Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/October 2013/Op-ed

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Some advice on reviewing articles

A successful review process should look a bit like this (but involve people sitting indoors in different parts of the world)
By Nick-D

Last year I offered some advice on responding to reviews of articles nominated for featured article (FA) and A-class status. In this article I'll discuss my views on what makes a good review at these levels based on my experiences in nominating articles for promotion and commenting on other editors' nominations.

Getting started

Reviewing articles for FA and A-class status isn't as scary as it looks, and there are some easy avenues into this - reviewers aren't expected to be experts on the topic, and most nominators are happy to see any and all reviews. Some tips for new reviewers include:

  • It might sound obvious, but make sure that you've read the relevant assessment criteria before reviewing a new type of nomination. While these criteria are generally very stable, it also doesn't hurt for experienced reviewers to re-read them every now and then.
  • Reviews should be focused on assessing the article against the relevant criteria and providing the editor(s) who are working on it with practical advice for how it could be improved. Comments need to be realistically "actionable" by those editors, and so should not ask them to undertake unnecessarily large amounts of work or to give undue weight to certain aspects of the topic covered by the article.
  • Determine if you'll be undertaking a comprehensive review, based on all the assessment criteria, or a specialised review focusing only on certain elements. Some reviewers focus only on prose, others on image licensing, others on source formatting and reliability, and others on spotchecking sources for accurate use of information and avoidance of copyvio or close paraphrasing. Featured Article nomination pages have a toolbox in the top right-hand corner that allows you to check for dablinks, etc. You can also install scripts to check for duplicate links and Harv errors in the article under review. Every bit helps!
  • Given that Wikipedia articles are meant to be accessible by laymen, it's perfectly OK to review articles on topics you're not familiar with, and this is strongly encouraged at FA level. Even if you don't feel competent to post an 'oppose' or 'support' comment due to your unfamiliarity with the topic, the nominator will appreciate any comments you have on how accessible the article is.
  • Remember that if your review only focuses on certain criteria, any support or oppose you post should indicate that, e.g. use Support on prose rather than simply Support.
  • Remember also that a 'review' consisting of Support or Oppose and little else is not much use, and may well be discounted by the process coordinators responsible for closing the review. Long-windedness is not necessary, but the coordinators need to be comfortable that you've truly familiarised yourself with the article and with the criteria upon which you're assessing it.
  • Finally, most nominators are hoping to receive suggestions for how they could improve the article (including at FA level), so don't be afraid to suggest new ideas.

What's in the article, and what's missing?

Sometimes it's obvious what's missing

An important aspect of posting comprehensive reviews at A-class and FA level is to include an assessment of the article's substantive content. The content should provide a detailed, but not overwhelming, summary of its subject which is suitable for a general audience and reflects the themes raised in the relevant literature. While no two articles are the same, I think that the following points are applicable when assessing all nominations:

  • After you finish reading the article reflect on whether there are any details on the subject you were left wondering over, or which you felt that you learned too much about.
  • Also be sensitive to the tone of the article: does it read like a dispassionate summary of its topic? If not, there may be neutrality issues.
  • ...but that doesn't mean that the article should look like it was written by a robot! Consider whether the article's prose is engaging, and whether it makes good use of the material (including images) to draw readers in.
  • If a particular problem comes up frequently within the article, you don't need to point out every instance, but you should provide illustrative examples (while stressing that these are only examples!). Some nominators respond to such comments by asking the reviewer to point out every single instance of the problem or by only fixing the specific examples raised in the review, but this is generally considered poor form on their part.
  • It's also important to consider anything missing from the article. This will tend to depend on the type and/or subject of the article. If you're not familiar with the WP conventions for a certain type of article, it can be helpful to look over similar ones at A-Class or Featured level, as applicable - ideally those promoted in the last couple of years, as the conventions of a particular type of article, and also assessment standards, can change over time. It's OK for articles to break new ground though!
  • If you have a personal preferences for unusual presentational details such as (say) articles including lots of coordinates or using particular grammatical conventions it's OK to suggest this for the nominator to consider, but don't insist on them being included.

Getting the tone right

Don't even think about doing this

One problem that often crops up in reviews is editors posting aggressive comments. This can make the review painful for the nominator, and often harms the reputation of the reviewer.

  • Think about the kind of reviews you would want to receive if you'd nominated the article. Be polite and friendly.
  • ...but that doesn't mean that you need to go easy on articles which aren't up to scratch. If the article clearly doesn't meet the criteria and can't realistically be brought up to standard within the context of the nomination process then say so, just do it dispassionately.
  • There's no need to post an 'oppose' if the elements of the article you're concerned about can be easily fixed - assume that the nominator will fix these issues once they're raised. If they don't do so it's OK to escalate to an 'oppose', but you don't have to make this your starting position.
  • It's often quicker and easier to simply fix minor issues such as occasional typos or slightly awkward sentences as you come across them than it is to point them out to the nominator (if it takes longer to type a comment than to fix the issue you may as well do it yourself!)
  • Don't ever review an article when you're in a bad mood: your comments will probably end up looking cranky (if you have a metabolism like mine, also don't review articles when hungry, for the same reason!).
  • It's generally a really bad idea to post reviews of nominations by editors with whom you have a bad relationship. If the article does actually suck, the likelihood is that someone else will notice, so resist the urge to jump in.
  • The length of time a nomination remains open is elastic, but everything has to close sooner or later. If an assessment looks like it might be winding down and you need more time to post a review, let the process coordinators know that you're around by leaving a brief comment to that effect on the nomination page.

Following up

Once you've posted comments you need to keep an eye on the review and follow-up on the nominator's responses to your comments and the reviews posted by other editors:

  • Reviewers should watchlist reviews they take part in, and monitor progress even after leaving a 'support' comment: other editors may query your comments, or post comments as part of their review which may lead you to reconsider your position.
  • Of course, monitoring the review is particularly important if you leave negative comments or an 'oppose' vote - it's highly likely that the nominator will respond to your comments to either query them or ask whether their subsequent changes have addressed your concerns, and if you don't respond to this the coordinator may assume that your comments are sufficiently addressed even when they're not (also, you'll look like a total jerk).
  • When an article you commented on is renominated after failing a review at a certain level, it's worth re-reviewing it, as this can help chart the article's progress against the criteria, and highlight whether issues previously raised have in fact been addressed. However, do consider whether you're approaching the article with fresh eyes, especially in the case of articles nominated an unusually large number of times, and err on the side of not reviewing if you're feeling jaded by the topic.
  • Finally, if you're interested in the topic of an article you review, there's nothing at all wrong with jumping in to help develop it after the review concludes.

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