Articles go through a lifecycle. No article starts out perfect. Throughout its lifespan, all articles will have varying degrees of errors, omissions, controversies, stylistic issues, structural problems, spelling mistakes, etc.
Unfortunately, readers tend to be kept in the dark about these issues even when they are known. While some of them may be discussed on the "discussion" page, this page is tucked away and explicitly not part of the article. An editor who has not been involved with a particular article will have trouble catching up with a busy discussion page, not least because the discussion page retains discussions about already-solved issues. At the same time, some types of problems don't receive any discussion because they don't require any discussion, they only need to be made explicit.
There should be a box on every article which lists all known issues with the article. This box should be highly visible; perhaps there should be a separate box for each section in an article.
It must be as easy as absolutely possible for anyone to add bullet points to this list of issues. Click, type, Enter, it's in.
Of course, the same box can be used for issues which already have visible tags currently, e.g. the "cleanup" tag, the "neutrality dispute" tag, or the tag that suggests that an article be split or two articles be merged. All of these should be unified into a single system.
The list of issues needs to be part of the article (instead of having its own page) because it is as important as the information in the article itself. A known factual error or omission would otherwise not be apparent in a printout of the article.
There are many motivations for this proposal:
- The main motivation is that it is currently too hard to tell how "good" an article is. But this motivation actually consists of two: it is too hard for the reader who wants to know how accurate and complete it is; and it is too hard for the editor who wants to know whether the article needs attention and whether he or she can help to improve it.
- Another major motivation is that it provides an opportunity for non-technical readers – who do not want to edit articles for whatever reasons – to leave comments, many of which are going to be very useful. This will vastly increase the number of potential contributors, while not requiring as much development effort as a complete UI rethink.
- I believe it will cause articles to mature quicker. Wikipedia editors seem to have a tendency to want to have things appear "clean" and free of flaws. The box is a reminder that the article has flaws. It should be made policy that the box must be present whenever there are known issues with an article, so that instead of concealing the flaws, editors will experience greater pressure to actually address the issues so that the box can become shorter or go away entirely. Imagine the rewarding euphoria an editor might experience if after a day of work the box finally says "no known issues".
- The box can be used to motivate editors towards a specific goal, esp. featuredness. "This article is closed to becoming featured! Only this needs to be done: ..."
- Allegations of Wikipedia's inaccuracy or untrustworthiness will abide. This seems counter-intuitive because inaccuracies are now explicitly stated; but I believe that those allegations stem from the fear that inaccuracies can go unnoticed. The proposed issues box ensures that inaccuracies are noticed and receive attention, thus improving readers' trust in articles that list few or only minor issues.
- Finally, as a minor point, I think it will bring more life to Wikipedia. Every article will now more vividly show that it is being worked on.
- Should we publish articles with no warnings when we know full well they have flaws?
- Do editors deserve a virtual pat on the back for writing a flawed article and then concealing its flaws, or should we rather reward making the flaws explicit?
- Should we not try our best to obtain useful contributions from people who won't edit articles for whatever reasons?
- Would this risk diverting people from improving articles into complaining about them?
- Development effort
- Effort to convince the vocal minority who will invariably cry blue murder
Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Improve transparency of article status and the editing process.
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