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Wikipedia:Expectations and norms of the Wikipedia community

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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 welcomed to edit, 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.

Your account[edit]

Purpose of editing[edit]

Wikipedia is a community that exists for one purpose: writing a neutral, well-sourced encyclopedia. Anyone who shares this goal and is capable of working as part of a community of other editors is invited to edit. However, Wikipedia is owned by a non-public not-for-profit foundation, and editing this communally operated website is not a right, but a privilege. It may be revoked or restricted by blocking, banning or otherwise restricting people who damage or disrupt Wikipedia. Wikipedia covers topics selectively, not indiscriminately.

Rules to
  • Wikipedia editing exists for users who together with others want to help write a neutral encyclopedia.
  • Wikipedia pages are only available for project-related use while inappropriate content will be removed.
  • Wikipedia is not for indiscriminate or ephemeral topics. (Coverage is quite selective)
  • Wikipedia is not for promotion or advocacy of any kind, and links placed on Wikipedia pages do not affect search engine rankings.

Reputation and user accounts[edit]

Over time, editors may acquire an informal reputation based on their edits and actions, and the views of their peers. Past behavior may be a factor in community discussions related to sought positions of trust, potential sanctions, or other concerns. Due to an accessible contribution history, an individual's past conduct is completely open to review.

The community scrutinizes the behavior of individuals not just accounts. In the event that a poor reputation is gained in some matter, this is remedied by demonstrating change or by no longer editing in the problematic area — not by simply engaging in the same behavior or topic area under a new name. The community tends to treat old behaviors as non-current over time, if they have truly ceased. A user returning to an area they edited under a previous account may find their new and old accounts linked by others.

Rules to
  • Users are discouraged from using multiple accounts (reasonable uses include editing from insecure locations, avoidance of real-world controversy from family and colleagues, and separation of edits by bots or in a Foundation role).
  • Users may not use multiple accounts or IPs to deceive, undermine consensus processes, evade blocks or sanctions, game the system, or prevent scrutiny within a discussion of their past relevant editing and conduct.
  • Users are encouraged to publicly link any legitimate accounts to their main account, for transparency.

User anonymity and privacy[edit]

The Wikipedia community embraces anonymous (IP) editing. Anyone may edit with or without registering an account. Editors may contribute under their own name, a nickname, or their IP address, but may not abuse multiple accounts. Editing under a nickname not linked to you elsewhere is more private than editing as an IP address.

We allow anonymity in order to allow everybody to contribute without having to fear adverse reactions from government authorities, employers, colleagues, family or friends. Editors who contribute anonymously or using an account may not be identified by others or have non-public information posted on-wiki against their will unless they have previously posted it or otherwise consented on Wikipedia or a sister project.

Breach of privacy and anonymity is taken so seriously that (along with defamation) they are one of only two common reasons that contributions may be 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.

Rules to
  • Anonymous editing is embraced and welcomed.
  • Breaches of user privacy (including "outing" and other non-public information) are strictly forbidden without the clear consent of the affected user/s.
  • Experienced users will try to help if privacy is breached, but this may not always be practical.
  • Sensitive problems such as privacy breaches, harassment, or handling or disclosure of multiple accounts, may usually be directed by email to the functionaries team or for maximal privacy, to the Arbitration committee.

Ceasing editing[edit]

Generally to cease editing, a user simply stops editing. No action is needed and the account can be resumed at any time. Site email can be disabled. If you are sure you wish to take a break or retire it can help to put the {{wikibreak}} or {{retired}} templates on your user and talk pages.

Accounts, edits, articles, and other pages are generally not deleted. This is mainly for reasons related to copyright, licensing requirements (attribution), public record of the proceedings of the community, and policies on ownership of content. Specific discussions of a sensitive nature may be courtesy blanked but remain in the history record for those looking. 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 for users wishing to move on and leave the past behind, and for "vanishing". However both are subject to strict conditions, the future violation of which may lead to the undoing of the clean start or vanishing, linking of old and present accounts, and in some cases sanctioning of the user. If this is a problem, contact the Arbitration committee.

Rules to
  • Anyone can cease or resume editing at any time.
  • With few exceptions, actions on Wikipedia of past and present users remain as part of the community's records after they leave.
  • Policies exist covering clean start and vanishing, but they have strict limitations and are conditional on proper use. Sanctions may apply for misuse or violation of these.

Working together[edit]

How things get done[edit]

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 obligated 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.

Rules to
  • Wikipedia is radically open. You are invited to find what you enjoy and whatever catches your attention — and improve it!
  • Users are expected to maintain a courteous collegial approach, to consult openly if needed (when unsure or during a problem), to avoid deliberate disruption, and to use editing access only in ways that help the project.
  • Be bold — try things that look right, but be sensitive, courteous, and if others object, discuss before continuing.
  • As a volunteer community sometimes things you may feel are needed aren't done yet. There's one sure cure for this....!

Collaboration and honesty[edit]

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.

Rules to
  • The freedom to edit brings responsibility. Changes should be thought through and those likely to be (or found to be) contentious should lead to discussion and ultimately resolved by consensus.
  • When users disagree, both should treat each other respectfully and focus on the project issue.
  • Dishonest editing, "gaming the system", and disruptive/obstructive behavior, are never acceptable and will routinely result in sanctions.
  • Every page has a talk (or discussion) page linked to it, where editors can present suggestions and possible issues, and discussion takes place on editorial concerns.

Thoughtful helpful approach to other editors[edit]

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".

Rules to
  • As a volunteer community, mutual support and collegiality is important.
  • Newcomers apparently trying to edit in good faith should be supported, not "bitten".
  • Users choosing to involve themselves in an on-wiki situation should do so for project benefit and to calm and help those already in dispute.
  • Users joining a heated discussion should make efforts to not make it worse, inflame, or polarize.
  • "Gaming" social norms to "get at" others or unfairly discourage users from genuine involvement is strictly forbidden.

Expertise and real-world credentials[edit]

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.

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.

Rules to
  • Experts are welcomed and valued. They often bring great improvements to the content of topics they are expert in.
  • As Wikipedia's main task is editorial and not research, credentials usually rank behind the general ability to write well on a topic, edit appropriately, and collaborate well with others.
  • If a query arises over some issue in an article, users (of any standing) will be asked to evidence points from credible sources, not by relying on their own authority.

Disputes and disagreements[edit]

Personality and topic approaches vary between 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.

Rules to
  • The primary approach to disputes is calmly to seek dispute resolution, not to "fight". Users unable to resolve a disagreement or who are being attacked, should first try to resolve the dispute. Users who cannot resolve a dispute should ask for uninvolved help rather than fighting.
  • Points made in a dispute are expected to focus on the project's benefits, the merits of the views stated, and community norms, not on personalities and emotional escalation.
  • Users seeing a dispute should intervene only in order to help calm it down, and (by peer pressure and good advice) to help the disputants find an appropriate amicable solution.
  • Private or sensitive information related to a Wikipedia dispute (real world identities and issues, off-wiki logs, improper activity off-site, harassment, etc) should not usually be posted on the wiki. They may be passed to the Arbitration Committee or the functionaries team by email instead.

Inconsiderate and forbidden conduct[edit]

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.

Rules to
  • Conduct that causes disruption of the project's goals, whether involving interpersonal behaviors or article editing behaviors, is unacceptable.
  • Low grade comments are best ignored. More serious or persistently disruptive behavior may require community input.
  • When a user is apparently engaging in antisocial or unproductive conduct and dialog fails, dispute resolution should be followed, rather than personally directed responses.
  • More serious conduct is likely to result in warnings or blocks, even for a first incident.
  • Legal threats are incompatible with editing. A user who appears to threaten legal action will be blocked and asked not to edit until the matter is resolved or the threat withdrawn.
  • Sanctions, including blocks, are not "punitive"; they are intended to protect the project and prevent or reduce the risk of future disruption. They provide a strong hint where "the line" is on certain behaviors. They can be appealed on good cause. Further issues generally result in longer blocks or bans. Blocked users should not try to evade the block or use a new account.

Off-wiki issues[edit]

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.

Rules to
  • Personal views must not overtake encyclopedia-centered discussion. Beliefs and agendas not relevant to Wikipedia itself should be left at the door. Users who cannot do this should avoid the topic or limit themselves to uncontroversial edits and the talk page.
  • Posting off-wiki private communications on the wiki without permission by all involved is forbidden as it breaches copyright.
  • Attempts to improperly influence Wikipedia content (whether undertaken on- or off-site) are forbidden.

Structure of Wikipedia[edit]

Social structure[edit]

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.

Examples of advanced tools and related rights
  • Rollbackers, trusted to use the "one button" rollback tool to undo vandalism;
  • Reviewers, trusted to operate pending changes - pages where edits will be held back until confirmed to be free of vandalism;
  • Administrators, experienced editors trusted to show good judgment, give good general advice, make summary decisions about inappropriate user conduct and dispute handling, and to use tools such as deletion, page protection, and blocking properly;
  • Bureaucrats, trusted to judge consensus in discussions over administrator promotion;
  • Checkusers and Oversighters, very highly trusted users allowed to access non-public material in line with the privacy policy;
  • Arbitrators (the Arbitration Committee) responsible for final decisions on the most serious disputes, and for supervision of Checkusers and Oversighters;
  • Stewards, who add or remove many advanced rights from users in line with due process.

Rules to
  • With the exception of very new users, possibly disruptive users, and (in some debates) non logged-in users, all editors are considered to have equal rights and standing in all discussions.
  • All users with elevated rights will have gained them through scrutiny and a formal decision process.
  • None of these roles gives any kind of "special privilege" in any ordinary content or project discussion, beyond the set limits of their role.

Policies and norms[edit]

Community policies, guidelines, and norms are effectively 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.

Rules to
  • The written policies and guidelines provide guidance to the community's widely agreed norms. They are periodically updated by users to better reflect the view of the community, fix issues, or when a change is agreed upon.
  • Anyone can propose or change a policy or guideline. Because policies and guidelines have very wide agreement users should not make major changes to them without a good understanding of the community's likely view on the matter.
  • Users generally discuss issues based upon their understanding of community norms as well as policies.

Ownership, use, and censorship of material[edit]

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 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 chat 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.

Rules to
  • Wikipedia content is free.
  • Copyright is taken very seriously, especially in terms of text added to articles and discussions or images and media uploaded.
  • Wikipedia's encyclopedic content is not censored. Articles reflect encyclopedic merit (judged by the community at large) rather than national, cultural, or individual beliefs.
  • With rare exceptions, all edits once made are publicly available forever.
  • Individual users (even article creators) do not own articles or control what happens to them. The community does.

Main policies, guidelines and essays[edit]

Purpose of editing
Reputation system and user accounts
User anonymity and privacy
Off-wiki material and issues
Collaboration and honesty
Thoughtful helpful approach
Policies and norms
Disputes and disagreements
Ownership, use, and censorship
Social structure
Antisocial conduct

Interpersonal conduct:

Editing misconduct:

Appropriate conduct:


See also[edit]