Wikipedia:Encourage the newcomers

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Everyone should help out the newcomers; someday, they will run Wikipedia.

It can be difficult to be a newcomer to Wikipedia. There is a lot to learn. Scholarly skills are needed to research and write good content, and specific social skills are needed to interact productively with other editors. There is also an ever-expanding incomprehensibility swamp of rules and jargon. Even help pages have become less helpful to a newbie; they are increasingly written for an audience of established editors, not new ones.

Vandalism is often best reverted without comment. But anyone who is trying to improve the encyclopedia, however ineptly, should be welcomed and assisted to make productive edits. Limited research has shown that established editors generally agree on whether an editor is good-faith (trying to help) or bad-faith (vandals and pranksters). They often disagree on whether an editor's first edits should be retained.[1] If in doubt, leave it in, fix it, or inline-tag it so the newbie can fix.

Biting the newcomers convinces them that Wikipedia is not the place for them. However, we must go beyond not biting: in order to keep an ever-growing and loving community that allows everyone to edit peacefully in a friendly environment, we must encourage the newcomers.


The wikiworld can be a hostile one for a baby Wikidragon.

Newcomer's edits are automatically singled out for intense scrutiny, and reverting is easier than fixing. Increasingly, newcomer's first edits are rejected without guidance, which makes newcomers much less likely to become regular editors. Retention rates have dropped below replacement; Wikipedia is slowly dying as more people leave than join.

Most edits are made by experienced editors, but large amounts of content may be written by casual contributors who make only a few dozen large edits.[2] This can be a symbiotic relationship, if the established editors just fix edits or otherwise guide new editors.

How to train and retain a newcomer[edit]

By causing the retention of another editor, you could effectively double your contribution to the project.
  • Respond promptly. A quick response wins more engagement.
  • Criticize the newbies. Personalized constructive criticism not only improves editing skills, it increases the chances that an editor will stick around;[3] it can even be taken as praise.[4] Give helpful information as it is needed.
  • Give the newbie models of good editing, say by fixing their edits and being civil (this also improves their chances of becoming constructive regular editors).
  • Move, tag, or fix their edits wherever you can. If newbies' edits are rejected, their chances of becoming regular editors drop from three-in-five to one-in-five. Newbies want to contribute. They want to have made a difference.
    • If you must revert, your job is not done. Help them make at least one retainable, productive edit. If they do, there is a good chance that you have won Wikipedia an editor and multiplied your contribution to the project. Even just referring someone to the Teahouse improves retention.[5]
  • Write instructional pages so that they clearly instruct newcomers in what they most need to know. Prioritize the newcomer; the established editor will be more skilled at digging to find the information they need. This is especially important for the pages linked from inline tags, as these seem to be the usual entry point for newcomers[citation needed] ("Someone added "citation needed" to my sentence! What do they want me to do? I have no idea how to add a citation!").
  • Praise good work. Any editor can give awards.[6]

Almost no new editor has the competence to edit Wikipedia. You can help them acquire it.[edit]

Hostility is never the answer to a newcomer. A hostile attitude will gain you more opposition.

Almost no new editor has the competence to edit Wikipedia. You can help them acquire it. Avoid giving new editors any feeling of hostility. People tend to underestimate the friendliness of strangers.[7] In a text-only communication channel, no one can read your tone of voice or your facial expression, so it's easy to be misunderstood. Using emoticons has been shown to make text interpretation more consistent.[8] Try reading your talk-page edits to yourself in a really hostile tone of voice before saving. If it sounds utterly laughable, save. If it sounds hostile, rewrite. A new editor will not accept guidance from you if they hate you.

It's even harder for a new user to communicate without misunderstandings. Being a new editor can be frustrating, especially if you encounter editors who are oblivious to your struggles to learn, or even rude about them. Rudeness is contagious;[9] it makes editors its vectors. Assume good faith a bit harder than usual, and answer rudeness with kindness.

Dealing with newcomers can also be frustrating and repetitive. The necessary gentleness may come more easily when you are more patient, and more reliably when you use conscious techniques for discussing conflict. Newcomers quickly pick up new social habits for their new society; they learn to value what they see valued, from competence to bullying.[10]

Where possible, phrase guidance as information, not as orders. Anyone editing here probably likes to be given information; no-one likes to be ordered around. Avoid any hint of coercion, especially threats. Avoid causing reactance. When describing consequences, depersonalize conflict: "Do it again and I'll revert you" is not as good as "Edits like that will tend to get reverted, because...". Try to describe consequences in positive terms, and make your requests specific and easy to enact: "Edits like that will get reverted" is not as good as "If you can support that statement with a citation to a source that meets the criteria at WP:MEDRS, we can restore it. There might be something on PubMed". The lower-level warning templates avoid threats of sanctions for good reasons.

Explain. Link intelligibly to descriptions of community norms. Where needed, explain the intent behind rules (in the talk space or documentation). Sometimes linking to the situation that motivated the rule's creation is a good inductive way to explain the purpose of the rule. Wikipedia's norms are generally sound, and we can amend them. Defending them by blatant assertion is not necessary (just quick and easy).

A new editor may have difficulty figuring out whether a task is appropriate to their skill level. First, identify the newcomer's goal. If they are attempting something really hard, you can warn them it's likely to be a frustrating learning curve, and offer to suggest easier tasks that will teach them the wikiskills they need to accomplish their original goal. If they are trying to do something impermissible, you can explain why it can't be done (or not yet), and offer help with selecting another goal. When you criticize a newcomer's efforts, simultaneously offer clear newcomer-comprehensible guidance on how they can improve. "Your work is bad per policy X" is not helpful; explaining exactly what they need to do next to make progress towards their goal is helpful.[11]

If you wish to dedicate some time to helping new editors, you can become a Teahouse host or mentor a new editor.

Improving the instructions[edit]

Wikipedia comes with an editor's manual

Most Wikipedia editors like to read. Make it easier for them to learn about Wikipedia by reading. Improving instructional pages is an especially good way for editors who are good at logical perspective-taking and/or introverted to help newcomers; a lot of experienced editors have trouble imagining the perspective of someone who knows much less than they do. Respect the time of new and established editors: make documentation succinct and easy to grasp.

Newcomers rarely edit instructional pages (which are often semi-protected). They should be encouraged to be bold and either fix any problems they find, or explain their problems on the talk page so someone more knowledgeable can fix.

Specific guidance pages[edit]

Put basic information in the beginning of a page (for instance, what a template means, including what the template is for and how editors should respond to it). Technical details can come later in the page (how the template works, what parameters it takes, and so on). If you don't know what it is, you don't care about the details, and you won't understand them anyway. Prioritize the newcomer; the established editor will be more skilled at digging to find the information they need.

Keep it as simple as possible. Try to cover the most common newcomer problems. Don't try to cover all the rare cases if it will make the section harder to understand or substantially longer. Wikilink any term a new editor might not understand. Don't avoidably force the editor to remember things from other sections.

General guidance[edit]

There are also many pages offering guidance to new editors. Some are general-audience, such as Wikipedia:A primer for newcomers and Wikipedia:Avoiding common mistakes; others have specific target groups, like Wikipedia:Wikipedia editing for research scientists. Some are reference works, like Wikipedia:Cheatsheet and Wikipedia:Glossary. These are often useful resources for new editors. Suggest them politely, as information resources, not as a correctional measures. An editor reading such pages in a sulky and resentful mood is unlikely to gain much from them.

There are frankly too many general guides to new editors; they suffer overchoice. Small amounts of highly-specific advice, which are easy to find when needed, and relevant to specific problems, are more useful than massive time-consuming omnibus guides. It's easier to learn by doing, and learn as you go, than to memorize large amounts of data before starting to use some of it.

Improving the tools[edit]

First message to new users (including vandals), by tool used. Reverts of new good-faith editors increased (from ~7% to ~20%) in 2007,[12] and new editor retention dropped sharply.[13]

Wikipedia has semi-automated tools designed for removing vandalism, such as Huggle, Twinkle, and STiki (and the experimental igloo). The less popular Snuggle is designed for both newcomer-support and anti-vandalism work, classifying users rather than individual edits.

Semi-automated tools were developed in 2006 and 2007, in response to rises in damaging edits (damaging edits rose from ~1/30 edits[15] to ~1/10[16][dubious ]). These were causing a low but exponentially-increasing chance that readers would see damaged pages.[14] After the tools were introduced, damaged page views decreased again, and damaging-edit rates stabilized.[16][13]

Unfortunately, total edit rates also declined. Desirable newcomers also had their edits reverted by these anti-vandal tools.[17] Immediate reversion makes desirable newcomers less likely to become long-term editors, while immediate tagging and personalized guidance makes them more likely to stay.[13] Many newcomers' first contact with other editors is semi-automated (graph), and in practice, it seems that desirable newcomers receiving (2010-type) semi-automated interactions don't stick around as often as those receiving non-automated interactions.[3] Thus circa 2007, new editors became much less likely to stick around,[18] and we entered a slow decline in the number of active editors[19] (the transition timing[citation needed] and rate of decline varies by language, and some Wikipedias are not declining[20]).

Improvements in tools can help reduce this bycatch, while still protecting Wikipedia from damage. Editors using semi-automated tools generally wish to support helpful new editors, and they are aware of instrument bias, where the capability of the tools restricts their interactions with new editors. Past developments in the tools seem to have improved interactions with new editors (for instance, BRD engagement[21], and newuser-welcoming functionality). Adding tool functionality that makes it easier for semi-auto editors to respond positively to new users may be an effective way to encourage newcomers (example).

Community actions[edit]

This gap in a firewall is sealed with flammable polyurethane foam, not firestop mortar. This is unacceptable and must be fixed immediately, but it is not vandalism.

WikiProject Editor Retention is a group of editors working to collectively encourage newcomers. The Growth Team gathers information on newcomer retention.

Some misconceptions which are common in the editing community tend to discourage newcomers. It may be helpful to let other editors know that:

'On Wikipedia, vandalism has a very specific meaning: editing (or other behavior) deliberately intended to obstruct or defeat the project's purpose, which is to create a free encyclopedia, in a variety of languages, presenting the sum of all human knowledge... If it is clear that an editor is intending to improve Wikipedia, their edits are not vandalism, even if they violate some core policy of Wikipedia. Mislabeling good-faith edits "vandalism" can be harmful... Assess whether the edit was made in good or bad faith. If in good faith, it is not vandalism as such, so question the accuracy of information on the talk page or add a... tag to the disputed edit. If it is in bad faith, then it is vandalism and you may take the appropriate steps to remove it.'

'The prohibition against OR means that all material added to articles must be attributable to a reliable, published source, even if not actually attributed.[a]

  1. ^ By "exists", the community means that the reliable source must have been published and still exist—somewhere in the world, in any language, whether or not it is reachable online—even if no source is currently named in the article. Articles that currently name zero references of any type may be fully compliant with this policy—so long as there is a reasonable expectation that every bit of material is supported by a published, reliable source.'

[footnote in original]

Matching the response to the editor[edit]

Different types of new editors need different things, and have different probabilities of becoming long-term editors. There is limited data on the most time-effective ways to retain editors. Consider the probability of your efforts winning the wiki a new editor and act accordingly; your time is valuable. More new editor retention means more editor time total, reducing the burden on existing editors.

Teaching well-intentioned editors[edit]

vandalism and trolling (trying to do damage)
other bad-faith edits (not trying to hurt or help)
good-faith but unproductive edits (trying to help, but so far, unsuccessfully)
productive edits
Editor persistence: the proportion of new editors who edit at least once 2-6 months after their first edit (2003-2010). Top to bottom, according to how the edits in their first edit session were categorized by experienced humans.

Not all unproductive edits are malicious. Some are just clueless; their edits are well-intended but unhelpful. Clueless editors can get a clue. In some years, cluelessness was overcome by more than a third of initially-clueless editors (see graph).[24] While experienced editors usually agree on whether an edit is good-faith or bad faith, experienced editors often disagree on whether good-faith edits are productive or not.[25] Note the drastic decline in productive-new-editor retention in 2007–8, from 40% to 13% (see graph). These editors were presumably reverted after being (rightly or wrongly) judged unproductive.

If an editor is trying to improve the encyclopedia, but their edits are not encyclopedic, the appropriate response is to help them to fix their own edits, as detailed above. This help can be as simple as adding an inline tag, or as complex as rewriting their edits, adding citations, and sending them a personalized thank-you and welcome message. Avoid reverting if possible; if it has to be reverted immediately, take the initiative and open a discussion on how to fix the edit. Most new editors have never heard of WP:BRD.

Some new editors make test edits (and may then clean up after themselves by self-reverting); they may be trying to learn how the editing interface works, or just playing with a cool-looking thing. Reverting is needed here, but the edits are not considered vandalism unless the editor persists when asked to use the sandbox. These editors may benefit from personalized welcomes and advice; at least you know of one article they are interested in.

Orthogonal intentions[edit]

Some edits insert a string of random nonsense (often from a cellphone, possibly as a pocket edit). If a new editor makes this sort of edit, especially if they registered an account a long time ago but never edited, it might be worth welcoming them and encouraging them to edit on purpose.

There are also editors who add jokes or vanity pages; these are technically bad-faith editors, but they may also simply be clueless rather than malicious. It's fairly characteristic of young children (and some adults) to not realize that someone else is going to have to clean up after them, but if treated civilly, they might yet grow up to be good editors.

There are specific templates for most of these cases, but consider leaving a personal message, especially if they look as if they are trying to do something productive that you could help them with. Clueless editors are more likely to learn and stick around than malicious editors (see graph).

Dealing with malicious editors[edit]

The data in the graph above suggests that fewer than one in ten bad-faith editors become long-term editors, but this may be because they opt for fresh starts.

If a new editor is vandalizing/trolling, you may choose to revert it kindly, guide them and tell them why what they did was incorrect. That way, a newcomer will start to get a feel for what editing Wikipedia is really like. Going to WP:AIV might seem a bit too harsh on newcomers, and might not be very beneficial. Carefully watch the editor for a week or two before reporting them for vandalism or other faults. We are all on the learning curve, and yes, we all do make mistakes. After all, we are humans, not some automatons from outer space.

If the editor continues to troll or is clearly demonstrating disruptive editing, or an attitude/behavior that they are not here to help, then that's where you decide appropriate actions need to be taken by administrators. If possible, you might want to adopt them, and guide them, but that's really the newcomer's decision.

High-volume vandalism never needs anything more than reversion with an edit comment of "rvv".

How to stop blocked editors from treading the wrong path[edit]

Not a good path.

If a good-faith newcomer you recently met just got hit with an indef-block, suggest two options: either a mentorship, or a standard offer. These are good ways to give an indef-blocked editor a chance to come back and edit. Don't encourage them to take up new accounts and edit under new names, and don't encourage them to take the wrong path. Encouraging trouble will help neither you nor the newbie, and encouraging bad behaviour makes you look like a jerk in front of the whole community. Remember that this could potentially be troll feeding.

See also[edit]

  1. ^ Meta:Research:Newcomer quality
  2. ^ Swartz, Aaron. "Who Writes Wikipedia?".
  3. ^ a b c Choi, Boreum; Alexander, Kira; Kraut, Robert E.; Levine, John M. (2010). "Socialization tactics in wikipedia and their effects". Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work - CSCW '10. p. 107. doi:10.1145/1718918.1718940. ISBN 9781605587950. S2CID 14515479.
  4. ^ Bryant, Susan L.; Forte, Andrea; Bruckman, Amy (2005). "Becoming Wikipedian: transformation of participation in a collaborative online encyclopedia" (PDF). Proceedings of the 2005 international ACM SIGGROUP conference on Supporting group work - GROUP '05: 1. doi:10.1145/1099203.1099205.
  5. ^ "Evaluating the impact of the Wikipedia Teahouse on newcomer socialization and retention" (PDF). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Gallus, Jana (December 2017). "Fostering Public Good Contributions with Symbolic Awards: A Large-Scale Natural Field Experiment at Wikipedia". Management Science. 63 (12): 3999–4015. doi:10.1287/mnsc.2016.2540.
  7. ^ Boothby, Erica J.; Cooney, Gus; Sandstrom, Gillian M.; Clark, Margaret S. (5 September 2018). "The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think?" (PDF). Psychological Science. 29 (11): 1742–1756. doi:10.1177/0956797618783714. PMID 30183512. S2CID 52165115. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  8. ^ Edwards, Renee; Bybee, Brock T.; Frost, Jonathon K.; Harvey, Adam J.; Navarro, Michael (19 August 2016). "That's Not What I Meant". Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 36 (2): 188–210. doi:10.1177/0261927X16662968. S2CID 148262676.
  9. ^ Foulk, T; Woolum, A; Erez, A (January 2016). "Catching rudeness is like catching a cold: The contagion effects of low-intensity negative behaviors". The Journal of Applied Psychology. 101 (1): 50–67. doi:10.1037/apl0000037. PMID 26121091.
  10. ^ Houghton, CE (August 2014). "'Newcomer adaptation': a lens through which to understand how nursing students fit in with the real world of practice". Journal of Clinical Nursing. 23 (15–16): 2367–75. doi:10.1111/jocn.12451. PMC 4263159. PMID 24455974.
  11. ^ A new editor teaches her parents to edit: "Editing Wikipedia With My Parents". Medium. 25 February 2019.
  12. ^ File:Desirable newcomer reverts over time.png
  13. ^ a b c Meta:Research:The Rise and Decline
  14. ^ a b c d Reid Priedhorsky; Jilin Chen; Shyong (Tony) K. Lam; Katherine Panciera; Loren Terveen; John Riedl (2007). "Creating, Destroying, and Restoring Value in Wikipedia" (PDF). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ 2 million damaging edits in 58 million edits, so 1 in 29 or edits were damaging from 2003 to 2006 inclusive[14]
  16. ^ a b File:Wiki Vandal Stats.png
  17. ^ File:Desirable newcomer reverts by tools.png
  18. ^ File:Desirable newcomer survival over time.png
  19. ^ [[File:Editor Retention Update.png
  20. ^ File:Active content editors in German and French Wikipedia (October 2019).png File:Wikimania 2019 - Welcome and help how to keep a community ready for newcomers.pdf&page=16 de:Wikipedia:Kurier/Ausgabe_9_2019#Können_wir_von_anderen_Wikipedias_lernen? File:Erik Zachte, Edit and Revert Trends, Wikimania 2010.pdf&page=7
  21. ^ File:BRD reciprocation rate.png
  22. ^ This is a common misconception among reverting editors.[14]
  23. ^ Mislabelling edits as vandalism also makes it harder to study the motives of vandals for the purpose of combating them, as such studies often rely on human assessments made in edit summaries.[14]
  24. ^ The humans did not look at the 6-months-later-edits; a bot just identified whether there were any. However, since editors don't stick around when their edits are consistently reverted, the retained editors presumably learned to edit.
  25. ^ Meta:Research:Newcomer quality