Wikipedia:The value of essays

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On Wikipedia, an essay is a page written in Wikipedia project namespace describing the processes on Wikipedia at the point-of-view of one or more users. Essays can be written by anyone and can give instructions or advice, can be long or short, serious or funny.

There are currently thousands of essays, and this number is expected to grow. Essays vary in popularity and how much they are followed and referred to. As with WikiProject pages, information pages and template documentation pages, essays have not been formally approved by the community, thus generally have limited status during deliberations (see WP:Local consensus for details).

Questions about essays[edit]

Are essays policy?[edit]

Essays, WikiProject pages, information pages and template documentation pages, do not automatically become policy or guidelines just because they are written. All it takes is one person to write an essay or information page or create a template and its documentation page and there it is. Unlike a policy or guideline, which requires a clear consensus before it can take effect, and will be in a proposed state until then, an essay does not need consensus to exist; it just is. Rather, following the instructions or advice given in an essay is optional, assuming that this choice be made wisely.

Some essays at one time were proposed policies or guidelines, but they could not gain consensus so they were converted into essays. Other pages that began as essays later became policies or guidelines or were tagged as a supplemental essay.

Can essays override policy?[edit]

No. Essays and information pages do not override existing policies and guidelines. They usually serve as addendum to existing ones. Essays do not serve the function of creating new policies or guidelines or rendering existing ones meaningless. As policies and guidelines can have multiple interpretations, essays normally serve to show various interpretations of policies and guidelines that are already being somehow followed.

How meaningful are essays?[edit]

Essays and information pages are not policy or guidelines that must be followed, but they are likely worthy of consideration. An editor who takes the time to write an essay probably understands the project namespace well enough and has enough knowledge and experience in editing Wikipedia that the essay has been written in good faith. Essays usually are based on reform, gaps one sees must be filled in, or other improvement viewed as necessary in Wikipedia's procedures. An essay may also provide advice on how to apply a particular policy or guideline to a specific situation. Essays edited by multiple editors might be given extra consideration as this is a clear sign that the viewpoint exists from more than just one editor.

How can I tell how worthy an essay really is?[edit]

The answer is you can't, with any certainty. No essay or information page has any formal status of having more worth than another. As with everything involving Wikipedia:Consensus formation, it mostly comes down to common sense and the cogency of the argument. A well-reasoned essay grounded in accepted interpretations of policies, guidelines, and procedures is going to be of more practical value than a subjective, rambling rant, or a contrarian viewpoint at odds with the community's general approach to something. An essay that applies already-established consensus in a sensible way is of higher value and influence than one that seeks to change how things are perceived and done. The primary function of Wikipedia essays – well, the kind that other editors refer to – is to conveniently record frequently used and accepted arguments (i.e., consensus that simply doesn't rise to guideline or policy level), so that we don't have to keep writing out and reading it in restated words over and over again.

You can, however, also see how popular pages are:

  1. By viewing a ranking system that uses a weighted score system that takes into account number of page watchers (W), pageviews (P), and number of incoming links (L). See list of essays sorted by score.
  2. By looking at just page stats, you can see how many times a page has been viewed in each month and on each day. To get an accurate figure, you must enter the actual full title as it appears at the top of the page and not any redirects or shortcuts. For a listing see Essays by page views.
  3. You can also see how often a page has been cited in discussions by going to the page and clicking on "what links here". With this feature, you can check how often a page itself or a shortcut to an individual section has been cited by others. To examine linkage of a shortcut, you can click "what links here" from the shortcut, which is useful because shortcuts often represent targeted redirects to sections of pages.
  4. Attached to each essay or information page is a discussion page. This will show how much discussion has been held pertaining to that essay, and what the discussion has been about. This does not show in numbers how popular an essay is, but it does let you know the impression others have of the page.
  5. Editing itself can show that others have interest in the essay, but the lack of editing does not mean others do not have interest. If a page goes for a long period of time without editing, this is not necessarily due to a lack of interest. This can very well be because the page simply does not need editing.

These stats have limited usefulness for essay assessment, for several reasons, most obviously that they are biased toward older essays over recent ones, and they will automatically favor essays on frequent topics of debate over more obscure or technical matters. There is also a statistical favoring of essays broad in scope and with more specific section shortcuts, than those that narrowly address a particular peccadillo.

Editing essays[edit]

Essays and information pages, like all other Wikipedia pages, can be edited. They can be expanded, reduced, modified, merged, split, or even deleted if deemed necessary (via WP:MfD; this is extremely rare). Few essays are protected in any way, allowing them to be edited by IP editors too. All the same, guidelines that apply to editing articles also apply to essays. Essays are not owned; no special permission is needed to edit them. Good judgment and understanding of their meaning and area(s) of coverage is strongly encouraged.

Unlike policy and guideline pages, bold edits intelligently made to essays and information pages without a discussion are less likely to be reverted.

The expansion of essays and information pages is highly welcome. Before creating an essay it is strongly encouraged that you first attempt to see if an existing essay essentially provides the same message, or addresses a receptive subject matter into which your proposed message can be inserted without awkwardness or conflict. Some new essays, however, are created resembling other essays as POV forks, which is acceptable in essay writing.

Linking essays[edit]

Currently, many essays are orphaned. When creating or improving an essay, it is important that you try your best to see that it is not orphaned, and that it does not form a walled garden with several other essays.

Since newly created or discovered essay often pertain in one way or another to existing project material, it may be useful to provide links to them from other essays, information pages and relevant policies and guidelines. See Wikipedia:Drawing attention to new pages for instructions.

Essays in deletion discussions[edit]

A question that often arises at deletion discussions is whether or not essays are valid sources on which to base keep or deletion rationales.

The outcome of a deletion debate is not determined by counting votes, but by the application of Wikipedia policy and guidelines. So where do essays figure in?

Like policies and guidelines, essays may be useful in making a point supporting your position. But when doing so, simply stating "Keep per [[WP:ThisEssay]]" or "Delete per [[WP:ThisEssay]]" will not help your cause. Your point-of-view will have a better chance of being factored into the outcome if you state the reason why you believe the essay you cite matters. You may even use an essay as a rationale to propose an article for deletion if you give a good reason. WP:HAMMER is a classic example of this.

When someone cites an essay (or part of one) in support of a deletion discussion position, others may sometimes respond that the source of the cited material is "just an essay" – implying it is meaningless in the discussion. The truth is, essays are not meaningless, and will be factored into the outcome if relevant to the context presented, and expressed well in users' rationales. If you want to counter an essay cited by someone else, the best way to do so is to cite another policy, guideline, or essay, along with an explanation as to why your opinion is more worthy.

For a list of good essays to use in a deletion discussion, see Wikipedia:List of policies and guidelines to cite in deletion debates#Useful essays (and parts of essays).

See also[edit]