User:Mike Cline/Conquering the Dilemma-Creating a Better List

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The Dilemma[edit]

The List WP:List in Wikipedia suffers from the dilemma that it has too many purposes—all legitimate—but purposes that cannot be addressed simply with a single set of guidelines. What are those purposes? WP:CLN provides some clues here, but here’s a short list. Navigation Templates such as: Template:Lake (Yellowstone) are a specialized form of embedded list that is extremely functional when applied to a large number of articles related to an expansive subject.

  • Navigation: Lists can be purely navigational in nature. In other words they are a lists of links to other articles related to the context of the list. List of lists is a purely navigational list. Disambiguation pages are navigational lists. Purely navigational lists rarely provide much additional context for individual entries. As long as a list entry makes sense in the context of the list title, they are suitable for the list. Navigation Templates such as: Template:Wind power are a specialized form of embedded list that is extremely function when applied to a large number of articles related to an expansive subject.
  • Full-fledged Articles: A great many lists are full-fledged encyclopedic articles in their own right. Their content is encyclopedic, organized and in full compliance with WP:Verify, WP:NPOV, and WP:Notability policies and guidelines.
  • Just too big for the main article: Many lists start out as embedded lists in articles, but their content outgrows the article. There are just too many legitimate entries in the list and the embedded list detracts from the overall encyclopedic nature of the article. These embedded lists might then become standalone lists linked to the article. Many Summary Style articles link to lists that are just too big for the main article.
  • Just too small for a standalone article: Many related subjects are individually suitable for WP but they just don't seem encyclopedic as short individual articles. In these cases, coverage of these related subjects is best achieved with a stand-alone list instead of multiple short articles.
  • Developmental Tools: Lists are useful (a loaded term in WP) for article editors that want to or need to organize a lot of preliminary data in preparation to create multiple articles on a complex or expansive subject. Lists such as Mountains and mountain ranges of Yellowstone National Park is both navigational and developmental. All those blue links allow readers and editors to quickly navigate to various mountain articles, but all those red links allow editors to identify those mountain peaks that still need articles.

The above purposes create a dilemma for editors in that all the guidelines in WP:Lists and its associated guidelines and Manuals of Style don’t apply equally to all the different list purposes. Additionally, those purposes are not necessarily an either/or condition for any given list article and a list article might be fulfilling all the above purposes in some way or the other. That’s the dilemma of lists—multiple purposes with guidelines that aren’t necessarily specific to any one of the purposes.

Now, many editors in WP don’t like lists, some editors want to eliminate the whole List methodology all together, while many editors create exceptionally fine, encyclopedic lists that have no difficulty meeting WP policies and guidelines. Many poorly written lists don’t avoid first or later survive deletion debates, yet a great many good encyclopedic lists exist in WP. How can editors deal with this dilemma and create a better list?

Creating a better list[edit]

Here’s a short embedded list of tips for creating a better list. Lists that will avoid first and if that fails, survive deletion debates. These tips are in order of priority and precedence.

  • Tip #1 – List Context: First and foremost, list context (including its title) establishes what the list is all about. When lists are challenged based on WP:Notability grounds it is because the context of the list does not support notability requirements. A list’s context is established with two key elements of the list article—its title and its lead-in paragraph. Getting these two elements correct is essential in establishing list context that will significantly improve the survival probability of the article.
    • List title – This is the first rung in the ladder to notability. If the list is about a subject that is non-notable, then the probability that the list will survive notability requirements is significantly lower. If a list was titled: List of books by John Doe and Joe Doe himself was not notable nor had an article in WP, it is unlikely the notability of this list could be supported. On the other hand, if the subject of the list (not the title per se) is a notable subject (singly or collectively) in WP, then that first rung of the notability ladder has been climbed. If the subject in the title following the prepositions of, in, by, about, etc. is notable, the list has taken the first step toward that Better List.
    • Lead-in paragraph – This is a critical component of context for most lists. The lead-in establishes the boundaries and inclusion criteria for the list for readers as well as other editors. The lead-in helps support evaluation of the list’s notability. The lead-in prepares the reader for the organization and list content that follows. When creating a new list, ensure a concise lead-in is included that not only sets inclusion boundaries for list entries but ties those inclusion criteria tightly to the list title.
    • Good Context is not indiscriminate –Some of the most popular challenges lists undergo are contained in WP:NOT and WP:Indiscriminate. Well defined context helps counter those challenges.
      • - Good lead-in example – List of birds of Greece - No doubt what the inclusion criteria is for this list.
      • - Poor or lacking lead-in example – List of birds of Portugal - What's the implied (but not stated) inclusion criteria for this list?
  • Tip #2 – List Verifiability and sourcing – a fundamental policy of WP is that content is verifiable, is neutral, and is not original research. Adherence to these policies are judged based on the use of verifiable sources. Notability, a fundamental guideline, is also judged based on the use of verifiable sources. Lists, because they reside in the WP article space must adhere to these policies and guidelines just like any other article.
    • Sourcing the list – Probably the safest and most reliable sourcing for any list is at the article level. If an editor includes multiple reliable sources that essentially corroborate that indeed the list context and its entries are verifiable, not original research and represent a neutral point of view, then the probability that the list will survive is much higher. On the other hand, if the List of famous burger joints provides no sources about compilations of famous burger joints, then notability, neutral point of view and original research become suspect.
      • Good example: Birds of Yellowstone National Park. In this case the list is sourced with a reliable sources that indeed confirms the list entries belong in the list and that the contexts provided by the list’s organization is verifiable and the list is neither Original Research or POV.
      • Poor example: List of guard dog breeds - No doubt there are sources that identify what breeds are categorized as guard dogs but this list might be considered POV or Original Research absent that sourcing.
    • Sourcing entries and content – There are two situations where list entries should be sourced independent of article level sourcing. Anytime additional context is provided with a list entry and that content might be challenged, then that content should be independently sourced. Additionally, if article level sourcing does not or cannot provide sufficient justification for a specific list entry, then that entry should be independently sourced. The mere fact that an entry has an article in WP does not necessarily mean it is an appropriate entry in a particular list. Inclusion in the list should be verifiable in light of the list context and this is done through reliable sources.
  • Tip #3 – List Organization – Good lists are well organized lists. The organization, whether it be merely alphabetical, topical or chronological for purely navigational lists, or takes on some more complex form of organization helps the reader and other editors better understand and see the list’s context and assess its notability. Good list organization allows the addition of multiple sub-contexts and informational contents around list entries. Editors should consider an organizational approach that enhances an understanding of the list’s context, and makes the list more usable for editors and readers. On the other hand, editors conceiving list organization should avoid creating a structure that conveys or reinforces a particular point of view, but instead use one that is easily supported by sources.
  • Tip #4 –To link or not to link – Lists that play some navigational role as well as a developmental one may well have both links to existing articles and red links to articles that don’t yet exist. Creating a list solely consisting of a majority of red links is not wise unless there is a plan to systematically create articles on most of those red-links. A list with mostly red links for a long time isn’t really serving its navigational role, nor is it serving a developmental role. Many lists on the other hand are perfectly suitable when a great many of their valid entries are not linked. If an entry is valid, but unlikely to ever have a WP article, then leaving the entry un-linked is preferable and contributes to a better list.
  • Tip #5 – Don’t sweat completeness but think about completability: Lists just like WP will never be complete. That’s supported by the large number of templates and tools it employs to convey messages to that end on articles and lists. Although the list title and lead-may establish a context that will indeed lead to a complete list, completeness is not an overarching criteria for the better list. On the other hand, if a list appears completeable because inclusion criteria are clear, then editors will identify and add new entries as appropriate. Conversely, if the list could never possibly be complete because the context has established no boundaries or inclusion criteria that is so vague, the probability that the list will be challenged as indiscriminate is significantly higher.

Conquer the Dilemma-Create a better List[edit]

  • Give the list a clear context with a good title and lead-in
  • Source the list and entries appropriately
  • Create a list organization that enhances understanding of context
  • Don't sweat completeness!