Clarify By Deleting

There is a long-standing and useful way to edit a large grubby page and draw the useful stuff out of it. You don't delete anything - you move the good stuff to the top and put a line under it. Do that. Don't delete discussion, abstract it.


Those that believe that there is such a thing as GoodTasteInDeletion see it as the only way for Wiki as a whole to become much clearer for new readers. Even though it involves more pain and self-discipline for a few writers, it will mean much less boredom for everyone, including the much greater number of readers (or lurkers).


Deletion usually doesn't lead to clarification. Summarization, editing and even rewriting often will. Perhaps it would be better for us to put SummariesOnTopDiscussionBelow and leave deletion to extreme cases or original authors. -- PhilGoodwin

This is suggested in TentativeSummary. Even for cases where the community as a whole agrees a convention is bad, the page can be "killed" by putting a summary to that effect, and dropping the deprecated discussion below the summary.

I love TentativeSummary, agree with lots of summarization, editing and even rewriting and have enjoyed PeterMerel's separation of ThreadMode into valuable stuff at the top and "drivel". When Peter put some of my own stuff in drivel I immediately took the hint and deleted it. It's getting the right balance. The WikiReductionists' main point is that there hasn't been anything like enough deletion for the overall health of Wiki. -- RichardDrake


Forget editing on Wiki for a moment.

When editing your own text, or someone else's text, deletion is often the most effective way to clarify. If the paper (or web page, or book, or whatever) is supposed to get X across, then delete everything that does not get X across. Choosing a different word, restructuring the sentence, restructuring the paragraph, restructuring the section - these are all ways of saying the same thing differently. Sometimes these help. But much more powerful is to not say less.

Ok, now back to Wiki. What sort of person typically posts to a Wiki? The sort who, in pursuit of unanticipatable new insight, keeps coming up with off-topic observations and hypotheses. The sort who is always adding to the entropy of any line of thought. I am that kind of person, and indeed the best edits on Wiki that I've ever been privileged to witness were deletions of my text by other people - sometimes part of what I wrote, sometimes all of it. These were good edits because they improved the page.

In practice, deletion on Wiki is usually the most effective way to clarify. Adding text to a page nearly always makes it worse. Deleting additions-that-worsen makes a page better, and most pages are overrun with such additions.

Therefore I propose: Err on the side of deleting too much. Obviously, don't delete good stuff. But when cleaning up dust-bunnies, graffiti, off-topic musings, failed attempts at humor, labored points, details and provisos and exceptions and caveats that no one needs explained, me-too groveling, etc., get out the scalpel and cut without mercy.

But: Let even bad text sit at least two weeks (unless it's extremely uncivil). Bad text is good, because it fuels tangents that ultimately lead to new ideas being developed (ultimately on pages of their own). It just needs to be cleaned up after a while, and the clean-up should be merciless. Save a copy of the deleted text, and post a note saying that people can email you if they want it back. When in doubt, move extraneous text to another page. And never DisagreeByDeleting.

-- BenKovitz


There are certain pages on wiki that I care about and I intend to maintain them. If you disagree with their content I invite you to add comments or to constructively edit them. But bear in mind that I have them archived. If you simply delete them then I will simply replace them. -- PhilGoodwin

Those of us who have deleted a lot of text in the WikiOnWiki area today have done so (of course) because we disagreed with those who think that those pages are better bigger rather than very small. Let's discuss it, perhaps even vote on it. But of course if the "reducers" win the argument it will lead to deletion, as it should, because that's what the argument's about.

I will continue to make what edits I consider to be appropriate. I am sure that others will do the same. If we communicate successfully with each other then I'm sure that we'll end up with something close enough to consensus to avoid generating endless senseless noise. It is not my intent to etch my opinions in stone here. I accept that what I write will often be changed, but I expect those changes to be made with respect and good will and I will certainly not tolerate outright censorship. -- PhilGoodwin


If you don't like the conversation stay out of it. Deleting it so that others may not participate is wrong.

I'm not sure about that with WikiOnWiki. I have some sympathy with the continue with the butchery of any WikiOnWiki garbage all you want below, for example. -- RichardDrake

If the end result has a high signal to noise ratio once the whole thing has quieted down then it may be possible to refactor by reorganizing, summarizing and even deleting parts. But there is real value to being respectful of one's peers so if you delete someone else's words, especially if you delete a great number of them, put them somewhere where they can be gotten back. But remember that RefactoringWithoutBias can be difficult and sometimes impossible. It's better to disagree by disagreeing if that's what you are trying to do. Save refactoring and deletion for cool-headed, even-handed, editing. -- PhilGoodwin

Deletion does not necessarily imply disrespect for the person. Did DavidSaff's father show him respect with his RedPenObsession? I say the biggest respect possible. But no respect at all for his woolly thinking or expression. -- RichardDrake

I do this same thing with my wife's writing. At the end of the day she takes some of my suggestions, leaves the rest and thanks me. I submit that if she didn't have the option of accepting my edits I wouldn't get thanked. Making suggestions is respectful, forcing ones will on others is not. People tend to err on the side of forcing their will so if you are in doubt it's probably a good idea to back off a little and start trying to communicate more. -- PhilGoodwin


Continue with the butchery of any WikiOnWiki garbage all you want.

I agree with this, with one proviso. The moment WardCunningham chooses to make clear his preference on any issue debated in WikiOnWiki pages, we delete everything but Ward's view. And then do what he says. Unless this principle is accepted by the vast majority on Wiki I'm out of here. -- RichardDrake

Ward doesn't delete everything but his own view. Why should anyone else do so?

I take the view that the WikiOnWiki debate is harmful to the focus of Wiki at the moment and that a lot of it is not worth keeping, because it confuses newcomers. As do the long instructions in DeleteAndArchive and the like. We just don't need this code. I've just talked to another first time Wiki browser today who quite unsolicited said he was confused by the "instructions" for Wiki being so long and inconclusive. The simplest way for fruitless WikiOnWiki debate to end - on issues such as TypesOfSignature for example - is to follow Ward's expressed preference. I'm only applying this to WikiOnWiki issues. And Ward clearly has the freedom not to express an opinion! -- RichardDrake

From WhyNotRefactorHomePages:

"I have laid down the law, as strongly as I can without destroying the effects I sought. See GoodStyle, WikiHistory -- Ward"


See also DisagreeByDeleting, JunkBox


CategoryWikiRefactoring CategoryDelete

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