User:Uncle G/Cargo cult encyclopaedia article writing
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Cargo cult encyclopaedia article writing is the process of simply listing a whole load of examples of, or occurrences in film and on television of, a particular concept or thing. There is a widespread belief that this process magically creates, after some mystical critical mass has been reached, an actual encyclopaedia article about that concept or thing. This belief possibly comes about from people seeing existing articles that are no more than lists of occurrences of a thing in film and on television, that editors have amassed over the years, and thinking as a consequence that (a) that is how encyclopaedia articles should look, and (b) that is how encyclopaedia articles are constructed. In other words: Bad articles are used as guidelines for new articles.
Some offending articles in the past have been Aviation joke (AfD discussion), Portrayals of Mormons in popular media (AfD discussion), Elephant joke (AfD discussion), Shaggy dog story (AfD discussion), London slang (AfD discussion), and What is black and white and red all over? (AfD discussion), for examples. All of those were, when they came to AFD, simple collections of variations upon, or occurrences of, the thing that the article was supposed to be about. As can be seen from both the discussions and the articles as they stand now, what makes an encyclopaedia article is something markedly different.
The difference in article construction is one of effort. It is easy to watch a television series, see a character that is supposed to be (say) a Mormon who blows xyr nose, and to think "I know. I'll add a bullet point to Wikipedia's article on Mormons saying that there's a Mormon character in this episode of this television series, who blows xyr nose.". It is comparatively harder (albeit not very difficult on an absolute scale) to actually go and find secondary sources that have analysed a wide range of Mormon characters in film and television as a serious academic exercise, and then condense and summarize those sources into an encyclopaedia article. It is, however, the path of greater effort that needs to be trod in order to create a proper encyclopaedia article upon a subject. Simply amassing raw data, and hoping that an encyclopaedia article will magically arise from it, doesn't work.
There are at least three important maxims to bear in mind:
- Fiction is not fact.
- The representation of a concept, person, place, event, or thing in works of fiction, especially in works of comedy fiction, does not necessarily bear any resemblance at all to its existence in fact. Adding occurrences in fiction to an article about a factual thing does not necessarily improve that article. Indeed, the fictional representations may make it misleading. (This is not to say that we don't want to discuss plot devices. See Government Warehouse (AfD discussion), for example. But such discussion should not be misrepresented as discussion of anything other than a plot device or trope as it occurs in works of fiction. Contrast government warehouse, for example.)
- Collecting raw data does not produce an analysis.
- The raw data can be examples, that demonstrate the analysis. (There are some elephant jokes in elephant joke, for example.) But simply amassing huge piles of them doesn't make an analysis. What makes an analysis is finding the works of experts in the field who have done analyses of the raw data, and then condensing and summarizing their published analyses into the article. (Collecting raw data and then producing our own novel analyses of those data is, of course, original research that is forbidden here.)
- Moving bad content into a separate standalone article does not get rid of the bad content.
- It is in several ways a lazy way of addressing the problem. It is the encyclopaedist's equivalent to sweeping dirt under the rug. And as we have seen, the next stage of the cycle is a consensus to trim the standalone article and merge it back in.1 Lather, rinse, repeat. Getting rid of bad content involves having the boldness to actually tackle the bad content in the original article in the first place.
Turning bad articles into good (or at least fair) articles often discourages or even stops this cargo cult article writing, as editors see what articles should actually look like, and how they should actually be written. The rate of addition of protologisms to LOL (Internet slang) decreased once the article itself became more than a list of word variations, and started to contain actual analysis. Similarly, chav now suffers far less from original research (excluding outright "My friend is a chav!" vandalism) now that the article shows by copious example that what we want is analytical and explanatory content based upon sources, rather than just a laundry list of examples.
- ^1 Sometimes the cycle is to delete the standalone article, which causes the bad content to either be resurrected or to re-grow in the original article. Witness the cycle between List of fictional spoiled brats (AfD discussion) and Spoiled brat (AfD discussion) (more AFD discussion), until the latter got properly written, for example.