Wikipedia:Tendentious editing

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Tendentious editing is a pattern of editing that is partisan, biased, skewed, and does not maintain an editorially neutral point of view. It may also involve repeated attempts to insert or delete content in the face of the objections of several other editors, or behavior that tends to frustrate proper editorial processes and discussions. This is more than just an isolated edit or comment that was badly thought out.

This essay is about how to recognise such editing, how to avoid it, and how not to be accused of it.

Other policies, guidelines, and essays covering tendentious behaviors include:

What is tendentious editing?[edit]

Got an ax to grind? Try the hardware store, not Wikipedia. If you do want to advocate for a cause, consider starting your own blog.

Tendentious editing is editing with a sustained editorial bias, or with a clear editorial viewpoint contrary to Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy. A single edit is unlikely to be a real problem, but a pattern of edits displaying an editor's bias is more likely to be an issue, and repeated biased edits of a single article or group of articles will be very unwelcome indeed. This last behavior is generally characterized as POV pushing and is a common cause of blocking. It is usually an indication of strong opinions.

Editors who engage in this behavior generally fall into two categories: those who come to realize the problem their edits cause, recognise their own bias, and work productively with editors with opposing views to build a better encyclopedia – and the rest. The rest often end up indefinitely blocked or, if they are otherwise productive editors with a blind spot on one particular area, they may be banned from certain articles or topics or become subject to probation.

It is important to recognize that everybody has bias. Few people will edit subjects in which they have no interest. Bias is not in and of itself a problem in editors, only in articles. Problems arise when editors see their own bias as neutral, and especially when they assume that any resistance to their edits is founded in bias towards an opposing point of view. The perception that "he who is not for me is against me" is contrary to Wikipedia's assume good faith guideline: always allow for the possibility that you are indeed wrong, and remember that attributing motives to fellow editors is inconsiderate.

Remember: Wikipedia is not a soapbox. Articles, including their titles, must conform to policy regarding the neutral point of view and verifiability. Content within articles must be based on reliable sources and thus be verifiable; article content must not include editors' own personal opinions or theories.

Characteristics of problem editors[edit]

Here are some hints to help you recognise if you or someone else has become a problem editor:

Not learning from a block for edit-warring[edit]

You have been blocked more than once for edit-warring. Or argue about whether you actually reverted four times or only three, or whether the three revert rule (3RR) applies to a calendar day or to any 24-hour period.

3RR exists to prevent edit wars. Wikilawyering about the precise details is unproductive and probably means that you have missed the point: edit warring is bad, and even one revert can be disruptive.

Even a slow-motion edit war, perhaps involving one revert per day, is still an edit war. 3RR draws a "bright line", but meeting its minimal requirements ultimately does not shield one from the consequences of edit-warring. If your edits are reverted or rejected, you can take the dispute to the article's talk page, remembering to cite your sources. If that fails, but you still feel that you are right, consider options for dispute resolution.

Repeating a penalised edit[edit]

On returning from a block, your first action is to head right back to the article and repeat the edit. A contentious fact does not become uncontentious by virtue of repetition. Elsewhere on the internet you can get away with repeating something until nobody cares enough to contradict you anymore; on Wikipedia, that is unacceptable.

A variant of returning to the same edit is returning to the same talk page to make the same arguments. On returning from a block, if you go to the talk page of the article you were penalized for, do not repeat the same arguments that led to the block. Instead, try to find different arguments, different policy rationales, and better sources. Repeating the exact arguments you made before your block may be viewed as disruptive.

As well, you may wish to compromise on the position you are arguing for, in the interests of proposing an idea which is more likely to get a consensus.

For example: If your earlier attempts to add the phrase "Film XYZ is widely viewed as the worst film in the genre" did not lead to consensus, you may want to propose more defensible wording, like this: "While Film XYZ was widely praised by critics, critic Sue Smith of the New York Times called it 'the poorest example of the genre in 2015'." This one at least has a WP:Reliable source, which is not you.

Wrongly accusing others of vandalism[edit]

You repeatedly undo the "vandalism" of others.

Content disputes are not vandalism. Wikipedia defines vandalism very carefully to exclude good-faith contributions. Accusing other editors of vandalism is uncivil unless there is genuine vandalism, that is, a deliberate attempt to degrade the encyclopedia, not a simple difference of opinion. There are numerous dispute resolution processes and there is no deadline to meet; the wheels of Wikijustice may grind exceeding slow, but they do grind (apologies to Sun Tzu).

Asking for the benefit of doubt[edit]

You find that nobody will assume good faith, no matter how often you remind them.

Warning others to assume good faith is something which should be done with great care, if at all – to accuse them of failing to do so may be regarded as uncivil, and if you are perceived as failing to assume good faith yourself, then it could be seen as being a jerk.

Accusing others of malice[edit]

You often find yourself accusing or suspecting other editors of "suppressing information", "censorship", or "denying facts".

This is prima facie evidence of your failure to assume good faith. Never attribute to malice that which may be adequately explained by a simple difference of opinion. And in the case of biographies of living individuals, it is vitally important always to err on the side of caution. If the information you want to add is self-evidently valid and important to the subject, it should be trivial to provide multiple citations from reliable sources which agree that it is both true and significant. Take this evidence to the talk page in the first instance.

Disputing the reliability of apparently good sources[edit]

You find yourself engaging in discussions about the reliability of sources that substantially meet the criteria for reliable sources.

There is nothing wrong with questioning the reliability of sources, to a point. But there is a limit to how far one may reasonably go in an effort to discredit the validity of what most other contributors consider to be reliable sources, especially when multiple sources are being questioned in this manner. This may take the form of arguing about the number of or validity of the information cited by the sources. The danger here is in judging the reliability of sources by how well they support the desired viewpoint.

Expecting others to find sources for your own statements[edit]

You demand that other editors search for sources to support text that you added, or you challenge them to find a source that disproves your unsourced claim.

Wikipedia policy is quite clear here: the responsibility for sourcing content rests firmly and entirely with the editor seeking to include it. This applies most especially to biographies of living individuals, where uncited or poorly cited controversial or negative material must be removed immediately from both the article and the talk page, and by extension any related Project pages.

Adding citations that are inadequate, ambiguous or not sufficiently explicit[edit]

Your citations back some of the facts you are adding, but do not explicitly support your interpretation or the inferences you draw.

The policy against adding original research to Wikipedia expressly forbids novel syntheses of other sources. A simple example of synthesis is when an editor takes cited fact A and cited fact B, and then uses these two facts to arrive at newly thought-up–and unsourced–interpretation C.

Repeating the same argument without convincing people[edit]

You find yourself repeating the same argument over and over again, without persuading people.

If your arguments are rejected, bring better arguments, don't simply repeat the same ones. And most importantly, examine your argument carefully, in light of what others have said. It is true that people will only be convinced if they want to be, regardless of how good your argument may be, but that is not grounds for believing that your argument must be true. You must be willing to concede you may have been wrong. Take a long, hard look at your argument from as detached and objective a point of view as you can possibly muster, and see if there is a problem with it. If there isn't, it's best to leave the situation alone: they're not going to want to see it and you cannot force them to. If there is a problem, however, then you should revise the argument, your case, or both.

Deleting the pertinent cited additions of others[edit]

You delete the cited additions of others with the complaint that they did not discuss their edits first.

There is no rule on Wikipedia that someone has to get permission from you before they put cited information in an article. Such a rule would clearly contradict Wikipedia:Be bold. There is guidance from ArbCom that removal of statements that are pertinent, sourced reliably, and written in a neutral style constitutes disruption.[1] Instead of removing cited work, you should be questioning uncited information. Instead of removing pertinent, referenced statements, you should remove off-topic statements and original research. If the sentence(s) referencing the cited work are not an accurate summary of the cited work, that the source is reliable and discusses the topic of the article, try to improve the sentences in a manner that retains the source and improves the accuracy of the statement.

Ignoring or refusing to answer good faith questions from other editors[edit]

You ignore or refuse to answer good faith questions from other editors.

No editor should ever be expected to do "homework" for another editor, but simple, clarifying questions from others should not be ignored. (e. g. "You say the quote you want to incorporate can be found in this 300-page pdf, but I've looked and I can't find it. Exactly what page is it on?") Failure to cooperate with such simple requests may be interpreted as evidence of a bad faith effort to exasperate or waste the time of other editors.

Assigning undue importance to a single aspect of a subject[edit]

A particular problem is to assign undue weight to a single aspect of a subject. For example, you might know that there is some controversy surrounding a particular politician's behaviour with regard to a property dispute. You may be very interested in that dispute, and be keen to document the politician's role in it. So you would create an article on the politician which goes into detail about that, but includes little or no other data. This is unacceptable because it gives undue weight to the controversy. If there is already an existing article about the politician, you may seek to add information about the property dispute to the politician's article. However, even though the politician's involvement in a property dispute may be verifiable in reliable sources, other editors may revert the addition of a paragraph about the property dispute on the grounds that it places undue weight on a relatively minor aspect of the subject's personal life.

Similarly, if a single author says that a particular country is a state supporter of terrorism, then adding that country to the article state-sponsored terrorism would be to place undue weight on that one author's view. It is very important to place all critical material in the proper context, and ensure that an overall balanced view is provided. A balanced view does not need to be a sympathetic view – our article on Adolf Hitler does not portray him as a sensitive and misunderstood individual who was kind to his mother – but it does need to reflect the balance of opinion among reputable authorities.

Not accepting independent input[edit]

Some editors may find that independent input through a third opinion or request for comment is always biased against their sources, wording or point of view. The purpose of independent input is to resolve disputes between editors by a neutral third party. That doesn't mean the neutral third party will make everyone happy, will choose a side, or in particular, will side with whoever claims there is a dispute (despite no other editors agreeing). If, no matter how many times a neutral third party intervenes, you never seem to get your way, that suggests that your goals may be at odds with Wikipedia's policies, guidelines, community and purpose.

Similarly, such editors may resist the initiation of a request for comment. If someone argues at great length over a content dispute, but then suddenly gets cold feet when others suggest seeking wider input, it is often a sign that the editor recognizes that a wider consensus is unlikely to go their way.

"Banning" otherwise constructive editors from your talk page[edit]

This is no way to treat your fellow editor!

Some editors routinely tell other editors that they disagree with to "Stay off my talk page." The editors who do this tend to have long lists of folks that have been "banned." Talk pages are the fundamental medium used for editors to interact. Except in specific and clear cases of WP:WIKIHOUNDING, such "banning" is highly problematic and an indication that the banning editor is having serious problems cooperating with others.

Threatening to quit Wikipedia[edit]

Just think how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

—US politician Richard Nixon in 1962, as reported in the New York Times[2]

Most editors occasionally wonder why they're investing so much blood, sweat, and tears into Wikipedia. However, it is inappropriate to use threats of leaving as emotional blackmail, in order to try to win in a dispute. Doing so demands an excessive amount of emotional labor from other editors, and is never a valid rationale for consensus in a dispute. Emotional outbursts, especially when habitual, are a poor substitute for reasoned and collaborative discussion.

On the other hand, editors can also be genuinely troubled about ways they have been treated by others, and such sincere soul-searching should be treated with kindness. An editor who worries out loud about whether or not continuing to edit is worth it, particularly when not made conditional on a demand and not a repeated habit, should not be dismissed as high maintenance or subjected to gravedancing. Such criticism can do more harm than good when the editor has been acting in good faith.

Righting great wrongs[edit]

Wikipedia is a popular site, and its articles often appear high in search engine rankings. You might think that Wikipedia is a great place to set the record straight and right great wrongs, but that is absolutely not the case. While we can record the righting of great wrongs, we can't actually "ride the crest of the wave" ourselves. We are, by design, supposed to be "behind the curve". This is because we only report information that is verifiable using reliable sources, and we base articles on secondary and independent sources, giving appropriate weight to the balance of informed opinion. Even if you're sure something is true, it must be verifiable before you can add it. So, if you want to:

  • Expose a popular artist as a child molester, or
  • Vindicate a convicted murderer you believe to be innocent, or
  • Explain what you are sure is the truth of a current or historical political, religious, or moral issue, or
  • Spread the word about a theory/hypothesis/belief/cure-all herb that has been unfairly neglected or suppressed by the scholarly community...

on Wikipedia, you'll have to wait until it's been reported by reliable sources or published in books from reputable publishing houses. Wikipedia is not a publisher of original thought or original research. Wikipedia doesn't lead; we follow. Let reliable sources make the novel connections and statements. Finding neutral ways of presenting them is what we do.

If, however, the wrong that you want to address has already been sorted in the real world, and if you have the reliable sources to support it, then please do update the articles. Remember that you can reach out to a relevant WikiProject or the neutral point of view noticeboard if you need help.

Seeing editing as being about taking sides[edit]

If you regard editing as being something where you and some other editors are the "good guys", whose mission is to combat other editors who are the "bad guys", where everything is us-against-them, you may not be as much of a good guy as you think you are.

It's true that some editors are simply disruptive whereas others are valuable contributors, and it's perfectly reasonable to consider some editors to be your wiki-friends, but when there is a dispute about content, no one should see themselves as being on a team. Doing so tends to make every edit, and every talk page comment, appear to be something personal. Comment on the content, not on the contributor. To see one's role as being to show up at every discussion to say that your friend is right and another editor is creating a problem, before even knowing what the issues in the discussion are, just gets in the way of productive editing.

Often, the best way to make progress in a content dispute is to try to see it from both sides of the dispute, and to look for a resolution that makes use of both sides' ideas.

How to pull back from the brink[edit]

First and foremost, however bad you believe the faults of your accusers are, think long and hard about your own behavior. Critique it in your mind with the same vigour with which you critique theirs. Is there not at least a germ of truth in what they say? Have you perhaps been less civil than you should have been? Have you provided high-quality citations from reliable secondary sources to back your edits? Are you trying to place undue weight on a certain viewpoint or issue? In addition, it may be a good idea to scrutinize all your behavior this way, even if you are not presently involved in a dispute, so that such disputes may not arise in the first place.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia – a tertiary source. If what you want to say is genuinely verifiable, then it should be possible to find at least one reputable and respected authority who says the same thing in pretty much the same words. It's fine to summarize the arguments of other authorities, but it's not acceptable to editorialise or interpret them. If only one authority says something then to include it might constitute undue weight, or it might be acceptable by agreement with other editors to state the opinion duly attributed to the named authority.

A good way to find out what people find problematic about your edits is to ask, in an open and non-confrontational way. If an edit is rejected, try something along the lines of:

According to {citation of source}, the following is the case: {statement from source}. You have disputed its addition. How do you think we should express this assertion?

It may become clear that the problem is simply one of ambiguity of phrasing, or it may be that you have a hill to climb and will need to work with other editors to find a compromise wording. This may take a great deal of patient, civil discussion on the talk page. Once you have done that, however, and hammered out a consensus-supported wording, this text will be defended by all parties and is far less likely to be skewed by future edits.

If you feel that you are "on the brink" of becoming a tendentious editor on a certain article, it can often help to take a break. Don't edit or even look at the article for a day–or even a week. It will still be there when you get back. After all, there are 6.8 million other articles to edit, and countless articles which still need to be written. With a bit of time off from a contested, disputed article, you might see things from a new perspective when you return.

Accusing others of tendentious editing[edit]

Making accusations of tendentious editing can be inflammatory and hence these accusations may not be helpful in a dispute. It can be seen as a personal attack if tendentious editing is alleged without clear evidence that the other's action meets the criteria set forth on this page, and unfounded accusations may constitute harassment if done repeatedly. Rather than accuse another editor of tendentious editing, it may be wiser to point out behaviours which are contrary to Wikipedia policies such as WP:NOR, WP:RS, WP:NPOV, and the 3RR rule. See also: WP:AOHA and WP:ASPERSIONS.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Hkelkar#Removal of sourced edits made in a neutral narrative is disruptive
  2. ^ Liberman, Mark (15 Jul 2009). "Last (and first) things". Language Log. University of Pennsylvania; Institute for Research in Cognitive Science. Retrieved 13 October 2023.