Wikipedia:Responsible tagging

When a Wikipedian who practices responsible tagging sees a problem with a Wikipedia article, they clearly label the problem with the appropriate tag. As needed they then leave information clarifying what should be done on the talk page. The outcome is a communication protocol that minimizes the use of reviewer's valuable time while the likelihood that the article's maintainers will improve the article.

We have to admit that many Wikipedia articles have serious problems which require painstakingly careful and time-consuming editing to fix, and which render their content quite unreliable even for the most error-tolerant applications. It is necessary to clearly tag such articles, preferably with a shrill color, until someone comes along who has both the time, inclination and domain expertise to carefully edit the article and solve its most pressing problem. For example, if an article relies heavily on unreliable sources, then readers need to be alerted to that fact, until an editor can introduce more reliable sources, such as academic journals.

It is much easier and less time-consuming for an experienced Wikipedian to identify and label an article's problem than it is to actually fix the problem.[note 1] But this is not to denigrate the importance of identifying and labeling problems. In fact, the identification and labeling step is often botched, resulting at best in a long delay until the problem is fixed, and at worst in an edit war in which several people revert the tagger, who refuses to explain the reason for the tag.

This essay will give advice about specific tags, but the general gist of it is this:

If you are going to put a tag on an article that proclaims it as seriously faulty, you should leave an explanation on the talk page of that article, even though the reasons seem plainly obvious to you.

In some cases, the explanation might be short enough to fit on an edit summary. Writing brief but complete edit summaries is always encouraged. However, it's still a good idea to include it on the talk page, preferably with a heading saying something like "Reason for grammar clean up tag (cleanup-grammar)." The problem with edit summaries is that after the tag is placed there could be a lot of edits to the article which don't address the concerns stated in the tag, making it hard to find the reason. By including the explanation on the talk page with a suitable heading, it becomes easier for others to find an explanation for the tag. Putting the reason in an HTML comment next to the tag is another available option, but it doesn't hurt to duplicate this on the talk page. In any case, it is quite possible for the tag to remain on the page for some time. If you would hope that the person trying to clean up the tag would contact you then it is easier to find you if you leave a message on the talk page than to have to trawl through the history to determine who you are.

Another important thing about the explanation: it needs to show to others that you actually read the specific article and you honestly believe it has the deficiency indicated by the tag, it shows that you're not just tagging on a whim. It also shows you did not just copy and paste from a similar explanation for a related article with the tag in question.

This essay is not about current events tags nor future tags, nor is it about deletion tags. The Articles for Deletion tag directs people to a separate page to ponder the reasons, while the proposed deletion tag requires a reason to be given within the tag itself. This essay will give fictionalized examples, but they are actually not exaggerations of the sort of thing that happens when an article's problem is incorrectly labeled.

A quick word about inline tags: inline tags such as the "citation needed" tags provide more context for future editors, but even these tags can create some of the issues associated with maintenance tags. Take this fictionalized example:

In the third issue of 1998 of the Canadian Quarterly Journal of Integer Sequences, starting on page 347, Helmutz showed that the Schmuckelberg theorem can be extended to complex integers only if the Riemann hypothesis is true.[citation needed]

The person who placed this tag isn't completely wrong, but failed to notice that a citation is in fact given. Granted, it needs formatting (such as italics for the journal title), and a concluding page number, if available, but the citation needed tag is incorrect. A "reimprove" tag at the top of the page would make more sense.

Citation needed isn't the only inline tag available, there are a few others that are better suited for some situations.

However, Taft said "I'll bet my life the Schmuckelberg theorem is false for complex integers."[This quote needs a citation] In his heavy book The Schmuckelberg Enigma, Smith writes that Taft independently came up with the Schmuckelberg theorem the same year as Schmuckelberg did.[page needed] Everyone agrees the Schmuckelberg does not hold under closure.[clarification needed]


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