Wikipedia:Handling trivia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Trivia is broadly defined as information that is not important. However, since Wikipedia consists of articles, we can be more specific—trivia is information that is not important to the subject it is being presented in relation to.

Note that certain kinds of information can be more or less important, depending on the context. For instance, in the South Park episode "Pinkeye", the space station Mir (which really existed) lands on Kenny McCormick (a fictional character), killing him. The overall importance of this piece of information depends on the situation. It may be considered for inclusion in the article on Kenny McCormick as another cause of Kenny's death, or in the article on the episode "Pinkeye" (while Kenny's cause of death is not critical, it is an element of the plot). However, as it did not happen in real life, it is too trivial to include in the article on Mir.

Should trivia be allowed on Wikipedia?[edit]

Yes and no. Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information, so some degree of selectivity should always be used, but the criteria for inclusion are complex, because the "importance" of a fact is subjective. It is not reasonable to disallow all information that some editors feel is unimportant, because that information could be important to some readers. Nevertheless, an ideal Wikipedia article would present its subject in a straightforward but well-organized way, and refer the reader to other articles or outside resources where more details can be found. The overinclusion of an exhaustive list of unnecessary details detracts from this goal. Trivia sections should not simply be wiped away, however, because some items may be useful for integration.

Trivia sections[edit]

Trivia usually appears on Wikipedia as bulleted lists of miscellaneous information. Such lists can appear within an article, usually in a trivia section. The style guideline at Wikipedia:Trivia sections suggests that trivia sections should be avoided in favor of presenting information within the framework of the article's main text. This provides a stylistic solution to the prevalence of trivia sections by integrating items elsewhere in the article, but it makes no judgments about the relevance of the facts or whether they should be included.

In some cases, trivia is written in prose form, and trivia that is written this way may or may not be problematic. If the prose is effectively a list of disconnected items that isn't bulleted, it is not an improvement over a list—actually, it may be worse. On the other hand, if the prose actually relates the trivia to the rest of the article in a coherent way, it is a significant improvement over a bare list.

Trivia articles[edit]

Trivia articles most likely come up as forked-off trivia sections that have grown too large, see Wikipedia:"In popular culture" articles. Just as trivia sections should be avoided, trivia articles should be avoided. These articles solve the problem of trivia cluttering up the parent article, but this solution creates other problems. Unlike trivia sections, trivia articles are not especially useful as repositories of information to be integrated elsewhere. This is because trivia articles keep such information away from the main page on a subject. This presents an inherent challenge, because there is usually no text in a trivia article to absorb the disconnected items.

Some articles may, with their title, imply that they are good places to put unimportant information; for instance an article called "Three's Company trivia" would be a bad idea in the first place. In addition to the likely problems with the content of such an article, the title may also need to be addressed, just as a "trivia" section in the Three's Company article may need to be renamed to achieve some selectivity and context. Other articles are merely de facto trivia articles. That is, they have a title that seems like a real article, such as "Leprechauns in popular culture", but in fact the entire article consists of a list of trivia.

Trivia articles are especially problematic, because their existence makes it much harder to solve the original problem about the relevance of the trivia fact in relation to the subject. Whereas ordinary editors can delete sections of articles, they can't delete articles. Editors can move articles, but most editors will not be as bold in moving articles as they would in restructuring within an article. Compounding this, when an article is split up, it may be hard to get other users involved in discussion or efforts to make improvements: the talk page of the trivia article is often very low-activity, but on the talk page of the main article, editors may not care to address the trivia article. Trivia articles are often abandoned by editors in a way that trivia sections are not: in order to stem the tide of constant trivia additions, editors may simply fork the trivia section out to another page, and let it exist there.

Different types of trivia[edit]

There are two main types of trivia: stand-alone trivia and connective trivia.

Stand-alone trivia[edit]

Stand-alone trivia is trivia that is about only one subject (or at least, about only one encyclopedia topic). Example (from Bert and Ernie):

Bert's twin brother Bart, who resembles Bert in every physical way (including, as Ernie puts it, "the same pointy head, cucumbery nose and no-shoulders"), but has a diametrically opposite personality, constantly making weak jokes and imitating a comedy-routine trumpet ("Bart's the name, selling's the game, waah-waah-waah!").

This information is about the subject of Bert, and only extremely vaguely connected to any other subject. It somewhat involves other topics, but only very general ones: in this case, twins.

Stand-alone trivia usually make excellent candidates for integration into the articles they appear in. The above is a good example: there is no reason why Bert's brother could not be mentioned without detracting from the article. However, in some cases, the information is just too unimportant. For instance, a note like "Alan Smithee's favorite color is yellow" cannot be integrated into the text without distracting from it (in other words, it's trivia no matter how it is presented, and should therefore be removed).

Connective trivia[edit]

Most trivia connects two or more topics with each other. A few examples:

Beelzebub, a giant fly-like enemy in Capcom's Devil May Cry series of video games. (from Beelzebub in popular culture)
Connects Beelzebub with Devil May Cry.
[Robert] Smith voiced himself in an episode of South Park in which he defeats Barbra Streisand in a battle. The main characters praise him. South Park creator Trey Parker is a fan of The Cure (see "Mecha-Streisand"). (from Robert Smith (musician))
Connects Robert Smith, Barbra Streisand, the "Mecha-Streisand" episode of South Park, Trey Parker, and The Cure.
Ella Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia.
Connects Ella Fitzgerald with Newport News, Virginia.

There are three types of connective trivia. Some is important to all of the subjects it connects. For instance, it is important, in Ella Fitzgerald's biography, to mention where she was born, and Ella Fitzgerald's high level of visibility is a claim to fame for Newport News and should be mentioned.

Some trivia is important to only some of the subjects; much trivia appearing on Wikipedia is of this variety. The second example above is of this type. It is important to the topic of the "Mecha-Streisand" episode to mention Robert Smith's appearance: It is an important element of the plot, and a celebrity voice appearance also. However, the importance of the information that Smith appeared and voiced his character is relatively minimal to the topic of Robert Smith himself, and is not important at all to the Barbra Streisand article, even if the "Mecha-Streisand" episode as a whole is noteworthy in Streisand's context. Nor is this information important to the articles on Trey Parker, The Cure, or South Park.

Some trivia is actually important to none of the subjects it connects. The mention of Beelzebub as an enemy in Devil May Cry is of little importance to the topic of Beelzebub, a devil whose name is mentioned in a great variety of contexts. Similarly, that Beelzebub is the name of an enemy in Devil May Cry (a featured article) is not important enough for mention in the article on the video game (in fact, neither that article nor any of its subarticles mentions specific ordinary enemies.)

Recommendations for handling trivia[edit]

Trivia that can be integrated into a relevant discussion of a specific aspect of an encyclopedia subject should be integrated into that text if it exists. If no such text exists, but it would be relevant, it should be created. Some entries may be more specific to other subjects, and should be moved into articles covering those subjects. Some trivia that is especially tangential or irrelevant may not warrant inclusion at all. Trivia that cannot be integrated at all should be removed. Some entries may be speculative, or factually incorrect, and should be removed; others, such as "how-to" material, may fall outside Wikipedia's content scope policies.

Trivia sections should only remain in an article temporarily, as a step towards integration of the information. There should be no specific timetable for the integration of trivia (articles don't have to be perfect), but articles that are in bad shape and aren't being improved are often deleted. This may result in more and more aspects of a subject being covered, but if the article grows too long, it can be forked out using summary style.

However, it is important to recognize that there are intermediate steps that can be taken that both (1) approach covering the information appropriately and (2) help in discouraging trivia contributions that cannot be integrated.

Practical steps[edit]

The following are some practical steps that can be taken when articles have trivia sections.

  1. Integrate trivia items into the existing article text.
  2. Expand the article text, in order to present relevant items in context (example: adding a "Personal life" section to a biography that contains only career-oriented information).
  3. If an item is too unimportant, be bold and remove it.
  4. When appropriate, create separate lists for specific types of entries, with restrictive names. Avoid very general names like "Other facts" or "Miscellanea."
  5. If a section ("trivia" or otherwise) has grown so large as to over-balance an article, consider:
    • Working the information into the article, and removing unimportant items.
    • Adding the {{Trivia}} tag to the section, inviting other users to help clean up.
    • Splitting into sections.
    • Forking off well-defined subsections into other articles, but be careful; see #Trivia articles. If you do this, please do not abandon the new article.
  6. Remember to challenge or remove trivia items that aren't sourced, especially in biographies (see Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons).
  7. If it is too difficult to deal with all the items in a trivia section at once, it is probably best to leave some in place: there is no deadline. This is most often the case in articles that are not yet well-developed.

Integrating trivia sections[edit]

Often the content in trivia sections can be better presented elsewhere in the article, either by merging individual items into the existing article text, or by creating a new section and moving items there. However, when creating new sections you should always be sure that it doesn't provide a framework for further miscellaneous contributions.

Integrated trivia content can still be presented in a list, because it is a good way to present some types of information. However, indiscriminate lists are discouraged, and new section should always have a limited scope. As an example, see Alex Trebek#Cameos, which lists shows/films on which Alex Trebek has had a cameo appearance. Other cameos can be added to that section, but general miscellaneous facts would not fit there.

Annotated vs. plain lists[edit]

When trivia can be organized in plain lists, or lists with very limited annotation, it is generally better to do so. There are many reasons for this.

  1. It adds an implied level of selectivity. When trivia items need explanation, they are generally less important. For instance, in a list of references to Scientology, the fact that the movie Airplane! references Scientology has to be explained, but the fact that the South Park episode "Trapped in the Closet" does is clear from the "Trapped in the Closet" article.
  2. It avoids cruft. In addition to the general problems with trivia, Trivia items tend to go into greatly unnecessary detail, often giving game-guide like details of video games, extensive quotes from TV episodes, and attempts to recreate humor. Having a list without annotations cuts this Gordian knot.
  3. It avoids fragmented coverage. For instance, the connection between "Trapped in the Closet" and Scientology will be best written at "Trapped in the Closet". If a separate description of the connection is written elsewhere, it is likely to be inferior and will not improve. (This is a major problem with notable pieces of "connective" trivia.)
  4. It avoids unsourced information. While having an unsourced list without annotation is theoretically no better than having an unsourced list with annotation, in practice, there is much less that needs sourcing. Also, by avoiding fragmented coverage, we avoid the need for fragmented sourcing.
  5. It is easier, at a glance, to notice new entries that may need removing, because these will often have extensive annotation.

Avoid marking trivia lists as "incomplete" or "needing expansion," if the list topic is especially broad.

Suggested section titles[edit]

Although every article is different, trivia sections tend to attract certain kinds of similarly themed information. This is a list of suggested section titles to help editors integrate and eliminate trivia sections.

Article type Suggested headings
All-purpose headings: In popular culture; Influence; Featured in film/video games/television/radio etc.; Awards/Records/Nominations; Quotes; Critical response;
Biographical: Personal life; Early life; Activism/Charity/Business work; Alternate career; Public image
Books: Plot; Characters;
Geography: Local culture; Notable features; Demographics;
Movies/TV Shows: Consistency Errors; Cast members; Later work of the cast; Filming locations; Sound track/Featured music; Initial concept/Episode concept;
Music (artists): Collaborations; Featured in film; Important performances;
Music (albums/songs): Remixes/Alternate versions/Covers; Samples; Featured artists/Personnel
Sports: Statistics/Records;
Video Games Gameplay; Characters; Easter eggs;

Integrated trivia and original research[edit]

When creating a new section, the best result is a new, coherent piece of prose discussing a new aspect of the subject of the article. Unfortunately, such synthesis of trivia items can sometimes lead to a new problem: Wikipedia is not a publisher of original work. Before attempting to synthesize information from trivia facts, it is important to realize that a list of trivia may serve as a list of examples, but may not be sufficient to make general conclusions.

For instance, consider a list of depictions of God's appearance in popular culture, like movies and television shows. This could be combined into a paragraph summing up what we can learn from the examples (for instance, that God is often shown as an old man with white hair). However, this is a new claim that wasn't made before, and needs sourcing. In this case, the claim may very well be something someone has written about before, so it may be attributable. But in other cases, it may be impossible; consider a similar article on depictions of Andromeda (mythology): such depictions may be so scarce that no one has bothered to write about them, or there may be nothing worth saying. In such cases, it may be better for the trivia to remain in a list. Note, however, that just like all contributions on Wikipedia, trivia items need to be sourced.

Related articles[edit]

In some cases, two topics can be connected in a way that's important enough to make the two articles related articles. In such a case, the best way to note the connection may be to simply have a link in the "see also" section of the articles. Since the topics are strongly related, no further explanation is needed. However, this technique should be used sparingly. For instance, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple is an adaptation of the events in Jonestown, and the articles are related enough to put the adaptation as a "see also" link. However, it would probably be unwise to put Cartman Gets an Anal Probe as a "see also" under Grey alien, even though there is a connection. This can be a good way of keeping trivia out of articles on subjects that have a couple of important connections to other subjects.

Trivia and categories[edit]

At heart, much trivia is an attempt to connect partially related topics through a given context. Categories serve much the same purpose. In some cases, trivia may be appropriately handled via categorization. For instance, instead of collecting an article 1817 deaths, entries can be made into Category:1817 deaths. However, this is rarely the solution to trivia sections. Pop culture allusions and the like make for poor categories that are likely to end up being deleted.

See also[edit]