Wikipedia:Responsible tagging

When a Wikipedian who practices responsible tagging sees a problem with a Wikipedia article, he or she clearly labels the problem with the appropriate tag. As needed he or she then leaves 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 maximizing 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 "refimprove" 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]

Clean up tags

The catch-all clean up tag (cleanup)

Example of template and article
A bronchial contuberance is a surgical operation in which a long, thin tube is inserted into the bronchial aperture and a reading is taken.[1] Since 2002, bronchial entuberances are preferred for patients with kidney conditions.[2] ...

This is of course a fictional example, so we're assuming that there really is such a surgical procedure. What's wrong with the article? There are no misspellings, no informal language, no off-topic digressions. The general clean up tag provides both a link to the talk page and a link to a list of more specific clean up tags. If you don't have the time to look at the more specific clean up tags, at least take a minute to write a few lines in the talk page as to what kind of clean up you think is necessary.

This tag used to have a link to help users find more specific clean up messages. For some reason, this has been removed, making it harder for responsible taggers to find the appropriate specific tag.

This has understandably sparked some annoyance, see Wikipedia:Clarify the cleanup.

The confusing tag (confusing)

Example of template and article
A tribble is a small, soft, furry animal from another planet. They eat grain. They reproduce very quickly. Klingons hate tribbles. ...

Without an explanation on the talk page, the tag lacks any context and so only creates new confusion.[note 2] If you're going to put this tag on a talk page, you should try to explain what was it that you found so confusing:

  • Were you confused because of a single statement in the article, or were you confused by the entire article?
  • Were you confused because the article contradicts something in another article?
  • Were you confused because you don't know anything whatsoever about the subject of the article?
  • Were you confused because of an excessive use of technical terms or jargon?
  • Were you confused because of an excessive use of mathematical formulas?
  • Were you confused because of an excessive use of musical notation?
  • Were you confused because of an excessive use of diagrams?
  • Were you confused because of an excessive use of screenshots?
  • Were you confused for some other reason altogether?

The copyedit clean up tag (copyedit)

Example of template and article
John Reedparrot (1753? - 1809?) was a British pirate, best known for commandeering Royal Navy ships. Reedparrot was the inspiration for the fictional character of Jack Parrot in Pirates of the Pacific 2: Destination California.
... [nine paragraphs omitted]
in 1953, a plaq was found in Hawaiii wit teh inscription "j. reedparrot here lies, but alas, wihtout his tresure!" this has led historiands to speclate that reedparot went to hawai to dei, andnot California as msot biograhpers wrote. furtermore, and withuot belaboring the point, it appears in 1960 wit digging up of teh hms chloroform a reasesssment is needed of reedparrot's reptation.
... [ten paragraphs omitted]
The Reedparrot Museum in New Jersey opened in 2004, to coincide with the release of Pirates of the Pacific: Talking Man's Curse.

In a few rare cases, it will be clear that the entire article is filled with misspellings and grammatical mistakes. But it will happen more often on Wikipedia, where many editors are not native English speakers, that the two or three offending paragraphs are buried somewhere in the middle of the article. So, given that the current wording of the tag is quite vague, it is necessary to provide more guidance as to what the problem is. In this example, then, one might say in the talk page something like "The spelling of the paragraph beginning "in 1953, a plaq was fuond..." is completely atrocious. The grammar seems to be OK, but the misspellings could be obscuring the grammatical problems." Or if an article's problem is grammar, and not spelling, then the talk page should say so. For example: "The final paragraph is one long run-on sentence. A few periods would help, and maybe we could even break that paragraph up into smaller paragraphs." This will allow a native English speaker to be bold and improve the article even if it is outside his area of expertise.

Even if the entire article is misspelled, it will be very useful to say it on the Talk page, since it will allow the next editor to inform the others of something like "I cleaned up the first two paragraphs but didn't have time to go through the rest of it."

The missing information tag (Missing information)

Example of template and article
In mathematics, a Zhang-Glüffliger prime is a prime number satisfying the Zhang-Glüffliger inequality. There are only six Zhang-Glüffliger primes, meaning that the set of Zhang-Glüffliger primes is finite. 2 is the only even Zhang-Glüffliger prime, while 3 and 17 are the Zhang-Glüffliger primes to also be Fermat primes. 61 is the only Zhang-Glüffliger prime to satisfy the congruence .

In 1965, John Zhang hypothesized on the finiteness of these primes. In 1982, Hans Glüffliger proved Zhang's hypothesis.

You don't have to supply in the talk page what the article is missing, because then you might just as well complete the article. But you DO have to give a good, general idea of what it is you think is missing.

For the sake of keeping the example short, we have used a stub. In practice, it might be better to reserve the use of this tag for articles too long to be considered stubs yet still somehow incomplete.

In the example, you don't have to be a mathematician to be able to tell that the article states there are just six Zhang-Glüffliger yet only lists four: 2, 3, 17, 61. No reason is given as to why the fifth and sixth Zhang-Glüffliger are not listed, nor can we even be sure that none of 7, 11, 13 are Zhang-Glüffliger primes (not to mention 19, 23, 29, ... 59). Also, the article doesn't say what the Zhang-Glüffliger inequality is; presumably the journals cited can provide the answer. These are the kinds of issues a responsible tagger would raise on the talk page of an article he's tagged as incomplete.

Sometimes the tag applies just to a section. In that case, the syntax between the curly braces is "Incomplete|section|date=Month Year"

Another alternative is to use

{{Expand section|1=
* Career from 1952 to 1960
* Final days after 1972 retirement
|

which provide a more specific location of the issue and specifies what needs fixing in the main body of the article. This type of tag is self documenting and will get a result even faster.

The rewrite tag (rewrite)

Example of template and article
Archimedes of Troy (Ancient Greek: Ἀρχιμήδης) (c. 384 BC – c. 312 BC) was a Greek mathematician, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Among his advances in astronomy are the foundation of a planetary measurement institute and the explanation of the principle of the retrograde. He is credited with designing innovative astrolabes, including one that bears his name. ...

The rewrite tag is frustratingly vague. Its canned text does not point to a specific problem (unlike copy edit tags like the grammar and spelling tags). The canned text also says that the Talk page "may contain suggestions." It better, or probably no one else will know why you tagged it. In our fictional example, the tagger put only the rewrite tag and no others, and the article had no other tags whatsoever. If someone removes a rewrite tag you place, you'd be very well advised to look for a more specific tag, instead of simply slapping the vague rewrite tag back on.

Before placing a rewrite tag, please look long and hard for a more suitable tag. If you honestly can't find one, then follow the canned text's link to the Talk page and leave a concise but detailed message explaining what in the article needs to be rewritten.

The "too many links" tag (overlinked)

Example of template and article
A bronchial contuberance is a surgical operation in which a long, thin tube is inserted into the bronchial aperture and a reading is take- A bronchial contuberance.[3] Since 2002, bronchial entuberances are preferred for patients with kidney conditions.[4] ...

Not every case of overlinking will be clear. When every word is a link the problem is obvious. If you tag an article as "overlinked", no one expects you to actually review each link (as you probably don't have the time to do so, and if you did it would just be easier for you to cut down some of the links). But it would be very helpful to others for you to leave on the talk page one example from the article where you don't think the link is terribly helpful or relevant. For this example, you might say something like "I don't think the links to either long or thin are all that helpful, there are probably other links in this article we could do without."