Wikipedia:Expectations and norms of the Wikipedia community
Wikipedia exists to create a neutral high-quality encyclopedia. It is funded by donations from the public and other philanthropic bodies, and is not operated for profit, or for any interest group or social group’s benefit.
People wishing to edit as part of the Wikipedia community should make themselves aware of the social norms and expectations that apply to all editors.
While anyone is welcome to edit Wikipedia, the purpose of that editing is to improve the encyclopedia, not to promote any personal agenda. Our community is founded on individual reputation and trust, and users should treat others respectfully, work together collegially, and avoid behavior related to editing that will be widely seen as unacceptable, disruptive, or dishonest.
- This page does not cover content or content related policies beyond the scope of the section “purpose of editing“.
- Key points are listed. For the major policies, guidelines and essays on each of these, see below. For unfamiliar terms see the glossary.
- 1 Your account
- 2 Working together
- 3 Structure of Wikipedia
- 4 Main policies, guidelines and essays
- 5 See also
- 6 Further reading (external links)
Purpose of editing
Our community exists for one purpose: writing a free, neutral, well-sourced encyclopedia. Anyone who shares this goal is invited to join. However, editing is a privilege, not a right. It may be revoked by blocking, banning or otherwise restricting people who damage or disrupt Wikipedia.
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Reputation and user accounts
Over time, editors may acquire an informal reputation based on their edits and the views of their peers. Past behavior, recorded in each editor’s contribution history, may be a factor in community discussions related to sought positions of trust or potential sanctions. If you have gained a poor reputation in some matter, remedy it by demonstrating change or by no longer editing in the problematic area. Do not attempt to engage in the same behavior or topic area under a new name. The community scrutinizes the behavior of individuals, not just accounts.
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User anonymity and privacy
Anyone may edit under a nickname or without registering an account as an IP address. Editors who contribute anonymously or using an account may not be identified by others or have non-public information posted on-wiki unless they have previously posted it or otherwise consented on Wikipedia or a sister project. Any such breach of privacy may be completely removed (“oversighted“) so that not even administrators can retrieve them. The privacy of article subjects is the subject of a separate policy and is given a very high priority.
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To cease editing, a user simply stops editing. Accounts and edits cannot be deleted, however, for reasons related to copyright, licensing requirements (attribution), and public record of the proceedings of the community. Specific discussions of a sensitive nature may be courtesy blanked but remain in the historical record. Some pages, particularly in a user’s own userspace, can often be deleted if no other user was a significant contributor. The community has provisions for a clean start and for “vanishing“, but both are subject to strict conditions, the violation of which may lead to the sanctioning of the user.
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How things get done
Wikipedia’s principal means of “getting things done” is self-motivated collaborative activity.
- As a volunteer each individual chooses to edit, improve, and help others wherever they wish.
- As a community member each individual is obliged to work in a reasonable and honest way with others, to seek wider input and advice as needed, to be open to others’ views, to avoid disruptive or obstructive behavior and other major policy breaches, and to engage in discussions only in ways that help the project.
This is especially important when users disagree — an unavoidable situation in any community. Given the size of the community even uncommon tasks often have multiple volunteers active and able to help.
Collaboration and honesty
Most discussions are ultimately settled by “consensus” – after exposure to public debate a number of independent uninvolved users have contributed and given reasons why a particular matter is or is not appropriate. Users wishing to edit should work within this model. Attempts to subvert or bias discussions or to influence them improperly, for example by canvassing, sock-puppetry (abuse of multiple accounts) or “gaming“, are taken extremely seriously and can lead to a block or ban on a first occasion.
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Thoughtful helpful approach to other editors
A large number of users donate time, knowledge, skills, and effort to help the project and other users. Users should act towards other users in a generally helpful manner even if disagreeing with their views or tone. This often means listening and trying to find common ground, avoiding inflaming disputes or polarizing discussions, and working from unselfish project principles. A generally calm, productive, collegial style is looked for. Handling difficult users is covered below.
Newcomers, who may not know the site’s norms, should be supported and helped rather than “bitten“. Users who appear to be making efforts to edit positively but whose actions are disruptive will usually be warned before any further action. However, users editing in a very improper or disruptive manner (vandalism, pure self-promotion, attacks, etc.) may find themselves treated more strictly or rapidly sanctioned.
Users who do not feel inclined to help others are expected at the least not to make others’ positive activities harder or less rewarding by engaging in difficult conduct or poor and ungraceful social manners. Especially, users joining a dispute should do so with a view to helping those involved find ways to resolve it, and should not act in ways that “make it worse”.
Expertise and real-world credentials
Wikipedia documents topics as they are seen through reliable sources such as academic papers, and reputable books and news media. The work of editors is to summarize and balance those sources and reflect them neutrally and fairly, rather than to present novel ideas of their own. Editorial writing skills and an ability to explain and collaborate well are often more important than subject-matter expertise. Wikipedians are not themselves reliable sources, no matter who they are.
Experts who edit bring great knowledge to Wikipedia and to the world. However, it is important to recognize that experts, no less than anyone else, may have their own views and biases, and must also summarize topics neutrally and at a suitable level for the topic. While credentials are respected, they do not carry weight in discussions, and appeals to credentials often carry little weight. Wikipedia contains users of all kinds, and some academics find it preferable to allude to their credentials but edit under a pseudonym, to separate Wikipedia editing from their academic life.
Disputes and disagreements
Personality and topic approaches vary among users. A range of dispute resolution methods exist for users who find themselves in disagreement. Users are expected to seek dialog and, if that fails, seek uninvolved help from the rest of the community (it’s easier to resolve a problem if other editors have clearly acted to a high standard). If needed seek more formal dispute resolution but always keep acting to a high standard. Disruptive activities and editing in lieu of calm resolution are not appropriate.
Even if one user in a dispute appears behaving unreasonably, others in the dispute are expected to try to resolve it calmly, then seek progressively more formal help.
Posts made in a dispute should focus on discerning what is right and best for the project. They should reflect Wikipedia norms and policies rather than personal agendas, advocacy or battleground mindsets, and responses should focus on addressing any Wikipedia issues and not just be reactive.
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Inconsiderate and forbidden conduct
Wikipedia has a number of strict norms on inappropriate conduct to other users. These cover behaviors ranging from ordinary impoliteness and sarcasm, through to styles of speech likely to provoke “heat” rather than “light” (“fighting words“), and also cover more reprehensible forms of conduct such as harassment, personal attacks, and “outing”.
Low grade and sporadic abrasive conduct (“incivility”) should be avoided, but if it happens is best ignored rather than rising to the bait. Users should focus on the Wikipedia issue and set aside personal issues. More serious issues or persistent problems should be raised, first with the user and then if needed, switching to dispute resolution.
Conduct that disrupts content writing is also strictly forbidden. This includes disruptive, deceptive, vandalistic, and tendentious editing. The latter covers all forms of behavior where the user prevents good quality editing from taking place or persists in causing productive discussion to be derailed.
These do not affect removal of inappropriate material on good policy-based grounds. However an established disagreement between editors over possibly poor quality edits should usually be met by discussion and attempt to agree what is best for the project following usual project norms, rather than edit warring or battleground behavior.
Wikipedia’s sanctions and blocking regimes for this kind of conduct initially seem quite mild and tolerant, however repeatedly disruptive users will find that it becomes strongly enforced in the end.
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Editors may have (and identify as having) any beliefs, opinions, preferences or lifestyles, even if offensive to other people. Nobody is excluded from Wikipedia because of any of these, or because of gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, real-world behavior, or other such criteria. The sole current exception is zero tolerance on pedophilia and related advocacy which will result in a ban from the project whether or not they affect editing.
Editors with strong views on a matter or who are closely involved with the topic must not let their personal convictions or background improperly affect their editing of articles. Users are expected and obligated to edit neutrally and based upon discussion and consensus of evidence only. Ideally, it should not be possible, when looking at an editor’s contributions to an article, to determine their personal views (if any) about the subject itself.
People who are unable to edit in this manner should limit themselves to the talk page or avoid the topic entirely, if they wish to edit, because Wikipedia is not for promotion and soapboxing and is not a battleground.
E-mails and other off-site communications are usually not allowed to be posted on Wikipedia except by consent of all who are being quoted or referenced. Off-wiki attempts to improperly manipulate Wikipedia discussions are forbidden.
Structure of Wikipedia
All editors in good standing are precisely equal in a discussion about content and ordinary project matters. While some individual’s views may be noted more than others, this is inevitably due to individual choices and experience; it is not a reflection of any kind of formal “status”. Even long-standing editors and administrators have no extra say — they participate in all discussions on equal terms (no higher or lower) than others.
Because Wikipedia is reputation based, very new users, “single purpose” users or apparent canvassed users evidencing an agenda, users who have not yet set up an account, and apparently disruptive or improperly behaving users, may be given less “weight” in some discussions. Even so, if such users do make good cogent points based upon good sense and community policies and norms, these will usually carry identical weight in a discussion.
The (very) few exceptions tend to be related to management of tools, disputes and privacy, and other matters requiring trust. The relevant rights are granted due to reputation and following careful discussion, usually by the community as a whole.
Policies and norms
Community policies, guidelines, and norms are effective rules or common expectations established by the community through either common practice or discussion and agreement. From time to time they are reconsidered and amended. There are many of them, and they tend to grow in an “organic” and somewhat anarchic manner. Not all policies and norms are agreed upon or have the same level of “buy-in” (or general acceptance), but those that gain consensus to be designated policies or guidelines are usually considered to be widely supported and will often be strongly enforced.
Policies and guidelines reflect (and are written descriptions of) communal views. They may become close to mandatory when they reflect a norm that the community has shown it agrees and accepts, and may be set aside in rare cases where the community feels it is appropriate to do so. They may change whenever a change is proposed and the community shows the change is agreed and accepted. Policy wordings are in ongoing development so the on-wiki wording may not always or fully reflect community norms at any given time.
While anyone may post a suggested norm or a proposed change, it takes considerable experience to learn the kinds of norms likely to gain widespread agreement.
Wikipedia also has a few policies that describe how other policies should be used. The best known is “Ignore All Rules“, a policy that states written policies exist to benefit the project; in exceptional circumstances, there may be a need to place the core principles of the project above its written policies, if there is a conflict between the two.
Ownership, use, and censorship of material
Wikipedia’s content is licensed under GFDL and CC-by-SA, both well known irrevocable free licenses that make all submitted content permanently and entirely free to reuse or change. With the exception of Wikipedia’s own logos and those of its sister sites, anyone may copy, modify and reuse any material on any page of Wikipedia, for any purpose including personal or commercial reuse, subject to minimal conditions (of which the main one is a backlink and attribution).
For this reason, the community takes copyright of submitted material very seriously. Nobody can tell how a material will be reused, therefore material may not be added to any page nor any image or media uploaded, that cannot be uploaded, stored, reused and distributed under these licenses and relevant laws. This includes copyright text such as emails and chats logs as well as websites, books and other media (unless permission is granted or fair use applies).
Two other social norms affect content:
- Wikipedia’s encyclopedic content is not censored – the main encyclopedia’s content is governed by encyclopedic value rather than social acceptability. In addition, edits on Wikipedia remain perpetually in the public record unless they happen to fall within (fairly strict) deletion criteria.
- Editors do not own articles. All articles are communally owned with edits being contributed to the encyclopedia at the point of editing. Even the creator of a new article does not have the right to control its editing or content, or any control over its deletion or keeping outside usual community processes.
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Main policies, guidelines and essays
- Wikipedia:Arguments to avoid on discussion pages
- Wikipedia:Contributing to Wikipedia
- Wikipedia:Editorial oversight and control
- Wikipedia:List of policies
- Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines (and the introductory help page on these)
- Wikipedia:Product, process, policy
- Wikipedia:Simplified ruleset
- Wikipedia:The role of policies in collaborative anarchy
- Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not
- Wikipedia:Wikipedia in brief
- Mission statement – The Wikimedia Foundation
- Wikimedia values – The six values of the Wikimedia Foundation
- In a nutshell, what is Wikipedia? And what is the Wikimedia Foundation? – The Wikimedia Foundation
- Wikimedia founding principles – Principles generally supported by all of the Wikimedia communities