Wikipedia:Manual of Style extended FAQ

This is an extended "frequently asked questions and answers" page regarding the Wikipedia:Manual of Style (WP:MOS, or "MoS") guideline, and also touches on the Wikipedia:Article titles ("AT") policy and other related pages.

The short-form FAQ about the MoS, which only addresses a handful of perennial matters in summary, is at MOS:FAQ. The questions addressed in this page are not in MOS:FAQ, or vice versa.

What principles underlie the MoS?Edit

  1. The purpose of the Manual of Style is to:
    • Make things easier for the reader. The reader is helped by seeing a consistent, clear, and familiar style.
    • Facilitate editing for the contributors so they don't have to figure out these questions each time – and to avoid repeated arguments over details. Editors are helped by having a fixed form for trivial matters.
    • Improve the perceived quality of Wikipedia. The reader and critical perception of Wikipedia is improved by it looking to some extent like a professional, copy-edited publication.
    • Facilitate technical development of the project. The correction of errors, the working of tools like Wikidata, and reuse of Wikipedia content are aided by uniformity of presentation.
  2. The general rule is that the MoS should be uniform across all of Wikipedia unless there is good reason otherwise. The simpler it is, the fewer exceptions, the easier it is to follow.
  3. The desire of those working on a particular topic to make exceptions is subject to the oversight and consensus of the editorial community as a whole, though the community may give reasonable deference to specialist views.
  4. The rationale for making exceptions is usually one of the following: the need of a particular subject for clarity; the technical limitations of our format as applied to a particular subject; and the strongly predominant usage of all writers on a particular subject, at least at a level similar to that of Wikipedia articles.
  5. In deciding on a style matter, the various factors involved need balancing and will often be a matter of judgement. As always at Wikipedia, subject only to technical limitations, the basis for decisions is consensus on usage and clarity, not theoretical structural or philosophical considerations.
  6. There is often a need to accommodate the expectations of the different dialect communities composing the English Wikipedia. Traditionally, we do not favor any one of them but permit them all, despite the lack of uniformity.
  7. As a rule, individual preferences are irrelevant, except to the extent they are backed by objective reasons and become accepted by consensus.

Why does MoS exist, and do I have to follow it?Edit

  • The Manual of Style exists primarily to ensure a consistent reading experience for our audience, and secondarily to prevent and resolve recurrent disputes over style matters. It is an internal guideline for Wikipedia editing only. It is not a mandatory policy that editors must assiduously follow. It is not part of the encyclopedia content, nor intended as a general-public reference work about how to write English for all purposes. It is primarily used as a blueprint for routine cleanup work across articles, as a dispute-resolution mechanism, and by many editors as a quick reference ("cheat sheet") guide while they are writing here (especially if they are deeply steeped in some other style guide, such as that of a particular organization or genre).
    • "Style" is defined broadly, and includes spelling, punctuation, grammar, tone, colloquialisms, abbreviation, formatting and layout, image usage, how to summarize an article in its lead section, accessibility concerns, markup, and many other factors, some of which overlap categorically with content. There is no bright-line "style versus substance" distinction here.
    • Wikipedia uses encyclopedic style and register, not random styles or differing levels of formality. A common initial difficulty in understanding MoS is to not clearly recognize that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and does not serve as or get written like anything else, such as a science journal, a newspaper, a novel, a blog, a textbook, etc. It is written in a dispassionate and educational but not how-to tone. Wikipedia is also international, written for a general not specialist audience, and is an electronic work that is not bound to all print conventions. See the policy WP:What Wikipedia is not for details about how Wikipedia differs from other publications and websites.
    • MoS is based almost entirely on the leading style guides for academic book publishing, customized to WP's needs through nearly two decades of cautious consensus building to counterbalance many competing approaches, editorial demands, reader expectations, and technical needs. MoS and the consensus discussions that shape it take into consideration the aggregate recommendations of style guides in many fields and genres. We also consider the demonstrably dominant and long-term usage patterns that are found across (not just topically specific to) various kinds of high-quality published sources: other modern reference works, nonfiction books from major publishers, national newspapers. However, MoS is not altered to match what is said in a particular journalistic style guide, a national government one, your employer's or a particular journal publisher's stylesheet, a high school or college textbook, a manual for business writing, or the monograph of a pundit.
    • MoS is composed of only those line-item rules that consensus has deemed necessary to include because the matters they address have repeatedly been the source of productivity-draining disputes. I.e., MoS exists to provide an answer to a style question, so that dispute ceases (or, hopefully, is prevented) and encyclopedic work continues. In some cases the answer provided is an arbitrary choice from among many options, but in most cases the answer has been selected as a particular best practice based on a review of relevant reliable sources. There are many, many style issues that MoS does not directly address, because they do not generate notable dispute, and these are left to editorial discretion at each article.
       
  • You do not have to read and follow, much less memorize, MoS to edit Wikipedia.
    • No one is forced to add new material to Wikipedia in perfect MoS style. We do not actually expect new editors to read it or even know the guideline exists, nor are long-term editors expected to memorize it all. The central expectation of editors is just to write encyclopedically. MoS is primarily used for post hoc cleanup by other editors, and for resolving style disputes among editors.
    • While Wikipedia:Editing policy is clear that anyone can dive right in and begin to edit the encyclopedia, we do expect that contributors will abide by the core content policies and our central civility policy.
    • Editors absorb other policies, guidelines, and community norms over time and through experience, and this includes most editors' familiarity and compliance with MoS.
       
  • However, certain behaviors with regard to MoS (and article titles) are not acceptable. Wikipedia is not your personal website and cannot be re-sculpted in every detail to suit your preferences. Some disruptive behaviors that have been sanctioned:

What if I don't agree with something in MoS?Edit

  • Most proposed changes to MoS are poor ideas, and have usually been hashed over and rejected many times already.
    • MoS's value is in its stability as a set of rules we agree to follow so we can get the work done, not in what it specifically recommends in any particular line-item.
    • Changes to MoS can affect thousands, even millions, of articles.
    • MoS is already pretty much as complete as we need it to be, and as well-negotiated as it can be, after about two decades.
    • MoS is already long, and its purpose is not to address every imaginable style question, but only recurrent style disputes that affect our editorial productivity. Rule creep should be avoided. If we don't actually need a rule then we need to not have that rule.
       
  • The proper process – if you're sure you want to proceed anyway – is to see whether consensus will change through normal discussion and proposals. Start by opening an informal discussion about your concerns, at the Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (WT:MOS) talk page (or that of the relevant MoS sub-guideline). Wikipedia resolves disputes and questions through discussions; MoS is not somehow exempt from standard Wikipedia process.
    • Per WP:POLICY, WP:EDITING, and WP:EDITWAR, Wikipedia's guideline and policy pages, including MoS, are subject to an elevated expectation of consensus formation, and must not be subjected to drive-by viewpoint pushing, much less tendentious editwarring.
    • Due to long-term disruptive editing, the MoS pages, the article titles policy, the naming conventions guidelines, and their talk pages are all subject to discretionary sanctions (which amounts to "block disruptors first, ask questions later").
    • See the next section for suggestions on what to do if you think that some kind of variance is needed from a general MoS rule, for solid reasons.
       
  • Do not campaign against site-wide guidelines (including the MoS). The vast majority of style-related strife on Wikipedia results from misguided individual or factional desires to ignore MoS rules someone subjectively doesn't like, or to directly fight against MoS compliance. These behaviors disregard consensus, the negative effect of disputation on other editors, and the confusion readers experience when idiosyncratic style is used in our articles or our articles are retitled to suit whims.
    • Everyone who writes for a living or does a lot of professional-grade writing in their work is already familiar and comfortable with the idea that different publishers have different style requirements, and that they must either comply with the publisher's rules or expect to have their material conformed to those rules by later editors. Wikipedia is such a publisher.
    • The "resist until I win" pattern is classic tendentiously disruptive editing behavior, especially when it is played out in the "I didn't win at this article, so I'll try again at the next one" gambit, a long-term waste of editorial time regarding both MoS and article title policy (AT) compliance.
    • Another system-gaming tactic, which has caused sometimes years of unproductive conflict, is a "long-game" (a.k.a. "slow edit-war" and "civil PoV-pushing") attempt to circumvent the guidelines by fomenting other editors to dispute them, trying to policy-fork guidelines against each other, disrupting RfCs and other proposals that don't suit one's preferences, and misrepresenting the nature and rationale of a particular rule (or lack of one). MoS is still here. Editors who have focused on "not here to build an encyclopedia but fight about nitpicks" behavior have tended not to last. And we're all really tired of these antics. They do not help Wikipedia achieve its mission.
    • If you are convinced that MoS is wrong about something and cannot resist the urge to "correct" it, even after failing to get consensus repeatedly, you are making a mistake. See WP:1AM, WP:NOT#SOAPBOX, WP:TRUTH, WP:GREATWRONGS, WP:FANATIC), and related pages. Try also reading some introductory linguistics and sociolinguistics material; the view that any language has fixed, absolute rules is unadulterated pseudoscience. Wikipedia is not the place for prescriptive grammar zealotry (most especially not on a nationalistic basis).
    • Long-term "style warring" against MoS recommendation has resulted in blocks, topic bans, and other actions. The fact that consensus can sometimes change does not entitle anyone to re-re-re-propose the same change over and over again in hopes of eventually "winning". No style guide can please everyone all the time about every point, and editors must accept that they will not get to remake every Wikipedia consensus in their own personal image.

How (and why) is a variance from an MoS rule established?Edit

Here's a tutorial of sorts on how to create a variance from the WP:Manual of Style (which rarely should be done on an individual article basis), whether to pursue one at all, and pitfalls to avoid.

  • At the article level, exceptions are made to that guideline under the same circumstances as exceptions to any other: when an "ignore all rules" (WP:IAR) claim is supported by sufficient evidence, policy-based argument, and common-sense reasoning that the variance gains consensus.
    • That doesn't mean just a consensus of the three editors who've primarily edited a particular article so far. If they find themselves constantly battling, week after week, month after month, year after year to retain a variant style that random other editors keep returning to MoS compliance, the faction at the article clearly do not have consensus, just a personal and un-wiki agreement to tendentiously resist site-wide consensus, an approach prohibited by levels-of-consensus (WP:CONLEVEL) policy.
    • When a one-article variance is needed, it will generally be self-evident, and not require continual "defense".
    • Style is applied as consistently as possible, as a benefit to both readers and editors. If you are trying at an article talk page to get an MoS "exception", you are almost certainly making a mistake, and this is why such efforts usually fail, with lots of rancor and mutual frustration (you don't get what you want, everyone else is annoyed by the attempt). It is not the right process. No one owns an article or a topic/category of articles; no category is even within the scope of only a single wikiproject. We have CONLEVEL policy, and MoS, for a reason.
       
  • Most proposed variances are poor ideas, both at the article level and by adding new micro-rules to MoS. We've already been over it all before. Because of MoS's nature and the nature of style itself, IAR-based claims about style matters are usually not defensible, but based on personal preference, the specialized-style fallacy, or the common-style fallacy.
    • Like all style guides, MoS exists so that a roster of writers can get to work following a consistent set of rules, and not fritter their time away squabbling over minutiae that all vary widely from style guide to style guide, field to field, generation to generation, area to area, genre to genre.
    • A large number of style matters are simply arbitrary, and fighting over them is a pointless waste of time. Many rules in MoS, however, are not arbitrary within the context of Wikipedia, but have been arrived at over years of discussion and careful consideration. Where MoS does have an arbitrary rule, it is because experience has taught us that a rule of one kind or another is needed, to stop continual dispute about the matter.
    • MoS does not tell the world how to write or decide what is "correct", only how to get on with producing consistent content here, with an eye to encyclopedic tone and clarity for readers. It does not exist for linguistic activism of any kind: not personal, professional, socio-political, or otherwise.
       
  • MoS already has virtually all the variances and detail it needs. Much of MoS, especially in its more technical and topical subpages, does consist of particular variances from general, blanket rules. These variances have been codified into MoS after consensus discussion (or sometimes have been added as common-sense edits and survived later editorial scrutiny).
    • Wikipedia has over 5 million articles. By now, most imaginable style disputes have been identified and hashed out, repeatedly. If you are a new editor, please see the talk page archives of the MoS and any of its relevant subpages (these archives are searchable). If you propose a change and get an "ugh, not this again" reaction, it is because your change proposal is perennial and has been rejected many times before.
    • The successful "imports" of specialized rules into the MoS all share the three A, B, and C points outlined below.
       
  • Variances are usually accepted into MoS if and only if: A) they are common in general-audience publications, B) they're applied consistently in more specialized ones (especially if they are formal standards), and – not "or" – C) they do not conflict with everyday style in a way that may confuse readers.
    • Example: Wikipedia is never, ever going to accept the idea that, say, the names of rocks and minerals should be presented in boldface type, because: A) this is not typical in mainstream publications; B) it is only found in field guides, which simply use typographic effects like that as a visual scanning aid regardless of topic, and there is no standard in geology to do such a thing generally; and C) it would be mistaken by most readers for strong semantic emphasis.
    • A counter-example (one of many): proper names are not capitalized when used as elements of species epithets; "Smith" becomes "smith" in Brachypelma smithi, and this style is used on Wikipedia because: A) most mainstream publications have accepted this convention (along with the capitalization of the genus name and the italicization of genus and species); B) it is consistently done across all of biology, and is a part of the ICZN, ICN, and other international nomenclature standards; and C) readers are fairly familiar with it and usually know the italics aren't semantic emphasis and that it shouldn't be "corrected" to Smithi.
    • For numerous other examples, see all the special (usually scientific and mathematical) rules in WP:Manual of Style/Dates and numbers (MOS:NUM), just for starters, and note which ones are missing. E.g., "kibibytes", "gibibytes", etc., are found in a technical standard but are neither common in mainstream sources nor typically understood by readers. Another example is that Wikipedia follows scientific standards to separate numerical values and units in measurements and to use standardized unit symbols (3 kg, 32 ft); that there are other styles in existence (such as 3kilo or 32') is true but immaterial – Wikipedia does not use them because they are inconsistent, not universally understood, and may be ambiguous or otherwise confusing. Concerns such as these are often behind why MoS has selected one particular option from all the variants "in the wild".
    • Sometimes real-world language usage shifts. MoS should not leap suddenly on bandwagons of alleged language change. We'll know the time is right when most academic publishers like Oxford University Press, Chicago University Press, and other encyclopedias, are reflecting the change. (An example is the dropping of the comma before "Jr." in a name like "Robert Downey Jr.", a process that has taken about 30 years, with the comma-free usage becoming dominant even in US English some time after around 2005, and MoS making the change several years later.)
       
  • There is already a long-established process for altering guidelines. As with all other policies and guidelines, the process for codifying a special case is to get consensus on the guideline's talk page to do so.
    • If a usual, informal talk page discussion doesn't resolve a proposed MoS exception or addition (which it often does), use the standard requests-for-comment (WP:RFC) process to seek a variance from a blanket rule at WT:MOS itself, or at the talk page of the MoS subpage to which the matter is most germane plus a notice about the discussion posted at WT:MOS. If it will potentially affect a large number of articles, also notify editors in neutral wording at WP:Village pump (policy) (a.k.a. WP:VPPOL), as well as relevant wikiprojects. For a major change like elevation of a wikiproject style advice essay into an MoS guideline subpage, use the proposal process, typically posted at WP:Village pump (proposals) and also "advertised" at WP:VVPOL, WT:MOS, and Wikipedia:Centralized discussion.
    • Much MoS (and article title) disputation appears to be motivated by a desire to fight article-by-article out of a proprietary sentiment about "one's own" articles, a territorial stance about "my wikiproject's" articles, or a mistaken "wiki class system" notion that editors at WP:FAC, WP:GAN, and other voluntary processes are somehow empowered to confer permanent immunity from guideline compliance on any article they "elevate" with a Featured or Good Article label. All of these are routes to pointless strife and cannot be defended under consensus-level or editing policy.

See alsoEdit