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Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Collaborating with other editors/Communicating with your fellow editors

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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (Discuss)

As a Wikipedia editor, you need to know how to use the pages where editors interact and collaborate with each other. Even if you want to focus mostly on improving articles, you'll find that discussing those improvements with other editors before, during, and after your actual article work goes a long way in making sure your changes are accurate and don't get reverted later.

Dealing with vandalism (Chapter 7: Dealing with vandalism and spam) and content disputes (Chapter 10: Resolving content disputes) also require you to use article and user talk pages. As a Wikipedia editor, you'll communicate with other editors on article talk pages and user talk pages—including your own. You can also, if you wish, communicate directly with other editors by email and in online chat rooms.

All these methods of communication involve standard procedures and norms of conduct. If you don't follow them, other editors are much more likely to ignore what you're saying, as valuable as it may be. This chapter spells out those processes and norms so you can make your points easily and clearly.

Identifying yourself


When you post a comment to a talk page, you must always sign your comment. Other editors need to know who posted what, and when, so they can follow the thread of a conversation, post on a user talk page if appropriate, and even just know whether a posting is recent enough to be worth responding to. (A comment that's more than a month old is presumed to be of historical interest only unless it's part of an ongoing discussion.)

In Wikipedia, signing has two parts: your signature (sometimes called "sig"), which is a composite of one or more links (to your user page, user talk page, or user contributions page), plus the time and date that you publish your edit. Here's an example of what signing your comment would look like: YourUserNameGoesHere talk 22:04, 11 November 2007 (UTC). If you click on the first, long word, it leads to the user page; if you click "talk", it leads to the user talk page.

Signing a comment is easy: Simply put four tildes at the very end of your comment, without spaces between the tildes. (A tilde looks like this: "~"; on American keyboards you find it in the upper left, on British keyboards, on the right next to the "Enter" or "Return" key.) If you type only three tildes by mistake, you add only your user name, not the date and time you posted your comment. If you type five tildes by mistake, you leave the date and time but not your user name or a link to your user talk page.

Don't start a new line or paragraph when you sign your comments. At the end of the body of your comment, just add a space or two, or a dash or two, or both, for separation, and then add the four tildes. (Extra lines for your signature just take up space on a page, and adding them is the mark of an inexperienced user.)

In edit mode, you can also sign by using a button on the edit toolbar (the row of icons just above the edit box). Clicking the button that has a single tilde on it inserts four tildes (~~~~) in the text you're editing. (Make sure your cursor is where you want your signature to appear—the button isn't smart enough to figure that out itself.)

In the past fixing an unsigned comment required an editor to manually check the talk page history so that the missing signature could be filled in manually. Today, fortunately, a software bot User:SineBot now takes care of most such fixes.

Article talk (discussion) pages


Wikipedia articles such as Monty Python have a matching talk page: Talk:Monty Python. On these pages, editors discuss improvements to the article, including differences of opinions about content.

Because a talk page is conversation, its organization is very different from that of an article, which is essay-like. The underlying page formatting is the same—the wiki markup for headings, bold, italics—but the rules of engagement (so to speak) are quite different. For example, italicizing words in articles, for emphasis, is simply not done, because that's not a neutral point of view. By contrast, italics are quite common on article talk pages because they can make it easier for other editors to understand what's being said. Similarly, signatures are absolutely forbidden on article pages, but you should always sign your postings on article talk pages.

The information in this section refers to article talk pages. But it's also applicable (with the exception of a few aspects of archiving) to Wikipedia talk pages, Template talk pages, Help talk pages, Category talk pages, and so on. Wikipedia calls these standard talk pages. The information in this section is also relevant to posting at free-form discussion pages, like the Help desk (WP:HD) and the set of pages that make up the discussion area called the Village Pump (shortcut: WP:VP). (User talk pages are different; these are discussed in the section about user talk pages.)

Posting conventions


In addition to always signing your posts, following a few other guidelines will make you look like an experienced, knowledgeable editor right off the bat. Beside the items on this list, pay attention to what other editors are doing on talk pages. Read before you post. The more you avoid annoying or confusing other editors, the more seriously they'll take you.

  • On an article talk page, when editors say, "this page" they're usually referring to the article page itself. If you want to refer to the talk page itself (as, for example, when asking about archiving), say this talk page, not this page.
  • Piped links (see the section about internal links) and shortcuts to Wikipedia policies, guidelines, and other instructional pages are common on talk pages, typically more common than fully spelled-out wikilinks. While a shortcut like [[WP:NPOV]] may not have any obvious meaning to many editors, the expectation is that those interested enough to read a talk page should be interested enough to follow such links to find out what they refer to. (To an outsider, this seems like jargon; to an experienced editor, it's an efficient way of doing things.)
  • Avoid text that is CAPITAL LETTERS; it's considered SHOUTING. Similarly, talk pages almost never use boldface text. Use italics (double apostrophes around text) in moderation for emphasis. You can also use underlining (place a <u> tag at the beginning and a </u> tag at the end), but again, use it sparingly. Use complete words, not text messaging abbreviations. In short, if it's wrong in email, it's wrong on a talk page.
  • Talk pages don't have sections at the bottom for footnotes, "see also", external links, and so on. If you want to discuss a source, provide a URL for it (within single brackets) within the body of your comment.
Top templates

The majority of existing article talk pages have one or more templates at the top—and often that's all they have. Most templates indicate that the article is within the scope of a particular WikiProject (Chapter 9: WikiProjects and other group efforts); most of the remainder are essentially notes about the article's history (nominated for deletion, assessed as being of a certain quality, and so on).

In 2007, Wikipedia introduced three templates to reduce the proliferation of templates at the top of article talk pages: {{WikiProjectBannerShell}}, {{WikiProjectBanners}}, and {{ArticleHistory}}. If you come across a talk page where you can't see the table of contents until you scroll down, adding one of these templates might help. If one or more of these templates are already in place, consider putting {{skiptotoctalk}} at the very top of the page, before any other templates. This template provides a quick link for other editors to bypass the templates.

Should you bother to read the templates? If you're thinking about proposing that the article be deleted, you should definitely look at the article talk page. You might, for example, find a link to a deletion discussion about the article. But generally you won't care about the templates when you discuss improvements to an article, so a quick glance should suffice.

Posting to a brand-new article talk page


Every article is associated with an article talk page, even if the article talk page has yet to be created. If the word "Talk" in the tab at the top of an article is red, not blue, then you create that page if you post to it.

Previously, the tab that goes to the talk page had the word "discussion" on it, instead of "talk." This historical idiosyncrasy is why you'll sometimes see the wording "talk (discussion) page" in this book.

When you create an article talk page by clicking the red link, you should add a section heading at the top of the edit box: On the first line, put the name of the new section, with two equal signs on each side. Talk pages don't have a lead section (a top section with text, without a heading). If you find such a lead section, you should add a heading, which can be as simple as == Old comments from December 2006 ==.

When you've added the heading and your comment, put your signature at the end (four tildes), do a quick preview (as always), and, if things look okay, then save the page.

Posting to an existing article talk page


If the article talk page already exists, then what you do depends on whether you're commenting on an existing topic (section), or starting a discussion on a new topic. Before you make that choice, however, you check to see if there's a link at the top of the page to older, archived comments. If there is, you should follow the link to at least the most recent archive. You may find the answer to your question there, or at least get a better sense of the most sensitive aspects of the article (the ones that editors argue over).

You'll learn how to create a talk page archive and archive old comments in the section about archiving.

Adding a comment to an existing section


When you add a comment to an existing section, you should click the "edit" link for the section, not for the entire page. In general, add your comment to the bottom of the section. You may be tempted to interweave your comments into the comments of others, particularly if someone has made points 1, 2, and 3. Don't. Put all your comments at the bottom.

If you really feel that the discussion should go in two or three directions, consider adding two or three subsections. Normal sections have level two headings, which you create by typing two equal signs on each side; subsection headings get three equal signs on each side. Remember to sign your posting in each subsection.

Indentation is critical to easy readability of discussion sections. Always indent your comment by using one or more colons. Thus the first posting in a section is flush left; the second posting is indented by using a colon, the third indented more by using two colons, and so on. Figure 8-1 shows a detailed example.

Figure 8-1. An example of indentation, done in the sandbox.
Indentation can be done with asterisks rather than colons. Some editors find the display easier to read, but the indentation displays cleanly only if there's no blank line separating paragraphs. You should use colons, which are less prone to display problems, unless asterisks are already in use in a section. Then, as a courtesy, stay with the style in use, if you can.

After a section has reached five or six levels of indentation (that is, after the most recent editor has used five or six colons in front of their comment), it's acceptable to start the next comment without any indentation at all (that is, flush left on the page). Starting over on the left avoids having new text in the section being squeezed into (say) less than half the page, on the far right.

When going from major indentation to no indentation, some editors put "(undent)" or something similar at the beginning of their first paragraph. There are also several templates which can do the same. If you do this, everyone will know that you didn't forget to indent by mistake.

Starting a new section


When you want to discuss something that isn't mentioned on the article talk page, or you want to start a discussion on a matter where discussion is quite old, start a new section. (What "quite old" means is a matter of judgment; on a page with few comments, even something 3 months old might be recent enough to continue posting to a section rather than starting a new section. On a very busy article talk page, a topic where conversation stopped just a few weeks ago may merit a new section.)

Restarting an old conversation

If you're starting a new section of a talk page, and there's a previous section on the same topic, provide a link to that previous section, and a brief comment on why you're starting a new section. Here's an example:

I'd like to restart the discussion above, about [[#Removing the POV tag]]. I think...

The "#" symbol in the wikilink shows that the link is to another section on the same page (what follows the "#" symbol must be exactly the section title for the link to work). Here's another example:

Continuing a [[Talk:Foobarness/Archive 1#What about the anti-foobar lobby?|previous discussion]] where there seemed to be no consensus, how about a compromise where...

In this example, the wikilink is to a section on the first archive page. The vertical line ("|") (sometimes called a pipe) hides the full name of the link from the reader. The reader sees, "Continuing a previous discussion...", where "previous discussion" is in blue, and is a clickable link.

To correctly start a new section, use the "new section" tab at the top of the talk page (see Figure 8-2), rather than editing the entire page or editing the bottom-most section of the page.

Figure 8-2. The "new section" tab on article talk pages lets you start a new section. Click it rather than the "edit this page" link.

When you use the "new section" tab to start a new section:

  • It automatically places the section (after you publish your edit) below all the prior sections (which is the correct location).
  • It saves you the trouble of adding equal signs to format the section heading.
  • It eliminates the need for you to add a separate edit summary.
  • It guarantees that you won't have an edit conflict when you publish your edit.

Use a neutral heading for the section: Rather than Article has blatant point of view, for example, write Issue with point of view (or just POV). Don't mention any particular editor in the heading; your posting is to provide information for all editors. As always, make sure you add your signature (four tildes) at the end of your comment (but not on a separate line), and preview your edit before saving it.

Highlighting Text

In your comments on article talk pages, you may want to highlight some text—for example, text from the article that you'd like other editors to review, or text you're proposing for the article.

You can place text in a light green box by adding this code (you'll find it at WP:TP, so you can copy and paste it from there):

<div class="boilerplate" style="background-color: #efe;
margin: 2em 0 0 0; padding: 0 10px 0 10px; border: 1px
dotted #aaa;">XXXXX</div>

(Put the text you want to highlight where the XXXXX appears, inside the div tags.)

Good talk page practices


Used correctly, an article talk page reads like a conversation among a group of people who respect each other; who acknowledge that it's possible to have differing viewpoints yet reach agreement on the wording of content (which is about facts); who are constantly looking for ways to find compromises that are both correct and acceptable to the others in the discussion, and who focus exclusively on improving the articles.

As an editor, you can help move pages toward this goal by following that model. In addition, you should note the following good practices:

  • It's better to fix an article than to complain about it on the article talk page. Per the guideline page Wikipedia:Be bold (shortcut: WP:BB), if you see a problem, the best approach is to simply fix it yourself. You don't have to fix it all at once, just start and keep chipping away at it. By contrast, putting a note on the talk page that "this article needs a lot of work" is pointless, because most articles in Wikipedia need a lot of work. Experienced editors already know that. Posting such a comment isn't going to magically summon legions of editors to fix things.
The exception to being bold is where the wording of an article—typically on a controversial subject—has already been extensively debated. If an article talk page is empty, then don't hesitate to edit the article. But if the article talk page is lengthy and has dozens of archived talk pages containing older postings, being bold can be foolhardy. Except for minor copyediting or other non-controversial matters, consider posting a suggestion or question to the talk page. (Another acceptable alternative is to spend a lot of time reading comments and article versions, figure out exactly what's happening, and then edit the article.)
  • Be specific rather than general. If you think the article has a biased point of view, and you're not going to try to fix it yourself, then cite a couple of specific sentences you find problematical, as examples, rather than making a general statement. If you don't have time to find examples, then don't post at all.
  • It's better to quote another editor you disagree with than to paraphrase that editor. Paraphrasing someone else's words risks an argument that you improperly summarized something that you disagreed with. (The convention for talk pages, when quoting something from another editor's comments, is to make the quoted text italic, by placing double apostrophes on each side, which clearly distinguishes it from your opinion.)
  • Don't just name a policy, link to it. Shortcuts don't take much time to type, but they make it easy for others to get to the relevant Wikipedia rules. If you're discussing an edit, linking to a diff (see the section about diffs) avoids any ambiguity about what you're talking about. Provide links to sources whenever the discussion is about facts (a URL is sufficient; save your full citations for articles themselves). Links also help you, when you come back to something a day or a week later, to remember why you said what you did.
  • Ask for sources. If you find unsourced non-biographical information that seems questionable (for biographical information, remove it, per the note in the section about considering the source of vandalism), moving it to the talk page can get the attention of editors who otherwise might ignore the lack of a source. But the norm is to insert a {{citation needed}} template into the article at the point of question, and then give other editors a chance to respond. Only after some time (at least a week, and with useful information, perhaps as long as a couple of months), should you move the information to a talk page.
You should limit the use of the {{citation needed}} template to important information whose veracity you question. Putting "citation needed" on everything that lacks a source just makes it harder to see important things that really need to be sourced or removed. If you indulge in excess use of this template, and keep repeating that behavior, others will consider you a disruptive editor.
  • Use the article talk page to supplement your edit summary. Try to fit an explanation of an edit in the edit summary. For the rare cases where you need more room, put your explanation on the talk page, and See talk/discussion page in the edit summary.

What not to post


Article talk pages are for discussing how to improve the content of articles, including the reliability of sources that have been or could be cited. Things that should not be on talk pages include violations of privacy, unsourced controversial biographical information, idle chat, personal attacks, and discussions about editors' behavior.

  • Personal information (home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and so on) doesn't belong in Wikipedia articles, for privacy reasons. Such information also doesn't belong on article talk pages, or anywhere else for that matter, whether about the subject of the article or about a Wikipedia editor.
External links to pages outside Wikipedia that have personal information are similarly inappropriate if the primary purpose is to lead readers and other editors to that personal information. If you see personal information or improper external links, remove that immediately. If what you removed was particularly intrusive or problematical, bring the matter to the attention of administrators (see the section about the administrators' noticeboard).
  • Unsourced or poorly sourced controversial biographical information is inappropriate for article talk pages, as well as for articles. If you see this type of information, remove it. What's controversial? Although the term is subjective, think of the kind of statement to which someone is likely to say, "Prove it!"
When you remove such postings, you should cite WP:BLP in your edit summary, not only to justify your edit, but also so that those unfamiliar with the policy can follow the link and edify themselves.
  • Wikichat is text whose purpose is anything other than improving the related article—usually a comment about the subject of an article, rather than about the wording or information in the article. Saying that a presidential candidate is inept, or that a well-known celebrity should be ashamed of themselves for what they just did, belongs on a blog, discussion forum, or personal Web page. It has nothing to do with improving an article. If you see wikichat on an article talk page, regardless of its age, remove it. (In the very rare case that it has led to a constructive posting about improving the article itself, you have to leave it.)
  • Lengthy arguments, large amounts of proposed text, or long lists of proposed or supportive sources. If you can't make a point in two to four paragraphs, then you're either using Wikipedia as a soapbox (which is a no-no); or confused (work on what you want to say offline first); or trying to make multiple points or cover multiple subjects in a single section (in which case create separate sections, with one point per section, or one section with subsections).
Occasionally, you may have a legitimate need to post a lot of text, if you're proposing a major rewrite to a lengthy and controversial section of an article, or to an entire article. In that case, create a subpage (see the section about creating a personal sandbox). So, for example, from the Talk:Bigfoot page, you might create a subpage Talk:Bigfoot/Relationship to Himalayan Yeti, with a proposed rewrite of a controversial section of the article Bigfoot.
  • Incivility and personal attacks. Talk pages are for discussing content, not contributors. In politics, a common tactic is to question the motives, credentials, capabilities, or other aspects of an opponent. At Wikipedia, that's completely inappropriate. If you don't think an argument is logical, or consistent with Wikipedia policies and guidelines, explain why. Don't label the editor who posted something you think is stupid or biased as being an idiot or being biased, even if they have demonstrated stupidity or extreme bias elsewhere. That's not the way to win arguments at Wikipedia. Rather, it's a good way to get warned that you're being disruptive. (Chapter 10: Resolving content disputes discusses the right way to handle disputes over content.)
Wikipedia has three overlapping guidelines regarding commenting about other editors: Assume good faith (shortcut: WP:AGF); Civility (shortcut: WP:CIVIL), and no personal attacks (shortcut: WP:NPA). Read them before you do your first response to a posting by another editor on a talk page.
Handling incivility and personal attacks by other editors, particularly if directed at you, is discussed extensively in Chapter 11: Handling incivility and personal attacks.
  • Discussions of behavior. Article talk pages are the wrong place to discuss what you see as mistaken behavior by another editor. A user talk page is the right place to discuss behavior (see the section about where to discuss problematical behavior). You don't want to derail discussions about improving the contents of articles (remember, that's the purpose of the article talk page). Equally important, you want other editors and administrators to be able to find comments about an editor's behavior on that editor's user talk page; not by searching through article talk pages.
If you've removed some text (see the first three items in this list), then post a note on the editor's user talk page about the matter. A link to the page Wikipedia:Talk page (shortcut: WP:TP) and/or Wikipedia:Talk page guidelines (shortcut: WP:TPG) can be helpful, if you're not citing another policy or guideline.
  • Vandalism or spam. You can always remove vandalism or spam without discussion. Simply explain what you're doing in your edit summary (see the section about edit summaries).

Editing or deleting existing comments


In general, the rule for editing or deleting a comment that you or another editor has posted to an article talk page is simple: Don't. That goes for fixing spelling errors, typos, run-on sentences, or any other minor wording changes, no matter how trivial. At Wikipedia, a talk page is essentially a transcript; no matter how well-intentioned you are in your editing, other editors aren't going to see it that way.

There are only two categories of standard exceptions to this "do not edit" rule:

  • Privacy violations, violations of WP:BLP, and wikichat should all be deleted, as discussed in the prior section, as well as vandalism and spamming comments.
  • It's okay to change indentation, or to fix the rare formatting problem that makes a comment difficult to read, since you're really not altering the words that were previously posted. Similarly, it's okay to insert subsection headings, or to split a section in two (for example, when an editor mistakenly starts a new topic). Just don't alter anyone's words, not even the order of anyone's words.
There's a third exception when it's okay to edit comments for clarity, called refactoring. See the box about refactoring talk pages.

Before you do any editing beyond the exceptions just listed, regardless of whether you're editing your posting or not, read the "Editing comments" section of Wikipedia:Talk page guidelines (shortcut: WP:TPG) to be absolutely certain that what you're doing is acceptable.

Even editing your own comment when it's the last one posted to a talk page is borderline problematical, since someone else may have read it and been influenced by the posting. The more recent the posting, the less likely anyone else has seen it, so if you just posted something and immediately realized you made an error, it's okay to go into edit mode and fix it. However, if you get an edit conflict (see the section about edit conflicts) when you try to save your change, you need to abandon the edit and read the talk page guidelines on using strikeouts to fix your own comment.
Refactoring talk pages

Refactoring is a form of editing to improve readability of a talk page while preserving meaning. It can include removing superfluous content, summarizing long passages, and other actions that alter the presentation of comments. It's rarely done, but it's allowed in Wikipedia. Ideally, a consensus of editors will agree that it's worth doing, and who will do it.

In theory, refactoring can make closed (completed) discussions easier for editors, in the future, to understand what's been discussed and agreed on, but most of the time, the existing discussion is fine as is. Moreover, editors generally prefer to concentrate on current matters, and have no interest in refactoring work. Also, if a talk page has open discussions that need resolving, refactoring can lead to arguments as to whether the refactoring was done fairly.

However, if you're willing to take the time to improve an existing talk page by refactoring, consider one of these two methods:

  • Do conservative refactoring. That is, add subheadings and reorganize comments within individual sections, but don't create new sections or move contents between sections. Adding section summaries can also be part of conservative refactoring.
  • Instead of rewriting a page, write a new page, organizing the outstanding issues and identifying the points that have been made for each issue. Then archive the sections on the current talk page so that they're out of the way, but still available without having to go to a historical version of the page.

For full details, see Wikipedia:Refactoring talk pages (shortcut: WP:RTP).



Archiving a talk page means moving one or more sections of the page to a subpage. For example, sections of the page Talk:Sherlock Holmes might be moved to Talk:Sherlock Holmes/Archive 1. The goal of archiving is to clear out the talk page so editors new to the page can quickly see current discussion.

Any editor can archive. If you choose to do so, be sure to archive entire sections, not parts of sections, and archive only sections that are no longer in use. Avoid archiving a section where a discussion is still ongoing (where there's a recent posting within the past week or so).

There are no hard-and-fast rules for deciding when a section can or should be archived. In general, talk pages with a lot of postings should be archived frequently to keep their length down; low-volume talk pages should be archived rarely or not at all. If a talk page is relatively short (for example, less than 10 sections, none of them long), then don't waste your time archiving parts of it. The older sections may be irrelevant, but editors can easily ignore them.

The mechanics of creating an archive of an article talk page are essentially the same as creating an archive for one's own talk page, as described in the steps in the section about archiving your user talk page. Just be sure to place a link to the archive pages at the top of the talk page, so any editor can quickly get to the archives.

If you archive a section, and another editor puts it back onto the talk page (which is extremely rare), don't bother to contest the matter. Let other editors (if they care) deal with the matter, if it needs dealing with, which would be only if an editor appears to be deliberately disruptive.

At some point, an archive page can get too long, so an editor creates a new archive page. Since archive pages are infrequently read, it's not worth fussing over whether an archive page is too long or not long enough to start a new one. Here's a rough guideline: Never start a new archive page unless the old one is at least the equivalent of three printed pages, and always start a new archive page (rather than adding sections to the current one) when the current archive has reached the equivalent of five or six printed pages.

Editing archive pages

Archives are, in a sense, historical documents. Don't edit them. Except for adding new sections to the most recent archive page, it's bad form to add, delete, or change text on an archive page. There's also no point changing or deleting something embarrassing, since anything that was on the page is still visible via the page history. And virtually no one reads the archives anyway, so there's no point to adding something.

If you absolutely must comment on a matter discussed in the archive, then make a copy of the text in the section where that matter is discussed, and create a new section on the article talk page that begins with that copied text, followed by your comment. Make sure that you clearly indicate, in both your edit summary and in the new section you're creating on the article talk page, that you've copied text from the archive.

User talk page postings


As noted above, Wikipedia has two types of talk pages—standard talk pages, such as article talk pages, and user talk pages. The two have similar formatting, but very different purposes.

Why post a message on another editor's user talk page? One common reason is to issue a warning for vandalism or spam (see the section about vandalism warnings). But you can also use user talk pages to ask a question ("How did you do that?"), to thank someone, to ask someone for help with an article, to make a suggestion, to point out an interesting page or posting to someone you've worked with before, and so on. The more involved an editor is with Wikipedia, the more likely it is that their user talk page has a lot of different postings.

User talk page basics


When you post to a user talk page, you have the same two basic options discussed earlier in this chapter: Post to an existing section, or start a new section. Almost always, unless you've posted very recently, you'll post to a new section, using the "new section" tab. Many posts to a user talk page need no reply, resulting in sections with only one post.

Figure 8-3. You see this "x posted on your talk page" alert after someone edits your user talk page. If you're a registered editor, you need to be logged in to see this alert. You see it only when you open a new page or refresh a page you're viewing.

Just as with article talk pages, you should use indentation to make it easier for other editors to see who said what, if the conversation goes beyond a single post. And while you can split sections or change headings for clarity, those types of thing are rare on user talk pages (as on article talk pages).

When you post to a user talk page, it generates an alert for that user, as shown in Figure 8-3.

The alert isn't instantaneous: For a registered user, the user must be logged in and must change or refresh a Wikipedia page. Anonymous editors using an IP address will instead see an orange "You have new messages (last change)" banner. IPs don't have to log in, of course, to see such a message, but they have to visit a new page or refresh a page to see it.

Because user talk pages are public, anyone can see, and in some cases respond to, messages you send to other users. For private messaging see Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Collaborating with other editors/Communicating with your fellow editors#Communicating via email and IRC.

Article content


Occasionally a discussion on a user talk page turns into a conversation about what should or shouldn't be the content of a specific article. Such discussion belongs on an article talk page, not a user page. If this happens on your user talk page, move the discussion to the corresponding article talk page.

There's a fairly standard process for moving text from one discussion page to another:

1. In edit mode, copy the section heading and all text in the section to the clipboard.

2. On the target page (in this case, the article talk page), go into edit mode (generally in a new section, via the "+" tab) and paste the information from the clipboard. Make any deletions you want (in this case, some of the initial comments may not pertain to the article).

3. Just below the heading, add a note at the top of the section, such as Moved from [[User talk:Name of User]] (in italics). Save the edit by hitting the blue 'Publish changes' button.

4. On the originating talk page, delete all the text that you just pasted to the article talk page. Add a note with a link to where the discussion was moved to, like: Moved discussion to [[Talk:Elephantiasis#Do elephants get this disease?]]. (This wikilink goes directly to a talk page section, because of the "#" sign and the section title following it.)

5. Add an edit summary saying the same thing as the note, including the wikilink, and publish the user talk page.

Editing or deleting existing comments


In some ways you own your user talk page; in some ways you don't. On the one hand, you don't have the right to prevent others from posting to it, and you should never modify comments by others, except for indentation and the addition of a section heading. On the other hand, you can delete comments by others at will, as well as to delete entire sections of the page. (Archiving, discussed in the next section, is the preferred way to remove comments from your user talk page, but it's not mandated.)

You should still avoid editing your own comments except as described at Wikipedia:Talk page guidelines (shortcut: WP:TPG).

Editing any existing comments on another editor's user talk page is absolutely inappropriate. (Even editing your own comments is normally inappropriate, unless you do it very quickly after you initially post.) The only clear exceptions are vandalism involving deletion of content, privacy violations (posting of personal information), and violations of the policy on biographical information (WP:BLP)—feel free to revert those. Otherwise, if you see something that you think is a serious problem—for example, an extreme personal attack—either let the editor handle the matter themselves, or bring it to the attention of administrators at Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents (shortcut: WP:ANI), especially if it's a recurring problem.

Some editors consider personal attacks (say, from a frustrated vandal) a badge of honor—it shows they're having an impact on problem editors. They therefore keep (and archive) such postings. That's another reason why you shouldn't remove content from another editor's user talk page that you, personally, wouldn't find acceptable.

Archiving postings on your own user talk page


Except for vandalism, newsletters, and possibly personal attacks, the recommended approach for removing text from your user talk page is to archive it, not delete it. Usually, you archive a talk page by moving complete sections of comments to subpages. When a subpage starts getting long, start a new archive page.

The standard way to number article talk page archives is simple: Archive 1, Archive 2, and so on. With your user talk page, you can be more flexible if you want. For example, you can call October-December archived sections Archive Q4 2007. Still, there's little reason not to stick to the basic numbering and save your creativity for other things.

You archive a talk page in two phases: First create the archive page, and then move one or more sections of comments to the archive page. (Once you've mastered the technique, you can create an archive page at the same time as you do the archiving.)

Creating an archive page for your user talk page


1. On your user talk page, click "edit this page".

You can go to your user talk page quickly via the "my talk" link, which is at your screen's upper right, when you're logged in.

2. At the top of the page, below any other templates at the top of the page, add an archive box template: {{Archive box|[[/Archive 1]]}}.

If the archive box template already existed, and you were adding a second archive page, the template would look like this: {{Archive box|[[/Archive 1]] [[/Archive 2]]}}.
Everything after the vertical bar ("|") symbol is free-form, so you could be fancier and do something like the following, which would put each archive page on a separate line:

{{Archive box|

  • [[/Archive 1]] – January 2008
  • [[/Archive 2]] – February 2008

3. Add a brief edit summary, do a quick preview, and then publish the page.

You now have a red link to your archive page, with an archive box to set it apart from the rest of the page, as illustrated in Figure 8-4.
Figure 8-4. The archive box template creates a neat list of archive pages. You can create archive links without using the archive box template, but the box is a handy way—particularly on article talk pages—to show other editors that older postings have been archived.

Archiving user talk page content


In the previous section, you created an archive box on your user talk page. The box you created includes a link to the Archive 1 page. Now it's time for you to move a section from your user talk page, putting it in storage on that archive page. (If you don't have an old section on your user talk page that you can archive, then use the "+" tab to create and save a new section—call it, say, Archive test—so that you do have something to archive.)

1. Open the archive page for editing. If it's a red link, then simply click that link; if it's a blue link (meaning that the page exists), then click the link, and then click "edit this page".

If you're editing this page for the first time, add the {{Talkarchive}} template to the top of the page. This template adds a notice explaining that the page is an archive, and links back to the main talk page.

2. On your user talk page, click the "edit this page" tab to open the page for editing.

You see the edit box, containing all your talk page's text, ripe for cutting.

3. In the edit box, highlight one or more consecutive sections that you want to archive. Cut the sections' heading and body text.

On Windows or Linux, press Ctrl+X (or right-click, and then choose Cut); on Mac, press ⌘-X (or Control-click, and then choose Cut).

4. Switch to the archive page; paste the removed sections into the edit box of the archive page (below any other archived sections, if any).

Don't worry about strict chronological order (for example, sorting sections by when they were first created). The rule is simply that the most recently archived sections are at the bottom.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 as needed.

5. Add a brief edit summary to each of the two pages, do a quick preview of each, and then save both.

Automated archiving

Wikipedia has several bots that editors can use to archive talk pages. They're most commonly used, however, for pages like the Wikipedia Help desk, which gets a lot of postings every day. If you have a page handled by an archive bot on your watchlist, or check the revision history of such a page, you can see the edits of such bots. Otherwise, you'll probably never encounter such a bot, or need to.

  • Archiving most article talk pages is best done by hand. It's nice to leave up a section or two, even if they're old, rather than present editors with a page without any visible comments. Another reason is that human editors can apply discretion: Is a month-old comment still useful? Should a week-old comment be archived because the page is getting too long and the matter is closed?
  • Unless you're an administrator or an active user who gets a lot of postings on your user talk page, it's not a lot of work to archive sections once every month or two, and it's good practice for archiving article talk pages.

If you do decide that an article talk page would benefit from an archiving bot like Lowercase sigmabot III or ClueBot III

Communicating via email and Internet Relay Chat (IRC)


Besides posting to a talk page, you have two other options—email and Internet Relay Chat (IRC)—to interact with other editors. In such cases, you're taking the conversation outside Wikipedia and communicating with fellow editors just like your friends and coworkers. All the warnings about contacting strangers via the Internet apply.



Wikipedia has no policy or guideline about when it's appropriate to email another editor. In Wikipedia—like other wikis—the culture dictates that conversations about articles, behavior, policies and processes, selections of administrators and other functionaries, and so on, be done on wiki pages, so that everyone can see who said what. Still, email may be better sometimes: a friendly suggestion about behavior to a long-time contributor, an invitation to meet face to face, or perhaps a query as to whether an editor would be interested in being nominated to be an administrator.

To email another editor, both you and the other editor must have turned on email in Wikipedia. If you didn't enter an email address and turn on email when you registered (see the section about registering), or want to change your email address, see the instructions in the section about email preferences on how to change your preferences so that you can email other editors.

Figure 8-5. The toolbox set of links is on the left of the Wikipedia screen. You don't see "Email this user" unless you have a confirmed email address in your profile, and, in your preferences, you've turned on "Enable email from other users" (see the section about email preferences).

To find out if the other editor has also enabled email, you need to go to their user page or user talk page, and, in the "toolbox" set of links on the left side, find the "Email this user" link (Figure 8-5). If "Email this user" does not appear, that user has not enabled email messaging.

Figure 8-6. Clicking "Email this user" on someone's user page or user talk page opens this "Email user" form. When you send email to another editor, it originates from a Wikipedia server, though the email will show your email address as the "from" address when the recipient gets it.

If you do see that link, click it to start the email process. You then see a screen to compose the email (Figure 8-6).

If you get an email from another editor via Wikipedia, you're not obligated to reply via email (and thereby divulge your email address to that editor). If you're not interested in an email conversation with that editor, post some sort of reply (even if just a polite variant of "sorry, not interested") on the editor's user talk page, as a courtesy to let the editor know that you got their email.

In the rare instance that you get spam, vandalism, or some other problematical email from another editor, report it at Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents (shortcut: WP:ANI).
Privacy for editors

You can find Wikipedia's privacy policy at http://foundation.wikimedia.org/wiki/Privacy_policy. It's supplemented by the Wikimedia Foundation's Access to nonpublic data policy, at http://foundation.wikimedia.org/wiki/Access_to_nonpublic_data_policy. Basically, the Foundation (which runs Wikipedia) won't sell, rent, trade, or otherwise divulge any information about your identity, including your email address, unless you get yourself in enough trouble to personally come to the attention of the Foundation, law enforcement, or someone who can convince a judge to issue a subpoena.

The Foundation has several Ombuds to receive complaints about violations of the privacy policy; more information is at http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ombuds_commission.

If you do make a mistake and post personal information to a Wikipedia page, or see personal information posted by another user, delete it immediately, to get it off the current version of the page. (The most common mistake is posting one's own email address.) If the disclosure of information is significant enough (for example, a street address, home phone number, or date of birth of an editor), you should do one of two things:

  • Contact an administrator, who can remove history pages from the view of normal editors. The pages are still visible to other administrators, but that's a limited, very trusted group. (See Wikipedia:Revision deletion, shortcut WP:Revision deletion, for details.) You should make the contact as discreetly as possible: by email or by posting a diff on the administrator's user talk page, with a note saying something like, "Please take a look at this.").
  • Request that the history pages with this information be blocked from the view of all editors, including administrators. To do so, follow the instructions at the page Wikipedia:Requests for oversight (shortcut: WP:RFO).

If the personal information about a person was posted by a different person, you should do both these things, to ensure that Wikipedia isn't being used as a platform to violate anyone's privacy.

The Freenode IRC network (http://freenode.net/) has chat rooms dedicated to Wikipedia 24 hours a day, where editors can have real-time discussions. Many Wikipedians have an IRC window open for chatting, and hop back and forth between it and other windows in which they're working on Wikipedia. If you're familiar and comfortable with IRC, this may be the best way to get help whenever you encounter something about which you'd like advice.

The shortcut for IRC is WP:IRC. There are more details at the page Wikipedia:IRC/Tutorial (shortcut: WP:IRCT).

If you're familiar with user scripts (Chapter 21: Easier editing with JavaScript), you might want to take a look at the "IRC channel scripts" section of the page Wikipedia:Scripts (shortcut: WP:SCRIPTS).