Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2008-03-13/Tutorial

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The Wikipedia Signpost

Tutorial: Summary of policies

By The Placebo Effect, 13 March, 2008

Wikipedia is a project that has wide boundaries. As such, there are many rules and policies that describe how things are done. As of right now, there are 42 policies that are enforced and used in the maintenance of Wikipedia. A brief summary of each policy, listed in bold, sorted into categories, follows. (Note: This only covers official policies, not guidelines)


The first few policies deal with an editor's start on Wikipedia. The Username policy limits certain names from being used, including those of celebrities (unless you can prove who you say you are), ones that imply leadership on Wikipedia, are offensive, or are similar to an established user. Usernames can be changed by going to Wikipedia:Changing username and requesting an unused username, or one that has no edits can be usurped. Editors are discouraged from having multiple accounts, often called sock puppets, and are disallowed from using them to "create the illusion of greater support for an issue, to mislead others, to artificially stir up controversy, to aid in disruption, or to circumvent a block."

After this, the Editing policy states simply that editors should work on improving pages, without regarding perfection, because it can be fixed later. However, certain types of edits are prohibited:

  • Vandalism – Any editor that repeatedly makes edits that are obviously trying to disrupt Wikipedia can be blocked or permanently banned.
  • Edit Warring – If you and other editors are consistently reverting each other's edits, stop editing, and discuss it on the talk page.
  • Breaking the Three-revert rule – You may be blocked for making 4 or more reverts to one article within a 24 hour time period.
  • Acting like you own an article – By editing Wikipedia, you allow others to edit any articles you edit or create. Asserting control over any article is prohibited.

Most of your interaction with other editors takes place on the Talk Pages. There are three main policies for governing interaction with other editors:

  • Civility – Treat others as nicely as possible. This includes not ignoring their comments and not talking down to them. This also encourages you to make sure people remain civil and remind them if they are not.
  • No legal threats – Legal threats should not be directed to people on Wikipedia or mentioned on Wikipedia.
  • No personal attacks – We are here to build an Encyclopedia, so please don't attack other people with words or in any other manner.

Two more policies fall into this subcategory of Policies:

  • Bot policy – All automated bots should be approved and must be a separate account from the owner, and not harm Wikipedia.
  • Wheel war (Admins only) – Do not repeat an administrative action when you know that another administrator opposes it. Do not continue a chain of administrative reversals without discussion.

Content and style

Content and style policies talk about what type of articles are allowed in Wikipedia, and what has to be maintained in the articles.

These are Wikipedia's three core content policies. Together, they set the standard for what should be in Wikipedia's articles. They should be viewed as parts of a whole and not separate. The principles upon which these policies are based are non-negotiable and cannot be superseded by other policies or guidelines, or by editors' consensus.

  • Neutral point of view – Every article must give all significant views of the topic equal weight without favoring one or the other.
  • No original research – Wikipedia does not publish original thoughts, and is not the place to establish new ideas.
  • Verifiability – Any material that might be reasonably questioned should be attributed to a reliable source.

Two policies based on content apply to two specific subsets of articles:

  • Attack pages – Any page that is made to do nothing but disparage its subject should be tagged with {{attack}} and be deleted immediately.
  • Biographies of living people – Because information posted in a person's biography can be hurtful, great care must be taken to remove any statements that do not meet the three core principles listed above.

The final two policies in this category are:


The Deletion policies govern what articles should be deleted and what process they have to go through in order to be deleted. They allow for four methods of deletion: Articles for Deletion, two of the methods of deletion listed below and copyright violation, which can fall under speedy deletion. Deletion Review is also established under this policy, which allows for the undeletion of articles that were deleted incorrectly.

  • Speedy Deletion – If a page meets any of the criteria on the listed policy page, then tag it with the appropriate template. An admin will look at it to see whether it meets the criteria; if it does, the admin will delete it.
  • Proposed deletion – If you feel that nobody will disagree with deletion, but the situation doesn't meet the speedy deletion criteria, you can tag an article with {{subst:prod}}. If the tag isn't removed within five days, than the article can be deleted by an admin. If the tag is removed, then you have the option of proposing a deletion at Articles for Deletion.
  • Category deletion policy – Governs how categories are deleted, either through Speedy Deletion or Categories for discussion.

The other two policies governing deletion deal with actions by the Wikimedia Foundation. These policies are when the Foundation is doing something for legal reasons or because of exceptional controversy:

  • Office actions – The Wikimedia Foundation reserves the right to delete any article without community input.
  • Oversight – Edits in edit histories can be hidden from view of editors and admins.

Enforcing policies

Any system that has policies has to be able to enforce them in some way. Wikipedia is no different. The first two of these deal with how you work with other editors in order to decide how things work in Wikipedia:

  • Consensus – Decisions agreed upon by community consensus should be respected and followed. Also of note: even though consensus once existed for something, that doesn't mean such a consensus will exist forever.
  • Dispute resolution – The preferred method for solving problems dealing with articles is to talk about the content, and if that doesn't work, bring in an unrelated third party to help settle the problem.

If these methods of discussing the problems don't work and edit warring continues, there are policies that come into effect, in this approximate order:

  • Protecting – Pages can be protected if parties are excessively edit warring on them or are being vandalized at a very high rate.
  • Banning – Bans are different from blocks because bans are a formal revocation of editing privileges in a certain area of Wikipedia. A ban does not disable a user from editing a page, but is instead a simple social contract.
  • Blocking – If a user is violating any policy, after they have been informed of the policy they broke, then they may be blocked from editing and have their editing privileges revoked.
  • Arbitration Committee – The Arbitration Committee has the final say in behavioral disputes. They only rule on behavior issues and not content issues (i.e. whether Waterboarding is torture, or whether TV episode articles should exist in Wikipedia).

The final two methods, below, are extensions of the Blocking policy. They help to enforce the strength of blocks, so that they aren't avoided or misused:

  • Appealing a block – If you feel that you have been blocked inappropriately, you may appeal your block by either using the {{unblock}} template, or by e-mailing the Unblock mailing list.
  • Open proxies – The use of a proxy to evade an IP block is prohibited.

Legal and copyright

Copyright Policies come from The Laws of the United States of America and the State of Florida. All the policies listed below are extensions of the previous two listed:

  • Copyright violations – Do not add anything to Wikipedia that you copied from somewhere else. if you find anything that is a Copyright violation, remove it on sight.
  • Image use policy – If you use copyrighted images in an article, mention the source on the image page and make it as usable as possible
  • Libel – All editors are responsible for making sure Wikipedia's content is not defamatory. When found, defamatory content should be deleted or removed on sight.
  • Non-free content criteria – In cases where no free counterpart can be found, non-free content may be used if it meets the set criteria listed on the policy page.
  • Reusing Wikipedia content – Information from Wikipedia can be reused if you credit all the authors, distribute it with the Text of the GNU Free Documentation License, and allow free access to it.


There is only one policy that falls in this category, and it is impossible to summarize it, because it is already so succinct:

  • Ignore all Rules – If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it. (Note: a tutorial discussing this policy in more detail is planned for a future issue.)

Further reading

Also this week:

From the editor — Scandal fallout continues — WikiWorld — News and notes — In the news — Dispatches — WikiProject report — Tutorial — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report

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