What Wikipedia is not

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Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Here is a list of Things That Encyclopedia Articles Are Not:

  1. Discussion forums, or Everything2 or H2G2 nodes. Please try to stay on task (the task here is to create encyclopedia articles). Wikipedia is not a discussion forum or chat room (mind you, neither is Everything2, or at least it tries not to be--but because it tolerates that, that's what it has become). But you can chat with folks on their own pages, and you can resolve article problems on the relevant /Talk pages.
  2. Dictionary definitions of common English words that, in the sense in question, name no subject that any respectable encyclopedist would ever think of making the topic of an encyclopedia article. Wikipedia is not a dictionary. (But an article can and should always begin with a good definition or a clear description of the topic, as in the case of biographies.)
  3. Lists of such definitions. (But an article can certainly consist of a pointer to other pages, where a word is too general to have any one topic associated with it; see freedom and Columbus for examples.)
  4. A usage guide. Wikipedia is not in the business of saying how idioms, etc., are used. (But, of course, it's often very, very important in the context of an encyclopedia article to say just how a word is used. E.g., the article on freedom will, if it doesn't already, have a long discussion about this.)
  5. By a simple extension of the latter, a hacker/computer usage or other slang and idiom guide. We aren't teaching people how to talk like a hacker or a Cockney chimney-sweep; we're writing an encyclopedia. (But see jargon file; also, articles, even extremely in-depth articles, on hacker culture are very welcome, and insofar as guides to some particularly essential piece of hacker slang is necessary to understand those articles, of course articles on that slang would be great to have.)
  6. Propaganda or advocacy of any kind. (But an article can of course report objectively on what advocates say, as long as this is done from the neutral point of view. Go to Usenet if you want to convince people of the merits of your favorite views--and good luck.)
  7. Personal essays, that state your idiosyncratic opinions about a topic. We're reporting on what is in the canon of human knowledge; unless you're unusual, your idiosyncratic opinions aren't part of this canon. (But you can put your essays in Wikipedia commentary.)
  8. Mere lists of quotations and aphorisms. (But some such lists might be very nice to have to supplement encyclopedia articles, sure.)
  9. Mere collections of external links. (But of course there's nothing wrong with adding both lists of links and lists of on-line references you used in writing an article.)
  10. Mere collections of internal links. (But of course, there's nothing wrong with pointer pages when a word is too general for any one topic to be associated with it; and of course, it's very important to make collections of relevant internal links, as this conveys useful information and helps navigation.)

We should continue to add to this list as we discover interesting new ways of not writing encyclopedia articles. :-)


See also: Larry Sanger/Is Wikipedia an experiment in anarchy

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