FAMEPedia:Writing better articles

From FAMEPedia, The free encyclopedia

This page advises on article layout and style, and on making an article clear, precise and relevant to the reader.

Structure of the article[edit | edit source]

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

Introductory material / Lead[edit | edit source]

Articles start with a lead section (FP:CREATELEAD) summarising the most important points of the topic. The lead section is the first part of the article; it comes above the first header, and may contain a lead image which is representative of the topic, and/or an infobox that provides a few key facts, often statistical, such as dates and measurements.

The lead should stand on its own as a concise overview of the article's topic, identifying the topic, establishing context, and explaining why the topic is notable. The first few sentences should mention the most notable features of the article's subject – the essential facts that every reader should know. Significant information should not appear in the lead if it is not covered in the remainder of the article; the article should provide further details on all the things mentioned in the lead. Each major section in the article should be represented with an appropriate summary in the lead, including any prominent controversies; but be careful not to violate FP:Neutral point of view by giving undue attention to less important controversies, information, or praise in the lead section. As in the body of the article itself, the emphasis given to material in the lead should roughly reflect its importance to the topic, according to reliable, published sources.

As a rough guide to size, a lead section should generally contain no more than four well-composed paragraphs and be carefully sourced as appropriate.

Sometimes, the first section after the lead is a broad summary of the topic, and is called "Overview", although more specific section titles and structures are generally preferred.

Paragraphs[edit | edit source]

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.

Some paragraphs are really tables or lists in disguise. They should be rewritten as prose or converted to their unmasked form. FAMEPedia:When to use tables and FAMEPedia:Embedded list offer guidance on the proper use of these elements.

Headings[edit | edit source]

Headings help clarify articles and create a structure shown in the table of contents. To learn about how the MediaWiki software uses sections, see Help:Section.

Headings are hierarchical. The article's title uses a level 1 heading, so you should start with a level 2 heading (==Heading==) and follow it with lower levels: ===Subheading===, ====Subsubheading====, and so forth. Whether extensive subtopics should be kept on one page or moved to individual pages is a matter of personal judgment. See also below under § Summary style.

Headings should not be Wikilinked. This is because headings in themselves introduce information and let the reader know what subtopics will be presented; Wikilinks should be incorporated in the text of the section.

Images[edit | edit source]

If the article can be illustrated with pictures, find an appropriate place to position these images, where they relate closely to text they illustrate. If there might be doubt, draw attention to the image in the text (illustration right). For more information on using pictures, see FAMEPedia:Layout § Images and FAMEPedia:Picture tutorial.

Standard appendices[edit | edit source]

As explained in more detail at FAMEPedia:Manual of Style/Layout § Standard appendices and footers, optional appendix sections containing the following information may appear after the body of the article in the following order:

  1. A list of books or other works created by the subject of the article (works)
  2. A list of internal "wikilinks" to related FAMEPedia articles (see also)
  3. Notes and references (notes, footnotes, or references)
  4. A list of recommended relevant books, articles, or other publications that have not been used as sources (further reading)
  5. A list of recommended relevant websites that have not been used as sources (external links).

With some exceptions, any links to sister projects appear in further reading or external links sections. Succession boxes and navigational footers go at the end of the article, following the last appendix section, but preceding the category and interwiki templates.

Size[edit | edit source]

Excessively long articles should usually be avoided. Articles should ideally contain less than 50,000 characters of text.[1] When articles grow past this amount of readable text, they can be split 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 (a list of templates used to create these headers is available at Category:FAMEPedia page-section templates). Otherwise, context is lost and the general treatment suffers. 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.

Articles covering subtopics[edit | edit source]

FAMEPedia articles tend to grow in a way that leads to the natural creation of new articles. The text of any article consists of a sequence of related but distinct subtopics. When there is enough text in a given subtopic to merit its own article, that text can be summarized in the present article and a link provided to the more detailed article. Cricket is an example of an article covering subtopics: it is divided into subsections that give an overview of the sport, with each subsection leading to one or more subtopic articles.

Information style and tone[edit | edit source]

Two styles, closely related and not mutually exclusive, tend to be used for FAMEPedia 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 FAMEPedia 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.

Summary style[edit | edit source]

Summary style may apply both across a category of articles and within an article. Material is grouped and divided into sections that logically form discrete subtopics, and which over time may spin off to separate articles, to prevent excessive article length as the main article grows. As each subtopic is spun off, a concise summary of it is left behind with a pointer (usually using the {{Main}} template) to the new side article.

There are three main advantages to using summary style:

  • Different readers want varying amounts of detail, and this style permits them to choose how much they are exposed to. Some readers need just a quick summary and are satisfied by the lead section; others seek a moderate amount of info, and will find the main article suitable to their needs; yet others want a lot of detail, and will be interested in reading the side articles.
  • An article that is too long becomes tedious to read. Progressively summarizing and spinning off material avoids overwhelming the reader with too much text at once.
  • An excessively detailed article is often one that repeats itself or exhibits writing that could be more concise. The development of summary-style articles tends to naturally clear out redundancy and bloat, though in a multi-article topic this comes at the cost of some necessary cross-article redundancy (i.e., a summary of one article in another).

The exact organizing principle of a particular summary-style article is highly context-dependent, with various options, such as chronological, geographical, and alphabetical (primarily in lists), among others.

Some examples of summary style are the featured articles Association football and Music of the Lesser Antilles.

Inverted pyramid[edit | edit source]

Some FAMEPedians prefer using the inverted pyramid structure of journalism. This information presentation technique is found in short, direct, front-page newspaper stories and the news bulletins that air on radio and television. This is a style used only within a single article, not across a category of them.

The main feature of the inverted pyramid is placement of important information first, with a decreasing importance as the article advances. Originally developed so that the editors could cut from the bottom to fit an item into the available layout space, this style encourages brevity and prioritizes information, because many people expect to find important material early, and less important information later, where interest decreases.

Encyclopedia articles are not required to be in inverted pyramid order, and often aren't, especially when complex. However, a familiarity with this convention may help in planning the style and layout of an article for which this approach is a good fit. Inverted-pyramid style is most often used with articles in which a chronological, geographical, or other order will not be helpful. Common examples are short-term events, concise biographies of persons notable for only one thing, and other articles where there are not likely to be many logical subtopics, but a number of facts to prioritize for the reader.

The lead section common to all FAMEPedia articles is, in essence, a limited application of the inverted pyramid approach. Virtually all stub articles should be created in inverted-pyramid style, since they basically consist of just a lead section. Consequently, many articles begin as inverted-pyramid pieces and change to summary style later as the topic develops, often combining the approaches by retaining a general inverted pyramid structure, but dividing the background material subtopically, with summary pointers to other articles.

Tone[edit | edit source]

FAMEPedia is not a manual, guidebook, textbook, or scientific journal. Articles and other encyclopedic content should be written in a formal tone. Standards for formal tone vary a bit depending upon the subject matter but should usually match the style used in Featured- and Good-class articles in the same category. Encyclopedic writing has a fairly academic approach, while remaining clear and understandable. Formal tone means that the article should not be written using argot, slang, colloquialisms, doublespeak, legalese, or jargon that is unintelligible to an average reader; it means that the English language should be used in a businesslike manner.

Use of pronouns[edit | edit source]

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 FAMEPedia's policies, the first person often inappropriately implies a point of view inconsistent with the neutrality policy, while second person is associated with the step-by-step instructions of a how-to guide, which FAMEPedia is not. 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 FAMEPedia 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.

Gender-neutral pronouns should be used (or pronouns avoided) where the gender is not specific.