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Wikipedia:Competence is required

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Wikipedia is a big place, with many editors, all with their own opinions on how to do things. It may seem surprising that we'd be able to work together, but somehow this is what usually happens.

One of our important guidelines that reminds editors to work together is "assume good faith". This is good advice, because it tells us that when we disagree, usually everyone involved is trying to do what they really think is best. Sure, we get people who harm the project on purpose sometimes, but they're usually easy to deal with. They can be blocked from editing, if needed, with little trouble and often without more arguments.

We often see bigger disputes where editors are disruptive while trying to help. This can cause harm to our ideas of assuming good faith. Some editors focus on "good faith" so much, that they might think that is all you need to take part here. But that isn't quite true. Competence is required also; that is, editors need to understand what they are writing about.

Every editor is incompetent in some areas, so it is good to be aware of what you can and cannot do well.

Good faith versus competence[change source]

We can normally assume that people are trying to help, just like we assume they breathe air. But if someone is unable to help, or is sometimes helpful, but sometimes causes major disruption, this is a bad thing that must not be allowed to continue. The proverbial bull in a china shop might have good intentions, but he's clearly bad for business. We must always value the project as a whole more than we value the contributions of any one editor.

So, the next time someone posts on a noticeboard saying "Editor Example is causing problems—here's the diffs to demonstrate this," or "Disruptive editor Example is asking for an unblock," think twice before just saying "Assume good faith." The person making the complaint is probably already assuming good faith, and they're talking about a lack of competence, not a lack of good faith. Both are needed to edit usefully. If an editor has already shown incompetence that causes disruption, no amount of good faith fixes this problem.

Some types of incompetence we often see here[change source]

Factual incompetence[change source]

The best good will is useless without basic understanding of the facts, as seen by most of the people they involve.

Social incompetence[change source]

Some people just can't work well with others. We can't change Wikipedia enough to suit them, so if they don't change themselves, they need to be shown the door.

Editors with disabilities that affect behavior or those that suffer certain mental health issues sometimes fall into this category. This isn't an anti-disability statement, but an explanation that these are not acceptable excuses for poor interaction.

Bias-based incompetence[change source]

Some people have very strong personal opinions which affects their judgement when changing pages or working with others. If this continues to be disruptive, a 'topic ban' can be better than banning the editor from the entire website, because some people can still make valuable contributions in places other than the disrupted topic. Also keep in mind that for some reason, it is often harder to see your own biased editing, than it is to see someone else's biased editing.

Language difficulty[change source]

If someone can't write English well, and can't discuss things with other editors very well, consider trying to get them to edit a Wikipedia in their own language. Those other-language Wikipedias need help from editors, too.

Immaturity[change source]

Some people are not mature enough to edit Wikipedia. This means either they are just too young, or they act like it.

Taking on too much[change source]

Some people don't understand everything about how Wikipedia works. They may still be able to do some easy jobs, but they'll probably run into trouble if they try doing something more complicated.

Lack of technical expertise[change source]

This is not usually an issue, except when editors delve into areas needing technical skills. Not everyone needs the same skill set—and if editors stick to skills they can handle, there is never a problem.

Grudges[change source]

Some people get so upset over a past dispute, they continue to believe that "So-and-so is a bad editor and is out to get me." Taken to extremes, this easily becomes quite disruptive. An enforced sentence of "don't interact with this other editor" may be something to try for solving these cases.

"Newbie" incompetence[change source]

We all started here as new editors not knowing as much about the project as we do now. That is not so bad, because it is easy to fix. Help the newer editors understand what we do here and how we work, so they can soon make themselves useful.

What "Competence is required" does not mean[change source]

  • It does not mean "come down hard on someone as soon as they make a mistake". Wikipedia certainly has a learning curve. We should be patient with other editors, especially "newbies", and help them understand how to edit competently. Mistakes are bound to happen with the wiki process and part of the beauty of that process is how easy it is to fix mistakes.
  • It does not mean perfection is required. Most articles are improved in small steps by many editors, rather than being made perfect at once. Each editor does a little over time, and gradually the articles start to look better, since improvements are usually kept.
  • It does not mean we should not try to help others become better editors.
  • It does not mean editors have to prove their competence with credentials, or that they should be demanded to show them, or be labeled "incompetent".
  • Finally, it does not mean we will give any good faith editor unlimited chances to make themselves useful. If you have spent enough time coaching someone and they still don't get it, don't waste too much more time; another editor may be easier to coach.

The bottom line[change source]

In the end, it doesn't matter much whether someone's disruption is due to mischief or incompetence. Don't waste much time trying to figure out which one it is, because many trolls do their trolling by feigning incompetence. There's no point trying to distinguish between fake or real incompetence—disruption is disruption, and needs to be prevented. Give editors a few chances, and some good advice — but if these don't lead to reasonably competent editing within a reasonable timeframe, it's best to wash your hands of the situation. Not every person belongs at Wikipedia, because some people are not competent enough.

This essay...[change source]

... is often criticized for not being nice enough. In its defense, we may point out that the main reason for it is not to tell someone they are too stupid to edit Wikipedia. If that is truly the case, pointing them here will probably not improve the situation. Instead, this essay is to give the competent editors advice on how to handle problems coming from incompetence. It is best not to link the incompetent editor to this page.

Related pages[change source]

  • Dunning–Kruger effect, the tendency for incompetent people to be unaware of their incompetence—and for highly skilled people to believe that people capable of their achievements are more numerous than they really are