ hard-and-fast rules, Wikipedia policy and guideline pages describe its principles and best-agreed practices. Policies are standards that all users should normally follow, while guidelines are meant to be best practices for following those standards in specific contexts. Policies and guidelines should always be applied using reason and common sense.

This policy page specifies the community standards related to the organization, life cycle, maintenance of, and adherence to policies, guidelines, and related pages.


Wikipedia is operated by the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which reserves certain legal rights - see Wikimedia's Policies page for a list of its policies. See also Role of Jimmy Wales. Nevertheless, normally Wikipedia is a self-governing project run by its community. Its policies and guidelines are intended to reflect the consensus of the community.


Policies have wide acceptance among editors and describe standards that all users should normally follow. All policy pages are in Wikipedia:List of policies and guidelines and Category:Wikipedia policies. For summaries of key policies, see also List of policies.

Guidelines are sets of best practices that are supported by consensus. Editors should attempt to follow guidelines, though they are best treated with common sense, and occasional exceptions may apply. Guideline pages can be found in Wikipedia:List of policies and guidelines and Category:Wikipedia guidelines. For summaries of key guidelines, see also List of guidelines.

Essays are the opinion or advice of an editor or group of editors for which widespread consensus has not been established. They do not speak for the entire community and may be created and written without approval. Essays that the author does not want others to edit, or that are found to contradict widespread consensus, belong in the user namespace. (For more information, see Wikipedia:Essays.)

Other administration pages in the Wikipedia: namespace include:

These other pages are not policies or guidelines, although they may contain valuable advice or information.


Use common sense when interpreting and applying policies and guidelines; there will be occasional exceptions to these rules. Conversely, those who violate the spirit of a rule may be reprimanded even if no rule has technically been broken.

Whether a policy or guideline is an accurate description of best practice is determined by the community through consensus.

On discussion pages and in edit summaries, shortcuts are often used to refer to policies and guidelines. For example, WP:NOR, WP:NPOV, and WP:LIVE. Similar shortcuts are sometimes also used for other types of project page. A shortcut does not necessarily imply that the page linked to has policy or guideline status. Additionally, remember that the shortcut is not the policy; the plain-English definition of the page's title or shortcut may be importantly different from the linked page.


Enforcement on Wikipedia is similar to other social interactions. If an editor violates the community standards described in policies and guidelines, other editors can persuade the person to adhere to acceptable norms of conduct, over time resorting to more forceful means, such as administrator and steward actions. In the case of gross violations of community norms, they are likely to resort to more forceful means fairly rapidly. Going against the principles set out on these pages, particularly policy pages, is unlikely to prove acceptable, although it may be possible to convince fellow editors that an exception ought to be made. This means that individual editors (including you) enforce and apply policies and guidelines.

In cases where it is clear that a user is acting against policy (or against a guideline in a way that conflicts with policy), especially if they are doing so intentionally and persistently, that user may be temporarily or indefinitely blocked from editing by an administrator. In cases where the general dispute resolution procedure has been ineffective, the Arbitration Committee has the power to deal with highly disruptive or sensitive situations.


Policy and guideline pages should:

  • Be clear. Avoid esoteric or quasi-legal terms and dumbed-down language. Be plain, direct, unambiguous, and specific. Avoid platitudes and generalities. Do not be afraid to tell editors directly that they must or should do something.
  • Be as concise as possible—but no more concise. Verbosity is not a reliable defense against misinterpretation. Omit needless words. Direct, concise writing may be more clear than rambling examples. Footnotes and links to other pages may be used for further clarification.
  • Emphasize the spirit of the rule. Expect editors to use common sense. If the spirit of the rule is clear, say no more.
  • Maintain scope and avoid redundancy. Clearly identify the purpose and scope early in the page, as many readers will just look at the beginning. Content should be within the scope of its policy. When the scope of one advice page overlaps with the scope of another, minimize redundancy. When one policy refers to another policy, it should do so briefly, clearly and explicitly.
  • Avoid overlinking. Links to policies, guidelines, essays, and articles should be used only when clarification or context is needed. Links to other advice pages may inadvertently or intentionally defer authority to them. Make it clear when links defer, and when they do not.
  • Not contradict each other. The community's view cannot simultaneously be "A" and "not A". When apparent discrepancies arise between pages, editors at all the affected pages should discuss how they can most accurately represent the community's current position, and correct all of the pages to reflect the community's view. This discussion should be on one talk page, with invitations to that page at the talk pages of the various affected pages; otherwise the corrections may still contradict each other.

Not part of the encyclopedia

Wikipedia has many policies and guidelines about encyclopedic content. These standards require verifiability, neutrality, respect for living people, and more.

The policies, guidelines, and process pages themselves are not part of the encyclopedia proper. Consequently, they do not generally need to conform to the same content standards. It is therefore not necessary to provide reliable sources to verify Wikipedia's administrative pages, or to phrase Wikipedia procedures or principles in a neutral manner, or to cite an outside authority in determining Wikipedia's editorial practices. Instead, the content of these pages is controlled by community-wide consensus, and the style should emphasize clarity, directness, and usefulness to other editors.[2]

These pages do, however, need to comply with Wikipedia's legal and behavioral policies, as well as policies applicable to non-content pages. For example, editors may not violate copyrights anywhere on Wikipedia, and edit warring is prohibited everywhere, not merely in encyclopedia articles.

Life cycle

Many of the most well-established policies and guidelines have developed from principles which have been accepted as fundamental since Wikipedia's inception. Others developed as solutions to common problems and disruptive editing. Policy and guideline pages are seldom established without precedent,[3] and always require strong community support. Policies and guidelines may be established through new proposals, promotion of existing essays or guidelines, and reorganization of existing policies and guidelines through splitting and merging.

Essays and information pages may be established by writing them and adding {{essay}}, {{Information page}}, or similar templates to the page.

Current policy and guideline proposals can be found in Category:Wikipedia proposals, and failed proposals can be found in Category:Wikipedia failed proposals. All editors are welcome to comment on these proposals.


Proposals for new guidelines and policies require discussion and a high level of consensus from the entire community for promotion to guideline or policy. Adding the {{policy}} template to a page without the required consensus does not mean that the page is policy, even if the page summarizes or copies policy. Most commonly, a new policy or guideline documents existing practices, rather than proposing a change to what experienced editors already choose to do.

Good practice for proposals

The first step is to write the best initial proposal that you can. Authors can request early-stage feedback at Wikipedia's village pump for idea incubation and from any relevant WikiProjects. Amendments to a proposal can be discussed on its talk page. It is crucial to improve a proposal in response to feedback received from outside editors. Consensus is built through a process of listening to and discussing the proposal with many other editors.

Once you think that the initial proposal is well-written, and the issues involved have been sufficiently discussed among early participants to create a proposal that has a solid chance of success with the broader community, start an RfC for your policy or guideline proposal in a new section on the talk page, and include the {{rfc|policy}} tag along with a brief, time-stamped explanation of the proposal. After that, you can provide, if you want, a detailed explanation of what the page does and why you think it should be a policy or guideline. The {{proposed}} template should be placed at the top of the proposed page; this tag will get the proposal properly categorized.

The RfC should typically be announced at the policy and/or proposals village pumps, and you should notify other potentially interested groups. If your proposal affects a specific content area, then related WikiProjects can be found at the Wikipedia:WikiProject Council/Directory. For example, proposed style guidelines should be announced at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Manual of Style, which is the WikiProject most closely related to style issues. If your proposal relates to an existing policy or guideline, then leave a note on the talk page of the related policy or guideline. For example, proposed style guidelines should be announced at Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style, which is the main guideline for style issues. Try to identify the subcategory of guideline or policy (see {{subcat guideline}}). Proposals involving contentious subjects or wide-ranging effects should normally be listed on Wikipedia:Centralized discussion for the duration of the RfC. Rarely, a particularly important proposal may be advertised via a watchlist notice; sitenotices (which are displayed to all readers, not just to active editors) are not used for proposals. RfCs for policy and guideline proposals are normally left open for at least one week, and sometimes as long as a couple of months.

To avoid later complaints about insufficient notice, it may be helpful to provide a complete list of the groups or pages that you used to advertise the proposal on the talk page.

Editors should respond to proposals in a way that helps identify and build consensus. Explain your thoughts, ask questions, and raise concerns; all views are welcome. Many editors begin their response with bold-font 'vote' of support or opposition to make evaluation easier. Editors should sign their responses.

Ending a discussion requires careful evaluation of the responses to determine the consensus. This does not require the intervention of an administrator, but may be done by any sufficiently experienced independent editor (an impartial editor not involved in the discussion) who is familiar with all of the policies and guidelines that relate to the proposal. The following points are important in evaluating consensus:

  • Consensus for guidelines and policies should be reasonably strong, though unanimity is not required.
  • There must be exposure to the community beyond just the authors of the proposal.
  • Consider the strength of the proposed page:
    • Have major concerns raised during the community discussion been addressed?
    • Does the proposal contradict any existing guidelines or policies?
    • Can the new proposed guideline or policy be merged into an existing one?
    • Is the proposed guideline or policy, or some part of it, redundant with an existing guideline or policy?
  • A proposal's status is not determined by counting votes. Polling is not a substitute for discussion, nor is a poll's numerical outcome tantamount to consensus.
  • If consensus for broad community support has not developed after a reasonable time period, the proposal is considered failed. If consensus is neutral or unclear on the issue and unlikely to improve, the proposal has likewise failed.

Discussion may be closed as one of: Promote, No consensus, or Failed. Please leave a short note about the conclusion that you came to. Update the proposal to reflect the consensus. Remove the {{Proposed}} template and replace it with another appropriate template, such as {{Subcat guideline}}, {{Policy}}, {{Essay}}, {{Wikipedia how to}}, {{Information page}}, or {{Failed}}. See Wikipedia:Template messages/Wikipedia namespace for a listing of namespace banners.

If a proposal fails, the failed tag should not usually be removed. It is typically more productive to rewrite a failed proposal from scratch to address problems, or seek consensus to integrate uncontroversial aspects of it into existing pages, than to re-nominate a proposal.


An accepted policy or guideline may become obsolete because of changes in editorial practice or community standards, may become redundant because of improvements to other pages, or may represent unwarranted instruction creep. In such situations editors may propose that a policy be demoted to a guideline, or that a policy or guideline be demoted to a supplement, informational page, essay or historical page. In certain cases, a policy or guideline may be superseded, in which case the old page is marked and retained for historical interest.

The process for demotion is similar to promotion. A talk page discussion is typically started, the {{Under discussion|status|Discussion Title}} template is added to the top of the project page, and community input is solicited. After a reasonable amount of time for comments, an independent editor should close the discussion and evaluate the consensus.

The {{Disputed tag}} template is typically used instead of {{Under discussion}} for claims that a page was recently assigned guideline or policy status without proper or sufficient consensus being established.

Essays, information pages, and other informal pages that are only supported by a small minority of the community are typically moved to the primary author's userspace. These discussions typically happen on the page's talk page, sometimes with an RfC, but they have at times also been conducted at Miscellany for deletion (despite the MFD guidelines explicitly discouraging this practice). Other pages are retained for historical reference and are marked as such.

Content changes

Policies and guidelines can be edited like any other Wikipedia page. It is not strictly necessary to discuss changes or to obtain written documentation of a consensus in advance. However, because policies and guidelines are sensitive and complex, users should take care over any edits, to be sure they are faithfully reflecting the community's view and to be sure that they are not accidentally introducing new sources of error or confusion.

Because Wikipedia practice exists in the community through consensus, editing a policy/guideline/essay page does not in itself imply an immediate change to accepted practice. It is, naturally, bad practice to recommend a rejected practice on a policy or guideline page. To update best practices, you may change the practice directly (you are permitted to deviate from practice for the purposes of such change) and/or set about building widespread consensus for your change or implementation through discussion. When such a change is accepted, you can then edit the page to reflect the new situation.

Substantive changes

Talk page discussions are usually held before substantive changes are made to policies.

Talk first. Talk page discussion typically precedes substantive changes to policy. Changes may be made if there are no objections, or if discussion shows that there is consensus for the change. Minor edits to improve formatting, grammar, and clarity may be made at any time.

If the result of discussions is unclear, then it should be evaluated by an administrator or other independent editor, as in the proposal process. Major changes should also be publicized to the community in general; announcements similar to the proposal process may be appropriate.

If wider input on a proposed change is desired, it may be useful to mark the section with the tag {{Under discussion|section|talk=Discussion Title}}. (If the proposal relates to a single statement, use {{Under discussion-inline|Discussion Title}} immediately after it.)

Or be bold. The older but still valid method is to boldly edit the page. Bold editors of policy and guideline pages are strongly encouraged to follow WP:1RR or WP:0RR standards. Although most editors find advance discussion, especially at well-developed pages, very helpful, directly editing these pages is permitted by Wikipedia's policies. Consequently, you should not remove any change solely on the grounds that there was no formal discussion indicating consensus for the change before it was made. Instead, you should give a substantive reason for challenging it and, if one hasn't already been started, open a discussion to identify the community's current views.

Editing a policy to support your own argument in an active discussion may be seen as gaming the system, especially if you do not disclose your involvement in the argument when making the edits.

Conflicts between advice pages

If policy and/or guideline pages directly conflict, one or more pages need to be revised to resolve the conflict so that all of the conflicting pages accurately reflect the community's actual practices and best advice. As a temporary measure during that resolution process, if a guideline appears to conflict with a policy, editors may assume that the policy takes precedence.

More commonly, advice pages do not directly conflict, but provide multiple options. For example, WP:Identifying reliable sources says that newspaper articles are generally considered to be reliable sources, and Wikipedia:Identifying reliable sources (medicine) recommends against newspaper articles for certain technical purposes. Editors must use their best judgment to decide which advice is most appropriate and relevant to the specific situation at hand.


The page names of policies and guidelines usually do not include the words "policy" or "guideline", unless required to distinguish the page from another.

See also


  1. ^ Many historical essays can still be found within Meta's essay category. The Wikimedia Foundation's Meta-wiki was envisioned as the original place for editors to comment on and discuss Wikipedia, although the "Wikipedia" project space has since taken over most of that role.
  2. ^ There is no prohibition against including appropriate external references to support and explain our policies or guidelines, but such sources are not authoritative with respect to Wikipedia, and should only be used to reinforce consensus.
  3. ^ Office declarations may establish unprecedented policies to avoid copyright, legal, or technical problems, though such declarations are rare.

Further reading