Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2009-01-03/Dispatches

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Dispatches: How, Why, and Huh?—Inside the minds of Featured list writers

By Scorpion0422, January 3, 2009

2008 has been a big year for the Featured List (FL) process, with several big changes, including the appointment of two directors. As of December 25, 2008, there are 1175 lists, 710 of which were promoted in 2008. Also in 2008, the Featured List Removal (FLR) process was rejuvenated. Prior to 2008, a mere 11 FLs were delisted between November 2005 and December 2007.

Scorpion0422, co-director of the Featured List process (FLC), interviewed four prolific FL writers for The Signpost. These four – who have been primary contributors to a combined 173 lists – discussed their experiences with the Featured list process:

  • Gary King, the most prolific nominator, with FLs in six different topics, most of them focused on awards and nominations received by musical artists.
  • Hurricanehink, who focuses on tropical cyclones, particularly Atlantic hurricanes.
  • Sephiroth BCR, with quite a few FLs relating to anime and manga, but who has also worked on various awards and Nobel Prize-related lists.
  • Woody, with FLs on both Victoria Cross recipients and Aston Villa F.C..

What originally attracted you to writing for Wikipedia?

Gary King. I've used Wikipedia for general knowledge for as long as I can remember. As a web developer, I enjoy keeping up-to-date with web technologies, and since Wikipedia didn't have articles on a lot of them, I created them myself. After that, I ended up creating articles on just about anything, and have written at least 400 articles so far. Probably one of the most well known articles that I've created is YouTube, which I started back in December 2005 when it was an unknown video sharing website. The website—and the article—have both come a long way since then! I also think that working on articles is a great opportunity to research on things that I like and write about them.
Hurricanehink. Throughout high school, I became obsessed with trivia and general knowledge (particularly hurricanes), but I usually relied on a Google search and hoped for the best. One day, I searched for something I thought would be rather obscure, and it led me to Wikipedia for the first time. At first, I was skeptical it would have other topics, but every search yielded a page. My search into hurricane articles is what got me to stay, and almost immediately I began editing, changing various hurricane articles which I thought were missing important information. After a few months of random editing, I really got into the idea of article expansion, and after I contributed to my first featured article, I have been hooked ever since.
Sephiroth BCR. I believe it was because I was reading The Chronicles of Amber at the time, and wanted to see Wikipedia's article on the series. After making a few edits there and there, I wondered whether there were articles on video game series that I enjoyed, so I looked up articles on the Castlevania series, and edited for a bit until I lost interest and stopped. After a couple months, I saw that Wikipedia had articles relating to the Naruto anime and manga, so that reignited my interest and got me back into editing, and I've been editing since. At that point, I think Wikipedia's increasing popularity influenced my decision to return, and my desire to improve what is one of the most heavily searched areas of Wikipedia.
Woody:. I have always had an interest in Military History and my first article contributions were in this area. I first looked for information on the then new post of Commodore-in-Chief; I couldn't find it, so I created the article. I then began to look around Wikipedia in general and found some aspects of British Military history to be lacking in information. My feelings at the time were that these topics deserved good, accurate articles so that anyone could read acquire information about them. My first large article was Andrew Cunningham, 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, a British naval leader in the Second World War, I couldn't believe it was only a stub so I expanded it, and kept on expanding it and eventually it became a Featured article and I was hooked.

Why are you interested in featured lists and lists in general?

Hurricanehink. Though I usually work on straightforward articles, I enjoy switching it up with a list, particularly with making the tables. It's rewarding to organize and write on a fixed collection of items, and it's a relief having that fixed set.
Sephiroth BCR. I particularly enjoy making tables and putting information into a tabular format. And it gives me an excuse to go watch new anime or read new manga for different series.
Gary King. As someone who likes to look at graphs and statistics all day, I have a strong attraction to featured lists. Some of the things that I'm interested in have managed to find their way into my featured lists, such as List of unrecognized countries (geography), List of premiers of Manitoba (politics), and List of awards and nominations received by Radiohead (music). Also, featured lists are great for comparing information, and are useful indexes. They are also typically focused on a very specific topic, so I can work on them without needing to write about something I'm not interested in. I also enjoy writing featured lists because they require a nice balance between writing brilliant prose and formatting information in a logical and convenient manner, both which aren't easy to do at first.
Woody:. My contributions to lists on Wikipedia tend to revolve around two topics: Aston Villa Football Club and Victoria Cross related lists. Generally, with most articles that I edit, I have the ultimate intention of getting it to Featured content, be that an article, a list or as a topic as a whole. I wouldn't say I have a particular affinity with featured lists, I am more aligned to the topics that I am bringing up to FT.

What motivated you to work on your first Featured list?

Gary King. Sephiroth BCR (who is also interviewed on this page) was, and still is, a very proficient featured list contributor. When I asked him what directions I could take in terms of article writing, he pointed me to a few pages: Featured list candidates (FLC), Featured article candidates (FAC), Featured topic candidates (FTC), and Good article nominations (GAN). So, I worked on my first featured list, which was also my first featured content of any kind: List of autonomous areas by country. The nomination ended up with 7 Supports and 0 Opposes. Needless to say, I had a very good impression of the process, so I ended up going back with more nominations.
Hurricanehink. I was a little tired of working on articles, so I took a stab on a list of tropical cyclones affecting my home state. I really enjoyed the process, from developing the article to someone suggesting I take it to FLC. It was a really pleasurable experience, and so I did it twice more in a two week period. ♬♩ Hurricanehink (talk) 02:36, 18 December 2008 (UTC)
Sephiroth BCR. After seeing User:Erachima bring List of Bleach episodes (season 1) (then some weird title using the arc name) to featured list status, I felt confident in bringing List of Bleach episodes (season 2) to FLC due to the model he created. I've basically used that model since with a few tweaks from there to there.
Woody:. To put it simply: the poor state of the Aston Villa F.C. topics on Wikipedia. As part of developing Aston Villa F.C. I moved the content of the notable players section over to List of Aston Villa F.C. players with this edit. Frankly, it was a subjective mess, so over a period of time, a few editors including myself set about improving it.

How do you choose an article to bring to FLC?

Hurricanehink. If there's a subject I really get interested in, and I put a lot of work into it, I'll usually take the effort to go for FLC. I like working on inter-related lists, too. ♬♩ Hurricanehink (talk) 02:32, 18 December 2008 (UTC)
Victoria Cross military decoration
Woody:. I am a rather specialised editor at FLC in that I work on set topics. Intially, this was the topic of Aston Villa F.C., and the several lists within that topic. My other main interest is the Victoria Cross and the lists of its recipients. There are a plethora of inter-related lists on Wikipedia and I am working through the different lists within that topic.
Sephiroth BCR. Depends on the type of list. For anime episode lists, it's for series that I've watched, and I tend to bring series that I particularly like up to par (List of Black Lagoon episodes for instance). Same thing for manga chapter lists, as you can't really make the list without reading the chapters first (List of Soul Eater chapters for an example). Past that, I usually conceptualize featured topics (see my workshop) and make lists along those lines in order to make the topic, and most of my topics tend to be long-term projects. Outside of anime and manga, what I choose to work on varies greatly. I occasionally stumble upon lists when reading through random material, find the subject intriguing, and then bring them to FLC if I feel it is plausible.
Gary King. When finding a list to bring to FLC, the most important thing that I check is whether or not its subject matter appeals to me. I sometimes also work on lists about a subject that I want to learn more about. For instance, I took List of universities in Canada and its child lists to FLC to learn more about Canada's universities, and the child lists of History of Canadian first ministers to FLC to learn more about each province's premiers. Some of my recent featured lists have been part of featured topics, including the two previously mentioned groups of lists. In a number of cases, I chose a list when I begin doing a few edits here and there, and then found myself giving the list a major overhaul. I then figured that I might as well make it into a featured list after spending so much time on it.

What has been your most difficult FLC experience?

Hurricanehink. List of most intense tropical cyclones was a bit difficult, as it opened my eyes for what really makes a great list. I got lazy and didn't go the extra distance; the list still isn't featured, partly as a reminder of how much effort to put into the lists.
The Aston Villa team of the late 19th century
Woody:. The first and second FLC of Aston Villa F.C. statistics and records was certainly my most difficult FLC experience; it is also the only FLC I have had that has failed. This was the one of the first list of its kind that the football WikiProject put up at FLC, and the opinions about what these lists needed to contain shifted during the FLC. There was a lot of work that needed to be done on it so I withdrew it. The main crux of the work was in sourcing many of the more obscure statistics and records about the club, many of which were spread around the books I used for references. It was certainly the list that needed the most work and effort to improve.
Gary King. List of Wilfrid Laurier University people took the longest time to bring to featured status. It had to go through three nominations before finally becoming a featured list. One issue that was brought up constantly throughout each nomination was that it was not comprehensive enough—it didn't include every notable person associated with the university. So, after the second nomination, I ended up spending a few weeks researching people associated with the university and adding them to the list. I ended up adding over a hundred names. The third nomination finally succeeded and the list became featured—a whopping seven months after I first started working on it.
Sephiroth BCR. Never really had an experience that was too overwhelming for my tastes. I guess the hardest was the FLC for List of Japanese submissions for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film because I had to make the list from scratch without any model, and as I was participating in the first featured list contest, I received an exceptionally thorough review from the FLC regulars (many of whom were competing against me). Outside of the actual nomination, List of Naruto characters was definitely the hardest one to produce, as there was an enormous amount of work in merging material, finding adequate conception/reception information, sourcing the entire thing, and then finding a copy-editor to go through an 85k list.

Which of the featured lists to which you've contributed make you most proud? And why?

Thirty-two Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with Princeton University.
Sephiroth BCR. List of Naruto characters for the bucketload of work described above, and the culmination of over a year and a half of mergers, reverting the countless upon countless edits from new or anonymous users who love the series to death, and overcoming the inertia against creating something like that. That and it was the anime and manga WikiProject's first featured character list, so that was a particularly nice accomplishment. Past that, I consider List of Japanese submissions for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film one of my major accomplishments for getting me into film articles (I've produced eleven film FLs since), ultimately culminating in me being elected a coordinator of WikiProject Films. Aside from that, I'm particularly pleased with List of Nobel Laureates affiliated with Princeton University, as I was able to make a list relating to the university I currently attend, as well as making a model for similar lists in the future.
Gary King. I began working on List of mergers and acquisitions by Microsoft in April 2008, and nominated it as a featured list candidate the next month. The nomination, however, failed, primarily because of a lack of comments. It had 114 references at the time, for 114 acquisitions made by Microsoft. So, I went back to the drawing board and continued to work on it. A few months later, in November 2008, I rewrote the entire list and included mergers made by Microsoft, in addition to the acquisitions already on the page. I also expanded the lead significantly, and found a few more acquisitions that weren't originally on the list and added them. After expanding it, the list had 229 references for 229 mergers and acquisitions made by Microsoft. It was as comprehensive as it was going to be, and it passed its second featured list nomination later that month. I am very proud of the work that I put into the list; it is also the first result in most search engines when looking for "Microsoft acquisitions", and I think, deservedly so!
Hurricanehink. That's got to be List of Florida hurricanes, which itself is more of an article, but it's the gateway to five other featured lists. I got a bit obsessed, but I really wanted to finish the topic, due to its importance. Really, who doesn't want to know which tropical cyclones have affected Florida, to what severity and at what time of year?
Woody:. That would have to be any one of the Victoria Cross recipients list. There is so much history and courage behind each one of those lists. I think it is out of respect for their achievements that I continue to develop the lists. I think these kinds of lists are indicative of the reasons why Wikipedia was created, and is such a success; it is a great reference work.

Do you prefer working on articles or lists?

Gary King. I started off with lists, so they were very appealing to me. Afterward, however, I began to move more towards featured articles, perhaps because of the fact that I was still fairly inexperienced with them and wanted to be better at writing them. I now have roughly ten times as many featured lists as featured articles, so I'd like to spend more time with featured articles. However, I will always continue to submit featured list candidates, because I always find an interesting list to write. In featured topics that I work on, articles usually outnumber lists, which is another reason for why I have been working more on featured articles than lists lately. In the cases where a topic is made up entirely of lists, I am given an opportunity to go back to featured lists, which is always nice.
Satellite image of Florida, used in List of snow events in Florida
Hurricanehink. Articles. I more like working on a single subject, so I can get every last bit of information on it from every angle. I also like the writing aspect more, finding ways to incorporate and develop prose. I don't get that as much for lists.
Sephiroth BCR. Lists. I enjoy making tables and placing stuff in them. That and working on articles is much more time-consuming (largely due to the research requirements). I have two featured articles (Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow) and both involved an excruciatingly long research and drafting process that left me exhausted after each incident. That and the difficulty of finding a copy-editor that is capable of bringing stuff to FA-quality writing gets more difficult by the day. I do work on good articles, and I admit it's a much more relaxing prospect to bring something up to GA-quality. I currently plan a good topic including List of Naruto characters and the various characters in the Naruto franchise (see User:Sephiroth BCR/Workshop#Characters of Naruto).
Woody:. I think they both have their positives and negatives. At the moment, I think I prefer lists, they are easier and more standardised. The criteria for articles constantly shifts with the Manual of Style changing daily which makes it harder to develop a set standard. I think the monotony of making lists can be beneficial in some circumstances but the sheer amount of hard work that goes into perfecting articles makes them enjoyable in their own right when you see the finished article.

What is the main difference between working on a list and working on an article?

Gary King. Lists have a more rigid layout, which makes it easier in some cases to spot issues. For some very creative lists, however, an editor has to figure out how to best display the information in a way that would convey the message the best to the reader. Also, it's always important to choose the right images to add to a list, because featured lists are usually shorter than featured articles, so the images need to be extremely relevant to the list for them to be included as space is limited. Articles are similar in a way, though, in that some types of articles can all have roughly the same layout, especially articles related to entertainment like films, television episodes, and video games. When writing a list, an editor needs a good eye for structure, while for articles, a good eye for prose is necessary.
Sephiroth BCR. Structure. Lists have a pretty clear structure: lead, the actual list (usually a table, depends on the subject), a "see also" section if appropriate, references, and external links. This is probably the structure of a grand majority of lists. That and the fact you're working with tables and need to be somewhat familiar with the intricacies of table syntax (namely sortability, especially the {{sort}} and {{sortname}} functions). Trying to put information into an aesthetically pleasing form in a table is different from anything you're doing in an article, in which your concentration is more on the quality of the text, adhering to NPOV in the balance of the presentation of the material, and research on the material to ensure that all your bases are covered.
Woody:. If you want to improve an page within a day, then lists are the thing to do: most lists can be developed to a good standard within a day, to Featured standard within a week. With articles, it is more a labour of love; they take much longer to develop and perfect. If I want some instant gratification then I prefer lists, but if I want to watch something develop, I would have to go with articles.

What advice do you have about the FL process for other writers?

Bud Wilkinson (right)—the 26th head coach of the Arizona Cardinals with U.S. President John F. Kennedy, during a 1961 visit to the White House
Gary King. Compare a list that you're working on with a recently promoted featured list that's similar in subject matter and type, and then build the list similar to that. However, an important thing to remember is to use common sense; sometimes, even recently promoted featured lists use standards that don't make much sense or can be improved on. Some standards can go unquestioned, but that shouldn't be the case; it's important to change a list's formatting if you think that it's better to convey information one way rather than another. An example are lists of NFL head coaches, such as this recently promoted one: List of Arizona Cardinals head coaches. Previous lists of this type were missing the winning percentage column for the playoffs, but it didn't make much sense to omit that information, so recently, this column has been a requirement for lists of NFL head coaches, which makes sense.
Sephiroth BCR. Models, models, models. Practically all FLs are based on one another and consistency is king when making lists. Absolute best thing for a FL writer to do when tackling a list is to look at similar examples, especially in the table. You can deviate slightly depending on the subject, but the overall structure of the table should be the same (maybe an additional column or two for material unique to the subject or expanding in the lead to cover some relevant points). The lead should also follow the same structure; however, there is much greater flexibility here for more, less, or different information depending on the subject.
Woody:. Get involved! It is not nearly as scary as you might imagine. There will always be someone around to answer any questions about lists, and usually there will already be a Featured list to base your edits on. You rarely see "trail-blazing" lists at FLC, that is a type of list that has never been developed before, there is always a template to base your list on.

Other than nominating, how much do you participate in the FLC process?

Woody. I go through spurts of activity at FLC. When I nominate an FLC, I try to review at least two other lists, and whenever a Milhist list is up for review I try to review them. When I have free time, I try to review lists from other areas.
Hurricane Gloria to the east of New Jersey, from List of New Jersey hurricanes
Gary King. I try to stay updated with anything going on with the featured list process, which includes staying on top of whatever appears at Wikipedia talk:Featured list candidates. Commenting on featured list candidates is something that I also enjoy doing. At one point, I tried to comment on every new featured list candidate, but it proved to be a tiring task. Since then, I comment on lists that catch my fancy and I provide advice on how to improve them. In particular, the prose in lists could always use more work. Reviews usually focus on the layout and structure of lists, but attention should also be given to the prose, so I try to do that when I can.
Sephiroth BCR. I'm one of the FLRC directors, so I comment on nominations there and close them as part of my duties. Past that, I comment on FLCs from time to time and frequent the discussions at the featured list candidates' discussion page.

Do you think reviewing other articles at FLC helps you as you write and nominate lists yourself? If so, how?

U.S. President George W. Bush with the six 2003 American Nobel Laureates in the Oval Office
Sephiroth BCR. For people that review all the time, it definitely helps them in their writing. I don't believe it's necessary to place a review yourself, but rather to read nominations from time to time to see new trends that merge in terms of what reviewers want to see in certain lists. It is especially important to do this when similar lists are at FLCs and comments made on one FLC may impact the other.
Gary King. It definitely helps. You get to see what trends are taking place among different types of lists, and you get ideas on how to improve your own lists or what types of lists to work on. It also helps to teach yourself how to find problems in a list, which will help with your own. When reviewing other lists, it forces you to look at lists that you don't normally read or write, and so you think differently. If you work on the same types of lists for too long, then you don't have an idea of how the format could be improved, a problem which is alleviated by reviewing other lists. Finally, reviewing other lists definitely helps with nominating your own lists because it reduces the backlog, so your own nominations will need less time to wait before getting reviews!
Woody. I think it varies depending on what type of list you are interested in. As I said earlier, for those lists that are new and relatively rare at FLC, previous FLCs can be very important to look at. Reviewing other lists forces you to examine the pages in detail which can be very indicative for any lists that you are developing personally. For the Victoria Cross lists, there aren't really any other similar lists in development, whereas the football lists have many other lists to compare against. I know that when I was developing the statistics and records FLC for the first time, my reviewing of other lists showed me how far behind the standard my list was. So yes, it can help.

How do you feel the FLC process differs from the FAC process?

Gary King. The featured list nomination process focuses more on layout, structure, and referencing, while the featured article nomination process focuses more on prose. That makes it easier to use other featured lists as models for future ones, but the disadvantage is that some featured list candidates have prose that wouldn't be considered "professional", which is technically required in the featured list criteria. Recently, there has been more focus on prose, which is excellent. I think that it's harder to write well than to format a table, so if nominators learn how to write better prose, then everyone wins. In addition, there are certainly less issues with regards to neutrality, especially undue weight. Also, in order to build a featured list, it is important to be good at organizing information.
Sephiroth BCR. Much, much less pressure, although that may be a consequence of going through the process so often. FAC concentrates on things that FLC tends not to have problems with (NPOV, copy-editing due to the big disparity in the actual amount of text, depth of coverage). There are shared items (sources, images), but altogether, the two processes are basically the same thing evaluating two very different types of content, so there is a natural concentration on things that have more relevance to each.
Woody. Both types of review are as rigorous as each other and follow the same patterns and principles, but I think they differ in certain areas, mainly arising from the differences in the type of content that they review. Featured article candidates (FAC) is now based around finishing off, and perfecting, the prose of an article which can be a very subjective exercise and can lead to disagreements. I think FLC differs in that there is generally only one way of displaying the information, there can be tweaks in table format, but the basis remains the same across all lists. This is different from FAC where articles can develop in a number of forms. So in the main, they are the same, but FAC can get a bit more pressured.

See also



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From the editor — ArbCom elections — Virgin Killer — Editing stats — Drug comparison — News and notes — Dispatches — In the news — WikiProject report — Features and admins — Arbitration report


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