This is an essay on conduct policy.
When a discussion is unproductive, incivility is often blamed, but this puts the cart before the horse: incivility is often a result of unproductive discussion, not its cause. Productive discussion demands going beyond civility: while civility is very important, four other patterns of behavior are just as important to reaching a productive outcome:
- 1. Acknowledge precedent.
- Ignoring precedent, intentionally or not, leads to repeating old arguments, which can frustrate everyone. You have an obligation to understand how similar situations have been handled in the past, and to act in light of that understanding. If there is a precedent for the present situation, but you think an exception should be made, acknowledge the consensus and explain why it shouldn't apply. If you want to challenge the consensus itself, do so at the right venue. ("Precedent" includes – in decreasing order of priority – all the policies, guidelines, and closed discussions that bear on the matter at hand.)
- 2. Avoid logical fallacies.
- Fallacious arguments don't convince, they only frustrate productive discussion. Make sure your conclusions are relevant, objectively and succinctly stated, and follow logically from the available information. Justify your assumptions and generalizations. Be precise. Understand where the burden of proof lies, and what the status quo is. When you see logical fallacies being committed, point them out – civilly of course.
- 3. Don't go meta.
- Make sure you're addressing address the original question, not the argument about the question, or an argument about the argument. If you have an issue with how another editor conducts themselves, you may note this, but if discussion continues along that line, it should be taken to another forum (see Wikipedia:Dispute resolution). Once you get more than one level of abstraction away from the original question, it is very unlikely that anything you say is going to help resolve that original question.
- 4. Don't repeat yourself.1
- Consensus is determined by the soundness of arguments and the support they receive from different editors, not how often they are expressed, or whether they have the last word. Closers will review the discussion with this in mind. Repeating yourself to someone who wasn't convinced the first time won't produce your desired outcome – it will only generate aggravation. If you need to clarify a point or address a misunderstanding, go ahead – but make sure you're not just saying the same thing over again.
The point of any discussion is to get to a resolution. If you ignore precedent, employ a logical fallacy, stray into meta-discussion, or argue by exhaustion, you make a productive outcome less likely. If you knowingly do any of these things, you are not acting in good faith, even if you remain civil. So repeat these rules to yourself like a mantra: Acknowledge precedent. Avoid logical fallacies. Don't go meta. Don't repeat yourself.
- ^ 1. This does not apply to user talk warnings; if an editor is engaging in behavior that the community has clearly defined as unacceptable, repetition and escalation of warning messages is standard procedure.