Baystation 12:Better article writing

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This is an essay by Skeeveo ❯❯❯ Talk with some content from Wikipedia.


Baystation 12 is not expecting Wikipedia level writing ability, those articles are often perfected over years of work. The Baystation 12 wiki does however, expect you to make your article look presentable and be readable for most audiences. You may consider this essay a supplement to the Guide to Contributing to the Wiki - which is designed for new users to begin editing. You may find that this is of more advanced nature, focused on lore writing and writing in the style of a wiki.

This essay sets out to help you write a better article that everybody can enjoy and is consistent with existing articles. It should be noted this essay takes some parts from Wikipedia's own style guide.

Layout

Layout matters. Good articles start with introductions, continue with a clear structure, and end with standard appendices such as references and related articles.

Structure

Good articles start with a brief lead section introducing the topic. All but the shortest articles should start with introductory text (the "lead"). The lead should establish significance, include mention of consequential or significant criticism or controversies, and be written in a way that makes readers want to know more. The appropriate length of the lead depends on that of the article, but should normally be no more than four paragraphs. The lead itself has no heading and, on pages with more than three headings, automatically appears above the table of contents, if present.

The article should begin with a short declarative sentence, answering two questions for the nonspecialist reader: "What (or who) is the subject?" and "Why is this subject notable?"

  • If possible, the page title should be the subject of the first sentence: However, if the article title is merely descriptive—such as Electrical characteristics of a dynamic loudspeaker—the title does not need to appear verbatim in the main text. Similarly, where an article title is of the type "List of ...", a clearer and more informative introduction to the list is better than verbatim repetition of the title.
  • When the page title is used as the subject of the first sentence, it may appear in a slightly different form, and it may include variations.
  • If its subject is amenable to definition, then the first sentence should give a concise definition: where possible, one that puts the article in context for the nonspecialist. Similarly, if the subject is a term of art, provide the context as early as possible.

First Sentence

  • As a general rule, the first (and only the first) appearance of the page title should be in boldface as early as possible in the first sentence.
The SEV Torch is a research ship apart of the Sol Central Government.
  • However, if the title of a page is descriptive and does not appear verbatim in the main text, then it should not be in boldface

Then proceed with a description. Remember, the basic significance of a topic may not be obvious to nonspecialist readers, even if they understand the basic characterization or definition. Tell them.

Rest of the lead section

If the article is long enough for the lead section to contain several paragraphs, then the first paragraph should be short and to the point, with a clear explanation of what the subject of the page is. The following paragraphs should give a summary of the article. They should provide an overview of the main points the article will make, summarizing the primary reasons the subject matter is interesting or notable, including its more important controversies, if there are any.

The appropriate length of the lead section depends on the total length of the article. As a general guideline:

Article Length Lead Length
Fewer than 15,000 characters One or two paragraphs
15,000–30,000 characters Two or three paragraphs
More than 30,000 characters Three or four paragraphs

"Lead follows body"

The sequence in which you edit should usually be: first change the body, then update the lead to summarize the body. Several editors might add or improve some information in the body of the article, and then another editor might update the lead once the new information has stabilized. Don't try to update the lead first, hoping to provide direction for future changes to the body. There are three reasons why editing the body first and then making the lead reflect it tends to lead to better articles.

Paragraphs

Paragraphs should be short enough to be readable, but long enough to develop an idea. Overly long paragraphs should be split up, as long as the cousin paragraphs keep the idea in focus.

  • One-sentence paragraphs are unusually emphatic, and should be used sparingly. Articles should rarely, if ever, consist solely of such paragraphs.
  • Some paragraphs are really tables or lists in disguise. They should be rewritten as prose or converted to their unmasked form.

Size

Excessively long articles should usually be avoided. Articles should ideally contain less than 50KB worth of prose. When articles grow past this amount of readable text, they can be broken up into smaller articles to improve readability and ease of editing, or may require trimming to remain concise. The headed sub-section should be retained, with a concise version of what has been removed under an italicized header, such as Main article: History of Ruritania Each article on a subtopic should be written as a stand-alone article—that is, it should have a lead section, headings, et cetera.

When an article is long and has many sub articles, try to balance the main page. Do not put undue weight into one part of an article at the cost of other parts. In shorter articles, if one subtopic has much more text than another subtopic, that may be an indication the subtopic should have its own page, with only a summary presented on the main page.

Informative style and tone

Two styles, closely related and not mutually exclusive, tend to be used for Wiki articles. The tone, however, should always remain formal, impersonal, and dispassionate.

These styles are summary style, which is the arrangement of a broad topic into a main article and side articles, each with subtopical sections; and the inverted pyramid style (or news style, though this term is ambiguous), which prioritizes key information to the top, followed by supporting material and details, with background information at the bottom.

A feature of both styles, and of all Wiki articles, is the presence of the lead section, a summarizing overview of the most important facts about the topic. The infobox template found at the top of many articles is a further distillation of key points.

Tone

Tone is often the hardest to grasp for most new writers. Once tone is mastered however, other concepts will fall into place.

Articles should not be written from a first- or second-person perspective. In prose writing, the first-person (I/me/my and we/us/our) point of view and second-person (you and your) point of view typically evoke a strong narrator. While this is acceptable in works of fiction and in monographs, it is unsuitable in an encyclopedia, where the writer should be invisible to the reader. Moreover, pertaining specifically to Baystation 12's policies, the first person often inappropriately implies a point of view inconsistent with fictional neutrality, while second person is associated with the step-by-step instructions of a how-to guide, which a wiki is not. (With the exception to those labelled as guides.) First- and second-person pronouns should ordinarily be used only in attributed direct quotations relevant to the subject of the article. As with many such guidelines, however, there can be occasional exceptions. For instance, the "inclusive we" is widely used in professional mathematics writing, and though discouraged on Baystation 12 even for that subject, it has sometimes been used when presenting and explaining examples. Use common sense to determine whether the chosen perspective is in the spirit of the guidelines.

Punctuation marks that appear in the article should be used only per generally accepted practice. Exclamation marks (!) should be used only if they occur in direct quotations. This is generally true of question marks (?) as well; do not pose rhetorical questions for the reader.

Avoid news style's close sibling, persuasive style, which has many of those faults and more of its own, most often various kinds of appeal to emotion and related fallacies. This style is used in press releases, advertising, op-ed writing, activism, propaganda, proposals, formal debate, reviews, and much tabloid and sometimes investigative journalism. It is not a Wiki's role to try to convince the reader of anything, only to provide the salient facts as best they can be determined, and the reliable sources for them.

Provide context

People who read Baystation 12's articles have different backgrounds, education and opinions. Make your article accessible and understandable for as many readers as possible. Assume readers are reading the article to learn. It is possible that the reader knows nothing about the subject, so the article needs to explain the subject fully.

Avoid using jargon whenever possible. Consider the reader. An article entitled "Use of chromatic scales in early Baroque music" is likely to be read by musicians, and technical details and terms are appropriate, linking to articles explaining the technical terms. On the other hand, an article entitled "Baroque music" is likely to be read by laypersons who want a brief and plainly written overview, with links to available detailed information. When jargon is used in an article, a brief explanation should be given within the article. Aim for a balance between comprehensibility and detail so that readers can gain information from the article.

Evaluation

Here are some thought experiments to help you test whether you are setting enough context:

  • Does the article make sense if the reader gets to it as a random page? (Special:Random)
  • Imagine yourself as a layperson in another English-speaking country. Can you figure out what the article is about?
  • Can people tell what the article is about if the first page is printed out and passed around?
  • Would a reader want to follow some of the links? Do sentences still make sense if they can't?

State the obvious

State facts that may be obvious to you, but are not necessarily obvious to the reader. Usually, such a statement will be in the first sentence or two of the article. For example, consider this sentence:

The Ford Thunderbird was conceived as a response to the Chevrolet Corvette and entered production for the 1955 model year.

Here no mention is made of the Ford Thunderbird's fundamental nature: it is an automobile. It assumes that the reader already knows this—an assumption that may not be correct, especially if the reader is not familiar with Ford or Chevrolet. Perhaps instead:

The Ford Thunderbird is a car manufactured in the United States by the Ford Motor Company.

However, there is no need to go overboard. There is no need to explain a common word like "car". Repetition is usually unnecessary.

Use clear and precise terms

Often-times when writing, specially lore, you can get caught up in your own world. Remaining clear, precise and using accurate terms will greatly improve your article and make it seem more professional to the reader.

Be concise

Articles should use only necessary words. This does not mean using fewer words is always better; rather, when considering equivalent expressions, choose the more concise.

Conciseness does not justify removing information from an article. The use of subjective qualifiers should be avoided.

Principle of least astonishment

When the principle of least astonishment is successfully employed, information is understood by the reader without struggle. The average reader should not be shocked, surprised, or overwhelmingly confused by your article. For example, do not write, "Most people in the galaxy, are dead. That is, dead tired by the end of a long work day". You should not use provocative language in descriptions or arguments. Instead, offer information gently. Use consistent vocabulary in parts that are technical and difficult. To work out which parts of the sentence are going to be difficult for the reader, try to put yourself in the position of a reader hitherto uninformed on the subject.

You should plan your page structure and links so that everything appears reasonable and makes sense. If a link takes readers to somewhere other than where they thought it would, it should at least take them somewhere that makes sense.

Similarly, make sure that concepts being used as the basis for further discussion have already been defined or linked to a proper article. Explain causes before consequences and make sure your logical sequence is clear and sound, especially to the layperson.

Implied structure

It's often unnecessary to use terms that are already implied in an article. Articles are formal, not novels. Using terms such as "As the name implies" is unnecessary.

Spelling, grammar and accurate terms

Pay attention to spelling, particularly of new page names. Articles with good spelling and proper grammar can help encourage further contributions of well-formed content. Proper spelling of an article name will also make it easier for other authors to link their articles to your article. Sloppiness begets sloppiness, so always do your best.

Avoid peacock terms that show off the subject of the article without containing any real information. Similarly, avoid weasel words that offer an opinion without really backing it up.

Examples of peacock terms
an important... one of the most prestigious... one of the best...
the most influential... a significant... the great...
Examples of weasel words
Some people say... ...is widely regarded as... ..is widely considered...
...has been called... It is believed that... It has been suggested/noticed/decided...
Some people believe... It has been said that... Some would say...
Legend has it that... Critics say that... Many/some have claimed...

Believe in your subject. Let the facts speak for themselves. If your lore is worth the reader's time, it will come out through the facts. However, in some cases (for example, history of graphic design) using superlative adjectives (in the "... one of the most important figures in the history of ..." format) in the description may help readers with no previous knowledge about the subject to learn about the importance or generally perceived status of the subject discussed.

Show, don't tell. There is a difference between simply telling the reader that somebody was important, and showing why he was important.

Inappropriate subjects

You mind find it common to want to include additional details about your planet, your species or your organization - consider what the reader is going to care about. Are they going to care about the individual fauna on your planet? Are they going to care about the inner workings of your company? The answer is probably not. Consider what the majority of readers are going to consider relevant and interesting to read. Bloat is a term used on the Baystation 12 wiki to identify these subjects - they are paragraphs and sections that no reasonable person would want to read about in the context of our wiki.

Appropriate subjects are those that are important and interesting to the reader. A species's history, it's basic biology, it's culture. Consider what they will need to know in-game. Do not bog them down with details - leave some things up to the imagination.

Further reading