Wikipedia:Guidance on applying the Manual of Style
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Wikipedia's official style is outlined in Wikipedia:Manual of Style. This page outlines how different Wikipedians have interpreted the official style in certain situations, and is offered as guidance for others looking for style advice.
- 1 Usage (including punctuation, grammar and spelling)
- 1.1 Using a standard form of English
- 1.2 Closely related to one part of the English-speaking world
- 1.3 Intelligibility
- 1.4 Don't arbitrarily change style
- 2 Other punctuation issues
Usage (including punctuation, grammar and spelling)
Using a standard form of English
Official style is that: Use one form of standard English consistently throughout each article.
When punctuating quoted passages, there are two commonly used styles (here called the "logical" style and the "aesthetic" style).
The logical style is used in most countries as standard, and is becoming more popular in America too, although most Americans still use the aesthetic style.
The logical style is to include the mark of punctuation inside the quotation marks only if the sense of the mark of punctuation is part of the quotation. (A fuller treatment of the recommendations given here can be found in Fowler's Modern English Usage and other style guides for these countries, some of which vary in fine details.) For example, "Stop!" has the punctuation inside the quotation marks because the word "stop" is said with emphasis. However, when using "scare quotes", the comma goes outside.
- Arthur said the situation was "deplorable". (The full stop (period) is not part of the quotation.)
The aesthetic style, which is only really now used in North America, was developed as early typesetters thought it was more aesthetic to present punctuation that way. In the aesthetic style, the punctuation goes within the quotation marks:
- Arthur said the situation was "deplorable."
However, under both the logical and aesthetic styles, a comma goes inside quotation marks in sentences such as:
- "The situation is deplorable," said Arthur.
Official style is that: Where an article is on a topic closely related to one part of the English-speaking world, use a form of standard used in that part of the English-speaking world for that article.
Why we have this rule
There are a number of reasons for this rule, including:
- In general, though not as a rule, articles on a topic closely related to one part of the English-speaking world are more likely to be read by people from that part of the English-speaking world. It is courteous to your readers to adopt a style they are likely to be familiar with.
- In general, though not as a rule, such articles are more likely to be amended and added to by people from that part of the English-speaking world. Using a form of standard English used there means that an article is more likely to retain its style naturally – and a consistent style is easier for readers to follow.
- It is a good compromise to minimise style-related edit wars.
It is not claimed to be an ideal rule, but it is a pragmatic one.
"Closely related" means just that. Not just mildly related or possibly related. So, most articles aren't closely related to any particular part of the English-speaking world.
People may or may not be closely related to the English-speaking world. For instance, Tony Blair was born in Britain, has lived all his life in Britain, has British citizenship, and is best known for being the British prime minister. The article on Tony Blair is therefore an article on a topic closely related to Britain. However, take a person who now lives in a country other than the one of their birth, has dual nationality, and has an international career in two or more countries. An article on that person may not be closely related to one part of the English-speaking world.
Other examples of where an article is closely related to one part of the English-speaking world include:
- American Civil War, a solely American event (USA)
- Lord of the Rings, a book by a British writer (UK)
- Ayers Rock, an Australian landmark (Australia)
- European Union institutions and documents (UK, Ireland and Malta)
- Montréal, a Canadian city (Canada)
Official style is that: If a word/phrase that is used in one form of standard English is not generally understood by speakers of another form, either avoid it or explain it.
Purpose of this rule
Good writers will want as many readers, wherever they are in the world, and whatever their background, to understand what they are writing. Sometimes you need to take account of what different users of English understand by terms. For instance:
- in the UK and Ireland a "public school" is a type of fee-paying school, elsewhere in the English-speaking world, it tends to mean a state-funded school.
- the verb "to table" means the opposite in American English of what it means in British English.
- the word "should" can mean "ought to" or "must" in British English. In American English it can mean "ought to" but never "must".
As a courtesy to readers, writers should seek to use words that will be generally understood by speakers of all forms of standard English. Sometimes this is not possible without diluting the sense or flow of the article, or without missing out vital information – in this case, the word/phrase that may not be understood or may be misunderstood should be explained (see, for example, Eton College)
Choice of words
If a word or phrase is generally regarded as correct, then prefer it to any other word or phrase that might be regarded as incorrect. For example, "other meaning" should be used where it can instead of "alternate meaning" or "alternative meaning", because not all English speakers regard "alternate" and "alternative" as meaning the same. Alternative commonly suggests "non-traditional" or "out-of-the-mainstream" to an American-English or British-English speaker. In British English the confusion never arose, and "alternate" means specifically occurring regularly every second time; thus "alternate meaning" would be regarded as incorrect. Some traditional usage experts consider alternative to be appropriate only when there are exactly two alternatives because of the Latin root alter. (On the original meaning of "alternate", the American Heritage Dictionary "Usage Note" at alternative says: "Alternative should not be confused with alternate. Correct usage requires The class will meet on alternate (not alternative) Tuesdays." )
Avoid abbreviations which may not be understood. E.g. (for example) and i.e. (that is) are probably well enough used in standard English (although many English-speakers confuse the two!), but more scholarly abbreviations of Latin terms like nb or viz. should be avoided. Also, we never need to use the abbreviation qv, as terms which have their own articles can be pipe-linked in.
Don't arbitrarily change style
Official style is: Do not change the form of standard English adopted by an article without good reason.
Purpose of this rule
Examples of what constitutes a "good reason" include:
Other punctuation issues
Possessives of singular nouns ending in s may be formed with or without an additional s. Either form is generally acceptable within Wikipedia. However, if either form is much more common for a particular word or phrase, follow that form, such as with Achilles' heel.
Insert an additional comma before the final "and" (or "or") if needed for clarification: sugar, beef and veal, and milk products.
Some people use the Oxford comma (also known as the Harvard or serial comma). This is a comma before "and" or "or" at the end of a series, regardless of whether it is needed for clarification purposes.
- X, Y, and Z (with an Oxford comma)
- X, Y and Z (without an Oxford comma)
Wikipedia has no preference between the two styles, but requests that the chosen style be used consistently within an article.
Using too many contractions (such as "don't", "won't", "can't") can make an article look informal.