CZ:How to Collaborate

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Citizendium is a collaborative community. Your knowledge, with the next person's, and the next, build and shape, re-build and re-shape, the articles of this compendium.

So, how do a bunch of strangers manage to create a coherent encyclopedia article? Generally, it's like this: you see that a sentence needs rewording; so you reword it. You see an article that needs a whole new section; so you add it. You find that an article has much flabby prose; so you make it concise. Or you just know a lot about a particular subject and see much to change; so you go through and make a thorough overhaul. Many people can do all of those things to the same article, and something excellent can result.

Working closely with others often requires sensitivity and finesse. You might have deleted a sentence it took someone else five minutes (or five hours) to craft. Resentment and anger are often the immediate responses when someone else changes "your" words. Harsh words, abusive language, and other unpleasantness can happen. But it doesn't usually happen on Citizendium, and it doesn't have to happen. Polite discussion is key. We can avoid unpleasantness as a rule because we are all committed to working together. We know that working together means changing other people's work, making compromises, or (far better) coming up with a creative solution that satisfies everyone. The fluid nature of the text and writing allows for such creative, positive solutions.

To collaborate effectively, please look at the talk page regularly. Be polite and respectful. If you are angry, calm down and take a break before you write or do something rash. And if you are dealing with a person who really is unreasonable, do not "take matters into your own hands" by cussing the person out, but ask a constable to intervene (at That's what they're there for--to calm folks down and come to a sensible solution to complex problems of interaction.

We need to collaborate more

Many articles, especially from newer recruits, could obviously use help of a sort that would be obvious to any of "the regulars." If you are concerned about the project being as good as it can be, then please review recent changes regularly, linked on the left side of every wiki page and "poke in" and see what others are doing. Give both positive feedback and constructive criticism. If you notice that a new person is misusing categories or templates, or uploading something that isn't an encyclopedia article, or committing some other little error, just give a little (polite) guidance. A friendly word or two goes a long way.

Also, if you see an article that someone is evidently working hard on, that piques your interest--then you can dive into editing the article. It isn't owned by its main developer. Of course, it's always best to understand the narrative under development--so, read the article--and to make your contributions as high-quality as possible, but nobody owns any article.

But we can't expect collaboration

Bottom-up, unassigned, at-will collaboration means that you can't expect others to help out. They will if they want to. You, who would like comments on your work, might not think of comments on your contributions as "work," but commenters might view it that way if it was something they felt obliged to do.

How to get collaborators

If you want collaborators and don't have any, you can:

  • Ask individual editors for comments. Consult the Workgroups page for lists of authors in different subjects. This might help bring them out of the woodwork, you know. It's something we particularly encourage!
  • Editors have agreed to let Citizendium-Editors be used for feedback requests. So, editors, if you want to get input on an article or on a particular content question, you can always ask there.

Editors need to be bold

It is possible that what keeps a lot of editors from getting involved is that they are thinking of CZ articles as "someone else's inviolable text." That would be the case if we were constructing an anthology using a wiki, where each person is responsible only for his or her own assigned pages, and no one does anything else other than offer feedback. But CZ isn't an anthology.

Instead, we are engaged in "strong collaboration." That means that no individual or group of individuals is assigned to work on an article; the group of people who happen to work on an article is (or can be) ever-changing; people decide individually which article they want to work on; it isn't decided from above. (For more about this concept, see here.)

  • It really is all right for you to edit someone else's text. It is not an insult or a violation of anybody's rights to have their text edited. In fact, it's usually received as a sort of compliment. (See Group Editing for more, and this blog post for more about the psychology here.)
  • Editors (and authors), it's all the more OK for you to comment on someone else's text, on the talk page.

But editors also need to be open to collaboration

The flip side to the failure to understand the nature of wiki collaboration, on the part of some editors, is that when someone does get involved, they start to as it were "claim ownership" over what they're working on. This not only drives away other contributors, it is contrary to our community values.

Just remember, garbage isn't permanent. The existence of a little bad writing, bias, and inaccuracy is not an emergency that must be fixed immediately, at the cost of lost contributors. It should be removed, to be sure, but it is more important that we retain our fellows and keep them motivated. It's not an either-or proposition, either. We can politely correct our fellows without driving them off.

As a rule of thumb, it is better to discuss what is wrong with a piece of text on the talk page before you hack it to bits, and give the others a chance to respond first. Giving notice in this way isn't necessary if you are making small edits, but if there is any "hacking" going on, it is necessary; it certainly helps smooth the wheels of discourse. Sometimes the criticized party will make the necessary changes themselves. Sometimes, they'll be upset and will need calming down; you'll have to negotiate. Of course, you needn't ask permission before you add to an article. It's deleting or drastically altering that needs advance explanation. Again, you aren't asking "permission," as if there were an owner who had to agree to your change. Instead, you are explaining yourself for anyone who is interested; it's just a matter of courtesy.

For large amounts of deleted text, we require a fairly detailed explanation at the same time (or just before) you make the deletion. Unexplained deletion is actually contrary to our professionalism policy.

But we would prefer that people collaborate more actively, and make a few faux pas, than always "asking permission" and doing nothing. In short, please practice active, exuberant collaboration, and be open to it.

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