Wikipedia policy

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This page explains the most essential points of Wikipedia policy. Other important policy and policy-related pages include:

Introduction

You are a Wikipedia editor. Wikipedia lacks an editor-in-chief or a central, top-down mechanism whereby progress on the encyclopedia is monitored and approved. Instead, active participants monitor the Recent Changes page and make corrections to the content, copyediting, and format problems they see. So the participants are both writers and editors.

We do have standards or rules. We have a number of community-agreed and -enforced standards, and our adherence to such standards is essential to making this what it can be--a high-quality product. We aren't all equally committed to all the rules that have been proposed, though. There are some rules that virtually everyone agrees upon (and please do familiarize yourself with the contents of "Some generally-accepted policies," below). Other rules are widely supported but do have a few detractors, and still others have been proposed but about them there is widespread disagreement. We have literally made up these rules as we've gone along, and your input on the policy and process is still welcome.

Please explore these policy pages and help us shape Wikipedia into great resource it can be.

Wikipedia and its goals

There are three essential characteristics of the Wikipedia project, which together define its niche on the World Wide Web. This is what Wikipedia is:

  1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia--rather than a dictionary, discussion forum, web portal, etc. Please respect this. See encyclopedia as well as what Wikipedia is not.
  2. Wikipedia is also essentially a wiki--which allows for general public authorship and editing of any page. For information on the wiki format, see the WikiWiki article. Wikipedia is the first serious general encyclopedia to be developed using this format. While Wikipedia has altered, for purposes of creating an encyclopedia, much of the original culture which surrounds WikiWikiWebs, it continues to retain the community-managed and -built aspect common to nearly all WikiWikiWebs.
  3. Finally, essential to the Wikipedia project and its success is the fact that it is open content. Open content text and media are licensed by the copyright holder, Bomis, Inc., to the general public, permitting anyone to redistribute and alter the text free of charge, and guaranteeing that no one be able to restrict access to amended versions of the content. (See GNU Free Documentation License.) The participants' understanding that their efforts will be freely distributable is one of the main incentives they have to participate.

In a community-built encyclopedia, it seems a bit strange to say that there is a goal, but indeed there does seem to be a goal we, most of us, share for the project:

Our goal with Wikipedia is to create a free encyclopedia--indeed, the largest encyclopedia in history, both in terms of breadth and in terms of depth. We also want Wikipedia to become a reliable (probably, peer-approved) resource.

To the latter end, it might be a good idea to set up some sort of approval process. There have been some objections to the notion of, in the not-too-distant future, establishing an independent approval process, whereby certain versions of articles receive the stamp of approval of some body of expert Wikipedia reviewers. But the notion does have widespread support. The initial proposals for the review process have been bandied about over a period of some months on Wikipedia-L and the issue is discussed on Wikipedia approval mechanism. Another proposal that has very broad support is to facilitate the submission of Wikipedia articles to Nupedia; in that way, Nupedia can serve as an unofficial but nevertheless very reliable approval mechanism for Wikipedia articles.

As for our goals for article content, here are some goals for our stub articles and for more fully-fleshed out articles. Of course, we do not require perfect articles the first time they appear. Quite the contrary, as you will see on editing policy.

Some generally-accepted policies

Wikipedia's participants commonly follow, and enforce, a few basic policies that are essential to keeping the project running smoothly and productively. Other matters of policy are more controversial; the following are never, or very rarely, controversial. We can sort these policy issues into three basic categories, as follows:

Article naming conventions

Article content policies

  • The use of copyrighted articles is strictly forbidden. This could place Wikipedia at some legal risk, which it cannot afford. Articles should be the author's own work, public domain, or open content.
  • Articles should be written from the neutral point of view. We attempt to present facts and competing theories in a way that both supporters and opponents can agree is fair and sympathetic.
  • It's important that we bear in mind what Wikipedia is not. Wikipedia isn't a discussion forum, a dictionary, a usage guide, propaganda or advocacy, personal essays, or mere collections of links. Wikipedia articles are encyclopedia articles.
  • Do not link to external images, i.e., images that are not on the Wikipedia (or Nupedia) server. The software allows you to do so, but we don't want to use other websites' bandwidth (and possibly infringe on their copyright). The only exception occurs if you control the server space and bandwidth; but even that is a rather bad idea. You can upload images by e-mailing them to jasonr at bomis.com (replace "at" with "@"); soon, we should have a reliable file uploader for you to use.
  • There are other rules that are widely supported, but perhaps not as widely as these. See rules to consider.

Editing policy and /Talk pages

  • One should not simply delete useful content--so long as it is indeed useful--and never without some explanation on a talk page. If there is some problem with it, one should edit it so that the problem is gone, or, in some rare cases, some of us have taken to moving content temporarily to /Talk pages where particularly egregious bias can be removed. Bias and poor copyediting are not good reasons to entirely remove content without explanation! Please see editing policy as well as Wikipedia policy on permanent deletion of pages. (Permanent deletion is something only administrators can do.)
  • Unless a comment about an article is very brief and is clearly distinguished from the main body of the text, it should be placed on a /Talk page attached to that article. Generally, if a comment requires a reply, both the comment and the reply should be placed on a /Talk page. We want to reserve the main pages for encyclopedic content, not debate.
  • The purpose of /Talk pages is to improve the pages to which they are attached. Most Wikipedians generally oppose the use of /Talk pages just for the purpose of partisan debate about the main subject. Many, many other forums exist online for that purpose; Wikipedia does not aim to become one. See talk page.
  • Please make your comments polite and helpful. (Most people here do not need this rule; they are naturally polite and helpful, most of the time.) Please see Wikipetiquette.

How policy has been formulated

Wikipedia policy has been formulated for the most part by habit and consensus, particularly over the initial months of Wikipedia's existence. (To get a feel for the original attitudes toward policy development, see PolicyPolicy.) Hence, the statements on this page and pages adjoining it are intended for the most part to be descriptive of existing community norms that have developed over time. Issues are still formulated and debated particularly on the rules to consider page and via the Wikipedia commentary page, as well as the pages of individual Wikipedians.

Another very important forum where Wikipedia policy is discussed is Wikipedia-L, the project's mailing list. Everyone who is interested in Wikipedia policy, news, and social life should be subscribed to that mailing list. (It is available in digest format.)


Miscellaneous policy issues


Unclassified, random, but interesting policy discussion