Wikipedia:Don't cite essays or proposals as if they were policy

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In heated debates, users often cite essays, proposals, WikiProject advice pages, information pages and template documentation pages as defence of their own actions, or to make an accusation of wrongdoing against another editor. This is often inappropriate and can lead to the escalation of a conflict. Essays, proposals and information pages should only be cited as opinion or advice, not admonishment. They should not be used as an end-run around the Wikipedia process of establishing consensus.

It is not a good idea to quote essays—including this one—as though they are Wikipedia approved policy. Essays can be written without much—if any—debate, as opposed to Wikipedia policy that has been thoroughly vetted. Giving a link to an essay without explanation risks misrepresenting it as more than it is—the opinion of one or more editors. (See WP:Local consensus for details).

Make a good effort to resolve conflicts without resorting to slogans

Discuss the issue, don't instantly resort to peppering the discussion with shortcuts to essays. Particularly avoid using m:jerk which editors may find flat offensive. If you do find yourself wanting to throw essays at someone, you may be getting overheated, and would do well with backing off to cool down a bit.

A lot of the time these essays are used in ways contrary to what the essay actually calls for. WP:KETTLE is not an excuse to accuse people of being 'just as bad' in a disruptive way. It's a guideline for your own actions, not a brickbat to throw at others.

The editor might be new, and unfamiliar with Wikipedia policies and guidelines. Making a pointed direction to an essay may confuse them, and potentially annoy or upset them. Many new editors may assume that all articles in the Wikipedia namespace are "Official Policy".

And finally there is also the possibility that they know the guidelines and policies, and the essay conflicts with them, in which case you should attempt to argue on points, not on a slogan. In fact, always argue on points. When doing so, you can use project namespace pages to jog your memory and learn from the mistakes of others.

Use real policy and guidelines instead

If you simply must refer someone to a page on the standards of behaviour expected of someone, refer to a guideline or policy. If you don't know the appropriate policy or guideline to refer, you probably need to do a little research and read up on the policy and guidelines. Since essays are not vetted and maintained in the same way as policy and guidelines, they may actually conflict with them, and you should always check.

Be careful about what you reference, because the Wikipedia project namespace is as publicly editable as the rest of Wikipedia. The {{essay}}, {{guideline}} and {{policy}} templates give an indication as to whether a page has consensus support and how it is meant to be applied. With some exceptions such as purely technical documentation and process pages such as WP:AFD, anything in the Wikipedia namespace that has no tag is very likely to be an essay.

Don't refer to proposals as policy or failed policy

Proposals have to try to achieve consensus, and it's important to test them out to see if they work. Regardless, much of what applies to essays applies to proposals, too. Make sure that you don't give the impression that things failing to meet a proposal are automatically problematic.

Avoid creating essays just to prove a point

Creating essays and then citing to them in debates is essentially performing an end-run around the Wikipedia process of forming policy, and may be especially confusing to new Wikipedia users. If you must cite to an essay that represents a specific regulatory philosophy or approach to Wikipedia, please make sure that you properly denote that what you are linking to is not Wikipedia policy, but shorthand for a link to a belief, viewpoint, or way of approaching various venues and administrative issues in Wikipedia.

Essays should always include the essay header, which clearly denotes that essays have no official status, but are a commentary or interpretation of policy.

If you must cite...

If you simply must cite an essay or proposal, then do so in a way that won't cause problems. Avoid using scary ALL CAPS words, like WP:NOTPOLICY, which can seem a little like shouting. Instead use link text to refer to the essay.

How to cite essays

As an example, when the topic is too difficult to discuss in a short talk page message, cite an essay in a way that clearly says it's an essay. Make sure the cite is given as advice, not admonishment.

For example, say "I really think you might want to cut down on the essays. The example essay describes well why I feel you're going a little overboard".

How to cite proposals

Again, if you can't avoid citing a proposal always be clear that you are citing something that is a proposal, not an approved policy or guideline. While it may be a worthwhile potential policy, it hasn't achieved consensus and isn't policy yet, and may see some fundamental changes before it becomes policy, if it ever does. Again, you should make sure you cite as advice, not admonishment.

For example, say "The example proposal shows some reasons I think pages like this should be deleted".

How to cite this essay

Don't. Referring someone here while you're in the middle of a dispute because they keep referring you to an essay as if it were policy is not going to help. It also diminishes the point of not citing essays as if they were policy to cite this essay in such a way. This essay is meant solely a guideline of your own behaviour, don't use it as a brickbat against others.

See also

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