Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2009-01-17/Dispatches

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Dispatches: Featured article writers—the 2008 leaders

By SandyGeorgia, 17 January 2009

Featured article Featured articles (FA) recognize Wikipedia's best work on the main page and serve as a model for Wikipedia's articles. Only one in every 1,130 Wikipedia articles has attained featured article status; 10 people nominated a fifth of the 719 FAs that were promoted in 2008.

Editor FAs promoted in 2008
YellowMonkey 22
David Fuchs 20
Brianboulton 17
Hurricanehink 15
Awadewit, Jimfbleak and Juliancolton 13
Catalan, Nergaal and Serendipodous 12

SandyGeorgia, delegate to Featured article director Raul654 at Featured article candidates (FAC), interviewed three FA writers for The Signpost. These three editors—the primary contributors to a combined 73 Featured articles overall (59 in 2008)—discussed their experiences with the Featured article process:

Hurricanehink, who nominated 43 featured articles on hurricanes in his 3 1/2 years of active editing, including 15 in 2008, retired on January 8, 2009. He was interviewed as a Featured list writer in the January 3, 2009 Dispatch.

What originally attracted you to writing for Wikipedia?

YellowMonkey. I read an article in a student newspaper in 2005 about an edit-war on Khmer Rouge, and how Wikipedia works. I guess I just looked up a few things I was interested in; they were two-liners, so I added some stuff.
David Fuchs. Boredom and sophomore Advanced Placement European History. Reading through our textbooks, I was engaged by the wondrous fountain of knowledge that was the internet for what I considered rather random topics (Pugachev's Rebellion). I was amazed by the open nature of the wiki, and the ease with which my classmates utterly trashed it.
Brianboulton. I edited a local magazine for a while; when that finished I needed an outlet so I could carry on writing and editing. In doing internet searches via Google, I noticed that the top entry on most google pages was from Wikipedia; I investigated and discovered what I wanted—the chance to expound (without deadlines) on favourite subjects, and to do constructive editing as well.

What motivated you to work on your first featured article?

YellowMonkey. Because I hadn't written anything proper before that. It was good to learn how to use the MoS and to reference my work; previously, I'd become used to just dumping a list of books at the bottom, or providing only an unformatted url link.
David Fuchs. A small bronze star.
Brianboulton. That little bronze star, and the encouragement I got from other editors.

What has been your most difficult (or most rewarding) FAC experience?

[[File:MystIII-mechage.png|thumb|right|An example of gameplay in Myst III: Exile, an FA nominated by David Fuchs]]

YellowMonkey. My first one, on swimmer Ian Thorpe, as I didn't know anything, and my prose got hammered, and rightly so, even for November 2006 standards. Apart from that the other FACs have been fairly smooth sailing with the standard queries that need to be fixed with ironing out bumps to make it easier for unacquainted readers to understand. Now I can get by with my own copy-editing, which helps.
Brianboulton. I've not so far experienced what I'd call a really difficult FAC (but things can change). The most rewarding experience has been the encouragement of other editors, and their preparedness to help improve the standards of my nominations by rigorous editing. It is invidious to single out these editors, but I have to say that I always await the detailed reviews of Awadewit with a mixture of dread, awe and pleasure.
David Fuchs. I suppose it's always disheartening when you think you've pre-empted a question about a source or image licensing, then realize there's a host of other issues you missed. In the end, it's best to have a difficult and thorough FAC review rather than a superficial one; you feel much better about the quality of the article.

Which of the featured articles to which you've contributed make you most proud, and why?

YellowMonkey. Probably Thich Quang Duc, because of the subject and because Vietnamese Buddhists regard him as a bodhisattva of compassion because he self-immolated and his heart refused to burn. I'd like to think I didn't turn it into a hagiography, Awadewit actually said "this sounds slightly sinister" in my description of him travelling around Vietnam expounding the dharma. Thich Quang Duc is probably the most widely read of my featured articles, so it's important to me that it be of a high standard. Aside from that one, I do think that my history articles provide information that is ultimately of more lasting importance to society than sport is.
Mozart family Grand Tour, an FA nominated by Brianboulton
Brianboulton. Probably Mozart family Grand Tour. I know I'm associated in most peoples' minds with polar exploration, but I do music and opera too. I'm proud of the Mozart thing because it's an article I've wanted to write for ages, long before my Wikipedia days: it's fulfilled one of my writing ambitions, and it was great fun to write, too.
David Fuchs. Bone Wars or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Like Brian, I'm probably also associated with a particular field—I'm generally known as "that video game guy", but before I started gaming I was a young kid obsessed with dinosaurs and watching taped Star Trek episodes in the living room. Writing about topics I thought I knew everything about was great fun and seeing them attain FA a distinct pleasure.

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

Yellowmonkey nominated several FAs about South Vietnam during the rule of President Ngo Dinh Diem (1955–1963).
Brianboulton. Take the FA criteria very seriously; be sure you honestly believe an article meets the criteria before you nominate it. FAC should not be a development ground for inadequate or under-prepared articles. During the process, maintain total civility with your reviewers. Sometimes reviewers are ill-informed, occasionally they're rude; when that happens, shame them by your courtesy. However, most review comments are worth listening to. Don't be defensive or insist that your version is the best; give ground when necessary. Be patient with the system, and if you think it can be improved, offer suggestions rather than cynicism.
David Fuchs. I'll echo Brian in regards to listening to criticism; I was upset when a reviewer pointed out a dozen sources not in the article and opposed on those grounds; but the article is vastly improved with those sources present. As a "lone wolf" editor who typically works on obscure games or topics, it's easy to lose an objective eye and to fail to realize it's hard for outside readers to comprehend. Get fresh eyes on your article before you take it to FAC; network with others and trade reviews to improve everyone's article quality.
YellowMonkey. Apart from what has already been said, probably keeping cool, especially when the odd strategic/retaliatory oppose comes along, or when the reviewer seems to be abnormally obstructionist.

Do you think reviewing other articles at FAC helps you as you write and nominate articles yourself?

YellowMonkey. Well, you don't have to review—you can simply read the other comments that the reviewers made and learn from how they were addressed. I guess one direct benefit is that you can see an FAC from the other side of the fence. This might help when a FAC turns into a long debate and people are getting hot under the collar, although that hasn't happened in anything I've written at FAC. However, it has happened at FAR.
David Fuchs. Reviewing articles and reading other reviews on those FACs helps you understand common mistakes and how to avoid them in your own work. It's also helpful to understand how to structure your articles. In these respects, the experience has been unique training.
Brianboulton. I have learned a great deal from reviewing, gaining numerous ideas which I have fed back into my own articles. In particular, copyediting other articles helps me to keep my own prose in order.

How can more editors be encouraged to review articles at FAC?

From the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a magnificent picture of Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance: both articles are FAs nominated by Brianboulton.
David Fuchs. It's a volunteer project, so we'll always have issues with reviewing—it's easier to nominate and follow a "if you write it, they will come" mentality than it is to read someone else's work. I think there's an obligation that should be placed on frequent nominators (like me) to return the effort and review others' work; I try to review at least one FAC for every one I nominate these days. I think we should also encourage new users to voice their concerns about articles; early on I was hesitant about supporting or opposing, let alone reviewing FACs, because I was concerned about not really knowing the criteria and being constructive. Newcomers to featured processes should know that any comments are welcome.
Brianboulton. I echo what David says above. I like to review not only at FAC but at peer review, where a great deal of article-building can legitimately be done. I advise all those new to FAC to go through peer review first. When I started FAC reviewing I was very tentative, expecting to be slapped down all the time; but confidence comes with experience. The only reviewing rule I have is: Think before you write (and sadly, I don't always keep it). I do try to maintain an overall time balance of 50% article writing, 50% reviewing.

Have you had any difficulty maintaining the featured articles you contributed to?

Brianboulton. Not really—I keep regular checks. A couple of them are prone to repeated vandalism, so I tend to check these every couple of days or so. All my FAs are pretty new at the moment, and haven't deterioriated much. I intend to do thorough checks on each as they reach their first birthdays this year.
From the featured article Harbhajan Singh, a photo taken by Yellowmonkey
YellowMonkey. Basically no, except for Harbhajan Singh, which attracts the odd editing flurry each time he's censured for improper behaviour on the cricket field; for this reason, I also have to update his playing record after each series as he is still active. Apart from that, the other topics involve people who have stopped playing sport, while Vietnamese history is pretty empty on Wikipedia, sadly, so my articles basically never get touched.
David Fuchs. Aside from a few high-profile video games, such as Halo 3, most articles I write are on pretty obscure subjects. Aside from my attempts to improve them as my available sources have increased and my personal style matured, I'm happy to say none of them have deteriorated thus far.

Has your Wikipedia article writing had any interesting impact or effect in your personal or professional life?

YellowMonkey. Well, an Indian journalist looked up the Harbhajan page immediately after Harbhajan was suspended for racial abuse (later rescinded) and saw a stack of vandalism and borderline troll edits between Australian and Indian anons on that and related articles. So he interviewed me about Indian stuff on Wikipedia and I wrote a couple of cricket punditry pieces for that outlet. On a more amusing note, the Times of India plagiarised a bunch of cricket articles from Wikipedia verbatim, some of them including mistakes and original research from when I was new.
Brianboulton. I am doing something constructive in my spare time, rather than sitting about. My chess-playing standard has regressed to what it was when I was about 16—I don't play enough games and don't study enough theory. I am watching less opera and don't do crosswords any more. That's about it: the main structure of my life hasn't changed that much, I'm glad to say.
David Fuchs. I'm a writer, but unless I've got a school assignment, my impetus to write every day is pretty low. Working on Wikipedia has probably diverted my attention from personal projects on occasion, but it has also provided me with fodder to write about as well—shortly after doing research into the themes and symbolism present in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, I ended up using some of the scholarly sources for a term paper about revenge as a self-destructive and counterproductive act.

Individual questions

YellowMonkey, now that you're no longer serving on ArbCom, will your article contributions change?
I think RL stuff would determine it more than that. But in any case, I have heaps of incomplete large articles around and haven't been creating anything new for while except spinoffs from overgrown articles, so there should still be a few FAs coming.
The rivalry between Othniel Charles Marsh (left) and Edward Drinker Cope (right) sparked the Bone Wars, an FA nominated by David Fuchs.
David Fuchs, you've brought many video games to featured status, and also other types of articles such as Khan Noonien Singh, Chicxulub crater and Bone Wars. What are the similarities and differences in bringing such different articles through FAC?
One of the main reasons I began working on a slew of video game articles my personal interest in the area, but also because, in all seriousness, they are easy as hell to write. Video games can be improved by using print sources like newspaper reviews or game magazine interviews, but even using all-web sources you can write a video game article that meets the featured article criteria. With historical subjects like Bone Wars, I spent weeks acquiring books via interlibrary loan and reading hundreds if not thousands of pages. Where your information can be found depends dramatically on the subject.
Brianboulton, you've been a registered user only since November 2007, first appearing at FAC within only three months with Ross Sea Party. To what do you attribute your speedy acclimation at the FA level, and how can more writers be motivated to contribute at such a high level?
Can I answer this with "I'm a sock", oh please can I Brian? :P -Fuchs
Apparently the answer I am required to give is "I'm a sock" (per D Fuchs). Since I don't know what this means, this could be true. However, besides that, I'd go back to what I said earlier about knowing the FA criteria, using the PR process, listening to reviewers' criticisms, and inviting the most thorough reviewers to comment. Nearly all my nominations owe a large thank-you to at least one other editor. Although still something of a rookie myself, I will be happy to mentor any first-time prospective FA nominator, and to help see them through the process.

See also



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