Wikipedia:Avoiding common mistakes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The easiest way to avoid making common mistakes is to know what they are. Some of the most common recurring errors in Wikipedia articles have been documented below for your convenience.

However, not all errors are covered here. Keep in mind that newcomers to Wikipedia may find that it is easy to commit a faux pas. Don't worry about that. Remember, Wikipedia is unbreakable (every edit is recorded and retrievable). Also, even though there are many protocols, perfection is not required, as Wikipedia is a work in progress. You are encouraged to be bold and start editing.

As you edit Wikipedia, please avoid making the following errors:


  • Autobiographical articles. One of the most common mistakes for newcomers is creating an encyclopedia article about themselves (or a friend or relative). Because Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, it is not expected to have a biographical article about every person who contributes, or indeed, most people. The simple fact is that the vast majority of people are not notable, as we define that word here, and even if a subject is notable, you should not be writing articles about yourself or people with which you have a close connection. Your user page, however, is a perfect place to write a bit about yourself, especially as it relates to Wikipedia editing – your work and aspirations as a Wikipedian, to-do lists, useful policy/guideline links and the like. While you may write some unrelated content, you should avoid substantial content on your user page that is unrelated to Wikipedia. To access your userpage, just click on your user name at the top of the screen after you have logged in.
  • Company articles. It is often better not to write an article about the company you own or work for. First, you may have problems maintaining a neutral point of view, and second, your article may be quickly deleted. If your company is notable enough, someone else will write an article about it. (See Wikipedia:Business FAQ and Wikipedia:Conflict of interest.)
  • Dictionary-type entries. We take the stance that Wikipedia is not a dictionary. Each article should aim to cover its topic beyond a simple definition and teach something about greater context. Pure dictionary definitions belong in our sister project, Wiktionary.
  • Redundant articles. Before creating a new article, run a search for the topic—you may find a related one that already exists. Consider adding to existing articles before creating an entirely new one. In searching keywords, remember that article titles are usually singular, e.g. "Tree", not "Trees". Also search Wikipedia with Google for the name of your topic, and related terms; articles may be missed by a Wikipedia search but caught by Google, especially if the terms you choose are not present in the article title. Google's spelling suggestion feature also helps a great deal. Redundant articles often result when a user comes across a red link, so see Wikipedia:WikiProject Red Link Recovery for more details. An article for a red link may have been deleted, so see Special:Log/delete and search for deletions to find out when and why an article was deleted. On the other hand, Categories, lists, and navboxes that contain the same elements are typically allowed.
  • Articles which are too short to have encyclopedic value. Articles must establish the context and notability of the subject. If an article does not contain enough content to keep it from being classified as a mere stub, then it may qualify for speedy deletion. Instead of creating a very short article, consider adding more content to the page before saving it, or using the {{inuse}} tag to indicate that the article is in the process of expansion.


  • Deleting useless content. Cutting superfluous content is at the heart of good, focused writing of every stripe and it is no different for an encyclopedia. Some material you come across here may have no place for various reasons, such as being pure trivia, unduly weighted for the topic or out of focus therein, or it may be just plain wrong and unsourced or nonsensical. On the other hand, some content may belong despite being poorly written or in the wrong place. Consider what a sentence or paragraph tries to say. Clarify it instead of throwing it away. If the wayward material seems mis-categorized or out of place but still useful in some other context, consider moving it to another page where it does belong, creating a new page for it where warranted, or moving it to the article's talk page, which can be accessed using the "talk" button at the top of each page.
  • Deleting biased content. Biased content can be useful content (see above). Remove the bias and keep the content.
  • Deleting without explanation. Deleting anything that isn't trivial requires some justification, or else other users who care about the article's development will be caught unaware, and may think you're being intentionally sneaky. It is best to put a few words in the edit summary, or else you can simply write "See talk:" in the edit summary box and explain on the talk page.
  • Deleting or removing text from any Talk page without archiving it, except in your user space. Talk pages or any discussion pages are part of the historical record in Wikipedia. Every time the pages are cleaned up, don't forget to store the removed text in its corresponding archive ([[/Archive]]) page. (See Wikipedia:How to archive a talk page.)
  • Deleting named references. If text containing a named reference is deleted along with its definition, care should be taken to ensure no "widows" are created, i.e., other occurrences of the deleted reference elsewhere in the article that now have no definition; this results in a cite error. Either all appearances of the reference should be removed, or the definition should be moved to one of the remaining instances. The article should be checked after editing to ensure that no cite error has been created.
  • Deleting list-defined references. Similarly, if text containing a list-defined reference is removed, which only has one occurrence in the main article content, the definition should also be removed otherwise a cite error will be created; again, the article should be checked for cite errors after editing.


  • Poorly structured lead sections. The lead should establish context, summarize the most important points, explain why the subject is interesting or notable, and briefly describe its notable controversies, if there are any. It should not "tease" the reader by hinting at but not explaining important facts that will appear later in the article. (See Wikipedia:Lead section.)
  • Inconsistently styled text. The Manual of Style is a guide for maintaining a consistent style across Wikipedia articles. There are also several subsidiary style guides, such as those for infoboxes and text formatting. (See Wikipedia:Guide to writing better articles.)
  • Self-references. Referring to the Wikipedia project is entirely acceptable on talk pages or in the Wikipedia namespace, but is inappropriate in articles. The reason for this rule is that according to Wikipedia's licensing guidelines, other projects and users are allowed to reuse Wikipedia content (subject to various conditions) on other projects; accordingly, if articles in Wikipedia make statements such as "This article is part of a series of Wikipedia articles on topic X...", this statement will seem strange to a person who is reading the article when it is housed in another project. (See Wikipedia:Self-references to avoid.)
  • Other Wikipedia articles used as a reference. Wikipedia articles need references to reliable sources. One Wikipedia article cannot be used as a source for another Wikipedia article, in most cases (there are a very small number of exceptions, such as cases where an article on Wikipedia is about Wikipedia or Wikipedia policies). Instead, Wikipedia articles should use published sources as references, such as books and magazines.
  • External links in text. Relevant external links should be added to a links section at the foot of the article. If the link is a reference to a reliable source, then you should use reference tags to create an inline citation. (See Wikipedia:External links.)
  • Signatures in articles. The need to associate edits with users is taken care of by an article's edit history. Therefore, you should use your signature only when contributing to talk pages, the Village Pump, or other such discussion pages. (See Wikipedia:Signatures.)

Over-doing it

Taking it too seriously

  • Arming for war. Wikipedia is a unique community of reasonable and consensus-oriented people. In other words, this isn't Usenet, and flaming is severely looked down upon. For more about Wikipedia manners, see Wikiquette, No angry mastodons and Don't throw your toys out of the pram.
  • Using Wikipedia pages as a chat room. See How to avoid Talk page abuse.
  • Getting annoyed because you find some bad articles. Wikipedia is, and always will be, a work in progress; please tolerate our imperfection, and help us improve. There are a lot of smart people here, and everyone finds they have something to contribute. If you're still skeptical, see the replies to common objections.
  • Getting annoyed when others edit or delete your work. It is easy to be disheartened when a page you have significantly contributed to has been edited or some of it deleted. Don't be: Wikipedia is largely about sharing knowledge, not assuming superiority over other editors. If others edit or comment on your work, don't be upset—take their advice and hone it, or add the points you think are relevant. If we work together, we can all make Wikipedia a better place.

See also

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