Help:How to write a great article
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Revision as of 09:17, November 26, 2005
Suppose you want to write a first-rate or even the perfect article (see below) which deserves to be listed on featured articles (those considered by sysop consensus to be OrthodoxWiki's best articles). Consider meeting as many of the featured article criteria as you can. Here's additional guidance on how to do that.
Once you have decided on a topic, use OrthodoxWiki's to find out what related material we already have. That way, you get a feel for the environment and will later be able to create good links to other relevant articles.
You may think that you know enough about your topic, but chances are that others know more. Do a search on Wikipedia, look at the first couple of hits from a Google search, and read the relevant articles from an encyclopedia such as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, or other encyclopedias.
Don't shy away from visiting a good academic, public or theological library to have a look at the standard references. It is generally considered that the best OrthodoxWiki articles should consult and cite the best and most reliable references available for the subject. Those may include books or peer reviewed journal articles. Only by citing the best sources in a field can an OrthodoxWiki article be taken seriously by its critics.
Start your article with a concise paragraph defining the topic at hand and mentioning the most important points. The reader should be able to get a good overview by only reading this first paragraph.
Then start the article properly. See our editing help for the format we use to produce links, emphasize text, lists, headlines etc. Make sure to link to other relevant OrthodoxWiki articles. Also, where appropriate, add links in other articles back to your article.
You cannot simply cut-and-paste from one of the external resources mentioned above. Unless otherwise noted, such cutting and pasting is usually a violation of copyright law.
It's often a good idea to separate the major sections of your articles with section headlines. For many topics, a history section is very appropriate, outlining how thinking about the concept evolved over time.
If different people have different opinions about your topic, characterize that debate from a neutral point of view.
Try to get your spelling right. OrthodoxWiki does not yet contain a spell checker, but you can write and spell-check your article first in a word processor or text editor (which is a lot more comfortable than the wiki's text-box anyway) and then paste it into said text-box.
Keep the article in an encyclopedic style: add etymology or provenance (when available), look for analogies and eventual comparisons to propose. Be objective: avoid personal comments (or turn them into general statements, but only when they coincide), don't use personal forms (I found that...).
At the end, you should list the references you used and the best available external links about the topic. These references are what will allow OrthodoxWiki to be the most trusted, reliable resource it can be.
Top it all off with a nice relevant image or graphic. See Graphics tutorials for practical help on drawing diagrams and modifying images. Tons of copyright-free images are listed at Wikipedia's public domain image list. Please do not link to images on other servers; instead use the upload page.
One way to get a good article is to bounce it back and forth between several OrthoWikians. Use the Talk pages to refine the topic, ask for their confirmations, note their doubts: it is usually interesting to discover that, perhaps from the other side of the planet, after a while, some other contributors can check other sources, or propose different interpretations. The composition of a commonly agreed interpretation is the most important ingredient of a serious OrthodoxWiki article.
Don't neglect the External links and References sections. The most useful and accurate material you've found by searching Google during your research might make good links for a reader too. And sometimes there is a standard work that is mentioned over and over in connection with your topic. Mention it, with its author and publication date. Even better, obtain a copy and use it to check the material in the article.
On OrthodoxWiki, there's a tendency for articles to become somewhat clipped as contributors dip in and out and contribute individual sentences or paragraphs. This can lead to redundancy or a wandering train of thought. Even if you don't contribute new content to an article, it's still helpful to rearrange, rephrase, condense and generally improve the readability of OrthodoxWiki articles. This is especially useful where an article has become somewhat lengthy without being suitably sub-divided into sections.
The perfect article
The perfect OrthodoxWiki article...
- Begins with a definition or clear description of the subject at hand. This is made as absolutely clear to the nonspecialist as the subject matter itself will allow. The purpose of an encyclopedia is to codify human knowledge in a way that is most accessible to the most people, and this demands clear descriptions of what the subject matter is about. So we aren't just dropped into the middle of the subject from the first word—we are eased into it.
- Acknowledges and explores, in depth, the different ways there are of approaching the same topic. It is not intellectually provincial or academically imperialistic (often, two sides of the same coin). It does not reflect just one person's point of view—it is evidently the result of many people collaborating, or one person really thinking hard and really understanding very well all the different ways there are to come to grips with the subject.
- Is completely neutral and unbiased. It makes a careful attempt, as is sometimes possible only in the hands of a true expert, to present each of various competing views on controversial subjects fairly and sympathetically. Not only are the competing views sympathetically presented, they are organized logically, so that the reader has a clear understanding of the "lay of the land." Of course, the most popular views, whatever they are, are emphasized, and the extreme minority views are underemphasized (though they might be highly detailed on their own pages).
- Is in conformity with the OrthodoxWiki Style Manual.
- Is sufficiently long and provides as much content as is needed. Although concise and to the point, a truly excellent article provides sufficient information, depth, and analysis.
- Reflects expert knowledge that is careful and precise, and free of vague generalities and half-truths that stem from an imperfect grasp of the subject.
- Is well-documented and cites its sources, which are not idiosyncratic to the author but are considered standard and used most often in the field.
- Is not merely just a single external link to offsite information. That is, it provides real information.
- Is very clear and written in such a way that it is difficult to misunderstand what is meant. Not only does it begin with a definition, it follows a logical structure and uses clearly-worded sentences. It is written throughout with attention to how someone who actually needs the article will understand, or might potentially fail to understand, what is said.
- Is such that its structure, and the necessity of each of the parts of the article, are either self-evident or carefully explained. A reader should not encounter a section of the article and not know the answer to the question, "Why is this section of the article here at all?"
- Includes enough images—whether that be none or many—each bearing a good caption, to cover the subject without any superfluous ones. The purpose of each image is evident from the caption, and the text does not leave the reader with questions that could be answered by an absent image.
- Does not leave essential terminology unexplained, even within the article itself. If some piece of terminology is essential to the subject itself, then it should be explained in the article about that subject, even if it is also explained on another page as well. The reader should not have to visit other pages to view essential parts of the exposition of a subject (unless the article is very obviously mainly just a high-level introductory page that points to other articles).
- Is written in an engaging manner. It does not use long, convoluted sentences and otherwise needlessly boring language.
- Contains all the same basic sorts of information that other articles of the same kind contain. All biographies, for example should contain birth and death dates, if known.
...does not exist.
- By no means do we think that anyone should try very hard to meet all of these various standards. The perfect article is something of a Platonic ideal—not humanly achievable. It's very important that we add as much imperfect work to OrthodoxWiki as possible. But it can't hurt to keep in the back of our minds the various ways that this imperfect work can be improved.