Don’t strut your stuff! How to avoid “Peacocking” on Wikipedia.

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Writing for Wikipedia requires a subtle touch when it comes to superlatives. We explain why sometimes "best" may be the "worst."

One of the more colorfully phased Wikipedia policies is called “Peacocking”. While part of the Manual of Style, it reflect a core principles of Wikipedia: Neutral Point of View. Wikipedi wants to be a repository for objectively true, unbiased information. That’s one of the reasons Wikipedia has developed a lengthy Manual of Style that require using language that is objective.  When an article speaks in the voice of Wikipedia, it should be not a subjective judgment. And that is even more so the case when the subjective terms are flattering. This is what Wikipedia describes as “peacocking” or “puffery.”

Not only do Wikipedia’s volunteer editors go to lengths to root out peacocking, but our observation is that even casual readers of the encyclopedia won’t take a page as seriously if it veers into promotional language.

What is “peacocking” on Wikipedia?

“Peacocking” is the Wikipedia “Manual of Style” shorthand for using language to show off or brag.  The encyclopedia even has a list of particular “words to watch” that  are often used to  describe a topic in laudatory terms. Wikipedia frowns on these kinds of words because of their potential to introduce bias into articles.  

What are some examples of “peacock” words?

Examples of peacocking include words like:

  • Iconic
  • Innovative
  • Celebrated
  • Revolutionary 

But peacocking also shows up in less flashy words, like “leading” and “award winning.”  Even when these phrases are objectively true, if the wording is showy, and the fact can be accomplished in a less flattering way, then it should be. For example, just include the noteworthy award, rather than characterizing a person as “award winning.”

Why doesn’t Wikipedia like these kinds of words?

Instead of imparting unbiased and verifiable information about a subject, these words are subjective judgments. When these judgements are presented as objective fact, Wikipedia editors will cry foul.  Wikipedia does not want to be used for advertising, marketing or promotions and this type of showy language is an indicator that Wikipedia policies are not being kept top of mind.

But what if the information has been reported in a reputable publication?

Even if a respected news source like the Los Angeles Times described a movie as “iconic film of the 2000s,” Wikipedia does not want to repeat that language in its own voice. Someone else might disagree, after all. Either the language should be omitted or on some cases, a direct quote can be used if attributed to the source. But even that’s not always the case – are there also quotes from those who disagree? Are there so many quotes of praise that in combination, the page starts to sound like a movie poster? The particulars of every case can vary depending on context. 

This kind of nuanced understanding of policy is especially important for users who have a declared Conflict of Interest (COI). Proposing a new page or updates to an existing page about you, your company, family, friends, clients, employers, personal financial interests, and other close relationships constitutes a COI on Wikipedia. Public disclosure of the COI is mandatory; and direct publishing or editing of pages is not allowed.

COI editors are held to exceptionally high standards when it comes to peacocking. Even the most subtle violation are often flagged by Wikipedia’s corps of volunteer editors. The required review prior to publication is specifically  to weed out this type of language. And if a user fails to disclose a COI, the use of this type of language might be all the proof an admin needs to place a warning flag on a page about undisclosed paid editing, and perhaps even ban the user and their IP address.

That’s why a detailed understanding of Wikipedia’s extensive policies is critical. Because even a seemingly straightforward concept like “peacocking” requires a nuanced understanding of context and application. As we’ve seen for more than a decade as a professional Wikipedia agency, the policy is far more involved than avoiding certain words. 

It also entails: 

Sticking to the facts:

  • Information must be presented factually without exaggeration or embellishment.
  • Reliable, verifiable sources must be used to support all content.

Maintaining neutrality: 

  • Superlatives like “best” or “prominent” should not be asserted in the voice of Wikipedia. If superlatives are used at all, they must be attributed as a stated claim in a reliable source. 
  • All language must be carefully balanced in a way that does not overly praise or criticize the subject.

Providing contextual relevance

  • Only information that is relevant and necessary for understanding the subject should be included. Any unnecessary details that serve to glorify the subject will get the language flagged.
  • Extensive research is required to ensure that the prominence of different aspects of the subject is proportionate to their coverage in reliable sources.

Using proper citations

  • ALL statements and claims must be cited to reliable sources. Citations must be formatted properly and placed precisely within the article in order to support the content.
  • Extensive research is required to find a variety of sources that will provide a balanced perspective, rather than cherry-picking sources that only offer praise.


How Can WhiteHatWiki help?

WHW is one of the only Wikipedia agencies that strictly abides by Wikipedia policies, especially COI disclosure. We specialize in “white hat” consulting in “conflict of interest” (COI) situations. WHW can work with qualified clients to create a draft or proposal that will abide by Wikipedia’s labyrinth of policies to the satisfaction of Wikipedia’s tough, independent reviewers.  There’s no need to peacock on a well-done page.



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