|This page in a nutshell: Help new editors make their first productive edits. Offer newcomers information and guidance when they make mistakes. It's essential to the future of 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. 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 edit peacefully in a friendly environment, we must encourage the newcomers.
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. This can be a symbiotic relationship, if the established editors just fix edits or otherwise guide new editors.
No new editor has the competency 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. 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. 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 also be frustrating, especially if you encounter editors who are oblivious to your struggles to learn, or even rude about them. Assume good faith a bit harder than usual, and answer rudeness with kindness. You are setting the example for how people behave on Wikipedia.
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 could support that statement with a citation to a source that meets the criteria at WP:MEDRS, I'd be happy to restore it. There might be something on PubMed". The lower-level warning templates avoid threats of sanctions for good reasons.
Explain. Link 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.
Most Wikipedia editors like to read. Make it easier for them to learn about Wikipedia by reading. This 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.
Put basic information on what templates mean in the lede, including what the template is for and what the editor should do. Technical details on how the template works, what parameters it takes, and so on, can come later in the page. After all, no-one would be wanting to use the template if they didn't know what it meant. 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 force the editor to remember things from other sections unless it is really necessary.
There are also many pages offering general guidance to new editors. Some are general, such as Wikipedia:A primer for newcomers; others have specific target groups, like Wikipedia:Wikipedia editing for research scientists. 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.
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 to ~1/10[dubious ]). These were causing a low but exponentially-increasing chance that readers would see damaged pages. After the tools were introduced, damaged page views decreased again, and damaging-edit rates stabilized.
Unfortunately, total edit rates also declined. Desirable newcomers also had their edits reverted by these anti-vandal tools. Immediate reversion makes desirable newcomers less likely to become long-term editors, while immediate tagging and personalized guidance makes them more likely to stay. 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. Thus circa 2007, new editors became much less likely to stick around, and we entered a slow decline in the number of active editors (the transition timing and rate of decline varies by language, and some Wikipedias are not declining).
Improvements in tools can help can help reduce this bycatch, while still protecting Wikipedia from damage. Editors using semi-automated tools generally wish to support helpful new editors, and 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, 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).
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.
If a new editor is vandalizing/trolling/making test edits, 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.
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 won't help you nor will it help 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.
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