wikiHow:WikiHow is Not Perfect

wikiHow is not perfect. We are a wiki which is and will always be a work in progress. Yes, wikiHow does and should improve in quality and quantity every month. In several decades time, we expect that it will be phenomenally better than it is today, but it will never be absolutely perfect. Ironically, attempts to prevent imperfect content from ever existing on wikiHow are damaging to the growth and vitality of our wiki. This counter intuitive phenomenon is best described by Ben Kovitz, the wiki expert who actually introduced Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger to the concept of wikis and ultimately gave birth to Wikipedia:

Ben Kovitz said:

Error and imperfection drive wikis. Preventing error kills wikis.

When someone posts a factual error or poorly worded description, that motivates others to correct it or improve it. A perfected, polished piece of writing does not trigger improvement. Trying to prevent poor or inaccurate text from ever getting into the system would undermine collaboration before it.

Wikis are peculiarly positioned to turn disagreement into growth: instead of one party backing down, or merely reverting a poor edit, a good editor will incorporate what's good in an imperfect edit into new content or structure that no one previously anticipated. This is the essence of what makes wikis so fertile. Text on a good wiki is not a compromise, but true synergy.

Consequently, wikis trade off between reliability and fertility. Wikipedia is not completely reliable, but it is this very unreliability that has triggered its unprecedented growth of useful content.

As Ben has been involved with wikis longer than anyone at wikiHow, it makes sense to listen to the lessons he has observed over many years. At wikiHow, we should be very careful before advocating deletion or Q&D merging of an article. Such a move is final and forever prevents that content from blossoming into something useful. Yes, ugly, incomplete and borderline useless stubs annoy everyone, but by killing them early, we will guarantee that they never have time to grow into something we can be proud of. The wiki process thrives on imperfection in the near term to create beauty in the long term. You can't have one without the other.

Wikipedia has come to a similar conclusion. From the "Editing Policy" of Wikipedia" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Editing_policy

From Wikipedia:
It is wonderful when someone adds a complete, well-written, final draft to Wikipedia. This should always be encouraged.

However, one of the great advantages of the Wiki system is that incomplete or poorly written first drafts of articles can evolve into polished, presentable masterpieces through the process of collaborative editing. This gives our approach an advantage over other ways of producing similar end-products. Hence, the submission of rough drafts should also be encouraged as much as possible.

One person can start an article with, perhaps, an overview or a few random facts. Another person can add a minority opinion. Someone else can round off the article with additional perspectives. Yet another can play up an angle that has been neglected, or reword the earlier opinions to a more neutral point of view. Another person might have facts and figures or a graphic to include, and yet another might fix the spelling and grammatical errors that have crept in throughout these multiple edits.

As all this material is added, anyone may contribute to turn it into a more cohesive whole. Then, more text may be added, and it may also be rewritten.

During this process, the article might look like a first draft—or worse, a random collection of notes and factoids. Rather than being horrified by this ugliness, we should rejoice in its potential, and have faith that the editing process will turn it into brilliant prose. Of course, we do not have to like it; we may occasionally criticize substandard work, in addition to simply correcting it. It is most important that it is corrected, if it can be corrected. For text that is beyond hope we will remove the offending section to the corresponding talk page, or, in cases in which the article obviously has no redeeming merit whatsoever, delete it outright. The decision to take the latter action should not be made lightly, however.

Wikipedia's editing policy goes on to say that the effort to preserve information is always a first option over deletion:

From Wikipedia:
Whatever you do, endeavour to preserve information. Instead of deleting, try to:
  • rephrase
  • correct the inaccuracy while keeping the content
  • move text within an article or to another article (existing or new)
  • add more of what you think is important to make an article more balanced
  • request a citation by adding the [citation needed] tag

The same holds true for wikiHow. When patrolling recent changes, instead of just rolling back a poorly worded edit, see if you can re-write it and work it into the article. On new article patrol, if you see a well written duplicate, instead of just putting it up for deletion, see if you can work it into an existing article so the information can be retained. And when it comes to nominating or voting on articles for deletion, make sure all other options have been considered before taking the final, irreversible path to deletion.

EditSome Examples from wikiHow

To see some examples of stubs blossoming into Featured Articles look at these articles here:




What does this tell us? It tells us that the wiki method works. If you find yourself getting impatient with low quality articles on wikiHow and wanting to delete them before they have a chance to develop, consider the long term ramifications. Try to take the long view and recognize that we are also building wikiHow for the generations to come after us. Every day, wikiHow does get better.

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