Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Words to watch
There are no forbidden words or expressions on Wikipedia, but certain expressions should be used with caution, because they may introduce bias. Strive to eliminate expressions that are flattering, disparaging, vague, clichéd, or endorsing of a particular viewpoint.
The advice in this guideline is not limited to the examples provided and should not be applied rigidly. If a word can be replaced by one with less potential for misunderstanding, it should be. Some words have specific technical meanings in some contexts and are acceptable in those contexts, e.g. claim in law. What matters is that articles should be well-written and be consistent with the core content policies – Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, Wikipedia:No original research, and Wikipedia:Verifiability. The guideline does not apply to quotations, which should be faithfully reproduced from the original sources ( ).
Words to watch: legendary, best, great, acclaimed, iconic, visionary, outstanding, leading, celebrated, popular, award-winning, landmark, cutting-edge, innovative, revolutionary, extraordinary, brilliant, hit, famous, renowned, remarkable, prestigious, world-class, respected, notable, virtuoso, honorable, awesome, unique, pioneering, phenomenal ...
Words such as these are often used without attribution to promote the subject of an article, while neither imparting nor plainly summarizing verifiable information. They are known as "peacock terms" by Wikipedia contributors.[a] Instead of making subjective proclamations about a subject's importance, use facts and attribution to demonstrate it.
Articles suffering from such language should be rewritten to correct the problem or may be tagged with an appropriate template[a] if an editor is unsure how best to correct them.
Puffery is an example of positively loaded language; negatively loaded language should be avoided just as much. People responsible for "public spending" (the neutral term) can be loaded both ways, as "tax-and-spend politicians borrowing off the backs of our grandchildren" or "public servants ensuring crucial investment in our essential infrastructure for the public good".
Words to watch: cult, racist, perverted, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, sect, fundamentalist, heretic, extremist, denialist, terrorist, freedom fighter, bigot, myth, neo-Nazi, -gate, pseudo-, controversial ...
Value-laden labels – such as calling an organization a cult, an individual a racist or sexist, terrorist, or freedom fighter, or a sexual practice a perversion – may express contentious opinion and are best avoided unless widely used by reliable sources to describe the subject, in which case use in-text attribution. Avoid myth in its informal sense, and establish the scholarly context for any formal use of the term.
The prefix pseudo- indicates that something is false or spurious, which may be debatable. The suffix ‑gate suggests the existence of a scandal. Use these in articles only when they are in wide use externally, e.g. Gamergate (harassment campaign), with in-text attribution if in doubt. Rather than describing an individual using the subjective and vague term controversial, instead give readers information about relevant controversies. Make sure, as well, that reliable sources establish the existence of a controversy and that the term is not used to grant a fringe viewpoint undue weight.[b]
With regard to the term pseudoscience: per the policy Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, pseudoscientific views "should be clearly described as such". Per the content guideline Wikipedia:Fringe theories, the term pseudoscience, when supported by reliable sources, may be used to distinguish fringe theories from mainstream science.
Words to watch: some people say, many scholars state, it is believed/regarded/considered, many are of the opinion, most feel, experts declare, it is often reported, it is widely thought, research has shown, science says, scientists claim, it is often said, X has been described as Y ...
Weasel words are words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated. A common form of weasel wording is through vague attribution, where a statement is dressed with authority, yet has no substantial basis. Phrases such as those above present the appearance of support for statements but can deny the reader the opportunity to assess the source of the viewpoint. They may disguise a biased view. Claims about what people say, think, feel, or believe, and what has been shown, demonstrated, or proved should be clearly attributed.[c]
The examples above are not automatically weasel words. They may also be used in the lead section of an article or in a topic sentence of a paragraph, and the article body or the rest of the paragraph can supply attribution. Likewise, views that are properly attributed to a reliable source may use similar expressions, if those expressions accurately represent the opinions of the source. Reliable sources may analyze and interpret, but for editors to do so would violate the Wikipedia:No original research or Wikipedia:Neutral point of view policies. Equally, editorial irony and damning with faint praise have no place in Wikipedia articles.
Words to watch: supposed, apparent, purported, alleged, accused, so-called ... Also, scare-quoting: a Yale "report"; undue emphasis: "... a Baptist church"
Words such as supposed, apparent, alleged, and purported can imply that a given point is inaccurate, although alleged and accused are appropriate when wrongdoing is asserted but undetermined, such as with people awaiting or undergoing a criminal trial; when these are used, ensure that the source of the accusation is clear. So-called can mean commonly named, falsely named, or contentiously named, and it can be difficult to tell these apart. Simply called is preferable for the first meaning; detailed and attributed explanations are preferable for the others.
Misused punctuation can also have similar effects. Quotation marks, when not marking an actual quotation, may be interpreted as "scare quotes", indicating that the writer is distancing themselves from the otherwise common interpretation of the quoted expression. The use of emphasis may turn an innocuous word into a loaded expression, so such occurrences should also be considered carefully.
Words to watch: notably, it should be noted, arguably, interestingly, essentially, utterly, actually, clearly, absolutely, of course, without a doubt, indeed, happily, sadly, tragically, aptly, fortunately, unfortunately, untimely ...
The use of adverbs such as notably and interestingly, and phrases such as it should be noted, to highlight something as particularly significant or certain without attributing that opinion should usually be avoided so as to maintain an impartial tone. Words such as fundamentally, essentially, and basically can indicate particular interpretative viewpoints, and thus should also be attributed in controversial cases. Care should be used with actually, which implies that a fact is contrary to expectations; make sure this is verifiable and not just assumed. Clearly, obviously, naturally, and of course all presume too much about the reader's knowledge and perspective and often amount to verbiage. Wikipedia should not take a view as to whether an event was fortunate or not.
This kind of persuasive writing approach is also against the Wikipedia:No original research policy (Wikipedia does not try to steer the reader to a particular interpretation or conclusion), and the Instructional and presumptuous language guideline (Wikipedia does not break the fourth wall and write at the reader, other than with navigational hatnotes.)
Words to watch: but, despite, however, though, although, furthermore, while ...
More subtly, editorializing can produce implications that are not supported by the sources. When used to link two statements, words such as but, despite, however, and although may imply a relationship where none exists, possibly unduly calling the validity of the first statement into question while giving undue weight to the credibility of the second.
Words to watch: reveal, point out, clarify, expose, explain, find, note, observe, insist, speculate, surmise, claim, assert, admit, confess, deny ...
In some types of writing, repeated usage of said is considered tedious, and writers are encouraged to employ synonyms. However, on Wikipedia, it is more important to avoid language that makes undue implications.
Said, stated, described, wrote, commented, and according to are almost always neutral and accurate. Extra care is needed with more loaded terms. For example, to write that a person clarified, explained, exposed, found, pointed out, showed, or revealed something can imply it is true, instead of simply conveying the fact that it was said. To write that someone insisted, noted, observed, speculated, or surmised can suggest the degree of the person's carefulness, resoluteness, or access to evidence, even when such things are unverifiable.
To write that someone asserted or claimed something can call their statement's credibility into question, by emphasizing any potential contradiction or implying a disregard for evidence. Similarly, be judicious in the use of admit, confess, reveal, and deny, particularly for living persons, because these verbs can inappropriately imply culpability.
Words to watch: passed away, gave his/her life, eternal rest, make love, an issue with, collateral damage ...
The word died is neutral and accurate; avoid euphemisms such as passed away. Likewise, have sex is neutral; the euphemism make love is presumptuous. Some words that are proper in many contexts also have euphemistic senses that should be avoided: do not use issue for problem or dispute; civilian casualties should not be masked as collateral damage.
Norms vary for expressions concerning disabilities and disabled people. Do not assume that plain language is inappropriate. The goal is to express ideas clearly and directly without causing unnecessary offense.
Words to watch: lion's share, tip of the iceberg, white elephant, gild the lily, take the plunge, ace up the sleeve, bird in the hand, twist of fate, at the end of the day ...
Clichés and idioms are generally to be avoided in favor of direct, literal expressions. Lion's share is often misunderstood; instead use a term such as all, most, two-thirds, or whatever matches the context. The tip of the iceberg should be reserved for discussions of icebergs. If something is seen as wasteful excess, do not refer to it as gilding the lily or a white elephant; instead, describe the wasteful endeavor in terms of the actions or events that led to the excess. Instead of writing that someone took the plunge, state their actions matter-of-factly.
In general, if the literal interpretation of a phrase makes no sense in the context of a sentence, the sentence needs rewording. Some idioms are only common in certain parts of the world, and many readers are not native speakers of English; articles should not presume familiarity with particular phrases. Wiktionary has a lengthy list of English idioms, some of which should be avoided.
Words to watch: recently, lately, currently, today, presently, to date, 15 years ago, formerly, in the past, traditionally, this/last/next (year/month/winter/spring/summer/fall/autumn), yesterday, tomorrow, in the future, now, soon, since ...
Absolute specifications of time are preferred to relative constructions using recently, currently, and so on, because the latter may go out of date. "By October 2021 contributions had dropped" has the same meaning as "Recently, contributions have dropped" but the first sentence retains its meaning as time passes. And recently type constructions may be ambiguous even at the time of writing: Was it in the last week? Month? Year?[d] The information that "The current president, Cristina Fernández, took office in 2007", or "Cristina Fernández has been president since 2007", is better rendered "Cristina Fernández became president in 2007". Wordings such as "17 years ago" or "Jones is 65 years old" should be rewritten as "in 2004", "Jones was 65 years old at the time of the incident", or "Jones was born in 1956."
When material in an article may become out of date, follow the Wikipedia:As of guideline, which allows information to be written in a less time-dependent way.[e] There are also several templates for alerting readers to time-sensitive wording problems.[f]
Expressions like "former(ly)", "in the past", and "traditional(ly)" lump together unspecified periods in the past. "Traditional" is particularly pernicious because it implies immemorial established usage. It is better to use explicit dates supported by sources. Instead of "hamburgers are a traditional American food," say "the hamburger was invented in about 1900 and became widely popular in the United States in the 1930s."[g] Because seasons differ between the northern and southern hemisphere, try to use months, quarters, or other non-seasonal terms such as mid-year unless the season itself is pertinent (spring blossoms, autumn harvest); see .
Words to watch: this country, here, there, somewhere, sometimes, often, occasionally, somehow ...
As in the previous section, prefer specific statements to general ones. It is better to use explicit descriptions, based on reliable sources, of when, where, or how an event occurred. Instead of saying "In April 2012, Senator Smith somehow managed to increase his approval rating by 10%", say "In April 2012, Senator Smith's approval rating increased by 10%, which respondents attributed to his new position on foreign policy." Instead of saying "Senator Smith often discusses foreign policy in his speeches", say "Senator Smith discussed foreign policy during his election campaign, and subsequently during his victory speech at the State Convention Center."
Remember that Wikipedia is a global encyclopedia, and does not assume particular places or times are the "default". We emphasize facts and viewpoints to the same degree that they are emphasized by the reliable sources. Terms like this country should not be used.
Phrasing such as "Smith died in 1982, survived by her husband Jack and two sons" should be avoided; this information can be made more complete and spread out through the article. The "survived by" phrasing is a common way to end newspaper obituaries and legal death notices, and is relevant at the time of death or for inheritance purposes. But an encyclopedia article covers the subject's entire life, not just the event of their death. Information about children and spouses might be presented in an infobox or in sections about the subject's personal life. Readers can generally infer which family members died after the subject. Usually this information is not worth highlighting explicitly, except for unusual situations (for example where children predecease their parents, or where the inheritance was disputed).
Even in a stub article, a different arrangement with more details sounds more like an encyclopedia and less like an obituary: "Smith married Jack in 1957. The couple had two sons, Bill and Ted. She died in 1982."
It is necessary for a reference work to distinguish carefully between an office (such as president of the United States) and an incumbent (such as Joe Biden); a newspaper does not usually need to make this distinction, for a newspaper "President Biden" and "the President" are one and the same during his tenure.
Neologisms are expressions coined recently or in isolated circumstances to which they have remained restricted. In most cases, they do not appear in general-interest dictionaries, though they may be used routinely within certain communities or professions. They should generally be avoided because their definitions tend to be unstable and many do not last. Where the use of a neologism is necessary to describe recent developments in a certain field, its meaning must be supported by reliable sources.
Adding common prefixes or suffixes such as pre-, post-, non-, anti-, or -like to existing words to create new compounds can aid brevity, but make sure the resulting terms are not misleading or offensive, and that they do not lend undue weight to a point of view. For instance, adding -ism or -ist to a word may suggest that a tenuous belief system is well-established, that a belief's adherents are particularly dogmatic or ideological (as in abortionism), or that factual statements are actually a matter of doctrine (as in evolutionism). Some words, by their structure, can suggest extended forms that may turn out to be contentious (e.g. lesbian and transgender imply the longer words lesbianism and transgenderism, which are sometimes taken as offensive for seeming to imply a belief system or agenda).
Do not use similar or related words in a way that blurs meaning or is incorrect or distorting.
For example, the adjective Arab refers to people and things of ethnic Arab origin. The term Arabic generally refers to the Arabic language or writing system, and related concepts. Arabian relates to the Arabian peninsula or historical Arabia. (These terms are all capitalized, e.g. Arabic script and Arabian horse, aside from a few conventionalized exceptions that have lost their cultural connection, such as gum arabic.) Do not substitute these terms for Islamic, Muslim, Islamist, Middle-eastern, etc.; a Muslim Arab is someone who is in both categories.
Similar concerns pertain to many cultural, scientific, and other topics and the terminology used about them. When in doubt about a term, consult major modern dictionaries.
Wikipedia is not censored, and the inclusion of material that might offend is part of its purpose as an encyclopedia. Quotes should always be verbatim and as they appear in the original source. However, language that is vulgar, obscene, or profane should be used only if its omission would make an article less accurate or relevant, and if there is no non-obscene alternative. Such words should not be used outside quotations and names except where they are themselves an article topic.