Wikipedia:Please do not bite the newcomers

Wikipedia:Please do not bite the newcomers

# 22 Feb 2003 - 31 Dec 2006

Wikipedia articles are improved through the hard work of regular editors, but also through numerous contributions made by newcomers. Remember: all of us were new editors at Wikipedia once, and in some ways (such as when editing an article on a topic outside our usual scope) even the most experienced among us are still newcomers.

New members are prospective contributors and are therefore Wikipedia's most valuable resource. We must treat newcomers with kindness and patience — nothing scares potentially valuable contributors away faster than hostility. It is very unlikely for a newcomer to be completely familiar with all of the policies, guidelines, and community standards of Wikipedia when they start editing. Even the most experienced editors may need a gentle reminder from time to time.


Please do not bite the newcomers

  • Understand that newcomers are both necessary for and valuable to the community. By empowering newcomers, we can improve the diversity of knowledge, perspectives, and ideals on Wikipedia, thereby preserving its neutrality and integrity as a resource and ultimately increasing its value. In fact, it has been found that newcomers are responsible for adding the majority of lasting content to Wikipedia (i.e., substantive edits); while insiders and administrators are responsible for a large bulk of total edits, these often involve tweaking, reverting, and rearranging content.[1]
  • Remember, our motto and our invitation to the newcomer is be bold. We have a set of rules, standards, and traditions, but they must not be applied in such a way as to thwart the efforts of newcomers who take that invitation at face value. A newcomer brings a wealth of ideas, creative energy, and experience from other areas that, current rules and standards aside, have the potential to better our community and Wikipedia as a whole. It may be that the rules and standards need revising or expanding; perhaps what the newcomer is doing "wrong" may ultimately improve Wikipedia. Observe for a while and, if necessary, ask what the newcomer is trying to achieve before concluding that their efforts are substandard or that they are simply "wrong".
  • If a newcomer seems to have made a small mistake (e.g., forgetting to put book titles in italics), try to correct it yourself: do not slam the newcomer. Remember, this is a place where anyone may edit and therefore it is in every sense each person's responsibility to edit, rather than to criticize or supervise others. If you use bad manners or swear at newcomers, they may decide not to contribute to the encyclopedia again.
  • If you feel that you must say something to a newcomer about a mistake, please do so in a constructive and respectful manner. Begin by introducing yourself with a greeting on the user's talk page to let them know that they are welcome here, and present your corrections calmly and as a peer. If possible, point out things that they've done correctly or well.
  • Remember that newcomers are often unaware that edit histories are saved. When their edits are deleted, they may panic, start an edit war, or leave Wikipedia entirely, mistakenly assuming that hours of work have been irretrievably deleted. Please gently let newcomers know that their work is never lost and can always be retrieved from the history. Inform them that they are able to negotiate on talk pages and that if all else fails they can always revisit the article a few months later to negotiate with a new set of editors.
  • Newcomers may be hesitant to make changes, especially major ones, such as NPOV-ing and moving, due to fear of damaging Wikipedia (or of offending other Wikipedians and being flamed). Teach them to be bold.
  • While it is fine to point a new user who has made a mistake towards the relevant policy pages, it is both unreasonable and unfriendly to suggest that they stop taking part in votes, Articles for Deletion discussions, etc., until they "gain more experience." This both discourages new editors and deprives Wikipedia of much-needed insights.
  • When giving advice, tone down the rhetoric a few notches from the usual mellow discourse that dominates Wikipedia. Make the newcomer feel genuinely welcome, not as though they must win your approval in order to be granted membership into an exclusive club. Any new domain of concentrated, special-purpose human activity has its own specialized structures, which take time to learn (and which benefit from periodic re-examination and revision).
  • Do not call newcomers disparaging names such as "sockpuppet" or "meatpuppet". If a disproportionate number of newcomers show up on one side of a vote, you should make them feel welcome while explaining that their votes may be disregarded. No name-calling is necessary. Similarly, think hard before calling a newcomer a single-purpose account.
  • Sometimes users forget to use four tildes after talk page posts. You can make the reminder process easier and less annoying by using the following two templates. In the meantime, you can use {{unsigned}} to fix those anonymous comments.
    • Template:Sign1 – Please sign your name using four tildes ~~~~ when making your posts on talk pages.
    • Template:Sign2 – When editing on User Talk or Article Talk pages, please sign your name using four tildes ~~~~ when making your posts. I would also suggest that you consider creating an account for yourself.
  • Assume good faith on the part of newcomers. They most likely want to help out. Give them a chance!
  • Remember Hanlon's Razor. Behavior that appears malicious to experienced Wikipedians is more likely caused by ignorance of our expectations and rules. Even if you are 100% sure that someone is a worthless, no-good Internet troll, vandal, or worse, conduct yourself as if they are not. By being calm, interested, and respectful, you do credit to your dignity, and to our project.
  • Remember that you too were once a newcomer. Treat others as you wish you had been treated (or perhaps were treated) when you first arrived.
  • Remember: "Don't bite, do what's right. Being a friend is all right."

How to avoid being a "biter"

Newcomers' ideas of how things should be handled within Wikipedia will largely be out of context. It's a jungle out there, and it may take some time before a newcomer becomes accustomed to how things work here. Keeping that in mind may help you avoid becoming a "biter". To avoid being accused of biting, try to:

  1. Avoid intensifiers in commentary (e.g., exclamation points and words like terrible, dumb, stupid, bad, etc.).
  2. Moderate your approach and wording.
  3. Always explain reverts in the edit summary, and use plain English rather than cryptic abbreviations.
  4. Avoid sarcasm in edit summaries and on talk pages, especially when reverting.
  5. Strive to respond in a measured manner.
  6. Wait and postpone editing as soon as you feel that you're upset.
  7. Be gracious.
  8. Acknowledge differing principles and be willing to reach a consensus.
  9. Take responsibility for resolving conflicts.
  10. Reciprocate where necessary.
  11. Listen actively.
  12. Avoid Wikipedia jargon. When linking to policies or guidelines, do so in whole phrases, not wiki shorthand.
  13. Avoid using blocks as a first resort. Consider talking to a user before you block them.

Standard welcome/warning messages are both cordial and correcting. Consider using these templates for welcoming, or the first two here for warning.

Strive to be a responsible Wikipedian. By fostering goodwill, you will neither provoke nor be provoked easily, and will allow new Wikipedians to devote their time and resources towards building a truly collaborative encyclopedia.

What to do if you feel you have "bitten" or have been bitten

If you have bitten someone, or feel that you have been bitten, considering the following points could help ensure that it doesn't happen again.

  1. Choose to learn from the incident.
  2. Apologize if you realize you have bitten another user.
  3. Consider alternatives to biting that could have achieved a better response. If you encounter a similar situation in the future, choose one of those alternatives instead of repeating history.
  4. Find something of value in the experience. Extract the wisdom that may have been unintentionally veiled.
  5. Be reasonable. Explain why you were offended, but learn to recognize when the message cannot be received. The recipient may be unable or unwilling to accept fault, and it may be better to move on to other things than to dwell on the bite.

Common newcomer errors

One common error among newcomers is to create an article in mainspace about themselves, their garage band, or about their original theories on a certain topic. One way to deal gently with this is to userfy the article, and leave a note saying why. {{nn-userfy}} is designed for userfying autobiographical articles. The remaining redirect can be flagged for deletion using {{Db-rediruser}}. Userfied articles on bands could be tagged with {{PROD}}, since they tend to hang around. New articles about a person's original research and theories could have a note appended explaining WP:OR. It is sometimes helpful to direct new users to alternative outlets.

Another common newbie error is to violate the three revert rule. There is no reason to expect that a newcomer would know about this rule, so it is a good idea to inform them of the rule on their talkpage after their second revert.

Ignorantia juris may excuse

The principle "Ignorantia juris non excusat" (Latin for: "ignorance of the law does not excuse") is incompatible with the guidelines of not biting and assuming good faith. You yourself violate Wikipedia's guidelines and policies when you attack a new user for ignorance of them. Try instead to follow the points set forth in this article to relieve new editors of their ignorance. Keep in mind that this is not the way many other things work, and even seasoned editors fail to follow our guidelines from time to time. Ignorance of the written law is one thing, disregarding suggested laws regarding unrestrained editorial construction of an online Encyclopedia is quite another. If you exclude editors without "Barnstars" and the like from your circle you probably diminish the final product.


  1. ^ Swartz, Aaron (2006-09-04). "Who writes Wikipedia? (Aaron Swartz's Raw Thought)" (HTML). Retrieved 2009-04-21. 

See also

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