Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/rules

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Rather than engage in edit wars over non-consensus deletions at Wikipedia:Reference desk/guideline, I've created this page to reflect only consensus discussions. StuRat 15:39, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

List of Ref Desk policy issues under dispute[edit]

Copied and refactored from the Ref Desk talk page archives:

Here I wish to only build a list of Ref Desk policy issues under dispute. I don't wish to discuss them here, just build a list. That discussion can happen elsewhere. Please add any issues I missed to the list. Also, add a link after each item to where that discussion is or has occurred, if you have one:

  • Purpose of the Ref Desk HANDLED WITH A LINK, SO NO NEED TO DECIDE CONTENT HERE [1] [2] [3]
  • Is the Ref Desk considered to be like an article or like a talk page ? RESOLVED
  • Rules for deletion RESOLVED [4]
  • Is opinion allowed RESOLVED
  • Are references required for all statements of fact ? RESOLVED
  • Are answers containing original research allowed? RESOLVED [5]
  • Are answers with references outside of Wikipedia allowed ? RESOLVED
  • Are responses which don't directly answer the question allowed ? RESOLVED [6]
  • Can we address another responder, or only the original poster ? RESOLVED [7]
  • Is humor allowed ? RESOLVED
  • Is sexual content allowed ? RESOLVED
  • Are poorly written questions allowed ? RESOLVED [8]
  • Should signatures be required ? RESOLVED
  • May we edit the posts of others ? RESOLVED [9]
  • Avoid using abbreviations like "OP" ? RESOLVED [10]
  • Is "just Google it" a valid response ? RESOLVED [11].
  • May the same people post both questions and answers ? RESOLVED [12] [13]
Some of these numbered links lead only to the entire Ref Desk talk page, so they do not show any consensus that an editor can refer to. And it is meaningless to ask a question and say "RESOLVED" without saying which way the outcome was. Edison 16:22, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
Yea, the broken links are a consequence of the consensus discussions having been archived. I will go track them down and fix the links, eventually, but don't have the time right now (would you be willing ?). To see the decision, just pick "project page" above. I was assuming that nobody will go and change that without consensus, though. If you want, I can copy the text over to here, from there, as well, I was just trying to keep things as short as possible. StuRat 16:48, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
I've fixed quite a few links, but others continue to break as things are archived. StuRat 02:42, 15 December 2006 (UTC)

Next question for consensus: Avoid using abbreviations like "OP" ?[edit]

Agree. We should avoid any abbrevs that are likely to confuse newbies (I had a specific question on the meaning of "OP" from one of them). Also, many of the abbrevs baffle me, as well. StuRat 15:46, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

Agree. Thought this has been decided. Also the suitlalby empasize or whatever. -THB 15:55, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

Agree It does not improve communication to sling neologisms and abbreviations around, IIRC. I must Suitly emphazi, it would be like going to RfAr because of a PROD or a 3rr vio in an AOTW, or a Wheel War started by a Rouge Admin who gets desysopped because xe didn't AGF and did a NPA vio after an RfC, so it winds up on on BJAODN when it could have been a COTW. Might as well post in hexadecimal. 52,49,47,48,54,3F . Edison 16:14, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

Agree wholeheartedly because we really ought to keep our thoughts about our questioners to ourselves where they belong -- on the talk page. We could simply create a template for our use, something like "subst op" or whatever. ^_^ Cernen Xanthine Katrena 16:59, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

Yes yes of course. WP:SNOW, sturat.. --frothT C 22:04, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

Agree, we may understand what's going on, but there are few things more intimidating to a first-time poster than an answer full of abbreviations s/he doesn't understand. — QuantumEleven 12:39, 14 December 2006 (UTC)


THB, good point, perhaps we should say "Avoid using abbrevs and neologisms" ? I think it was decided, but the decision wasn't documented, so we need to do it formally before updating the consensus rules. StuRat 16:10, 12 December 2006 (UTC)


It looks like we have a consensus in favor of this one, so I will add the rule. I realize this was a "no brainer", but I don't want to be accused of ignoring consensus and acting unilaterally, so it's necessary to do things rather formally. StuRat 23:34, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

What happens when you merge?[edit]

I see a few people are using this to work on their own version, because they're unhappy with how things are going at Wikipedia:Reference desk/guideline. Alright- but what happens when you're done? This would need to get merged into the guideline page, right? How is that going to work? Ned Wilbury 16:18, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

Well, we will cross that bridge when we get to it. That isn't an "official" page, incidentally, but only a proposal. We could decide to only use one, the other, or both, as is, or we could take aspects of both and do a "merge", as you suggest. StuRat 16:44, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
Will this help resolve disagreement, or only help delay disagreement? Ned Wilbury 16:46, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
I think the immediate concern was to cool the heated tempers among those who believed changes in the rules can be made by anyone (there) and those who believed a consensus should be required for any change (here). Hopefully, once tempers have cooled, we can once again work together. StuRat 16:55, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
  • It should be obvious that this page does not reflect consensus, since only one side of the earlier debate is included here. Proposals that do not reflect consensus are not merged, but {{rejected}}. (Radiant) 16:51, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
  • The other side is included there, why should it be copied here ? I've only copied the portions here which relate to this rules page. StuRat 16:55, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

This is clearly nothing more than a content fork of Wikipedia:Reference desk/guideline. StuRat - if you want a private copy of the guideline page I suggest you keep it in your userspace. If you won't do this willingly, I'll nominate this page for deletion per WP:MFD. -- Rick Block (talk) 19:50, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

"questions for consensus" should be held on the /guideline page, but there's nothing wrong with an index of what exactly has been decided, with links to those discussions. And it would be appropriate to a talkspace subpage too. --frothT C 22:08, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

I'm afraid that the people there will just delete any "questions for consensus", just as they've deleted the results there. StuRat 00:10, 13 December 2006 (UTC)
Everything is recoverable (from the history if nowhere else). What exactly are you afraid will happen? The right way to go about this is to bring up issues on the talk page NOT to fork a new copy. You don't own the guideline page. You don't own this page. If you insist on having a page you own, the right place is in your own userspace. -- Rick Block (talk) 03:33, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
As I've said to you many times now, I'm afraid of endless edit wars. If we post our opinions on that page, they are deleted, we repost them, they are deleted again, etc., this doesn't seem likely to help us reach a consensus. StuRat 12:57, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
I'm contributing to both pages. But I have to say that the discussion here is a lot more focussed than it is at the other place. Gandalf61 13:27, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
Yes, there was a lot of "distraction" there, such as discussion of process, while I would like to focus on content. StuRat 13:40, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

Next question for consensus: Are responses which don't directly answer the question allowed ?[edit]

Are responses which don't directly answer the question allowed ?

  • If still related to the topic ?
  • If totally unrelated ?

Please give your opinion as "Both", "If still related", or "Neither":

  • Both. A certain amount of conversation needs to be allowed to foster a sense of "community". StuRat 23:46, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
  • BothBut the emphasis should be on addressing the question. -THB 00:31, 13 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Both, within reason. As long as the unrelated chatter isn't disruptive to the relevent discussion then it's beneficial to RD. Maelin (Talk | Contribs) 01:57, 13 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Both. This is what makes the reference desk the reference desk. Simple. End of. Cernen Xanthine Katrena 12:28, 13 December 2006 (UTC)
  • If still related Responses should generally be answers to the question, not chit-chat like an instant-messaging fest. A correction to an incorrect or misleading answer is appropriate. Responses which are not directly answers to the question but which are closely related to the topic of the question and which explore the broader implications are typical of what might go on in a good college classroom or seminar and are appropriate. Responses which answer aspects of the topic the original questioner did not know enough about the topic to include are appropriate, especially if the note the legal, health, or safety implications of something the questioner wants to do. Example: Q:How many carnival balloons will it take to make me fly through the air? I weigh 66 pounds. A: 3,000. (Clearly, more should be said). Unsigned by Edison 18:33, 13 December 2006 (UTC) - StuRat 02:13, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Both, within reason. Without repeating too much of what has been said, trying to write rules that are too tight is counterproductive. As long as an answer doesn't degenerate into a completely off-topic discussion, it's OK by me. — QuantumEleven 12:42, 14 December 2006 (UTC)



It looks like we have a supermajority to allow both, with the qualification "as long as the unrelated conversation isn't disruptive". I will update the rules accordingly. If the supermajority changes, I will, of course, change the rule to match. StuRat 17:11, 13 December 2006 (UTC)

You are presiding over this process with an overly quick gavel. Since this is not a scheduled or announced meeting of a group or society, and since there is no type of quorum determination, opening discussion, having 4 people register their opinions, and closing discussion 18 hours later is not a valid basis for claiming a supermajority has determined policy. Five days has been a typical period for commentary. We are not on deadline, and there is no fire. Edison 18:33, 13 December 2006 (UTC)
It isn't "closed" at all. I've just recorded what appears to be the supermajority thus far. If it changes, I will change the rule interpretation accordingly. However, I've observed that very few people add comments on things after the first day or two, so it doesn't seem likely that there will be a significant change. StuRat 02:17, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

Supermajority update[edit]

The latest discussions seem to be a bit more conservative that the early comments, so I've tried to reflect that in the rule interpretation by adding "within reason", to weaken the statements somewhat. StuRat 13:43, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

Next item for discussion: *Can we address another responder, or only the original poster ?[edit]

  • Allow addressing anyone. I think we need a way to comment on other's comments, such as asking for a reference on questionable statement, and/or providing a reference of our own which disproves their statement. This is an important "quality control" feature, as we all occasionally make mistakes. Of course, as always, we need to try to keep the discussion civil. For example, "I've never heard that before User:Example, do you have a source on that ?" verus "User:Example, you obviously don't know what you're talking about, so STFU." StuRat 13:29, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Allow addressing other responders. Need to be able to respond to the content of another response without risk of being wiki-slapped for "chatting". Meta discussions can go to RD Talk or user's talk page. Gandalf61 13:08, 14 December 2006 (UTC)


  • Yet another nonsensical straw man poll. Nobody is seriously proposing legislating against talking to other responders. (Radiant) 13:33, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Actually, there was a serious suggestion that we do just this, on the main Ref Desk Talk Page. The suggestion was part of the idea to build a single answer by having each of us edit the contributions of others, much like how an article works. While I believe this to be a minority opinion, it still deserves to be discussed. StuRat 18:01, 13 December 2006 (UTC)
  • It has been claimed that "metadiscussions" should be on the Discussion page or the users talk pages, rather than having arguments about what RD should be stuck into the answer to someone's question. If the exchange is on topic and civil and there is no great controversy, it could be on the Q & A page. If it is librarian fight, it should be out of the view of the public. The Q & A page should have a higher level of decorum than a blog or even a typical WP talk page. It is a public face of Wikipedia. Edison 18:42, 13 December 2006 (UTC)


Insufficient votes appear to exist here for a supermajority, so I'm going to drop this from the list of items under dispute. Let me know if we need to re-examine this issue. StuRat 02:07, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

Supermajority update[edit]

We now have comments from 4 people (me, Gandalf61, Radiant! and Edison). I take it the comment from Radiant! means he would allow this. Edison's comment also seems to say he would allow this, but would like to add a disclaimer. With 4 opinions, I'll go ahead and add a rule interpretation, with a disclaimer: "Yes, but any admonishments should go on the editor's talk page." StuRat 13:59, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

Next item for discussion: *Are poorly written questions allowed ?[edit]

  • Allow. I'd think that as long as we can possibly form a reasonable question out of it, we should answer it. If we can't, then I would ask for clarification rather than delete it. StuRat 07:16, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
100% agreement. -THB 10:42, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
I agree per StuRat's comment. Also, many users learned or are learning English as their second, third or nth language. This shouldn't stop anyone from posting a question at the reference desk. (A lot of non-English speaking Wikipedias don't even have a reference desk). ---Sluzzelin 11:50, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Absolutely agree. Not only non-English-native speakers, but also novice Internet users who may not have picked up on the 'unwritten rules' of posting messages on the Internet. We should assume good faith, and try our best to decipher their question. — QuantumEleven 12:33, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Allow; ask for clarification if necessary, or post a qualified response - "If you mean x then ...". Gandalf61 13:04, 14 December 2006 (UTC)


Er, per Radiant's comment in response to the previous question, is this even an issue? If there's an elephant in this room, or if this is supposed to be a straw man standing in place of another more serious question, we should probably be talking about that instead.... TenOfAllTrades(talk) 14:51, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

I've seen "poorly written question" used as one indication we are dealing with a troll, and they should therefore have their posts deleted and/or be blocked. Others disagree. Thus, whether poorly worded questions are allowed appears to be an item under dispute. StuRat 14:56, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
TenOfAllTrades, after having read up on the past week's discussions, it seems unclear what is an issue and what isn't. I see this whole process as a helpful tool to get some input on questions that have been raised - in an entirely different context and in the heat of the moment, perhaps - but nevertheless they were raised. A structured discourse (even if it's going at 150 km/h) is preferable to the divisive debates we've had in the past. In my view, the process, not the outcome, is the objective. I still hope it helps cool things down here.
Of course this doesn't mean your question isn't legitimate. In my view this is neither a strawman nor an elephant, but indeed an issue - perhaps it's needs some expansion: I have seen questions written in very poor English, but understandable nonetheless, being ridiculed at the reference desk, and I have seen the "you might want to check your spelling" etc. posts more than once too often, though not lately, I admit.---Sluzzelin 15:23, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

Initial supermajority[edit]

It looks like there is pretty clear agreement that the maximum leniency possible should be afforded to poorly worded questions. I will therefore, update the proposed rule interpretations to reflect this: "Are poorly worded questions allowed ? Yes, bearing in mind that many questions may be asked by children or those with limited English skills. As long as you can possibly form a reasonable question out of it, you should answer it. If you can't, then ask politely for clarifications. Of course, should later votes alter the supermajority, I will change the proposed rule interpretation accordingly. StuRat 19:13, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

Finalizing the Wikipedia:Reference_desk/rules proposal[edit]

We now have a basic sketch of some of the rules we would like to propose (although I'm still watching the last few items discussed in case the supermajority changes for each, and I will then make updates accordingly).

Before attempting to merge or gain consensus on these proposed rules, I'd like to take a step back and look at anything that should be changed here, first. I'd like to break the discussion down into sections, for clarity. StuRat 19:45, 14 December 2006 (UTC)


This isn't for the discussion of the actual rules being proposed, but whether any new rules are needed at all, whether this entire process is invalid, etc.:

  • I don't see where any changes were made based on recent discussion or the cogent input of two editors (Ten and Ummit). I also think it is way wacked that we have two pages Wikipedia:Reference desk/rules and Wikipedia:Reference desk/guideline and discussion on three talk pages. Before we go any further on commenting on anything, the two pages need to be merged and the good ideas from other editors incorporated. --Justanother 01:10, 15 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Well, since these were determined by polls (supermajority), I can't just change them as I see fit, I need to first incorporate those other ideas into this process. That is, an idea should be proposed here, we'll have a discussion on it, and then, hopefully, obtain a consensus, or as near we can get to one, that those rules should be included. If you can list what you think are the "good ideas from the other editors" under the "Items you would like to add" section below, that would be a nice start in the merging process. StuRat 02:39, 15 December 2006 (UTC)

Items you would like to add ?[edit]

Did we miss something ? Just list any items here. We can open a new section to discuss each one later:

Items you would like to remove ?[edit]

Perhaps we have a rule that's so blindingly obvious that it doesn't need to be stated at all ? Just list any items here. We can open a new section to discuss each one later:

Item you would like to change ?[edit]

Perhaps we got one of the rules wrong ? Or maybe a subtle change is needed ? Just list any items here. We can open a new section to discuss each one later:

Format changes ?[edit]

Perhaps paragraphs of prose would be more appropriate than the current question and answer format ? Perhaps the order in which the items are presented could be improved ? Just list any items here. We can open a new section to discuss each one later:

Looks good ?[edit]

If it all looks good to you, tell us here:

Time to bury the hatchet?[edit]

Is it time for this to be merged back into Wikipedia:Reference desk/guideline yet? Seems like continuing this seperately won't help. This page says right on it that nobody's supposed to edit it without first getting a supermajority, and the top of the talk page says this was forked in response to "non-consensus deletions" at the guideline. A page like this, with remarks like that is only going to cause division, not cooperation. Maybe it's just me, but the guideline has improved a lot- I think editing by normal wiki process is working, there. This page has very different standards and for that reason I don't see it really going anywhere. Ned Wilbury 00:17, 15 December 2006 (UTC)

I'd like to finalize this version first, then decide, by consensus, how to merge the two together. StuRat 00:32, 15 December 2006 (UTC)
You don't think of this as painting yourself into a corner? Ned Wilbury 14:57, 15 December 2006 (UTC)
How so ? StuRat 14:01, 17 December 2006 (UTC)
Stu, where is the work being done now? Neither of these have been touched in three days. Or is the momentum lost? --Justanother 14:05, 17 December 2006 (UTC)
I asked for consensus to move both /rules and /guideline into user spaces, then place TenOfAllTrades rules back here and add a portion of /rules back in. However, I got very little response on that suggestion and it was quickly archived. I'm tempted to just do it myself, but, I would likely have my account blocked by one of the pro-/guideline Admins if I tried (at least on the moving the /guideline portion). If you would be willing to move /guideline to your user space, I would do the same with /rules, and we could get started. Do you agree ? (I would leave a link at the old locations.) StuRat 14:36, 17 December 2006 (UTC)