Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines

Wikipedia's policies and guidelines are developed by the community to describe best practices, clarify principles, resolve conflicts, and otherwise further our goal of creating a free, reliable encyclopedia. There is no need to read any policy or guideline pages to start editing. The five pillars are a popular summary of the most pertinent principles.

Although Wikipedia generally does not employ hard-and-fast rules, Wikipedia's policy and guideline pages describe its principles and agreed-upon best practices. Policies are standards all users should normally follow, and guidelines are generally meant to be best practices for following those standards in specific contexts. Policies and guidelines should always be applied using reason and common sense.

This policy page specifies the community standards related to the organization, life cycle, maintenance of, and adherence to policies, guidelines, and related pages of the English Wikipedia. It does not cover other editions of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is operated by the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which reserves certain legal rights—see the Wikimedia Foundation's Policies page for a list of its policies. See also Role of Jimmy Wales. Nevertheless, normally Wikipedia is a self-governing project run by its community. Its policies and guidelines are intended to reflect the consensus of the community.

Policies have wide acceptance among editors and describe standards all users should normally follow. All policy pages are in Wikipedia:List of policies and guidelines and Category:Wikipedia policies. For summaries of key policies, see also List of policies.

Guidelines are sets of best practices supported by consensus. Editors should attempt to follow guidelines, though they are best treated with common sense, and occasional exceptions may apply. Guideline pages can be found in Wikipedia:List of policies and guidelines and Category:Wikipedia guidelines. For summaries of key guidelines, see also List of guidelines.

Essays are the opinion or advice of an editor or group of editors for which widespread consensus has not been established. They do not speak for the entire community and may be created and written without approval. Essays the author does not want others to edit, or that contradict widespread consensus, belong in the user namespace. (For more information, see Wikipedia:Essays.)

These other pages are not policies or guidelines, although they may contain valuable advice or information.

Use common sense in interpreting and applying policies and guidelines; Rules have occasional exceptions. That said, those who violate the spirit of a rule may be reprimanded or sanctioned even if they do not technically break the rule.

Whether a policy or guideline is an accurate description of best practice is determined through consensus.

On discussion pages and in edit summaries, shortcuts are often used to refer to policies and guidelines. (For example, (no original research), (neutral point of view) and (biographies of living persons)). Similar shortcuts are also used for other types of project page like essays and how-to guides. Thus a shortcut does not necessarily imply the page linked to has policy or guideline status or has been widely accepted by the community. Additionally, the shortcut is not the policy; the plain-English definition of the page's title or shortcut may be importantly different from the linked page.

Enforcement on Wikipedia is similar to other social interactions. If an editor violates the community standards described in policies and guidelines, other editors can persuade the person to adhere to acceptable norms of conduct, over time resorting to more forceful means, such as administrator and steward actions. In the case of gross violations of community norms, they are likely to resort to more forceful means fairly rapidly. Going against the principles set out on these pages, particularly policy pages, is unlikely to prove acceptable, although it may be possible to convince fellow editors an exception ought to be made. This means individual editors (including you) enforce and apply policies and guidelines.

In cases where it is clear a user is acting against policy (or against a guideline in a way that conflicts with policy), especially if they are doing so intentionally and persistently, that user may be temporarily or indefinitely blocked from editing by an administrator. In cases where the general dispute resolution procedure has been ineffective, the Arbitration Committee has the power to deal with highly disruptive or sensitive situations.

Wikipedia has many policies and guidelines about encyclopedic content. These standards require verifiability, neutrality, respect for living people, and more.

The policies, guidelines, and process pages themselves are not part of the encyclopedia proper. Consequently, they do not generally need to conform to the same content standards or style conventions as articles. It is therefore not necessary to provide reliable sources to verify Wikipedia's administrative pages, or to phrase Wikipedia procedures or principles in a neutral manner, or to cite an outside authority in determining Wikipedia's editorial practices. Instead, the content of these pages is controlled by community-wide consensus, and the style should emphasize clarity, directness, and usefulness to other editors.[2]

These pages do, however, need to comply with Wikipedia's legal and behavioral policies, as well as policies applicable to non-content pages. For example, editors may not violate copyrights anywhere on Wikipedia, and edit warring is prohibited everywhere, not merely in encyclopedia articles.

Many of the most well-established policies and guidelines have developed from principles which have been accepted as fundamental since Wikipedia's inception. Others developed as solutions to common problems and disruptive editing. Policy and guideline pages are seldom established without precedent,[3] and always require strong community support. Policies and guidelines may be established through new proposals, promotion of existing essays or guidelines, and reorganization of existing policies and guidelines through splitting and merging.

Current policy and guideline proposals can be found in Category:Wikipedia proposals, and failed proposals can be found in Category:Wikipedia failed proposals. All editors are welcome to comment on these proposals.

The first step is to write the best initial proposal you can. Authors can request early-stage feedback at Wikipedia's village pump for idea incubation and from any relevant WikiProjects. Amendments to a proposal can be discussed on its talk page. It is crucial to improve a proposal in response to feedback received from outside editors. Consensus is built through a process of listening to and discussing the proposal with many other editors.

To avoid later complaints about insufficient notice, it may be helpful to provide a complete list of the groups or pages you used to advertise the proposal on the talk page. Be careful to not canvass with non-neutral wording.

Editors should respond to proposals in a way that helps identify and build consensus. Explain your thoughts, ask questions, and raise concerns. Many editors begin their responses with bold-font 'vote' of support or opposition to make evaluation easier.

Closing a discussion requires careful evaluation of the responses to determine the consensus. This does not require the intervention of an administrator; it may be done by any sufficiently experienced impartial editor, not involved in the discussion, who is familiar with all policies and guidelines related to the proposal. The following points are important in evaluating consensus:

If a proposal fails, the failed tag should not usually be removed. It is typically more productive to rewrite a failed proposal from scratch to address problems, or seek consensus to integrate uncontroversial aspects of it into existing pages, than to re-nominate a proposal.

An accepted policy or guideline may become obsolete because of changes in editorial practice or community standards, may become redundant because of improvements to other pages, or may represent unwarranted instruction creep. In such situations editors may propose that a policy be demoted to a guideline, or that a policy or guideline be demoted to a supplement, informational page, essay or historical page. In certain cases, a policy or guideline may be superseded, in which case the old page is marked and retained for historical interest.

Essays, information pages, and other informal pages that are supported by only a small minority of the community are typically moved to the primary author's userspace. These discussions typically happen on the page's talk page, sometimes with an RfC, but they have at times also been conducted at Miscellany for deletion (despite the MFD guidelines explicitly discouraging this practice). Other pages are retained for historical reference and are marked as such.

Policies and guidelines can be edited like any other Wikipedia page. It is not strictly necessary to discuss changes or to obtain written documentation of a consensus in advance. However, because policies and guidelines are sensitive and complex, users should take care over any edits, to be sure they are faithfully reflecting the community's view and to be sure they are not accidentally introducing new sources of error or confusion.

Because Wikipedia practice exists in the community through consensus, editing a policy/guideline/essay page does not in itself imply an immediate change to accepted practice. It is, naturally, bad practice to recommend a rejected practice on a policy or guideline page. To update best practices, you may change the practice directly () and/or set about building widespread consensus for your change or implementation through discussion. When such a change is accepted, you can then edit the page to reflect the new situation.

Talk first. Talk page discussion typically precedes substantive changes to policy. Changes may be made if there are no objections, or if discussion shows there is consensus for the change. Minor edits to improve formatting, grammar, and clarity may be made at any time.

If the result of discussions is unclear, then it should be evaluated by an administrator or other independent editor, as in the proposal process. Major changes should also be publicized to the community in general; announcements similar to the proposal process may be appropriate.

Or be bold. The older but still valid method is to boldly edit the page. Bold editors of policy and guideline pages are strongly encouraged to follow WP:1RR or WP:0RR standards. Although most editors find prior discussion, especially at well-developed pages, very helpful, . Consequently, you should not remove any change solely on the grounds that there was no formal discussion indicating consensus for the change before it was made. Instead, you should give a substantive reason for challenging it and, if one hasn't already been started, open a discussion to identify the community's current views.

Editing a policy to support your own argument in an active discussion may be seen as gaming the system, especially if you do not disclose your involvement in the argument when making the edits.

If policy and/or guideline pages directly conflict, one or more pages need to be revised to resolve the conflict so all the conflicting pages accurately reflect the community's actual practices and best advice. As a temporary measure during that resolution process, if a guideline appears to conflict with a policy, editors may assume the policy takes precedence.

More commonly, advice pages do not directly conflict, but provide multiple options. For example, Wikipedia:Reliable sources says newspaper articles are generally considered to be reliable sources, and Wikipedia:Identifying reliable sources (medicine) recommends against newspaper articles for certain technical purposes. Editors must use their best judgement to decide which advice is most appropriate and relevant to the specific situation at hand.

The page names of policies and guidelines usually do not include the words "policy" or "guideline", unless required to distinguish the page from another.