Chalo Chatu:Writing better articles

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This page sets out advice on how to write an effective article, including information on layout, style, and how to make an article clear, precise and relevant to the reader.

Layout

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

Introductory material

Good articles start with a brief lead section introducing the topic. We discuss lead sections in greater detail below. The lead section should come above the first header; it is almost never useful to add something like ==Introduction==. 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

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.

Headings

Headings help clarify articles and create a structure shown in the table of contents.

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

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).

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 Television (a list of templates used to create these headers is available at Category:Chalo Chatu 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

Chalo Chatu 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. Zambia 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

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

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 article Chalo Chatu.

Inverted pyramid (news style)

Some Chalo Chatu users prefer using the inverted pyramid structure of news style. This information presentation technique is that found in short, direct, front-page newspaper stories and the news bulletins that air on radio and television. This is a style only used within an 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 Wikipedia 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

Chalo Chatu 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.

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 Chalo Chatu'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 Chalo Chatu 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 Chalo Chatu 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.

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.[1]

As a ' matter of policy, Chalo Chatu is not written in news style in other senses than the inverted pyramid (above), including tone. The encyclopedic and journalistic intent and audience are different. Especially avoid bombastic wording, attempts at humor or cleverness, reliance on .primary sources, editorializing ,recentism, pull quotes, journalese, and headlinese.

Similarly, 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 emotions 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 Chalo Chatu'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.

Not all tone flaws are immediately obvious as bias, original research, or other policy problems, but may be relevance, register, or other content-presentation issues. A common one is the idea, often taught to debate students, that each section or even paragraph should introduce a key statement (a thesis), then supporting evidence in additional sentences, and finish with a recapitulation of the original thesis in different wording. This style is redundant and brow-beating, and should not be used in encyclopedic writing.[2] Another is attempting to make bits of material "pop" (an undue weight problem), such as with excessive emphasis, the inclusion of hyperbolic adjectives and adverbs, or the use of unusual synonyms or loaded words. Just present the sourced information without embellishment, agenda, or fanfare. Another presentation problem is "info-dumping" by presenting information the form of a long, bulletized list when it would be better given as normal prose paragraphs. This is especially true when the items in the list are not of equal importance or are not really comparable in some other way, and need context. Using explanatory prose also helps identify and remove trivia.

Provide context for the reader

People who come to Chalo Chatu 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.

Evaluating context

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?

Build the web

Remember that every Chalo Chatu article is tightly connected to a network of other topics. Establishing such connections via wikilink is a good way to establish context. Because Chalo Chatu is not a long, ordered sequence of carefully categorized articles like a paper encyclopedia, but a collection of randomly accessible, highly interlinked ones, each article should contain links to more general subjects that serve to categorize the article. When creating links, do not go overboard, and be careful to make your links relevant. It is not necessary to link the same term twelve times (although if it appears in the lead, then near the end, it might be a good idea to link it twice).

Avoid making your articles orphans. When you write a new article, make sure that one or more other pages link to it, to lessen the chances that your article will be orphaned through someone else's refactoring. Otherwise, when it falls off the bottom of the Recent Changes page, it will disappear into the Mists of Avalon. There should always be an unbroken chain of links leading from the Main Page to every article in Chalo Chatu; following the path you would expect to use to find your article may give you some hints as to which articles should link to your article.


Lead section

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.

Opening paragraph

Normally, the opening paragraph summarizes the most important points of the article. It should clearly explain the subject so that the reader is prepared for the greater level of detail that follows. If further introductory material is appropriate before the first section, it can be covered in subsequent paragraphs in the lead. Introductions to biographical articles commonly double as summaries, listing the best-known achievements of the subject. Because some readers will read only the opening of an article, the most vital information should be included.

First sentence content

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?"[3]

  • If possible, the page title should be the subject of the first sentence:[4] However, if the article title is merely descriptive—such as The 2016 General Elections—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.[5] Similarly, if the title has a parenthetical disambiguator, the disambiguator should be omitted in the text.[6]
  • 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.[7]
  • If the article is about a fictional character or place, make sure to say so.[8]

First sentence format

  • 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 2017-18 Zambia cholera outbreak in an on going epidemic of cholera affecting much of Zambia.
  • 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. So, for example, History of Zambia begins with:
This article deals with the history of the country now called Zambia from prehistoric times to the present. .
  • If the subject of the page is normally italicized (for example, a work of art, literature, album, or ship) then its first mention should be both bold and italic text; if it is usually surrounded by quotation marks, the title should be bold but the quotation marks should not:
Voiceless Woman is the fourth studio album by

Zambian recording artist B Flow, released on 24 September 2013...

"Dear Mama" is a song by Zambian singer and songwriter B Flow and the title track from his fifth studio album Dear Mama (2016).
  • Use as few links as possible before and in the bolded title. Thereafter, words used in a title may be linked to provide more detail:
Kalulushi District is a district of Zambia, located in Copperbelt Province. The capital lies at Kalulushi.

The rest of the opening paragraph

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. For instance:

Peer review, known as refereeing in some academic fields, is a scholarly process used in the publication of manuscripts and in the awarding of money for research. Publishers and agencies use peer review to select and to screen submissions. At the same time, the process assists authors in meeting the standards of their discipline. Publications and awards that have not undergone peer review are liable to be regarded with suspicion by scholars and professionals in many fields.

The 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.

First, it keeps the lead in sync with the body. The lead, being a summary of the article, promises that the body will deliver fuller treatment of each point. Generally, wiki pages are imperfect at all times, but they should be complete, useful articles at all times. They should not contain "under construction" sections or refer to features and information that editors hope they will contain in the future. It's much worse for the lead to promise information that the body does not deliver than for the body to deliver information that the lead does not promise.

Second, good ways to summarize material usually only become clear after that material has been written. If you add a new point to the lead before it's covered in the body, you only think you know what the body will eventually contain. When the material is actually covered in the body, and checked and improved, usually by multiple editors, then you know. (If having a rough, tentative summary helps you write the body, keep your own private summary, either on your computer or in your User space.)

Third, on contentious pages, people often get into edit wars over the lead because the lead is the most prominent part of the article. It's much harder to argue constructively over high-level statements when you don't share common understanding of the lower-level information that they summarize. Space is scarce in the lead, so people are tempted to cram too much into one sentence, or pile on lots of references, in order to fully state and prove their case—resulting in an unreadable lead. In the body, you have all the space you need to cover subtleties and to cover opposing ideas fairly and in depth, separately, one at a time. Once the opposing ideas have been shaken out and covered well in the body, editing the lead without warring often becomes much easier. Instead of arguing about what is true or what all the competing sources say, now you are just arguing over whether the lead fairly summarizes what's currently in the body.

Use color sparingly

If possible, avoid presenting information with color only within the article's text and in tables.

Color should only be used sparingly, as a secondary visual aid. Computers and browsers vary, and you cannot know how much color, if any, is visible on the recipient's machine. Wikipedia is international: colors have different meaning in different cultures. Too many colors on one page look cluttered and unencyclopedic. Specifically, use the color red only for alerts and warnings.

Awareness of color should be allowed for low-vision viewers: poor lighting, color blindness, dark or overbright screens, and the wrong contrast/color settings on the display screen.

Other issues

Honorifics 
Do not use honorifics or titles, such as Mr, Ms, Rev, Doctor, etc.
Inappropriate subjects 
If you are trying to dress up something that doesn't belong in Chalo Chatu—your band, your Web site, your company's product—think twice about it. Chalo Chatu is not an advertising medium or home page service. Wikipedians are pretty clever, and if an article is really just personal gratification or blatant advertising, it's not going to last long—no matter how "important" you say the subject is.
Integrate changes
When you make a change to some text, rather than appending the new text you would like to see included at the bottom of the page, if you feel so motivated, please place and edit your comments so that they flow seamlessly with the present text. Chalo Chatu articles should not end up being a series of disjointed comments about a subject, but unified, seamless, and ever-expanding expositions of the subject.
Avoiding common mistakes 
It is easy to commit a Chalo Chatufaux pas. That is OK—everybody does it! Nevertheless, here are a few you might try to avoid.
Make a personal copy 
Suppose you get into an edit war. Or worse, a revert war. Therefore, you try to stay cool. This is good. Congratulations! However, what would be great is if you could carry on working on the article, even though there is an edit war going on, and even though the version on the top is the evil one favored by the other side in the dispute.
So, make a personal copy as a subpage of your user page. Just start a new page at Special:MyPage/Article name (it can be renamed in the URL address to start a page with a different article name), and copy and paste the wiki-source in there. Then you can carry on improving the article at your own pace! If you like, drop a note on the appropriate talk page to let people know what you are doing.
Some time later, at your leisure, once the fuss has died down, merge your improvements back in to the article proper. Maybe the other person has left Wikipedia, finding it not to their taste. Maybe they have gone on to other projects. Maybe they have changed their mind. Maybe someone else has made similar edits anyway (although they may not be as good as yours, as you have had more time to consider the matter).


Notes

  1. Rhetorical questions can occasionally be used, when appropriate, in the presentation of material, but only when the question is asked by the material under consideration, not being asked in Chalo Chatu's own voice. Example here.
  2. For an example found in, and removed from, a high-profile article, see here.
  3. For example:
    Levy Patrick Mwanawasa (3 September 1948 – 19 August 2008) was the third Republican President of Zambia. He ruled the country from January 2002 until his death in August 2008. He is credited for having initiated a campaign to rid the country of corruption.

    This example not only tells the reader that the subject was a Politician, it also indicates his field of expertise and work he did outside of it. The years of his birth and death provide time context. The reader who goes no further in this article already knows when he lived, what work he did, and why she is notable.

  4. For example:
    This Manual of Style is a style guide containing ...

    not

    This style guide, known as the Manual of Style, contains ...
  5. For example, in the article "United Kingdom":
    The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK, or Britain, is a sovereign island country located off the northwestern coast of continental Europe.
  6. Thus, the article Egg (food) should start like this:
    An egg is an ovum produced by ...

    Not like this:

    An egg (food) is an ovum produced by ...
  7. For example, instead of:
    A trusted third party is an entity that facilitates interactions between two parties who both trust the third party.

    write:

    In cryptography, a trusted third party is an entity that facilitates interactions between two parties who both trust the third party.
  8. For example:
    Jason Kabanana is a fictional character in Kabanana.