User:Giano/A fool's guide to writing a featured article

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Some Wikipedians find writing Featured Articles very easy. This is a guide for those of us who do not!

I am frequently asked to look at prospective featured articles and advise on how to write them, so I thought it would be clever to have a few of my thoughts on the subject on paper. Especially so, as many people frequently tell me they are not capable of writing a FA or that they are reluctant to nominate one of their pages. Surprisingly, many of these are not newbies but quite established and respected editors. Hence this, my only Wikipedia essay, is not a lecture on how to write perfect prose but an effort to debunk a few of the many myths that surround FAs. It is also a guide to handling the FAC page and process while retaining one's temper, self-respect and dignity. Nothing here should be taken as definitive advice, and I accept no responsibility for anyone's FACs which fail as a result of wisdom shared here: that will be their own fault entirely.

Basically, just remember any fool (even you) can write a featured article. The people who run the FAC page enjoy promoting: they are keen to help. There is nothing to fear there, and it should be an enjoyable experience: do not take it all too seriously, have a go and have some fun. If it all goes horribly wrong, well it took me three attempts to achieve this one. I was so despondent that a friend had to nominate it without my consent. There is always tomorrow.


Is it worth writing a FA[edit]

Is it worth writing a FA? Well yes, obviously it is. However, before wasting one's time and putting pen to paper one should ask why one wants to do it and if it is for the right reasons. If it is for the wrong reasons then disappointment will follow.

Wrong reasons[edit]

It is unlikely that writing a Featured Article will lead to a sublimely happy event. These two FA writers were indeed fortunate to find each other.
  1. Meeting famous people. On achieving your first or twenty-first FA it is unlikely that Jimbo and the Arbcom will drop by your page with congratulations, flowers and a complimentary adminship. In fact Jimbo has only ever dropped by my page once and that was for altogether different reasons, and the same can be said of Arbs.
  2. Fast track to Adminship. In reality having an FA or two under your belt may help you to become an admin, as it shows commitment to the project and also helps you to meet interesting people who will vote for you. However, no amount of FAs will compensate for a lack of vandal hunting and reverting or sorting things into categories or whatever it is admins do before they acquire the right to enter the hallowed portals of #Admins and begin a lifetime of vaporizing troublesome editors and generally mopping up around the site and being (we are told) useful members of the community.
  3. I want to be a valued member of the community. If this is your only true reason for wanting to write an FA then find another hobby immediately. A significant number of Wikipedians no longer value high quality content. This was very evident in the Arbitration election of December 2007, when the FA Director (himself the author of 10 FAs) who is unquestionably running what should be Wikipedia's most important forum was unceremoniously kicked off the Arbitration Committee. That such an important Wikipedian should have no voice on Wikipedia's highest body is plainly ridiculous. Despite obtaining 312 votes, too many opposed, feeling he did not spend enough time adjudicating cases. Bearing in mind the time he must spend each day evaluating articles to improve the encyclopedia this was hardly surprising. So now while the FA Department has an ear to the most important doings of Wikipedia it has no official voice.

Right reasons[edit]

  1. Meeting new and interesting people Yes, indeed you may find new and exciting friends, though it is doubtful that you will find a new life-partner as most of these new friends will live in a different time-zone to you and you will discover that regular chatting to them at 3 am will ensure that you are so tired they suspect you are moronic. In fact, most Wikipedians prefer not to meet their Wiki-friends in real life as they suspect they may be a little odd for this reason.
  2. I want to make the world a better place This is a truly noble and good reason and will endear you to other like-minded people, which is fortunate as other editors may regard you as a pompous pain in the ass and avoid you like a wet rash. It is enough though to give you the drive to complete a long and laborious page.
  3. I want to be Wiki-famous Like reason number two it will be enough to drive and motivate you. However you should tell no-one you endorse this reason as it is frowned upon in some quarters. Better to say "I want to make the world a better place" and have everyone thinking you are a pain in the ass.
  4. I want to be like Giano. This is a most admirable reason, and if you achieve it you will definitely be thought of as a pain in the ass but also have lots of new and exciting friends. It would be a good idea to write at least five FAs before announcing this ambition and be in possession of blackmail material on at least half the Arbcom, as you may otherwise have a sudden accident.

What subject[edit]

The FA Director (who has written 10 FAs) is a very important person. Do not upset him. Like Giano II he is of Italian descent. Unlike Giano II he does not accept bribes. Many editors attempt to flatter him. It is futile. He already knows he has dark good looks, a fine strong chiselled jaw, and a fine physique (all Italians do). He is implacably fair. Very irritatingly so at times. The FAC page is one of the few areas where cabalism is never alleged.

So you have decided for various reasons to write your first FA. You can always look for a page which is almost an FA, change the spelling from American to English and nominate it as your own work. However, the American (there do seem to be quite a few here) who wrote the original page will probably get humpy if you do this, so it is preferable to choose a subject and write it yourself. Decide on a subject that you know a great deal about (this sounds obvious but many people do not). It is essential in my view that you are so deeply interested in the subject that researching it becomes pleasurable. If not the whole thing becomes a chore and you will lose interest before it reaches FA standard. Also pages written with clear enthusiasm and love are for some reason more easily readable than those that are not. Remember when the page reaches the FAC page there will always be some "know-all" there who professes to know more about the subject than you, so it is important you can counter any demands or faults he makes of your work - so never choose a subject where you feel you may have to bullshit or waffle.

Biographies are the easiest things to write. When selecting a subject for your first FA consider the person concerned. Are you interested in them? If you find them dull other people will also. For your first FA it is a good idea to select someone dead as they can't sue or write a letter of complaint to Jimbo. You will also avoid the complexities of the BLP policies. Also, writing the conclusion is easier when there is a definite end and you can finish with a cheery picture of your pet Labrador/girlfriend/neighbour sitting by their tombstone.

Do not write about:

  1. Yourself, your parents, or your neighbour. No matter how interesting you find them, how amusing their jokes, or the heroic things they have told you they did in Vietnam, it is doubtful you will find enough reliable references to produce a FA. If your name is Jenna Bush definitely do not consider this option.
  2. The actress "with the big boobies whose name you can't member" (or the bloke with the big donger) who starred in the DVD which came free with your third packet of Durex. There are Wikipedians who have made a career out of such actresses but they seldom become FAs.
  3. A film which starred any of the above including your parents, yourself or big sister.
  4. Very famous people indeed. They will either have a FA already or too many people will know too much and say your page is not comprehensive enough or POV. Save the re-write of Winston Churchill for your twenty-third FA.
  5. Living members of the British royal family - it is not only naff to be interested in such people, you will also attract oppose votes from others who do not share your adoration and respect. This can be extended to any member of the British aristocracy - except for Lord Lucan and that peer who once was a cabinet minister but had to resign after cavorting with call girls.
  6. Any computer game/anime or creature/object that stars within said game, especially if it has been made in Japan. We are grown up, we are intellectuals, we do not know such things exist.

What if someone has written my page first? - Where to write.[edit]

Beware of editors grinning like piranhas when they agree to a collaboration. Innocent newbie Condi thinks Tony is thrilled that she is going to re-write his life of Mrs Blair, but look at the body language.

This is important. Check your page does not exist already - it sounds daft I know but it does happen. Do not just search Wikipedia but also Google to see if it comes up on Wikipedia under another name. If it does don't worry unless it is a FA already written by myself in which case worry. If the page is a small stub then it is usually safe to just start expanding; if it is already a substantial page with one or more clear major editors then it is polite to announce your intentions on the talk page and leave a message on the primary author's talk page. You do not have to, but manners cost nothing and save a lot of trouble later.

The danger of proposing a large expansion on the talk page is that the world and his wife and their pet bot may offer to join you in a collaboration. While those who sing the "Wikipedia song" and enjoy "Wiki-meet ups" advocate collaborations - in reality they only work when everyone has an assigned task and genuinely wants to help, this has happened to me three times and it is fantastic when it does[1] - better than sex, well actually no it's not but you know what I mean. Sadly, more often than not a keen earnest stranger turning up unannounced wanting to re-write a page rings alarm bells and the original editors are only offering to help in order to restrain you. This is certainly the attitude I adopt - beware a Giano grinning like a piranha - WP:OWN is all very well but if you have invested God knows how many hours of your life in a page you don't want some clueless newbie turning up. If your chosen page is already half written and you want a completely free hand it is better to look elsewhere. This goes against all Wiki philosophy but it is true - remember we are after the stress-free FA here.

Main space versus User space[edit]

Many people don't realise that when writing a Wikipedia article one has the choice of writing publicly in main space where anyone can edit or in userspace - userspace is generally considered private. So you have two choices - both have advantages and disadvantages. I prefer to write in User space for the reasons I explained here.

Mainspace

  1. One has to write efficiently and neatly as this is a Wikipedia page which must be readable at all times, even when being expanded. You can for a time put an "in use" template on, but it must still be a constantly readable, informative page.
  2. A sudden rush of editing may attract attention, and other people may edit your work while you are asleep. This may be either advantageous or disadvantageous.
  3. If you lose momentary interest in the subject or want a week off, someone else may finish the page for you, and it may not be the way you envisaged.
  4. Editing in the public eye may encourage you to keep your nose to the grindstone.

Userspace

  1. This is going to shock everyone! So avert your eyes. If you know your subject inside out (sometimes I do) you can write the page completely and worry about referencing when you are finished.
  2. Userspace is your own. You can work at your own pace, and no one should interfere.
  3. If your subject is a long and laborious one, you can have a rest from it, go off and do something else, go on holiday and come back to it.
  4. This to me is the huge advantage - You can work in a mess. I do. You can copy paste from the internet information you want to remember, you can litter the page with sites and refs and "aides-mémoire" that may be useful - thoughts for the final section six months before you start to write it - you can even write the final section before the lead - I have done that before. Basically it is your own world, you can do what you like.
  5. Your friends can give their opinion on the talk page, and you can pretend not to notice if it suits you.
  6. Bear in mind the advice I am giving an editor here. There is some further advice here Wikipedia:How to fix cut-and-paste moves. The important thing here is that nobody is deprived of any credit for their edits.

Manual of Style and criteria[edit]

Now you have decided on your subject but before you write one word you need to know a little about criteria, style and format. Your first port of call has to be Wikipedia:Featured article criteria. This is quite a straightforward page and you do need to read it. If your page fails to meet any of these criteria then it will fail - but fear not, most of it is very obvious. Pay particular attention to the information on references though, it's important. It does say you can use Harvard referencing - most people don't. I shall come to my views on referencing later.

Next you have a horrible job coming. One of the most complex and terrifying things you will encounter on Wikipedia is the Manual of Style. This monstrosity of demands and rules can be recited parrot fashion by many who hang out on the FAC page so it is essential that you look at it. Arm yourself with a crucifix and click here. Those who frequently quote from it and write it lovingly refer to it as WP:MOS. Ignore all the instructions on "—" and other such mysteries and scroll quickly to the bottom of the page and press the back button of your browser. There, you have done it, you have seen it, you need never look at it again. The only people who have a clue what it says are those that spend their lives writing it.

However, don't completely relax, you do need to know how to format a FA. The easiest way is to look at recently featured articles, the ones on the main page will do, press the edit button and see how certain things have been achieved and why, if you are puzzled by something you find then if you are courageous refer back to the MoS or more easily just ask the editor concerned on his talk page why he has taken a certain action. So long as you say how much you admire their masterpiece most FA writers are very happy to talk and explain how to write an FA to the uninitiated. Most FAs follow the same format:

  1. The Lead: this is the introduction, it needs to summarise the whole page in two or three brief paragraphs without questions or cliff-hangers, remember you are writing an encyclopedia you are not Agatha Christie (try and keep the length of the lead proportionate to the length of the page). You do not need to reference the lead - and it is very rewarding to smugly inform irritating little jerks of that fact when they are objecting for that reason on the FAC page.
  2. Sections These can number any amount, and should be titled (write the title and press A button) This is where you write the principal content. Everything you write without exception must be verifiable by a published source. Internet sites are allowed if they are non-commercial, in my view published reference books are better, some FAs are written entirely from internet sites but try at least to have a good balance. Your page will not fail if you use only web sites but snobby people like me will probably just not vote for it, an oppose vote would not be actionable.
  3. I always try to write in chronological order, as it makes the page not only easier to follow but also clearer when writing and sorting one's facts. Any fact that is not widely known or accepted needs to be cited with the author's name and page number of the book/website where you found it. The reference address should then be listed under "references".
  4. Conclusion This is one of the few things that seem to vary from FA to FA. It is important to wind the page down, one cannot leave the reader suspended in mid air feeling the page is not completed. I usually write on historical subjects so give a brief appreciation of how the subject is regarded today - if the subject is still alive say what they are doing today - if it is a battleship that sank say how the news was received at home. Basically the conclusion needs to be brief epilogue with an appropriate title. "Legacy" is one I have frequently if I'm describing the after-effects of the subject.

Length and content[edit]

Facts. If your subject was a brilliant politician but a mean old bastard with his money, one does not want ten facts about his miserliness and only three facts about his brilliance. Try to keep perspective and balance.

In my opinion a FA can be any length so long as it remains on subject and keeps the reader awake until the conclusion. Remember minutiae of detail which fascinate you may send another person to sleep. It can be difficult judging the depth necessary for an article - I generally add every known fact I can find, then when I think the page is written (note I say written not finished) hack it to pieces and remove sometimes up to a third of what I have written. I then ask a few friends for their opinions too and generally they are very uncomplimentary and remove a lot more superfluous text. As a writer I have a tendency to verbosity.

Be careful when pruning your text that only facts which are repetitive in indicating a subject's raison d'être are removed. An FA can never be "over-facted". If a subject was a mean old bastard with his money one does not need ten tales of misery and miserliness to prove it - two or three will do. If he was a brilliant politician who brokered amazing world-peace-making deals then they probably all have to be included. One has to retain a sense of balance and accuracy which does not distort the readers' perception of the subject. As a rule of thumb, where a fact is concerned "if in doubt - leave it in". In most cases the reason for the subject's notability should take precedence. You are writing an encyclopedia not an overpriced "Mommie Dearest" type biography designed to be sold to the salivating masses.

Images[edit]

It is very important that you check all the images in your page have the correct tag and copyright. There are some editors who the very moment they see an FAC immediately click on the images and oppose if there is anything untoward. Oddly enough they never seem to feel the need to support if the images are all correct. So be sure to check this in advance of going to the FAC page.

Images add interest to the page, and an FA should ideally have a few, I like to have at least one or two in each section. The lead image is supposed to be in the right hand corner looking into the page. God knows why, as it is not always possible to find them like that. After the lead it seems to be the prescribed fashion to have them left right left right down the page, I always like them on the same side in each section. You are also supposed to have them "unforced" (i.e. with no given size) I always ignore this as it can look terrible with these whacking great images cluttering the place up.

The other problem with images is what looks OK on your screen may not on another person's. This is a particular problem when you have a lot of images - so be prepared to have to move things about. There are some editors about who are very good with images and happy to help you out. Placing them well is a very skilled job, I have never understood how to do it properly and often have to ask for help, so don't worry if you can't either.

Brilliant prose[edit]

This is Tony who you will probably meet on the FAC page. Despite being a terrible electrician (note the dangling wire and frazzled hairstyle) he is an expert on prose and dedicated FAC commentator. He has written a very helpful essay on prose here and often gives a detailed and helpful appraisal, for you to act on, of any page he reviews on FAC. (the shirt was white when he put it on)

This is the big stumbling block that wrongly frightens so many people away from writing a FA. On the FAC page people who would not recognize brilliant prose if it jumped up and savaged their behinds love to use it as a weapon to criticise someone's lovingly written page. There are others on the FAC page who are true experts on prose and unlike the latter group will take the time to itemise what is wrong with the prose and advise on fixing. Tony is one of these. So you do not have to be truly brilliant in your writing as others will advise you once you are there.

However, the prose should be fairly good before you go there, so you require some friends. These are essential, as you are writing the page you need to ask them to proofread regularly and if they think it necessary to make suggestions, especially regarding prose, you have the knowledge and they have the eyes. You will be staring at the page for so long you will begin failing to spot even the most obvious mistakes. I cannot write three words without making a mistake and I have no idea of grammar whatsoever and my spelling is decidedly dodgy so friends and copy editors are essential to me. So fear not about prose: as the article progresses the prose usually improves with it until it becomes good enough, that is assuming one has chosen the right friends.

If for one reason or another you have a problem making new friends[2] you can always try the League of Copyeditors. I have never used them and know nothing of them, although I expect they are very good. Their name though does sound like a teetotal religious sect and their conditions put me off them. They say that before they edit an article:-

"The article must comply with the major stylistic requirements of the manual of style and the stylistic requirements of appropriate WikiProjects."

Christ! That rules most of the pages on Wikipedia out of their territory for a start. If we all understood that, we would not need them.

Peacock and Weasel words[edit]

I'm not going to say any more on acquiring beautiful prose but two things you do need to try and avoid using are peacock words and weasel words There are the definitions of the terms linked to above, but really all you need to concentrate on is accuracy and truth.

Overly-compulsive people are obsessed with peacock words and object to almost any adjective. I was once accused of using them for describing the imperial entertaining at Buckingham Palace in the early 20th century as "majestic" which was plain daft, but floral adjectives do need to be limited or reffed. This link here gives you a flavour of what to try and avoid which is generally going over the top with the superlatives. Women are never "pretty", men are never "brave" and houses never "impressive" which is stupid as it usually the reason they are being written about (be quiet feminists - I am merely making a point with a figure of speech, people know quite well what I mean). If you do use such adjectives try and find a reference for them so it is obvious it is not your point of view.

Weasel words means in a nut shell not only "bullshitting" and prevaricating, but covering yourself for the possibilities of inaccuracy with "probablies" and "perhapses". Do not say "some people believe," say precisely who believes and give a reference to back it up. Similarly, never say "It is possible". This is an encyclopedia we deal in fact, not unsubstantiated theories. If you must explore an alternative theory it must not be your own and you must be prepared to prove that it is not your own.

The secret ingredient for an FA[edit]

Eleonora di Toledo, like Tony was not an electrician, but, she loved to laugh at big dongers, the kids love it, and it makes her human, but keep the wisecracks in perspective.

If you are going to bore everyone to death writing about a castle or palace, or long dead person they have never heard of, you need to spice it up. Yep, I know it's not encyclopedic, but you are writing for the intelligent fourteen year old - so ask yourself....what does he want? Well, we have all been there, and it's sex and violence, with the emphasis on sex. Now, it's a basic fact of education, give 'em what they want and they will read it.

Examples of what I'm trying to say are here in Hannah de Rothschild. Her photographs show her as a woman of unspectacular looks, so the photographs are buried deep in the article, the lead is a voluptuous and colourful girl, by a painter probably paid to flatter her, however it is more enticing to the prospective reader than an overweight fading black and white foto.

Later, I was thrilled to discover the "three in a bed romp", and it was great to be able to suddenly surprise the reader with it in the middle of a dull section on boring Victorian politics [1]. Our 14 year old will look at the pictures first, so mention any sexy scandal in the caption - it draws them to the text to find out more. Of course, they will be disappointed, but they have to read it to know that. However, there is a real warning here: Using this trick, one has to be careful not to blow the sexy bits up and out of proportion, never forget we are a serious encyclopedia - keep all facts in proportion to the true facts of the subjects life. It is quite likely that Hannah's husband was gay, and there has been much gossip speculating this, to me reading all the biographies it was obvious, that he had his demons, but the concrete facts were not there; so remember - it's OK to mention speculation about scandal, but without the facts don't capitalise on it - again, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia not a tabloid. However , never be afraid of adding a touch of human interest to drag the crowds in - most people are not interested in decaying buildings and long dead people - they all need a spark, you have to find the spark, or your page will be very dull indeed. So try to find the mad queen, the gay politician, the nymphomaniac wife or just the homicidal mother-in-law; all will be gratefully received by the reading public.

Selecting one's friends[edit]

At one time FA writers could be easily found.

As has been said above, unless you have naturally brilliant prose (in which case you are probably being paid for your work and not giving it away for nothing here) you need friends to help you. Wikipedia is full of bright and interesting people who will make suitable and useful friends for the prospective FA writer. So for your new friends what are we looking for and where does one find them?

Well, like everyone else in the world "birds of a feather flock together". At one time in Wikipedia's history if one dropped by Bishonen's talk page one would find a whole gaggle/salon of them exchanging what in Wikipedia passed for witty repartee and intellectual intercourse. There, over the sparkling conversation, one would enjoy a glass of liebfraumilch (or on a good day warm Australian Chardonnay) and a prawn cocktail flavoured crisp with Wikipedia's finest.

Today, the FA writer can be harder to find.

Alas, those days are now long gone. I can see still in my mind's eye Bishonen reclining in on her chaise longue, tiara sparkling in the flickering candlelight, idly curling Geogre's hair with her elegantly long index finger as he wrote yet another FA. The greatest Wikipedian of all time Filiocht[3] reading aloud to those eminent Wikipedians assembled his latest epic. ALoan[4] passing the canapés, pretending to ignore the young revolutionary E1 C hiding from the Imperial guard behind the heavy drapes, while World Traveller talked of his latest voyages detailed in FAs. Then silently but stealthily came the cultural revolution and such worthy collaborations as this became a thing of the past. Now they are just phantoms in an empty room, and an altogether different type of crowd became the people to know. This leaves you with a problem of how to find proper and reliable help and advice for your featured article.

If you don't already know an experienced FA writer, you can always leave a message on my talk page (or that of any other editor known for their main space contributions). Prolific writers' pages are often widely watched and visited by the more competent editors, many of whom are keen to help on a wide variety of subjects. From them you will come into contact with an even wider circle. If you need help, and you probably will, it is imperative you seek it from those who understand the FAC process. At times it can seem illogical and unfair: it will need to be explained to you by someone who understands it, not someone who is as lost as you.

References[edit]

The references are as important as the page itself, without them the page is not creditable and we (who are the site) are not creditable. In my view books are better than internet sites as books stay constant whereas sites often do not. However that is only my view and many others do not share it. As far as your FA is concerned any references that are reputable will do; this is after all the "age of Google". You must not, however, use any published for commercial reasons as they may be biased and have a strong POV, nor can you use your own research. Whatever facts you use they must be published somewhere.

A few years ago on Wikipedia we just made a list of books at the bottom of the page as references and that was good enough. Now things have improved and we are required to use inline cites. These must indicate not only which book a specific fact came from but also the page number. I think that is a good idea. However, as is always the case there are some who wish to take these things to extremes, I was very cross the other day when asked to provide a reference for the fact that Vasari designed that well known and much photographed building and landmark the Vasari Corridor. This is a well known fact and needs no citing, these things would be more widely known if those people who demand such cites bothered to read the writing on the packaging of their jigsaw puzzles.

You as a FA writer have a choice to either cite the obvious or not to cite it. If you choose like me the latter, then you will have to be prepared to argue your case. If this is your first FA it is probably easiest to cite everything that does not move - that way you will be spared comments like this. Yes, that editor achieved the double whammy in one edit - demanding cites per paragraph regardless of need and recommending Good Article. Needless to say the editor never returned and the page passed regardless. You cannot stop the advice to go elsewhere but you can have less stress by citing everything. I'm not sure how many cites per paragraph is advisable; you can decide that for yourself.

Handling the FAC page[edit]


Sandy (from Georgia) has realised there are advantages to working on the FAC page. She now has many friends and likes chocolates.

Your friends have now finished editing your prospective FA, it is all shiny and new and none of them can see any fault at all. You know you only have to nominate it and the accolades will come pouring in. Raul will probably weep with pleasure when he sees it, by-pass all comment and pass it immediately, while simultaneously catching his swooning side-kick Sandy (she is from Georgia, where they swoon all the time, remember Gone with the Wind).

You negotiate the tricky procedure (designed so any fool, except you, can understand it) of nominating. In your brief nomination announce that this is a self-nom and say why you think it should be a FA. You can mention any specific help you have received from other editors but try to avoid thanking all your friends, your mom and your dad, your Labrador and the neighbor (who in spite of not being the subject has been very supportive, and waived the rights to his 'Nam draft photo which you have not used). Now begins the great excitement, for a full forty-eight hours you sit by your screen - nothing happens. Is the site down? Has your computer frozen? Where is everybody? More to the point where are your friends? You check their user pages (they are not replying to email). You are met with a bombardment of Wiki-break templates. You are alone in a strange, empty, deserted and hostile place. Welcome to the FAC page.

While sweating nervously (perspiring gently if you are from Georgia) you repeatedly click your watchlist. Have you accidentally taken it off? - no, it is still there. Then suddenly it is at the top of the list someone has voted - you hurry over to the FAC page - God, the broad-band is slow today - is it support? No, it is "comment" - someone you have never heard of is helpfully pointing out that the references are not formatted according to the latest diktat from the MOS. Panic! WTF! What can I do? - relax - just post below "I am a complete blithering idiot, who has never been here before. I don't know what to do" (voters admire humility). Providing she has recovered from her swoon (remember she is from Georgia), Sandy will have spotted your pathetic plight and will advise you, send her a box of chocolates and she may even do it for you. First hurdle is over - the refs are now OK.

Sometime during this chain of events, another editor you have never heard of will pop up and in a squeaky irritating way say "This has not been to peer review" or "have you considered Good Article" - Some people find peer review helpful before nominating to the FAC page, I never have but you can consider it if you want to before nominating. If the page is good enough for GA (more on that later) it is probably good enough for FAC. So ignore the squeaky voiced one, you are here now you may as well continue - are you a man or a mouse? Besides which Sandy has scoffed the chocolates and done the references.

Suddenly the opinions will start to trickle in. There will be supports from people who are clearly on some form of illegal medication, and have obviously never read the page, and supports with conditions from those who are not and clearly have. Generally the conditions are small and you can easily comply. If you don't agree with them say so - if it is a conditional support often the editor can be persuaded. You do not have to accept all advice meekly - it is your work - you have a right to have it as you wish, at least as long as it is a FAC. I usually thank people for their interest, if only to prove I am not as nasty as some people (who don't frequent the FA pages) say I am. You don't have to respond but a little banter on the page makes it a more pleasant place for all - it is not a court of law, your page is not on trial, there is no need to be desperately formal. Remember you are doing this for pleasure. Less easy to deal with are the objections and strong recommendations.

These days I seldom object to a page, life is too short. I just ignore it but others do not. So how do we deal with them? Well, we have to be polite; if that is hard, be coldly and glacially polite. I learnt this the hard way and trust me becoming angry on the FAC page serves no-one well.

Opposes[edit]

Keep all thoughts about what you would like to do with objecting commentators firmly in your imagination. Take comfort from the knowledge that everyone meets their just deserts sometime, just make sure it is not during your FAC

Dealing with Oppose comment varies depending on the phrasing of the oppose. Opposes should be made with a valid reason for opposing. If the reason given is not actionable (rectifiable) then that view will be discounted. In other words you should be able to change that oppose to support if you carry out the changes suggested. If you cannot persuade the opposer to see your point of view and you are unwilling to make the changes he recommends then the oppose will stand. The FAC page is not a vote like most things on Wikipedia, it attempts to build consensus so a few opposes will not necessarily mean a page is going to fail FAC. You should, however, try and address as many concerns as possible. You are here to see your page improved as well as cover yourself in glory.

Dealing with the difficult editor on FAC a truly difficult editor making silly comments and statements and opposing will generally be ignored by those promoting. Do not concern yourself with comments such as these. These are listed here in order not just to amuse but to demonstrate some of the nonsense you may come across.

  1. This: Do not get angry - just ignore as will the FA director when he assesses consensus.
  2. This: Comments like this are nearly always the result of a sock or possibly your neighbour in disguise who is still sore he is not the subject.

Commentators who need strangling[edit]

Some reviewers need strangling slowly and very painfully - this paragraph is addressed to them more than the prospective author. You know who you are, and the title of this paragraph has drawn you in like a magnet - well I hope you are shamefaced. You are the annoying little irks who write such comments as these:

  1. "There is a comma missing from the third sentence of the last paragraph but two in the penultimate section." and this will be amongst several other points in similar vein. Now how long has it taken you to write that? Mmmm?.... c'mon be honest? Now how long would it have taken to fix it yourself? Yes, I should think you are embarrassed and you know that I know who you are.
  2. More irritating still are the clever sods - "I think the author did not mean to write alter but altar" or in a page about a famous robbery "I always thought it was bullion that was stolen not five truck loads of bouillon" - well ha ha ha aren't you the clever bugger? We all use spell-checkers and sometimes they do weird things - just change it yourself - this is the author's opportunity to look clever not the commentators'. If you are that clever go and write your own bloody page.

When confronted with these people on the FAC page the author should not be short tempered, just go to the page and make the changes they recommend and indicate this on the FAC page. As an English gentleman once remarked when confronted with an unwanted comment "I did not want to appear rude so I just turned me back and walked away".[5]

Thankfully, only once have I ever come across this situation in 5 years, so it's unlikely to happen to you - most people are pretty decent and understand that you are proud of your work, even if they don't like it. Basically, it amounts to stealing your nomination and credit. If it does happen to you, all you can do is deal with it robustly and hope the FA director or his assistant steps in a solves the problem for you.

Commentators as a breed[edit]

While we are all having a superior and smug smirk at those who make silly of irritating objections one serious point does need to be emphasized. The vast majority who oppose or make valid objections are doing so for the right reasons. These are to either maintain the standards of Wikipedia Featured articles because the reviewer seriously and very much wants your page to be improved to the level and high standards of a FA. So it is very much in your interests to listen to concerns and, whenever possible, to act upon them. You have chosen to have your page held up for scrutiny - do not be surprised or angry when it is scrutinised and do realise most voters have your page's best interests at heart. If you satisfy the opposing reviewers your page will become an FA. It is in your hands.

Too few are reviewing[edit]

Everyone's nightmare and sadly this does very occasionally happen. It has happened to me only once and the page subsequently failed. It would not have passed by today's standards, but it may have done at the time. It is a very disheartening experience for an editor, I have seen pages pass with just three or four supports and no other comment, but when you have just one implacable oppose and nothing else then you have a problem. So what can you legally do about it? Remember canvassing is forbidden. The following are ways around this.

Track down some editors (not too many) who are interested in the subject and explain to them on their talk pages your predicament. Try to give each a personal message (not a mass spam) just be honest say it is hardly attracting any attention and ask them politely if they have any suggestions towards improving the page or if they would like to provide an FAC review. It is best if these are editors you do not really know as then they will not feel as though only a support vote is being sought. Of course it is strictly speaking canvassing but I often receive messages like this and I don't mind so long as it is phrased in a neutral way. It would be a very hard hearted person who objected to such an action. However do not do this unless your page has been languishing and ignored for at least a week on FAC.

The other thing I do (I will probably be shot for saying this) is mention it "en passant" in conversations with others who you are speaking to anyway on their talk pages, sort of, "Hello, can I just butt into this fascinating conversation on higher maths, to tell you I have uploaded a dog eared image of my old school logarithm book - sorry can't stop to advise you further as I had better get back to my FAC Arnold Schwarzenpecker (architect)." Just be discreet and careful how you do it.

Do not ever spam your friends with links to the FAC page. If your page is receiving attention, even lots of opposes, never, ever, ever do anything that could be construed as trying to muster support. That is cheating fair and square. My advice above is purely for when the page has little if any interest at all. Do not, under any circumstances, do this if you only want to counter some oppose votes.

This is probably a good place and time to say another thing that I always think looks bad - try to discourage your friends from turning up to give blanket support the second you nominate it. Of course they will want to support your page but you won't get a lot of personal satisfaction from having a page featured because you have lots of friends. Some of my friends support, but some never vote at all on my pages. When my friends' pages are on FAC I usually wait if I am supporting until there are sufficient comments for my support to not make any difference to the consensus. I have never opposed a friends' page for the simple reason I have usually raised any concerns long before the FAC stage, and they have been addressed. This is all a tricky area but you are intelligent, so use your own common sense - you are big enough and ugly enough to know what looks good and what looks bad.

If anyone wants an historic laugh here is the one time it happened to me [2] Bishonen nominated the page - for some reason I used to be shy about nominating, it always seemed a bit boastful - completely daft really as I'm not normally reticent! I did not feel able to even discreetly canvas because the only vote was oppose, and then to add injury and shame my friend ALoan (the sod) turned up and said it needed Peer review - I do remember thinking at the time that if he did not like it he could have just kept his mouth shut. Of course no way would that page pass FA today, or should it, but a similar scenario could happen to any FA writer even today - so be prepared.

Your day on the main page[edit]

Unless Our esteemed leader invites you to tea your 24 hours on the mainpage is one of the most exciting things that will happen to you as a Wikipedian.

Unless you are invited to tea with Jimbo this is one of the most exciting things that will happen to you as a Wikipedian. It is your special and unique moment of glory and fame - it may not be reported on the TV news but it's pretty good and it lasts for a whole 24 hours. Your baby, your page, your intellect is famous, you are famous, can life get any better? - Well....yes, frankly it can.

The very moment the clock strikes twelve and your page is lit up suddenly becomes the signal for every sexual deviant in the northern hemisphere and quite a few in the southern (yes they have them there too) to begin editing the main page. No one has told you that the main page article is not protected. (Raul has such a sense of humour.) Mind you, it is not as bad as it used to be when "the bloke with the big donger" used to appear as regular as clockwork enjoying his own company in a very gymnastic way in the lead every twenty minutes - but it's still a shock and it gets worse.

You thought all the "know-alls" had said their piece on the FAC page - how wrong you were, they have been waiting just for you. Hundreds of them now spot the page they deliberately ignored on FAC - your baby is now being attacked by perverts and know-alls - they are edit-conflicting not only each other but the dozens of bots (busy changing things you did not know could be changed) - it is carnage - it is scary - it is Wikipedia! You have arrived you are now a "respected editor" and the next morning as if by magic the page is exactly the same as it was twenty-four hours before. Just as you left it.

Life after Wikipedia[edit]

Fireworks in monterrey.jpg

So here you are, you have been on the main page and you are probably halfway through your prospective second FA. You have done your bit for Wikipedia and moving towards being a very respected editor. Or are you? Writing for Wikipedia is worse than playing golf. In golf you are at least as good as your last shot, on Wikipedia you are only as good as your next shot because your last shot can be taken from you. The phenomenon known as the FARC page is what will plague you next.

Of course the simple solution would be for all FAs to be just labeled {{2004 FA}} or {{2008 FA}} etc and people would assess them accordingly; but no, that is too simple. Many of the earlier FAs, my own included, are not as good, yes I say not as good, as those which came later - and some editors seek to remove the FA badge from them. The chief problem is the lack of in-line cites which were not required when they were written - not references (they are all referenced). It is assumed that editors may have made something up, which is sad. However, here is a FAR comment with which I completely agree [3]. If today's editors want to add inline cites - the references are all listed and there is nothing to stop them adding them themselves. They don't have to publicly rubbish the page [4]. When you have created an FA you are justifiably proud of it - you don't need or deserve comments like that. Remember always to use proven facts, nothing else - then no one can touch you. It is, however, good that standards are improving as the project has grown.

So what now? I wanted to get (shit! "get" is a forbidden word, I was going to make a list of those) some thoughts down on paper. There are going to be far more prolific FA writers than me in the future, writing on far more interesting topics - things will get better, I believe that.

At present Wikipedia, in my view, is a sad place, its rulers are a non-intellectual mediocrity, more interested in self promotion and chatting in an IRC chatroom than in global education, they have never comprehended the project's true goals, they embrace those who have no interest in those goals. It seems there is even talk of now an IRC channel to discuss gaining votes for an FAC [5], doubtless so that various IRC users' own inadequate jottings can be promoted to featured article status, just as their owm inadequate users are frequently promoted to admin status. In short, Wikipedia has become a foundling home for the intellectually inept. It is sad, but we cannot allow the project to become a refuge, and chatroom, for all, especially if it is at the expense of the project's integrity. To that end we have to be determined, and if necessary ruthless. We can console ourselves that there are many places in the internet-world for these people to chat, make friends and achieve their political ambitions. I think, we have lost sight of the fact that this is a project dedicated unequivocally to promoting education.

Doubtless as ever my views will be hugely controversial, and many won't agree. I've always been a catalyst, and I hope a catalyst for good, so we will see. There is huge interest in the project world-wide one day a large investor will see the potential, step in and change the present deplorable situation. If a dyslexic, who failed all his English exams at 16, like me, can become one of the most famed editors, because of the support, help and collaboration of the dedicated editing and contributing community, then the project has to be capable of surviving, it deserves to, it must do. We all have it in us to write an FA, and we all owe it to ourselves to try - I really and truly believe that there is no dedicated editor, who with the help of the community could not produce a FA.

So - keep on trying with the high quality stuff because those of you who do are comparatively few in number. Wikipedia needs you, and will one day appreciate you. Most important of all, remember you are not here for thanks and praise (nice as they are) it is to share and spread your knowledge.

But, for God's sake do so in a witty and amusing fashion - no one likes a bore!

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ John Vanbrugh, Sanssouci and Queluz National Palace.
  2. ^ Usually nothing a bar of soap won't cure.
  3. ^ Filiocht, author of some of Wikipedia's greatest FAs at the time, has the almost unique distinction of being one of the only prolific FA writers to be elected to the Arbcom. Sadly on the day of his appointment, he entered the Arbitorial Palace, took one look at his fellow Arbs and fled and has never been seen or heard of again to this day - or so it is said! However, sometimes when the wind is howling in the east a dreadful screaming and moaning can he heard while a figure resembling the Arb's clerk at the time can be seen endlessly washing his hands.
  4. ^ ALoan was another very prolific editor who not only wrote his own FAs, but frequently copy-edited mine and those of anyone else who asked him. Always willing to help, he rarely criticised and worked tirelessly for the do-you-know section of the main page. He left. He will not return.
  5. ^ Douglas Sutherland, The English Gentleman (London: Debrett, 1978), page 13.