Wikipedia:Article creep

"Getting into hot water."
An editor should look at an article globally, not just line by line. A folk tale is that if you drop a frog in boiling water, it will jump out and live; but if you drop it in cold water and let the temperature creep up bit by bit, it will not jump out, and will die.

Article creep occurs when a series of reasonable step-by-step edits are made, but the end product is undesirable. An editor should look at a page globally, not just in a step-by-step manner.

Article creep is a natural process. When editing from a group of sources with one viewpoint, an article will gradually swing toward that POV. Then it will swing back as more edits are made. So an editor should not go in and delete material claiming undue weight is being given to one POV. Instead they should recognize that WP:Wikipedia is not finished, and either have patience, or add in more information from the POV they think is lacking.

Creep is analogous to the idea of a local maximum vs. a global maximum. When climbing to get a good view, one may go straight uphill with each step, then get to the top and notice a nearby peak has a much better view. It might have been better to not take the straight uphill steps, but to maybe take some steps so as to go around or even sometimes down.

Sometimes "article creep" can also refer to an unintended proliferation of articles at Wikipedia, not just proliferation inside articles, such as in a discussion about creating a separate article for each contestant in a reality television show.

Loss of global perspectiveEdit

People can become aclimated to a hot tub as it gradually warms, but a newcomer might stick their toe in and find it to be too hot. Editors who have been close to the step-by-step editing of an article might not notice that the article has crept up to an undesirable state. An outside editor might come to an article with a perspective that editors close to the article cannot have.

Creep can lead to a loss of perspective. It may be hard to notice creep when a group of editors have been closely monitoring each step. An editor who has made substantial contributions to a page may come back to an article after a leave of absence and see a huge change in tone, point of view, style, and readability. This editor may have a perspective that enables them to see unwanted creep from a global perspective that is no longer easily seen by the editors who examined the edits in a step-by-step manner. That editor is like a newcomer to a hot tub, where those in it may have gradually acclimated to the temperature as it gradually warmed, but it may be too hot for a newcomer to get in.


Creep to POVEdit

Editors may try to balance content when there are two perspectives, in order to achieve a neutral point of view (NPOV). A series of very good edits may all be from one perspective, and result in undue emphasis on one perspective. Editors may want to rebalance to achieve NPOV by adding more content from other perspectives, or by trimming some of the new edits solely on the basis of creep to POV, even though they would otherwise be very good edits. In the latter case, the trimming should first be discussed at the talk page to achieve consensus, in order to maintain a good community.

Creep to excessive lengthEdit

Article creep is not necessarily bad, since Wikipedia articles tend to grow in a way which lends itself to the natural creation of new articles. When an article section creeps up to being excessively large, subsections can be created, or an entire daughter article. The most simple way to form a daughter article and reduce the length in the parent article is to create a daughter article by copying the entire section to the daughter article, and retaining only the section lead in the parent article. The most simple way is not necessarily the best way. If a parent/daughter relationship is created, place a hat at the top of the article section and new article in the appropriate manner.

Creep to a disorganized pileEdit

A slippery slope argument states that a relatively small first step leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant effect. - As bricks are added, this will eventually become a pile. At what point does it become a pile? At what point has article creep resulted in an ineloquent article, or one that is not encyclopedic in style?

A line by line process for additions from different editors may creep into stylistic problems. The result may appear to be a disorganized and incoherent pile, perhaps not even about a single unifying subject matter, when it actually is. The article may appear to be a committee product, rather than an eloquent exposition. Organization into more sections may help. Rewording by a single editor or smaller group of editors may help.

Creep to sources no longer applyingEdit

Sentences clearly based on a reliable source can be slightly adjusted again and again, until ultimately they are no longer supported by the source.

Deletion creepEdit

An editor might make a series of deletions, each well reasoned in the edit summaries. If this is done too quickly on an article that has been relatively stable for a long time, other editors might have time to only look at the total effect of all the edits, not check each step by step edit summary, and revert all the edits a single stroke. It may even appear to be WP:vandalism. Different editors edit at different speeds, and groups of editors for different subjects form topic sub-communities that may have different standards of editing speed from one another. There is no objective standard for editing speed that applies to all such sub-communities. One should not always expect another editor to spend the large amount of time to go through each step and examine each edit summary.

Conversely, the reverting editor should not accuse vandalism, bad faith, POV, or use expressions like “butchery” or “gutting an article”, but should participate in talk page discussions with patience, and never argue ad hominem with examples of the reverted editor's edits elsewhere. The reverted editor may have made each edit in good faith and with good edit summaries, no matter what their history elsewhere, and which may or may not have resulted in creep.

Talk page creepEdit

Talk page creep to unnecessary length can be avoided by linking using transclusion; instead of copying talk page discussions or blocks from another document, use links to them with a summary.

If a revert for resulting from deletion creep occurs, instead of undoing the revert, which might lead to an edit war, an editor should create a separate section for each edit that has a different rationale in the edit summary. This may then create talk page creep. An editor should not expect quick responses to all of the new talk page sections, and should have patience as each is addressed.

List creepEdit

Unencyclopedic list creepEdit

List creep may make an article look like the yellow pages.

A reasonable list in an article may creep up to make the article look like a yellow pages. Reasonable notables on a list can, by a slippery slope, degenerate into a directory. Wikipedia is not a directory, it is an encyclopedia. Lists may make an article look like it does not belong in an encyclopedia through list creep. When an article subject has a large fan base, lists can be added so as to make the article not be encyclopedic in form, as in early versions of the Wikipedia peer review of the X-Files.

Images in an article may appear like a list at the right of an article. Good images that are very illustrative may be added one-by-one until they create a list of images at the right, which may be an unencyclopedic in appearance.

Example list creepEdit

When good illustrative examples of a general concept are added step by step, the end product may defeat the purpose of examples. The list may be so long that a reader does not want to read it. It may be so long that the general concept being illustrated may be lost in the specificity or sheer volume. Conversely, a list of examples intended to be exhaustive is not creep.

A meta-example of creep is the following list, which may grow so long, step by step, that no one bothers to read it, or the clarification provided by examples is lost in their sheer volume. Since this essay is in user space, editors may think of examples that are better than those below, add their idea, and not want to delete another editor's edit. So the list below should be periodically assessed so that only the most illustrative examples are kept, so it does not become too long. As the following list gets added to by other editors, it may creep up to being very long.

Examples of the "creep" concept from outside of WikipediaEdit
Has an article crept into a quagmire?
In mission creep, a military operation may get bogged down into a quagmire. Don't let article creep lead to an edit war over what to delete or not. It is best to get out of the quagmire with a patient discussion at the talk page.
  • Mission creep is the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goal. A military operation may experience mission creep and find itself bogged down in a quagmire.
  • Christmas creep is the commercial phenomenon in which merchants and retailers exploit the commercialized status of Christmas by moving up the start of the holiday shopping season.
  • In medicine, a number of small lifestyle decisions may over time add up to a major health problem, such as diabetes or heart disease, which is best dealt with using preventive medicine, but if not dealt early may require major surgery followed by palliative care, and the same is true at Wikipedia.
  • Invasive species may be imported and go wild, and the numbers creep up until they harm the ecosystem, as with kudzu.
  • Collecting may start off as a good hobby, but lead to an obsessive compulsive disorder known as hoarding.
  • In aesthetics creep may lead to something good such as a baroque style, or not, when something becomes gaudy.
  • A group of people may turn on a hot tub and get in once it is warm enough, after which it continues to heat up. A new person may come along, see the group relaxing, stick their toe in the water, and recoil as if burned.
  • In philosophy, a slippery slope argument is when relatively small steps lead to a chain culminating in some significant effect.
  • In calculus, a step by step analysis known as differentiation may lead to finding a local maximum instead of a global maximum.
  • In the philosophy of science, a large series of ad hoc additions may be made to retain a theory, such as excessively complex epicycles to retain the Ptolemaic system instead of changing to a heliocentric system, in order to account for planetary motions against the background of stars.

Discuss article creep on the talk page: Thermostat and Sisyphus analogyEdit

Repeatedly creeping up to a larger article and then down to a smaller article is a natural process of article development. Adjusting for article creep is analogous to the function of a thermostat. It may be a good idea to discuss at the talk page before deletions are made. Otherwise an editor my feel like they are in the Myth of Sisyphus when a hard work producing a large number of edits is deleted in an adjustment for article creep.

One should not claim article creep as the only reason to delete a new edit by another editor. This might unnecessarily discourage them from participating in the article, and some of their coming edits may make this edit better than others already in the article when viewed cumulatively. New information is constantly arising, and Wikipedia is a work in progress. An article should be reevaluated for creep after a significant number of edits, and then be trimmed back after creep has led to a problem. The situation is analogous to a heater's thermostat that allows the temperature to get warmer than where it was set before shutting the heater off, then allows the temperature to get cooler than where it is set before turning the heater back on.

Article creep is not necessarily bad as an intermediate step an article goes through. Sometimes it is good to put in too much information, in order to help see everything at once to make a better informed decision as to overall layout and structure, or to compare what to keep and what to trim. Once creep has occurred, determining what to trim should be discussed on the talk pages to get consensus as to how best to trim materials that may be good, but cause creep.

It may be a good idea to discuss at the talk page before deletions are made. Otherwise an editor my feel like they are in the Myth of Sisyphus when a hard work producing a large number of edits is deleted in an adjustment for article creep, and they feel like they are being made to start all over again.

The Wikipedia article creep paradoxEdit

A paradox arises in application of this essay. The above list of examples from outside of Wikipedia is illustrative of the creep concept. Each addition of a different type of example illustrates the general creep concept in a different way. But by creeping up to being too long, it should be trimmed per this essay. In that case it will no longer serve as an illustrative example of list creep. Neither the essay WP:CREEP nor the article guideline on being concise applies to resolve this paradox as it is applied to this essay, even with distinguishing examples from meta-examples.