Should this become the official WikiTree policy on "Explain your changes" ?

+39 votes
After spending way too much time this morning, reviewing changes made to profiles I manage, I would like to propose that the "Explain your changes" field become mandatory when editing.   Most of the changes were a well meaning member who added a category to hundreds of profiles in a short period of time.   I am sure that others were also affected.   But, this happens everyday, where I spend time looking at changes people have made to profiles I manage.   While I always let the person know that they should use the field, I think that most just think I am picky.....Am I?
asked in Policy and Style by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (472k points)
retagged by Robin Lee
I understand that people could put gibberish in the field, but, for many of would be a good reminder to put "something".   Also, I like the idea of putting it closer to the SAVE button.
This topic has come up before.  I still would not mind a reminder that I forgot to explain changes when saving them. I find them helpful to keep track of myself.   I do not care what is or is not entered by others.   I still look: did they do what they said, was it helpful, did they make an error, etc.
It would seem like this does not have the "desire" from the community, should I close this question?
Not sure Robin, but for my own part I often omit putting something in that box, particularly when doing a string of edits on a profile, I do save as I go along, have lost work too often when I didn't.  I will put a general message of ''added data and sources'' instead of a more specific one in those cases where I'm working on profile improvement aspect.  On some where I fix place names or given names, I'll put the message that I've changed names to align with era, or taken them out of Middle name field since that stuff doesn't exist in French, they are all given names.
I agree that it would be good to have an "explain your changes" box also near the bottom Save button, and/or a reminder when one has saved without having added any explanation information.
@ Danielle

In the case where I have multiple edits on a single profile, I am the same way...the first edit gets a reason of multiple edits, adding sources, correcting data, and the last one gets a reason of "finished"
We all have our shortcuts here. I put a specific reason for one change. If I do a lot of work on a profile with no bio or sources I put ‘interim save’ several times... then put ‘added to bio and sources’ for my final change. That’s my own cue to look at the profile for final changes.

"Interim save" - I like that.smiley

I totally understand where you are coming from, but I do not always add an explanation. I am on a tablet until I can get myself a new computer. I save often because I have lost work because it decided that I needed to refresh the page or the page froze. A lot of my changes are fixing format errors (example: italics in the source citation where it was forgotten, fixing ref tag errors, etc.) I do not usually add when that is the case. But some of these are major changes like adding a biography section where there is not one, adding a children's list with sources, residence information with sources, etc. I do try to post one when I am making major changes like that. Although a lot of the time I am working on orphaned profiles, especially when the LNAB is entered incorrectly. My point being is that entering an explanation all the time would be good in some instances, but in others like fixing a typo or a format error becomes tedious.
I hear you Jeanne. I tend to work on my own profiles as I've still tons to add, and it doesn't occur to me to explain my own changes. That being said, it would probably save some pain and additional work when working on others' profiles.

13 Answers

+18 votes
Suspect that Eddie is right. It won't make too much difference to slackers, though it might save as a reminder to those of us with a more conscientious (but forgetful) disposition!

I am reminded about just how many times we "forget" to add sources although it's told to us all over WikiTree. Determining what profiles to merge is a mess- ask anyone who attempts the task. And rather difficult to do without any sourcing.

Eddie is soooo right! Sigh!
answered by Dorothy Coakley G2G6 Pilot (170k points)
That's my thinking--it won't solve 100% of the problems, but that's not a good enough reason to reject it. Is it worth the additional grumbling to get even 20% fewer changes without stated reasons? I think so.
+16 votes
No, you're not just being picky.  But I don't see how it could be enforced; you could write anything in the field.  :-(
answered by Nan Lambert G2G6 Pilot (206k points)
+8 votes
I wonder if adding a category couldn't automatically be self identifying.  If you add info to a biography it automatically adds what was done to the change page.  OTOH, I admit I just look  at pages which have been modified so I don't spend much time worrying about what sort of changes have been made.
answered by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (368k points)
+17 votes
The "Explain your changes" field needs to also be added when Parent/Child relationships are added so we can show evidence of why the change is done and also the whole Marriage area needs to have a "Explain your changes" field as well. Speaking as a Data Doctor who works on errors like "Marriage end after death" It annoys me that I can't put a reason that I have removed or adjusted a date when I am actually fixing the mistake that was made. Yes I could place a Public message on both profiles but that can be easily missed more than a field on the actual Marriage edit page. And the fact that changes are only recorded on one profile with what has changed in marriages makes it had for PM's sometimes to work out what has changed.
answered by Darren Kellett G2G6 Mach 9 (92.5k points)

Darren, I agree that some changes are not given the chance for explanation and they should have that option.

Here is a work around you can add to the Edit Text Box so that at least a notation is kept on your actions.

Use  <!--  Why I did this -->   The "Why I did this"  will not show up in the normal Profile View, but if someone hits the Edit Tab, it can be viewed there.  The  <!--  and  --> hide anything written between them in normal view.

Yes, it is weird that they omit the comment field for the thing that probably requires more comment than anything else.
+15 votes
I heartily agree with you.  In fact, I have been suggesting this for years. In fact, on the one or two times I have forgotten, I have almost instantly got a polite email from the PM asking why have I done such-and-such a thing?
answered by Ros Haywood G2G6 Pilot (522k points)
+14 votes
Maybe with a more neutral prompt like "Describe your changes" rather than "explain" which feels a bit like "justify" or "defend" your changes.  I agree that the lack of info provided by default in the family activity feed is frustrating.  

However I agree with other posters concerned that adding yet another mandatory task to the user interface would result in some or many users simply populating the field with minimal and unhelpful info.
answered by E. Compton G2G6 Pilot (112k points)
+19 votes

Wikipedia (the English version at least) encourages contributors to create "edit summaries" (their terminology for "explain your changes") by giving reminders (to members who have opted to receive reminders) when they start to save an edit without adding an edit summary. (The reminder message says "Reminder: You have not provided an edit summary. Edit summaries help other users understand the intention of your edits. Please enter one before you click Publish changes again, or your edit will be saved without one.") The importance of edit summaries is reinforced by a policy of reviewing a member's use of edit summaries when the member is being considered for extra privileges on the site.

When contributing to Wikipedia, I find these reminders helpful because it's easy to forget that I haven't written a summary yet. A feature of Wikipedia that makes it easier for me to create edit summaries is the ability to preview the editing changes that will appear in the change history after the edit is made. I like this because sometimes when I'm saving an edit I have already forgotten an important change I am making in that particular edit. And it definitely improves the quality of my Wikipedia edit summaries.

I don't know if the technical features for creating reminders of omitted summaries and previewing changes are available in the version of Wikimarkup that WikiTree uses. If they are, both would help accomplish the goals of Robin's proposal.

answered by Ellen Smith G2G6 Pilot (892k points)
+6 votes

I think the only way to encourage use of the Explain your changes field would be to add a verification page that must be completed before we could save our edits.

The verification page could include a checklist of various points:

  1. Did you provide new source documentation or reference existing documentation for your changes?
  2. Have you reviewed the accuracy of your changes?
  3. Will your changes pose any potential privacy, copyright, or plagiarism problems?
  4. Did you collaborate with the profile manager before you edited this profile?
  5. This profile is Pre-1700. Have you checked for a relevant Project?

Questions such as the above would help us pay better attention to our work, while reminding us that we are a community working together and of our Honor Code.

answered by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (155k points)
edited by Lindy Jones
Good grief! With that kind of bureaucracy, who would ever again fix a typo, add a source to an unsourced profile, or help another member with a malformed ref tag?
Yeah, I see your point, Lindy, but to me, that's too much.

I don't see a single verification page as bureaucracy, Ellen. I would happily work under such a system; I imagine other serious genealogists would, too.

And, as WikiTree membership "ups its game" because of a requirement to verify one's work, we might eventually put an end to typos (or at least duplicates)!!

I don't see how verifying the accuracy and validity of our work can ever be too much, Nan.

Do we want to continue to allow quantity for the sake of quantity; or do we want to encourage quality in our work, first and foremost?


sorry no, if I had to do that sort of list after each edit I did, I would promptly start screaming and shut it all down.  Realize that lots of people who work on profile improvements save repeatedly during an edit of a profile, just so they don't lose the work already done.  Which can and has gone off into the ether often enough to make regular saving a must.  I'm already pre-1700 certified, so why should I go through that rigmarole again?  And I'm project coordinator on a project and subprojects, do I need to talk to myself about my work?

A verification page could be programmed to accommodate a variety of situations to prevent having to complete the form repeatedly:

making minor edits to multiple profiles, please skip verification process

making multiple saves, please skip verification process

high level badge holder, please skip verification process

I can't take it any more, please skip verification process


lol, no, the program is already reaching limits where bugs are appearing more and more, certainly don't want to add more complexities to it and have it go totally bonkers.
+11 votes
One idea that might be a totally impractical to program but here it is.

The challenge tracker has a drop down list of possible changes  to tick and the alternative option to write one's own version.

Would it be at all possible to have  a similar prompt on saving changes ? ( plus such essentials as  interim save ie because you are scared of losing everything you have written, formatting because you didn't get the ref tags right, and typo because that person really wasn't born in Novemember)

You  would then either tick the appropriate prompt or add your own version but it  would be necessary to do one or the other before the work is saved

Hopefully it could also be saved to the appropriate challenge tracker,  thus killing two birds with one stone.
answered by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (195k points)
Hi Helen,

I find that the field remembers what I use and all I do is put the first letter of what I am doing, such as Added sources & updated information; I enter a and it brings up the list of what I have typed into that field.  But I agree the challenge tracker sort of thing would be nice.
+11 votes
I'm probably an outlier here.

I've worked on doing software development for over 20 years. I've worked on open source software projects for over 15 years. Software engineers are notoriously reluctant to add comments to their code, which is the equivalent here of "explain your changes".

However, one who is "skilled in the art" of software engineering can create a "diff" of what changed in the programming code, from before to after. A vast majority of that time, it is usually very clear what changed and why.

Because WikiTree is based on a Wiki, where every change is saved, we have access to the same kinds of information. All I need to do is go to the Changes tab of any profile, and I can see exactly what lines have been changed, removed or added. A vast majority of the time it's easy to quickly understand what happened. I don't need an additional explanation of what changed.

Because of this, I don't get upset when someone makes a change on my profiles, and they don't put in an explanation. The list of Changes to the profile is almost always self-explanatory.

The issue, for me, then becomes whether I agree with those changes, or not. Or if I have to make additional modifications or corrections on top of someone else's changes. The only time where I question someone else's changes is when they add data that has no clear source for it. Even then, I treat that case as a "suggestion", and I try to look harder for a source to corroborate their suggestion.

I haven't had too many problems by doing all of this.

But then again, I just may be an outlier. YMMV.
answered by Eric Weddington G2G6 Pilot (158k points)

I would appreciate having a differences button next to the preview button.

I tend to skip an edit summary when I have been looking at a profile for a while, and can't remember which changes were in this edit. I leave it blank rather than claim that the big thing I changed was in this edit, when I in fact saved that half an hour ago, or claim I just did a few small spelling fixes when in fact I added three new paragraphs with references before I fixed the spelling in the same edit. A blank comment forcing reviewers to look at the diffs is better than an edit comment that is misleading or false.


I don't know if it is technically possible to do what I THINK you are asking for, but I like it.  The only time I don't explain my changes anymore is when I allow myself to become distracted and can't remember what changes or whether I have made any changes to a profile or not.  Just to be on the safe side, I'll hit "Save" before I leave the page. Sometimes it will tell me "you haven't made any changes to save" and sometimes it will dutifully save the page, leaving me feeling guilty because I haven't explained the change I just made.

You shouldn't feel guilty about not explaining the changes you just saved.

If you want, you can always go back to the Changes tab, see what changes were just saved. Then go back to Edit, and write in a description of those changes, and click Save.

This is the beauty of a wiki. We always have access to every single change throughout the history (minus merges of course). If a change is not self-evident (and I argue that most of them are), then one can always make comments and save them, after the fact.

@Reba - I am asking for exactly the same as Wikipedia has, there is a text box and three buttons at the end of the edit window - Edit summary, Publish changes, Show preview and Show changes. Wikitree doesn't presently let me see what changes I have made until after I have saved it and looked back at the changes tab.

I'd also like to see categories in the preview window so I can check if I added the right ones in a new tab.

@Eric - yes, we can see what was actually done, but it's quicker to focus on the changes you want to read if there is an edit comment - either from your watchlist or looking at the history of a profile trying to find which change is the one you want to check up on.

+7 votes
I'll admit I don't put a reason on every change.  If I'm changing anything in the vitals section, adding to the bio, adding sources, etc., I always do but then, being the A-type person that I am, I go back and find little things to tweak (capitalize something, forgot an accessed date on a URL, etc.) and I admit I rarely put in a reason for those things. Should I be doing it for EVERY change?
answered by Marcie Ruiz G2G6 Mach 1 (10k points)
When I do small tweaks, like fixing typos, I have a standard change for that. Minor Edits - is what its called and its first on the list when I click the changes box so that is what is added as an explanation.

For bigger things I give a more comprehensive explanation of what I have done, but for fixing typos, I just use minor edits. I am so in the habit of filling in that changes box, that it no longer bothers me.

 - for 'small' ones  - - I use shorthands - - (edit text, sources format.) - - and a short  - - ( Links) and  (wikitree | Links) - and so on = for a good long look, then go Changes =  ja

+4 votes
Now that I am no longer new, I always want to add something, but sometimes I forget. So I think it would be a good reminder if  that field could pop up whenever it is blank, before the profile is finally saved.
answered by N. Gauthier G2G6 Mach 3 (37.1k points)
+2 votes

YES !   -

- Remember : it is an auto-fill field on most modern computers - so a succinct comment is all that is required if you are doing the same type of edits/adds - - (Cat : VC) - or - (edit BDM) - or - (edit text, Trove Link) - or - ( |) - or - ( | ) - - - (753 Prefix in Nicknames) data docs - and so on - - -

This comment on the Contribs page, can be used with the "Ctrl+F" as a search function, when looking for similar types of Profile - - -

I , too, would like it to be at the footer, and the RED warning flag show if empty - -

A duplicate  "Preview" button at the Header would be beneficial too, saving time to find it at the footer - -  cheers - john.a

answered by John Andrewartha G2G6 Mach 4 (41.7k points)

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