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Wikipedia:Staying cool when the editing gets hot

Wikipedia has seen some bitter disputes. It's easy to get in disputes online, especially in a situation allowing as immediate a response as Wikipedia, but please remember that we are all here for the same reason, and that there is a person at the other end of your conversation. Flame wars are counter-productive and make Wikipedia a less pleasant project for everyone.

Here is a short list of tips that experienced contributors have found works for them:

  1. Take it slow. If someone disagrees with one of your edits, try to understand why. Discuss it on the article's talk page. If you're angry, take a breather instead of editing. Let the edits stand for awhile as you consider how to say what you want to say. Even let it alone and come back in a day or a week; you might find that another person makes the very same change you wanted to make!
  2. Assume the best about people. Wikipedia has worked remarkably well so far based on a policy of openness. This suggests that most people who visit do want to help, and do succeed at helping. If something's not clear, don't assume the worst. Assume instead that you simply don't understand, and ask for clarification.
  3. Regardless of what you think of the other person or the person's edits, avoid name-calling. That is, terms like "racist" or "fascist" will simply enrage people and cause them to become defensive. You're unlikely to have a productive discussion about how to change an article with an enraged person, so don't do it.
  4. Similarly, avoid characterizing other people's actions. That is, don't say that someone "arrogantly" or "rudely" did anything. Actions are open to interpretation; the person may have intended something completely different from what happened; accidents happen; misunderstandings do too.
  5. Be prepared to apologise. In the heat of the moment we sometimes say things that were better left unsaid; the least we can then do is make amends.

Dealing with insults

Occasionally, on Wikipedia, despite everyone agreeing that we should avoid personal attacks, harsh words get flung around - occasionally by longstanding contributors, but more often by newcomers. There are various ways to deal with this:

  1. Just ignore it. Name-calling may be offensive but it's not very helpful or mature. Go about your business and don't worry about it; you are not required to respond.
  2. Politely ask the person who you feel has insulted you to retract what they said. Sometimes people say something insulting by accident, not realising that their words could be taken in a certain way. Other times people will change the way they act when they realise they've offended someone.
  3. Edit their words to remove the insulting part - rephrase it as a simple statement of their beliefs, for example. Then answer the rephrased comment. If the insult is completely content-free, delete it.

If you yourself, through accident or anger, insult someone, be sure to apologise.

Fixing NPOV

When we correct violations of the neutral point of view (NPOV) policy, we often make the mistake of using phrases like "foo point out that ..", "xy explains ..". These phrases themselves can be seen as non-NPOV, as they imply a certain agreement by Wikipedia. The original author then often sees this as non-NPOV and deletes the changes, and eventually, an edit war results. It's better to use the following procedure:

  1. Inquire politely on the article's Talk pages about aspects of the article you consider non-NPOV (unless they are really egregious), and suggest replacements.
  2. If no reply comes, make the substitutions. (use your watchlist to keep track of what you want to do)
  3. If a reply comes, try to agree about the different phrases you want to use.

That way, when an agreement is reached, an edit war is very unlikely. The disadvantage is that the article stays in an unsatisfying state for a longer period of time, but an article that changes every 5 seconds hardly leaves a better impression with other Wikipedians.

Now there are cases where this strategy doesn't work. There are users who simply cannot and do not want to write NPOV articles, users who want to delete relevant information, users who are notoriously anti-social etc. I think this is the type of users we don't really want on Wikipedia, and a few have been. However, while many Wikipedians tend to write slightly POV articles about subjects that are near and dear to their hearts, most of them can be worked with.

See also netiquette, Wikipedia:Wikiquette



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