How Wikipedia Works/Chapter 13

Wikipedia's official policies apply to everyone—if you're editing Wikipedia at all, rather than just reading it, then you have to accept that site policies apply to you too. Policies determine what types of articles are acceptable, what styles of writing are appropriate, and generally how editors should behave.

These policies are not dictated from on high. Like Wikipedia's articles, they've been developed collaboratively by community members. In principle, anyone on the site can write and edit policy, and this chapter will brief you about how to participate. It will provide background on Wikipedia tradition and customs, which will help you understand the terms in which a debate is usually posed and give you a feel for how change is actually implemented.

This chapter will also give you a working knowledge of the existing policies and some of the core principles behind them.

All aspects of policy are explicitly documented on project pages. These pages, just like Wikipedia articles, are editable and supported by discussion pages on which community members work out details and changes.

The spirit of wikipedia edit

You won’t master Wikipedia’s policies just by poring over policy pages. People new to the site need an introduction to Wikipedia’s culture, not just a rule book. Much of what happens on Wikipedia is not strictly governed by written rules. For example, Wikipedia is a working environment in which a huge encyclo pedia is written by a diverse group. This isn’t official policy. But this is why serious Wikipedians are on the site. Wikipedia certainly has policies against disrupting the site, but defining disruption is like drawing a line between distracting someone at the desk next to you for a good reason and actually preventing him or her from working. Don’t expect disruption to be completely spelled out, any more than in real life. In that way, common sense is the first aspect of policy to master. You can’t expect policies to be summed up completely by any one slogan, but this section will cover what many contributors see as Wikipedia’s central principles.

The Five Pillars edit

We’ll start with the five pillars of Wikipedia, a harmonious summary of the principles that guide the site.

  • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia (not anything else).
  • Wikipedia has a neutral point of view (the NPOV policy).
  • Wikipedia is free content that anyone may edit. (All Wikipedia content is freely licensed and free of charge, and content is freely editable.)
  • Wikipedia has a code of conduct. (Editors should behave civilly toward Wikipedia has a code of conduct. (Editors should behave civilly toward each other.)
  • Wikipedia does not have firm rules. (The editing community can change the rules.)

The five pillars summarize Wikipedia as a website, a mission, and a community. We don’t need to say more about the first three points since they were covered in Chapters 1, 2, and 5. In this chapter, we’ll focus on detailing the fourth and fifth pillars and associated behavior policies. In the next two sections, we’ll talk about three philosophies—one policy and two guidelines—that are at the core of how Wikipedia operates.

Ignore All Rules and Be Bold edit

Wikipedia has a degree of organization, but no one could accuse it of precision. The site organizes itself and is not managed by a top-down structure. Some of the consequences may seem contrarian, lax, or possibly a little rude. The principle of no firm rules can seem contrary but is deeply rooted in Wikipedia culture. The fifth pillar leads to a basic policy: Ignore All Rules (IAR).

The policy reads, in its entirety, If the rules prevent you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore them.

This policy appears at Wikipedia:Ignore all rules (shortcut WP:IAR).

Policies and guidelines, in other words, exist to create the best site possible. They are not ends in themselves; they can be changed, and they may be ignored when common sense dictates. Wikipedia is not, however, an anarchy (see WP:ANARCHY), so most rules are not under threat of being disregarded; Ignore all rules simply serves to release pressure when needed. Rules should be ignored when necessary or for a good reason, and most of the rules, or policies and guidelines, help Wikipedia function more smoothly. Ignore All Rules has been around from the beginning of Wikipedia—it expresses a core value of the project. The earliest version of the policy expresses the intended sentiment well: If rules make you nervous and depressed, and not desirous of participating in the Wiki, then ignore them and go about your business.

Closely related is the guideline (and site philosophy): Be Bold. Be Bold exhorts contributors to be bold in editing pages! This philosophy is fundamental to Wikipedia. With no top-down structure, work gets done, not because it was assigned as a task but because someone decided to be bold and do it. Although Be Bold is not an excuse to contradict standard policies and procedures, don’t be shy about improving the site. In the spirit of being bold, newcomers shouldn’t worry about whether their ideas conform completely to custom. Wikipedia has no set demarcations of who can work on what. But newcomers should be polite in presenting their ideas, another core principle. Be bold!—but be civil, too. Edits can be reverted; uncivil exchanges with other editors cannot be unsaid.

This whole attitude of no demarcations is, in turn, related to the idea of so fix it, which, though not a policy or guideline, is a core part of wiki culture. Almost everything is freely editable—and thus fixable—by anyone, and volunteers do virtually all the work. The response to complaining is likely to be “so fix it.” This is enshrined in a template that can be used to answer complaints about content or other problems. The {{sofixit}} template starts off,

Thank you for your suggestion. When you feel an article needs improvement, please feel free to make those changes.

This concept helps explain a Wikipedian lightbulb joke:

  • Q: How many Wikipedians does it take to change a lightbulb?
  • A: Zero. Just tag the light bulb as {{unscrewed}} and let someone else worry

about it.

A little cynical perhaps, but the point is true about voluntary projects. You can find more of the same at User:Bibliomaniac15/How many Wikipedians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?. This doesn’t mean constructive criticism isn’t welcomed. The point is that wiki sites are designed to allow critics to intervene: If you feel sidelined about making some remarks, those “sidelines” are in your imagination; they aren’t coming from Wikipedia. The essay Wikipedia:BOLD, revert, discuss cycle (shortcut WP:BRD) makes some interesting points. The essay is couched in the language of dispute resolution and concedes that being bold may be provocative. Someone interested and confident enough can make a sweeping change that may be reverted. This change may still be helpful, though; it may break a logjam or a consensus that has become too entrenched. Be opportunist about new changes: You don’t have to revert to a previous, safer version.

Don’t Stuff Beans up Your Nose A modern fable about contrarianism is popular on Wikipedia: the small boy who wouldn’t have thought of putting beans up his nose until it was forbidden. Online, contrarians often claim to be the loyal opposition to groupthink(discussed further in Chapter 14). See WP:BEANS and the summary, If they haven’t done it already, don’t tell a user not to do a specific stupid thing. It may encourage them to do it. In other words, a contrarian can easily become counter-suggestible, so simply having more and more rules is worse than light regulation that makes good sense to almost everyone.

Assume Good Faith edit

The fourth pillar deals with conduct on the site. Inevitably, Wikipedia has some problem users, but most users don’t cause problems at all. Assume Good Faith (often abbreviated as AGF) is a key part of understanding how to deal with others on the site. Assume Good Faith was introduced in Chapter 12 as an aspiration. But Assume Good Faith is also a basic guideline because it helps preserve Wikipedia’s good working environment.

Wikipedia’s culture is to assume that mistakes are generally good-faith errors. The Internet has become a place where people are often assumed to bring their own agenda to any discussion. Wikipedia cannot change this assumption directly, but Assume Good Faith helps reduce the tendency to suspect others’ motives. In other words, leave your baggage at the door!

Assuming good faith is a choice you make that reduces friction. Editors should assume all other editors are sincerely trying to improve the project. This means treating all other editors’ contributions in a professional, fair-minded fashion. Someone who ignores a formatting guideline may simply be making an honest mistake. Someone infringing on a policy may be unaware ofit. Bias may be unintentional. Discuss your differences with other editors on talk pages before jumping to conclusions about their motives.

This is not to say that Wikipedia doesn’t have true trolls, vandals, and other scalawags editing articles. Dispute resolution (covered in depth in Chapter 14) provides processes for dealing with a difficult editor when the evidence shows that he or she is not acting in good faith. By and large, however, most people edit Wikipedia because they want to contribute and help. Believing that is best—until you have firm evidence otherwise. Most likely, this is how you would want to be treated in an unfamiliar place; dispute resolution is not for vague suspicions.

Further Reading

What Is Policy? edit

Policy on Wikipedia refers to the large collection of documents that have been developed over time by the editing community. An important working distinction is made between official policy and guidelines. Similar to the familiar distinction between what is mandatory (regulations you are required to follow) and what is only advisory, policies are meant to be followed by all contributors in their work on the site, whereas guidelines are like a manual of standard practices. Policies and guidelines are sometimes first developed in essays, which are position papers posted on the site by an individual editor in his or her user space or the Wikipedia namespace for others to work on; though many essays are quite popular and are often cited in discussions, they typically do not have the same level of consensus as policies and guidelines and are not mandatory.

Ignoring official policy or guidelines doesn't benefit you. Policies have a clear status and generally represent more fundamental principles that have broad consensus among editors. Guidelines should at least have wide consensus, though, and reflect common sense or good practice as applied to the production of Wikipedia. A guideline may only be advice about some stylistic detail, but the advice will generally be good.

Official Policy edit

Official policy is a category. See. Simply said, project pages belonging to this category are official policy pages. At the time of this writing, Wikipedia has 46 policy pages in this category.

Wikipedia has no body that can make a policy official; this declaration is based on consensus. A few policies have been adopted at the Wikimedia Foundation level, which are non-negotiable at the project level, but these deal primarily with the content license and privacy practices (see Chapter 17, The Foundation and Project Coordination for the Wikimedia Foundation's policies). Everyday matters of policy on the English-language Wikipedia are not really affected by the Foundation.

Most policies are, therefore, a matter of consensus within the editing community. Here are two significant comments from the Official policy category page:

   There are only a few key policies that might be regarded as "official"—that is, considered by the founders and the vast majority of contributors as being particularly important to the running of Wikipedia. […] They have either withstood the test of time or have been adopted by consensus or acclamation.


   Very often, there is no "bright line" distinction between proposed policy, guidelines, and "actual" policy. Policy at Wikipedia is a matter of consensus, tradition, and practice. While the principles of the policies in this category are mostly well established, the details are often still evolving, so not everything in these pages represent hard and fast rules.

Though this is true, over time policy becomes firmer and less subject to change.

Policies and Guidelines edit

Policies and guidelines on Wikipedia have a wide scope: They include article style issues, contributor behavior standards, and content inclusion rules. All policies and guidelines exist on pages in the Wikipedia namespace. The policy pages found at are by no means all equally important. Later in this chapter, we'll analyze these pages to give you a concise, readable introduction.

Policy documents typically have much context and history behind their creation and wording. Both the spirit and the letter of the policy are important; editors should comply with the principles expressed. The most important point will be the expression of some reasonable expectation of how editors should act under normal conditions. The drafting of the policy reflects this: The main thrust of a policy is to convey one idea, and this idea should make good sense to someone familiar with the site. For instance, the ordinary editor doesn't need to read the fine print on the policy page outlining the value of consensus. But administrators making decisions based on discussions will require more information about what consensus means.

Principles of policy are different from specific processes or procedures but are often interrelated. Take, for example, the Article Deletion policy. The policy refers to the various deletion processes; it doesn't discuss the details of how the specific processes work. Rather, it authorizes them. 2.3. How Policies Are Created and Developed

Wikipedia does not have a special area just for drafting legislation. The starting point for a new policy may be a new project page in the Wikipedia namespace or possibly an essay that makes sense to other editors and begins to be referenced in discussions. Policies and guidelines, like other content on Wikipedia, are then developed over time by interested editors through a consensus-based process. Policies and guidelines are typically altered to reflect changing practice on the site or to solve a problem that has arisen. If consensus for a new proposed policy can't be reached, the proposal will be dropped.

If a change to policy sticks, in the sense that it has been on the policy page for some weeks without being removed and discussion seems to support the change, the new or amended policy has been widely accepted. The expectation is then that all editors will begin to follow the new policy when someone points it out. Keeping informed about changing policies and guidelines is a real issue for editors; beyond the core content and behavioral policies, many editors may not know about all the policies and guidelines. This is where Assume Good Faith applies: If User:Alice sees that User:Bob isn't following a new guideline, Alice should let Bob know that the guideline changed last month rather than scold him.

Policy and guideline creation, in practice, starts and ends in the Wikipedia namespace. The fact that policy pages are editable is one of the radical, counterintuitive Wikipedia concepts. Minor changes to policy formulations can occur at any time if the community agrees the changes are needed; major changes and new policies are also slowly developed to meet new needs and changing circumstances.

Of course, the practical process for changing policy is not so simple as just making an edit. Policies can and do change; however, the process is often very slow. On pages in the Wikipedia Talk namespace discussions are always ongoing, proposing and criticizing changes to policy. Most policy page changes are reverted if they are substantive and have not been discussed previously on the attached talk page and perhaps on other community forums. Always seek a high level of consensus before making a change to a key policy page. Given a policy's role in regulating the site, more discussion is required than elsewhere. For basic guidance on participating in policymaking, go to Wikipedia:How to contribute to Wikipedia guidance.

For example, on May 11, 2007, a new section was added to Wikipedia:Disambiguation, the guideline regulating 70,000 disambiguation pages on Wikipedia. The material had already been discussed at Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (disambiguation pages); the guideline called for adding a new section, so-called Set index articles, to recognized page types. In this somewhat notorious area (the ambiguities of ambiguity, you could say), the following case was made:

   A set index article describes a single set of concepts. For example, Dodge Charger describes a set of cars, List of peaks named Signal Mountain describes a set of mountain peaks, or USS Enterprise describes a set of ships. A set index article is both for information and for navigation: just like a normal list article, it can have metadata and extra information about each entry. A set index article can be entertaining and informative by itself, can help editors find redlinks to create articles on notable entries, and finally can also help readers navigate between articles that have similar names. (From

So an exception to the general guideline was made for a small group of articles. This incremental change by User:Hike395 was accepted, replacing what previously only applied to lists of ships with the same name. You can reasonably assume that the amendment, by being vetted through discussion, has been accepted through consensus by the editors interested in disambiguation pages; for other contributors not involved in the discussion who may happen to work in this area, the guideline now provides more detailed information that they should reasonably follow in most cases. If a future contributor comes along and has a serious problem with this or any other part of the guideline, the contributor may state his or her case on the guideline's talk page, beginning the cycle again.

This example is a relatively simple case, affecting a particular stylistic guideline for a certain type of article. On the other hand, proposed changes to the Notability guideline or Verifiability policy—policies that affect every Wikipedia article and indeed, the nature of the site itself—should be debated for weeks or months on the policy's talk page and on other forums. Changes to these policies may be difficult to make unless very compelling reasons are given. This difficulty does not necessarily reflect the proposal's validity, but simply how difficult getting consensus is among the very wide group of editors—potentially, the entire community—who may be interested in site-wide policy changes.

Essays written by individual Wikipedians are not at all official, but they may eventually serve as the basis for policies or guidelines. You can find hundreds of essays at; anyone, naturally, may add to these. Essays are policy development as pamphlet writing; you should expect to present your ideas first before proposing a big policy change. Essays are also a useful platform for expressing an opinion on applying policies. Some of the most-cited essays, however, are humorous expositions on basic Wikipedia ideals and ways to behave; Wikipedia:No climbing the Reichstag dressed as Spider-Man is an example, pointing out that you shouldn't take debates so seriously you go to extreme measures to make a fuss about them.

Many proposals for future policy are made and then abandoned due to lack of interest or consensus. You can read many of these at, with the template

applied; for example, Wikipedia:Changing policies and guidelines was an attempt to clarify that certain policy changes require consensus before being made; somewhat ironically, this policy didn't make the cut. You can get some good insights into the shaping of policy from reading rejected proposals.

Summary edit

Wikipedia's policies have evolved from being simple principles to being a large group of pages. You can probably count the ones on the site that matter most in daily life on the fingers of two hands. Understanding the basic point of a given policy or guideline, as it affects you, and in combination with Wikipedia's customs, is more important than worrying about the details or how others should comply. Bring policy into arguments only when you have to, and if you become involved in developing or modifying policy pages, make sure you can take the lead in getting consensus among the community.

How Policies Evolve edit

If you want to change something about how Wikipedia works, you'll have to make an effort and accept that it will only happen piecemeal. Preparing for policy changes matters greatly. You can't always expect to change a guideline with which you disagree on some minor point of style or format and then proceed directly to edit the whole site to change that point wherever you can find it—this behavior is rightly viewed as disruptive. If you encounter some resistance, you have to respect the objections people raise. If they didn't know the guideline was being changed, they weren't part of the consensus you claimed. If too many people disagree with some aspect of policy, the policy will likely be modified.

For example, a controversial change to the Spoiler warnings guideline caused a furor in May 2007. The template

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

had traditionally been used on the site in a Plot section of a film or book article, as a warning to those unfamiliar with the work being discussed that the text they were about to read would give the story away. These warnings had been an accepted feature of Wikipedia for years. But some pent-up feelings against them existed: Some argued that they interfered with the encyclopedia function, or in other words, serious reference works don't need spoiler warnings. The wide use of spoiler warnings concealed the fact that their presence in articles annoyed many editors.

The page Wikipedia:Spoiler was edited: What it currently says (as of April 2008) includes this new text:

   Spoilers on the Internet are sometimes preceded by a spoiler warning. In Wikipedia, however, it is generally expected that the subjects of our articles will be covered in detail. Therefore, Wikipedia carries no spoiler warnings except for the Content disclaimer.

Once a tipping point had been reached, with those against spoiler warnings gaining control of that guideline page, over 45,000 spoiler warnings were rapidly deleted from Wikipedia. This change caused tension and many back and forth arguments at the time. Though still controversial, the change has (so far) stuck.

How to Interpret Policies and Guidelines edit

Don't be legalistic about reading policy pages—a practice known unfavorably as wikilawyering. Policies are not drafted like legal documents, so don't push their meaning beyond the basic point or intention. The correct approach is usually this: Read the policy first to see what is required and respect the intent and spirit of the policy.

Assuming that policies can settle arguments is only human. Policies are actually there to help Wikipedia work, defining more closely what should be done and preserving a good atmosphere. They are not primarily tools for resolving disputes over content. Although such disputes may well come down to a discussion of policies and how they should be applied, be reasonable, collegiate, and open-minded in bringing policy into edit wars. A narrow view of a policy or guideline is not likely to resolve matters.

We Got Here from Where?

Sometimes you need to understand how policies evolved to see what they are really saying and what weight you should give them. Discussions leading up to the development of policies, like all discussions, are kept on the site, though reviewing the archives is not always an easy or clear process. Policies can appear path-dependent, and if you suspect a policy has been widened over time, you might be right. This is also a part of policy evolution.

For instance, the No Original Research (NOR) policy, for example, was first formulated to keep original theories in physics from Wikipedia. Its application has since expanded to include other topics. On the wiki-en mailing list (6 December 2004), Jimmy Wales wrote:

Some who completely understand why Wikipedia ought not create novel theories of physics by citing the results of experiments and so on and synthesizing them into something new, may fail to see how the same thing applies to history.

By now the NOR policy very much applies to history: Wikipedia wants neither theories about how Einstein had it all wrong about relativity, nor historical theories that have no serious scholarly support, for example, about the Ten Lost Tribes, if these theories are presented as original research and argument.

Further Reading

Letter of the Law edit

To understand policy details, you first have to find the relevant pages, next get the basic gist of a policy, and only then look at the more specific points. The precise wording of a policy may well change over time while the general idea remains the same.

For many policies, Wikipedia has handy nutshell summaries, which we've imported (current as of August 2007). For others, we've written our own summary. The uppercase abbreviated title is the page shortcut, less WP; so, for example, you can find Attack Page (ATP) at WP:ATP.

List of Policies edit

Policies fall into a few classes. Some deal with article content, and others deal with editor interactions. We've broken them down into four types for convenience.

Content Policies edit

Content policies deal with article content, both what articles should be and what you can do with them.

Attack Page (ATP)

Aggressive, hostile, biased articles will be summarily deleted.

Biographies of Living Persons (BLP)

From Wikipedia: Wikipedia articles can affect real people's lives. This gives us an ethical and legal responsibility. Biographical material must be written with the greatest care and attention to verifiability, neutrality, and avoiding original research, particularly if it is contentious.

Copyrights (COPY)

Wikipedia operates under a copyleft approach to its content, with the copyright to contributions remaining with those who created them. (See Chapter 2, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia for more on copyleft.)

Copyright Violations (COPYVIO)

Wikipedia actively removes copyrighted material.

Editing Policy (EP)

From Wikipedia: Improve pages wherever you can, and do not worry about leaving them imperfect.

Libel (LIBEL)

Wikipedia removes any defamatory material it finds, responds to email requests to do so, and regards editors adding libelous material as being responsible for that content.

Naming Conventions (NAME)

From Wikipedia: Generally, article naming should prefer what the majority of English speakers would most easily recognize, with a reasonable minimum of ambiguity, while at the same time making linking to those articles easy and second nature.

Neutral Point of View (NPOV), Neutral Point of View/FAQ (NPOVFAQ)

From Wikipedia: All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing views fairly, proportionately, and without bias.

Non-Free Content Criteria (NFCC)

This policy attempts to delimit the use of non-free content (such as fair-use images) on Wikipedia.

No Original Research (NOR)

From Wikipedia: Wikipedia is not a publisher of original thought. Articles should only contain verifiable content from reliable sources without further analysis. Content should not be synthesized to advance a position.

Ownership of Articles (OWN)

From Wikipedia: If you create or edit an article, know that others will edit it, and within reason, you should not prevent them from doing so.

Reusing Wikipedia Content (REUSE)

Wikipedia material may be re-used by anyone, within the terms of the GFDL.

Verifiability (V)

From Wikipedia: Material that is challenged or likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source.

Social Policies edit

Social policies deal with how editors should behave and interact with one another on the site.

Civility (CIVIL)

From Wikipedia: Participate in a respectful and civil way. Do not ignore the positions and conclusions of others. Try to discourage others from being uncivil, and be careful to avoid offending people unintentionally.

Edit War (EW)

From Wikipedia: If someone challenges your edits, discuss it with them and seek a compromise, or seek dispute resolution. Don't just fight over competing views and versions.

No Legal Threats (LEGAL)

From Wikipedia: Do not make threats or claims of legal action against users or Wikipedia itself on Wikipedia. If you have a dispute with the Community or its members, use dispute resolution. A polite report of a legal problem such as defamation or copyright infringement is not threatening and will be acted on quickly. If you do choose to take legal action, please refrain from editing until it is resolved and note that your user account may be blocked.

No Personal Attacks (NPA)

From Wikipedia: Comment on content, not on the contributor.

Dispute Resolution (DR)

Try to avoid arguments; if in a dispute, talk it over calmly and consider your words first.

Sock Puppetry (SOCK)

From Wikipedia: Do not use multiple accounts to create the illusion of greater support for an issue, to mislead others, or to circumvent a block. Do not ask your friends to create accounts to support you or anyone else.

Three-Revert Rule (3RR)

From Wikipedia: Edit warring is harmful. Wikipedians who revert a page in whole or in part more than three times in 24 hours, except in certain special circumstances, are likely to be blocked from editing.

Vandalism (VANDAL)

From Wikipedia: Intentionally making repeated non-constructive edits to Wikipedia will result in a block or permanent ban.

Wheel War (WHEEL)

Applies only to administrators. Repeatedly reversing actions of other administrators is considered harmful.

Enabling Policies edit

These are basic documents on which various processes and administrator actions rely. For example, under the Username policy (UN), accounts with unsuitable usernames will be blocked. These policies are often intended for specific situations.

Arbitration Policy (AP)

See Chapter 14, Disputes, Blocks, and Bans for details on Arbitration, which is a high-level dispute resolution process.

Appealing a Block (APPEAL)

This policy mentions all the correct appeal routes available to a user blocked by an administrator.

Banning Policy (BAN)

This policy explains why and how editors are excluded from the site.

Blocking Policy (BP), Appealing a Block (APB)

From Wikipedia: Users may be blocked from editing by an administrator to protect Wikipedia and its editors from harm.

Bot Policy (BOT)

This is a procedural guide to automated editing.

Category Deletion Policy (CDP)

This is a policy for the named process.

Criteria for Speedy Deletion (CSD)

This is a very detailed list of the criteria used by administrators to delete articles quickly.

Deletion Policy (DEL)

From Wikipedia: Deletion and undeletion are performed by administrators based on policy and guidelines, not personal likes and dislikes. There are four processes for deleting items and one post-deletion review process. Pages that can be improved should be edited or tagged, not nominated for deletion.

Image Use Policy (IUP)

From Wikipedia: Be very careful when uploading copyrighted images, fully describe images' sources and copyright details on their description pages, and try to make images as useful and reusable as possible.

Open Proxies (PROXY)

Administrators may block open or anonymizing proxy servers that allow you to edit while hiding your IP address.

Office Actions (OFFICE)

From Wikipedia: Sometimes the Wikimedia Foundation may have to delete, protect, or blank a page without going through the normal site/community process(es) to do so. These edits are temporary measures to prevent legal trouble or personal harm and should not be undone by any user.

Open Ticket Request System (OTRS)

This document describes the operation of the Open Ticket Request System, which handles email complaints to Wikipedia.

Oversight (OVER)

This is actually a Foundation-level policy. It describes the Oversight system for removing edits from page histories, with scope to deal with personal information, defamation, and copyright only.

Proposed Deletion (PROD)

From Wikipedia: As a shortcut around AfD [i.e., Articles for Deletion] for uncontroversial deletions; an article can be proposed for deletion, though once only. If no one contests the proposal within five days, the article may be deleted by an administrator.

Protection Policy (PROT)

This policy covers administrator use of the power to protect pages by locking editing.

Username Policy (UN)

From Wikipedia: When choosing an account name, be careful to avoid names which may be offensive, confusing, or promotional. You are encouraged to use only one account.

General Policies edit

These core policies apply across the site, to both content and social situations.

Consensus (CON)

From Wikipedia: Consensus is Wikipedia's fundamental model for editorial decision-making. Policies and guidelines document communal consensus rather than creating it.

GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL)

This is the license under which Wikipedia is released. The general outline is covered in Chapter 2, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia, but material on secondary and invariant sections and cover texts, although not so relevant to Wikipedia, may have an effect on imported GFDL material.

Ignore All Rules (IAR)

Wikipedia is not a rule-bound place, and the rules should serve the mission. Occasionally, editors can operate outside policy, if they are acting within common sense.

What Wikipedia Is Not (NOT)

This policy defines Wikipedia's mission by describing what it isn't; this is a key reference.

It Used to Be So Much Simpler The earliest version of Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines dates back to April 17, 2002 (though an earlier version, just called Wikipedia policy, dates back to 2001; the very earliest history was lost due to technical glitches). Much of the original content is now considered part of the style guide and doesn't relate to policy as such. Wikipedia:Most common Wikipedia faux pas is still available and useful to know about; it is now under the title Wikipedia:Avoiding common mistakes (shortcut WP:ACM). Wikipedia:Always leave something undone was renamed Wikipedia:Make omissions explicit, but this is no longer policy. Wikipedia:Look for an existing article before you start one was emphasized earlier in the book; this policy was merged into Wikipedia:How to start a page about a year later. Wikipedia:Contribute what you know or are willing to learn more about has the nostalgic feel of older wikis; this page also didn't turn into policy. If depressed by the comparison, try Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not/Outtakes.

List of Guidelines edit

This is a selective list of some guidelines we consider particularly important. There are over a hundred guidelines total, many of which are part of the Manual of Style (you can find a complete collection of guidelines at). Summaries for interesting guidelines tend to be significantly longer than for official policies. They are often saying something important but more diffuse. They are certainly more rewarding to read casually.

Assume Good Faith (AGF)

From Wikipedia: Unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, assume that people who work on the project are trying to help it, not hurt it. If criticism is needed, discuss editors' actions, but it is not ever necessary nor productive to accuse others of harmful motives.


This policy is not current, but it is of particular interest as an attempt to unify NOR and V (ATT). From Wikipedia: All material in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source.

Autobiography (AUTO)

From Wikipedia: Avoid writing or editing an article about yourself, other than to correct unambiguous errors of fact.

Be Bold (BOLD)

From Wikipedia: If you see something that can be improved, do not hesitate to do so yourself.

Conflict of Interest (COI)

From Wikipedia: When an editor disregards the aims of Wikipedia to advance outside interests, they have a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest editing is strongly discouraged, but editors with a potential conflict of interest may edit with appropriate care and discussion.

Do Not Disrupt Wikipedia to Illustrate a Point (POINT)

From Wikipedia: If you think you have a valid point, causing disruption is probably the least effective way of presenting that point'and it may get you blocked.

This applies particularly to those with a grievance or burning issue to raise. Attention-seeking tactics that have a negative impact on others are not acceptable as a campaigning measure. Such disruption is generally considered actionable and can lead to a ban.

Etiquette (EQ)

This is a general guide to expected etiquette on the site.

Harassment (HARASS)

From Wikipedia: Do not stop other editors from enjoying Wikipedia by making threats, nitpicking good-faith edits to different articles, repeated personal attacks, or posting personal information.

Manual of Style (MOS)

This is the Manual of Style for articles, with all its many subpages that detail specific style guide issues.

Notability (N)

From Wikipedia: A topic is presumed to be notable if it has received significant coverage in reliable secondary sources that are independent of the subject. Note

Despite its daily use in discussions, Notability has not received recognition as official policy. Many people clearly feel that the definition, by means of sources, is flawed and thus still controversial.

No Disclaimers in Articles (NDA)

From Wikipedia: Disclaimers should not be used in articles. All articles are covered by the five official disclaimer pages.

Please Do Not Bite the Newcomers (BITE)

From Wikipedia: Do not be hostile toward newcomers. Remember to assume good faith first and approach them in a polite manner.

This guideline gives a code of conduct for dealing with inexperienced editors. Although they may come across as clueless newbies, they should be treated with understanding and should certainly not be addressed in those terms. The correct approach is to be tactful and helpful, drawing the attention of such editors to any general matters of policy, custom, and convention which they are apparently unaware of.

Polling Is Not a Substitute for Discussion (VOTE)

From Wikipedia: Wikipedia decisions are not made by popular vote, but rather through discussions by reasonable people working toward consensus. Polling is only meant to facilitate discussion and should be used with care.

Reliable Sources (RS)

From Wikipedia: Articles should be based on reliable, third-party, published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy.


This is the guideline against promotional articles, linkspam (external links placed to benefit other websites), and excessive internal posting of messages on user talk pages.

Avoid Instruction Creep

WP:CREEP, although not a proper guideline, has an interesting point to make: The fundamental fallacy of instruction creep is thinking that people read instructions.

Seven Policies to Study edit

The five pillars are a good place to begin to familiarize yourself with Wikipedia principles. Perhaps they will live up to the resonant name and serve as a timeless description of Wikipedia, or perhaps they'll just be eternal by Internet-time standards. Policy does evolve, and Wikipedia evolves, too. Before you say you understand the site policies, you might want another perspective. Everyday life on the site will convince you that participating is not quite so simple.

Here is our selection, based on sheer utility, of the major policies to familiarize yourself with first:

  • Neutrality (NPOV) from the content policies
  • Three-Revert Rule (3RR) and Civility (CIVIL) from the social policies
  • Criteria for Speedy Deletion (CSD) from the enabling policies
  • What Wikipedia Is Not (NOT) from the general policies

Together, these policies convey the same ideas as the five pillars but are a little more current in their emphasis. Criteria for Speedy Deletion (CSD) is now used in an aggressive fashion to clean up newly created articles that don't meet Wikipedia's standards at all. Therefore, a new editor should know about this policy.

To summarize, be a neutral, civil editor who doesn't rely on reverting pages excessively. Understand that Wikipedia provides space online for its mission to write an encyclopedia and for no other reason, and understand that many submissions of new pages will be deleted summarily from the site because they don't fit the content policies.

That's five policies. Two guidelines may also affect you as soon as you start editing: Conflict of Interest (COI) and Reliable Sources (RS). For obvious reasons, not every guideline can be covered in detail, but these two are very important.

Conflict of Interest

This guideline, at Wikipedia:Conflict of interest, matters because Wikipedia articles should not be hijacked by outside interests. Editors acting for corporations or religious groups are not welcome to edit articles about those companies or groups in such a way as to control the content. No article should be marred by long edit wars involving partisan editors with a definite stake in the topic. The COI guideline is relatively new but has become important because many people would like to exploit Wikipedia's pages. The guideline says simply that editors of Wikipedia should not put their outside interests ahead of those of the encyclopedia. The best way to ensure that is to edit as little as possible in areas too close to your own interests. That includes self-promotion, ensuring favorable coverage of a company that has hired you, and certain types of activism. The guideline is not intended to prevent academics from editing in their field, members of major political parties from editing about related political affairs, or believers editing about their religion, as long as these edits respect the Neutral Point of View policy.

Reliable Sources

Wikipedia:Reliable sources addresses sources and citations on three fronts: the piece of work being cited, its author, and how it is published. First, all sources cited must certainly be published, so an unpublished conversation or email—what academics call a private communication—should not be used as a source. Second, published work has limitations: A self-published book is not a reliable source for factual information in general. Furthermore, websites vary widely in reliability. For the most part, blogs are not acceptable sources. Content on other wikis cannot be taken as authoritative. Online copies of newspaper articles are as good as the hard copy, but newspapers are reliable sources only if they are part of the mainstream press. In practice, high standards of source reliability have to be met if you want to write about controversial matters or (particularly) about living people.

Further Reading