Wikipedia talk:Make technical articles understandable/Archive 1

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Article tagging[edit]

Would this tag also be appropriate for articles such as Jacoby transfer, where obscure card game lingo is being used? Just want to be sure, thanks. func(talk) 30 June 2005 01:06 (UTC)

Oh, interesting. Yes, I suppose it would. ᓛᖁ♀ 12:15, 16 July 2005 (UTC)
hm, I would argue that this sort of tag goes on talkpages, since it is directed at editors, not at readers; obviously, as a reader, you don't need to be warned that you may not understand what is being said. this is not like a NPOV sign where gullible readers should be warned against bias, it is a request to improve the aritcle stylistically, and can very well be put to the talk page. At least for me it feels silly to be warned "you may not be able to understand this formula". Hell, let me be the judge of that. 13:50, 8 October 2005 (UTC)

Propose change of guideline[edit]

Following the attachment of the technical template to the analytic continuation article, now removed, I propose a change of the content of this guideline, which now states that Articles in Wikipedia should be accessible to a general audience, to Articles in Wikipedia should be as accessible as the topic permits. As it stands, the policy is incompatible with proper coverage of many advanced mathematical concepts. For example there have been several heroic efforts to explain the significance of Lie algebras in broad terms, but there is no getting around the need for a level of training in algebra beyond that possessed by even an educated nonspecialist audience in order to really grasp what is going on.

I'd also like to note that since this guideline specifically talks about mathematical articles, it should have been discussed on the talk page for Wikipedia: WikiProject Mathematics, in accordance with Wikipedia: How to create policy. Possibly it would be better to demote this guideline to a proposal, to reflect the fact that the kind of reflection needed to generate consensus simply has not yet happened. Note also that there is redundancy between this guideline and Wikipedia: Audience --- Charles Stewart 02:14, 8 October 2005 (UTC) (typo removed 10 Oct)


What Charles said --Trovatore 02:32, 8 October 2005 (UTC)

I agree with Charles. Paul August 02:38, 8 October 2005 (UTC)

Strong agreement with Charles. My specific objections to this guideline are:

  1. It has been created by a small group, and there is no evidence that it represents "the concensus of many editors", which is an essential qualification for a gudeline.
  2. I have seen the technical tag placed on articles without any discussion or explanation, simply because one particular reader does not understand the article. Any guideline on the use of this tag should, as a minimum, say the tagger must explain their issues on the article's talk page.
  3. The Math2English tag is fundamentally misguided. For example, how can you "translate" Maxwell's equations into English ? A literal translation (of one of them) might be The divergence of the magnetic flux density is everywhere zero - but anyone who does not understand the equation will not understand the translation either. The article should (and does) explain the implications of the equations - but there is no point in translating them.

Gandalf61 12:10, 8 October 2005 (UTC)

Strongly agree with Charles. In Einstein's words (well, approximately): "Everything should be made as simple as possible — but no simpler." (BTW I anticipate a lot of opposition to this guideline change, on the basis that "Wikipedia should make information freely available to all". Get ready to fight back :-)) Dmharvey File:User dmharvey sig.png Talk 14:20, 8 October 2005 (UTC)

I agree with Charles in part: if the subject of an article cannot be understood without access to prerequisite knowledge in fields too large (or too far removed from the subject) to permit sensible coverage of them in the article itself, then sense should prevail over coverage. But I hope that such articles will provide a clear explanation of the prerequisites, with links. And I hope that it is the intent (of the community rather than of any individual author) to ensure that the prerequisites include sufficient information for the reader to raise their understanding to the level necessary.

I fear that the proposed change will end up being used as a copout clause; I'd rather see the original wording retained, but amplified to say that describing and linking to prerequisites is an acceptable alternative to incorporating them. Hv 03:08, 9 October 2005 (UTC)

That's somewhat more reasonable than the current guideline. The current guideline, taken literally, is effectively a ban on advanced discussion of specialized topics. The guideline's claim that
Assisting the end reader in accessing dependencies and prerequisites should make even the most complex article interesting to new students and philes.
is simply factually incorrect.
However I think your proposal is also a bit unrealistic. We can and ought to do a better job of this, but providing a full path to learning the required background material from WP alone is probably not going to happen anytime soon. --Trovatore 05:24, 9 October 2005 (UTC)
I'm not even sure we should try to provide "a full path to learning the required background material from WP alone". Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia, not a text book, and I think it's not possible (or, at least, very hard) to learn advanced maths and physics from an encyclopaedia; for instance, there are no exercises. Take the AdS/CFT correspondence: this article links to a 261-page introductory text, which starts at such a high level that only a handful of Wikipedians can understand it.
That being said, I do agree with the guideline "Articles in Wikipedia should be accessible to a general audience", provided the word accessible is interpreted sufficiently broadly, along the lines that Hv proposes. If the reader does not understand an article, it should be clear to him what the prerequisites are and how he can study them. So, I disagree with the second sentence (that the guideline "requires the inclusion of explanations that can be understood by most readers").
I demoted the guideline to a proposed guideline, {{proposed}}, as this discussion shows that there is clearly no consensus. I am not sure that's the correct template, but I expect to be corrected if not. -- Jitse Niesen (talk) 12:15, 9 October 2005 (UTC)

Let me try to rephrase Trovatore's concern about Hv's suggestion in a different way. It's not really so much about having a "complete learning path" as it is about the potential to confuse/mislead readers. The difficulty is this: suppose we have an article X, which says at the top "this article assumes some familiarity with Y", provides a link to Y, and proceeds as if the reader knew all about Y. Unfortunately it is entirely possible (even likely) that the WP article on Y doesn't really tell the reader enough about Y for them to make sense of the article on X. What we need is a concise way to say something like "This article is aimed at people who know about Y, and we really can't explain it to people who don't know about Y, and you could try looking at the WP article on Y, but you'd be better off reading a book or two or three". Dmharvey File:User dmharvey sig.png Talk 15:25, 9 October 2005 (UTC)

Well, more or less. The thing is, I think we've really got that now. If an article starts out "In set theory,...", and you don't understand it, it seems like a pretty good clue that you need to learn some set theory if you want to understand it. I'm not in favor of cluttering up articles with templates of prerequisites. --Trovatore 15:37, 9 October 2005 (UTC)

I don't think we should think that explaining all topics to the general audience is even a desirable goal. To go back to the original article that made me aware of this guideline/proposal, analytic continuation, it is a technical concept that arose when investigating the Riemann hypothesis, and that acquired a second piece of interest through sheaf theory which excites some people for bringing geometry and logic together. The Riemann hypothesis article contains a lot of technicality, but it also contains a fair amount of material to reward the general reader. We don't really have anything for the general reader on the second point, and I think it would be good if we did have. But for an article on a technical construction lying behind these concepts of more general interest? The general reader does not often have reason to look up these concepts, and on the rare occasion they do, it is enough for them to find that it is a technical term of art in mathematics, while the mathematically literate reader is not likely to find vague handwaving talking around the concept to be what they are after. The audience for this article is not the general reader (something the much briefer Wikipedia:Audience page deals better with). --- Charles Stewart 15:42, 10 October 2005 (UTC)

Audience is a joke that doesn't deal with anything. If anything it seems even worse than this page. --MarSch 13:14, 19 October 2005 (UTC)

Trampolines[edit]

Charles: one slightly off-topic comment: I would very very much like to see the creation of a special class of math articles, which allow the naive reader to "trampoline" between basic (grade-school/high-school level) and advanced (post-doc) concepts. I nominate torus for this class, and possibly Riemann hypothesis as well (although clearly that doesn't extend down to grade school). The "trampoline articles" would be kind-of-like featured articles, in that extra special care would be taken to make them accessible, and make them into springboards into complex topics. Just as featured articles, the trampolines might get extra love an attention with regards to edits. (And, for any articles that are not trampolines, the too technical tag may be shot on sight.) linas 00:37, 14 October 2005 (UTC)
Repeating this sentiment I have expressed elsewhere: articles should not be subclassed. Education-level material should go to Wikibooks, which is perfect for this sort of thing. "Entry-level" information should go in the main article along with the "technical" information. Wikipedia should endeavour to remain solely a reference work, not an educational work. Dysprosia 09:20, 16 October 2005 (UTC)
(missed this comment first-time around) Two things:
  • linas' suggestion is not at all the same as subclassing, if that is what Dysprosia meant.
  • I think some standardised way of indicating how much knowledge the reader needs to get something out of the article would be very good for accessibility, perhaps with pointers to where to learn. I don't think that a series of WP articles is going to suffice to enable the reader to internalise the knowledge they need to understand truly advanced topics: more like a series of wikibooks, and there doesn't seem to be much appetite to write those.
--- Charles Stewart 14:43, 19 October 2005 (UTC)
Indicating required knowledge is not our responsibility. Let me repeat again, Wikipedia is/should be a reference work.
Your statement that "there doesn't seem to be much appetite to write those" hasn't much to back it up. I'd be happy to write more wikibooks (I have started some there), but they require a lot of time and effort which I don't have these days. At least a Wikibook would be written with the intent to instruct, and thus would be better suited for those wanting to learn. Dysprosia 22:22, 20 October 2005 (UTC)
Maybe I should call them portals instead; I still want the article to be short. Look at the example of a torus. The article could give formulas for the surface area and volume, without explaining what these are, but it should use wording accessible to a grade-school or high-school student (which is when students find out about area and volume). The article should indicate that the torus can be made geometrically flat, and is of genus 1, without much explaining what these are, but still written in a jargon-free way. Thus, the interested college student may become motivative to find out what "genus" means, or to try to find out how something "obviously curved" like a torus can also be flat. Explain that the torus is an example of a topological group, and work out the group action at a level accessible to a college student, so that someone unware of topolgoical groups may be encouraged to look up and find out "what the heck is a topological group". Explain that its universal cover is R^2, that is flat space modulo a lattice, and so has a covering group of Z x Z. Note that this is analogous to how symmetric spaces and homogenous spaces are constructed in general. Next, the article might mention periodic and aperiodic orbits/geodesics and use the word "ergodic" in their description. Again, with only a light amount of explanation, but written so that the curious student may get a clue of what "ergodic" means, and might then be motivated to dig deeper. Finally, present torus as a Riemann surface, using a simple-enough language to engourage the reader to sudy Riemann surfaces and complex manifolds. The goal is to get a high-school student to realize that there's more to this torus thing than one might first guess: the torus article becomes a portal to many different branches of math. linas 23:15, 20 October 2005 (UTC)
This is a good idea; there should be more of these articles! Do you know of others besides special relativity for beginners? ᓛᖁ♀ 03:15, 23 October 2005 (UTC)

Are you guys quite crazy??[edit]

Surely out of all the things to mentioned as "should be more accessible" science is the craziest to be chosen, and then to specifically mention maths out of all of the science seems another double dose of madness! All I can guess is that some average joes looked at a bunch of science articles and went I don't have a f**king clue as to what the heck they are going on about!! Well well, no surprises there. Because the average persons knowledge of science is quite shocking, and for maths it only gets worst with so many people being down right terrified of maths (of course I'm not implying that everybody reading this is like this, just that a sizable proportion of the population is like that). Then combine this fact with maths being an extremely heavily "layered" subject, and to get to each layer you are required to understand all the layer below it. After all it is perfectly normal to have been at Uni for a couple of years and be learning about stuff that is well of a hundred years old. Almost depressing at times (if I was a person who gets depressed that is) to think that after all those many years at school learning about maths and being at Uni for while you are still so many many many many many years behind what is currently being done (although I've at least now reached the level of current research). Oh, and lets not forget that maths is also an extremely broad subject. Quite impossible to learn everything in it to a high level (although most professional mathematicians should at least have a nodding knowledge of all of the main fields of maths). So to expect a person who may have struggle to grasp something as simple and elementary as single variable calculus to have any hope in hell of understanding well a page at random on mathematics is sheer madness! So I urge you all to not all wikipedia to be corrupted by bringing down many fine pages to the level of baby talk, as wikipedia stands now it is one of the best (maybe simple *the* best) sources for mathematics for the university level maths major, and even for the practising professional mathematician. Yet I greatly fear this will all be destroyed and swept away for good if what is said on this page is widely put into practise (and all of what I've said about maths applies to all the other sciences as well, although perhaps in same cases to a lesser extent). Mathmo 08:45, 10 October 2005 (UTC)

Well after that length rant of why I think this is such an extremely bad idea to try and drag down every page to the common denominator, I ought to say also why the current system is working just fine (or could be improved a little when you see it). If a person does want to understand a topic, and is capable of doing so. Then if they can't already understand it as it stands then they can follow the links to the other pages which provide the "base material". And hopefully they shouldn't have to dig too deep before they start to understand what they are seeking, however if that isn't enough and they just have to keep on digging deeper and deeper down then they probably ought to be going back to basics anyway. To include this easier material inside the higher difficulty articles is just madness, because that is not where they belong. They belong at the lower level in their own article, and to have it in the "more technical" article would simply clog it up and make it even harder to follow and understand. As well as adding unwanted duplication to wikipedia. Mathmo 08:55, 10 October 2005 (UTC)

Sooo... you could take as my main point from this, that if you don't like how an article is. Then get some words in it to be link up to some easier stuff that builds up to that article. Then if anybody struggles with a part of it they can easily follow it along and hopefully get that explained to them. Although hopefully every article is already like this, but of course that is idealistic. However that is the path for improvement, and NOT this crazy proposal. Mathmo 09:02, 10 October 2005 (UTC)

Mathmo, it sounds like you're actually agreeing with Charles's proposal. Can I just check that you are aware of the history of this proposal? It is not a new proposal; in fact, until about a day ago, it was actually marked as a guideline, and has been that way since about April. Charles' suggestion was to modify it to say that articles should be made as accessible as the topic permits rather than the more inclusive as accessible as possible. Jitse changed it from guideline to proposal to reflect the lack of consensus. My apologies if I'm misunderstanding where you're coming from. Dmharvey File:User dmharvey sig.png Talk 17:27, 10 October 2005 (UTC)
I think "accessible as the subject permits" is the right phrasing; and the operational test should be: is this article understandible by someone who does not yet know the subject, but has the standard background expected of someone who is about to learn it? (This may or may not be expressible as a set of prerequisites.)
For example, Dynkin diagram will be used by two classes of readers:
  • People who already know what one is, and are checking some point of detail (the exact construction of E8, for example)
  • People who don't know what one is, and want to find out.
Articles should be written for the second reader; the first reader just wants to find what it says about E8; and don't care about how the whole article is phrased as long as the ToC is clear enough to get him what he wants. Septentrionalis 01:24, 14 October 2005 (UTC)
There's an important subclass of the second group: people who have very little relevant background knowledge. The complex details will be beyond them (and quite uninteresting), but these readers will likely be interested in the origins of the subject, its practical applications, and its importance to other topics. Articles can be written to satisfy all these classes of readers, and should be.
See, I think you're just wrong about that in many cases. Many topics that well deserve articles simply do not have any simplifications that would be accessible to a person without a fair amount of specialized knowledge. --Trovatore 06:16, 23 October 2005 (UTC)
Without going back to read what I said again (waaay too early in the morning for that, haven't slept), I'd presume what he just said probably was what I was going for. Because I belive that certain areas simply can not be reduced down far enough for the average user to unstand. Or even an above average user for that matter. Rather if you wish to cater for them you should have some kind of "back link", which explains the simpler stuff needed to understand the page they came to (and of course if they don't understand that page, there would be yet another back link...). I think this could be very hady, even though I'm a post graduate student in mathematics I'll from time to time come across stuff which I'm not so sure about, and even when I look it up I realise I'm still missing some more stuff which I need to know beforehand. Of course I can generally work out what it is I need to read up on myself, but a "back link" would be make it much easier and helps those who couldn't work out what background they need to get first because they might be many layers below (as opposed t myself typically only being one or two "layers" back). Mathmo 19:36, 16 April 2006 (UTC)
I must agree. That is a third group, for which it is often impossible for Wikipedia to provide - except, in principle, by providing all the specialized background. We do not yet do that, and may never do so. Septentrionalis 01:14, 24 October 2005 (UTC)
By the way, I encourage y'all to join WikiProject:General Audience, which has the task of implementing these ideas. ᓛᖁ♀ 03:46, 23 October 2005 (UTC)

Scientific American Quality[edit]

I am not entirely sure what is said to be crazy. What this guideline would do is to set a very high standard for the quality of technical articles that will be difficult to achieve, but is still worth trying to achieve. The ideal technical article should be at the level of understandability and technical content of a typical article in Scientific American. Most articles will not meet that standard, but it is a worthy objective. Most experts cannot write for Scientific American, but it is still a standard that they can try to meet. Robert McClenon 01:24, 27 October 2005 (UTC)

When did the Scientific American last have an article on analytic continuations? I don't mean to be fatuous, but the SA only writes articles on topics of rather broad interest. Plenty of maths topics have been having technical notices slapped on them that are on highly specialist topics. --- Charles Stewart 01:32, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
There's a certain German-published mathematics magazine I cannot remember the name of that fits this guideline as well, if I recall correctly (it's been a while since I read one). ᓛᖁ♀ 01:55, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
I think you mean Spektrum der Wissenschaft: it syndicates a lot of SA material, but published more and in more editions each month. --- Charles Stewart 02:03, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
Hmm... that may be it, though the name doesn't sound quite right. ᓛᖁ♀ 02:05, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
Math. intelligencer? --CSTAR 04:26, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
Yes, that's the one. ^_^ ᓛᖁ♀ 05:48, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
There's a few other science oriented magazines in Germany, like Geo, but I'd say SdW is nearer SA in quality and breadth of coverage than the others. --- Charles Stewart 02:45, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
In almost every article I've contributed to in WP I have been aiming at the level of say Encyclopedic dictionary of mathematics, with however, an introduction that was generally accessible (if possible) to at least tell the reader the area of the article. --CSTAR 04:26, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
This is a good strategy in general, but the Maths space contains many articles whose scope is much more technical than an encyclopedia aimed at anyone other than professional mathematicians would tackle. In general, I think (i) WP is right to do have these articles, and (ii) I agree with what you say about the introduction, also having a history section tends to give the lay reader more to take from the article, but on articles about highly technical concepts the lay reader is rightly a peripheral concern. --- Charles Stewart 15:12, 27 October 2005 (UTC)
A "back link" would quickly and easily solve this without it taking up too much space in the main proper article. So if I person goes to an article and sees after the first paragraph they are way out of their depth the can "backtrack" with a "back link" to an article which is more in tune to their current abilities. Mathmo 19:36, 16 April 2006 (UTC)


Three things about the Math. Intelligencer[edit]

One, I've started the Mathematical Intelligencer article. Two, I don't think we should regard it as a German journal: It's publisher is indeed Springer, but its editorial board is centred in Canada and the USA. Three, it is indeed a much better example for maths than SA, but I still don't think it would run an article narrowly on analytic continuations rather than more broadly on the Riemann conjecture or the Logic as Geometry thesis. --- Charles Stewart 15:12, 27 October 2005 (UTC)

Complaints about proposal[edit]

  1. It still suggests inserting Template:Technical at the top of articles, not talk pages, is the right thing, and now suggests that the Template:Technical_(expert) is good to insert there also;
  2. It still claims Template:Math2english should be used, despite the strenuous and unrefuted arguments that it is not helpful;
  3. No effort has been made to see how the proposal fits with the existing Wikipedia:Audience guideline;
  4. The proposal still asserts that every article should be accessible to the general reader, citing Special relativity for beginners as a good model.

These are not the only problems that stand between me and supporting the proposal when it comes time to vote, but if the proposal is still seriously being made, then the proposers should get started on addressing all of these. It is not the task of the objectors to fix the proposal, and without repair the proposal stands the proverbial snowball's chance. --- Charles Stewart 18:06, 1 November 2005 (UTC)

More complaints about the proposal[edit]

It is an admirable intention to make articles acessible, but sometimes one should pick which articles to put the {{technical}} template on. Or at least, please explain your reasoning.

I put the following text at the bottom of this article

It is requested that when you label an article too technical you put a brief explanation on the talk page or in the edit summary with comments or suggestions for improvement. This may be helpful to contributors to that article..

I would like to discuss what you think about it. Please do not revert it unless you discuss it first.

There is also a discussion at Wikipedia:Village pump (policy)#Frustration with make technical articles accessible policy about this issues. Good read. Oleg Alexandrov (talk) 00:02, 12 November 2005 (UTC) Postscript current link to WP:VP discussion --- Charles Stewart 16:24, 7 December 2005 (UTC)

This is a good addition. I think the page as it is now may be acceptable, but I'm still not convinced the widest possible audience is distinct from a general audience. I maintain there is certain nontechnical information common to all subjects, such as history, relevance, and practical consequences: nothing exists in a vacuum. ᓛᖁ♀ 03:41, 12 November 2005 (UTC)
For certain subjects, the history, relevance, and practical consequences, are themselves all too technical to explain to someone without a specialized background. Of course, if you trace far enough back, you can find a connection to something a general audience knows about--but tracing that thread is not very different from teaching them the subject. It certainly can't be repeated in every article. --Trovatore 04:17, 12 November 2005 (UTC)
I liked Oleg's new paragraph, but I felt it was easily overlooked and too softly worded, so I have moved it to a more prominent position and strengthened its wording. Gandalf61 14:48, 12 November 2005 (UTC)
While we are at it, I also implemented some other suggestions that came out of the discussion here. As an anonymous editor wrote in the first section, and Charles Stewart in the previous section, the template should go at the talk page because it is directed to editors. Furthermore, I removed the mentioning of {{math2english}} (see the remarks of Gandalf61 in Section 2 and of Charles Stewart again in Section 4). Since nobody disagreed, I felt it was safe to do this.
In the process, I reformulated Gandalf61's latest edit which could be interpreted as that somebody who wants to use the template, should first add an explanation on the talk page and wait for comments, and only then add the template. I am not sure whether this interpretation is what Gandalf61 intended or not, but it is not present in Oleg's text, and I don't think it is necessary to have a two-phase procedure to add {{technical}}. -- Jitse Niesen (talk) 17:10, 12 November 2005 (UTC)
If the template is now being added to the talk page rather than the article page (a change which I definitely support) then I agree that a two-phase procedure is not necessary. Gandalf61 12:18, 13 November 2005 (UTC)

I have added Template:check talk to the "technical" and "technical (expert)" templates in accordance with the discussion above. --Trovatore 21:04, 12 November 2005 (UTC)

comment on subst:[edit]

I've moved this out of the main article: Trovatore 22:48, 12 November 2005 (UTC)

Using subst: is a bad idea, since it both makes it harder to change the styling of the template later and makes it harder to find uses of the template. It should be done in a way which does not need subst:. --cesarb 22:42, 12 November 2005 (UTC)
Oops, sorry. I had just noticed I had edited the project page instead of the talk page. --cesarb 22:57, 12 November 2005 (UTC)
So on to the merits: In AfD they ask you to use subst:, claiming that it reduces the load on the servers. Is that a serious issue? I really don't know enough about the internals to comment intelligently. --Trovatore 23:06, 12 November 2005 (UTC)
The AfD template is a transient template; there's not much problem if its style is changed but some articles keep the older style for some time. On the other hand, things like infoboxes, {{shortcut}}, talk page messages, etc., are not used with subst:. This template looks a lot like an infobox (or a "series" template).
But it's not a problem anymore; I changed the template so its header and footer are in two separate templates. This way, the template styling is kept separate from the contents, and both problems I listed above are solved. It is now more like a template, to be either used with subst: and later edited, or copied and pasted by hand, and then edited in a single save.
--cesarb 23:11, 12 November 2005 (UTC)

Differing Needs[edit]

Along the same line as Charles, Some technicalities that can be condensed for the layman may need to be expanded for the expert. For example, it is simple to say that electrons in an atom are like planets orbiting in a solar system. This description will give the layman the general idea but the technical background for expert research would need to include complex clarifications like the Uncertainty Principle.

This may quickly lead to mulitple articles for different levels of experiance. How about making only seperate links to clarify difficult concepts depending on the user's level of technicality? Then you would not need to rewrite the entire article. Veritas Liberum 22:48 6 December 2005

Improvements benefit everyone[edit]

A lot of the fixes I suggest to technical articles improve them for everyone, really. I proposed some general ideas on the project page, to give people some specifics to ponder. Even simple analogies like the "solar system" model can be useful to experts in their own thinking, or at least when communicating with non-experts. Though that particular model is probably best reserved for schoolchildren, historical coverage, or something like: "People often think of electrons as spherical particles orbiting the nucleus, like planets orbit the sun. While electrons are in some sense discrete entities (they can be counted, like particles), in reality they are somewhat more complex..." I think it is preferable not to fork articles into simple and advanced versions unless there is a pressing reason. Most times, you can put introductory information up front, and get progressively more technical, and it will fit within 32k. (It doesn't fit within special relativity, which is one of the reasons there is a fork there.) Keeping everyone literally on the same page means all editors are contributing toward the same product. Otherwise, one or the other version will be missing out on updates applied to the other, like factual corrections, expansion, diagrams, additional details, social context, etc. "Background information" supplements linked inline (or at the top of a section or article) are a good compromise. It's hard to know in advance which articles, if any, need a "simple" fork, or when to separate out background material, so it's probably easier to just struggle with individual cases than try to come up with a general policy. -- Beland 20:45, 18 December 2005 (UTC)

Template placement[edit]

The debate about template placement (article vs. talk page) has re-opened on Template talk:Technical. -- Beland 20:47, 18 December 2005 (UTC)

Endorsing the proposal[edit]

This is an excellent proposal. Too many of the technical articles on Wikipedia are written in terms that make them useful only as reminders to people who have already studied the subject at the university level, with no context that might explain to an educated nonexpert what field the article pertains to or what its general purpose might be. Durova 00:59, 16 January 2006 (UTC)

Yeah, my knee-jerk reaction is to say that I couldn't disagree more. Take a look at Manifold -- shamefully nominated just today for featured article ... unfortunately, all of the content that made it actually interesting was removed. This article contains absolutely zilch that you wouldn't get in a college class. Its now pedestrian and banal and throughly boring. For somebody who actually has studied the topic at the university level, and wants to find out more, its a dead end piece of drivel. Even the "see also" section fails to allude to any of the advanced topics. :( I really think that a far better balance needs to be found. linas 07:31, 28 January 2006 (UTC)

I endorse the proposal too, particularly with regard to mathematics. I'm an experimental physicist. I very often find that even mathematics articles on things I use and understand are nearly incomprehensible. They seem to veer off into group theory and advanced number theory on the least excuse, even when the concept can be explained perfectly well without them. This is just not a good way to make an encyclopedia article.--Srleffler 01:47, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

Agreed. — Omegatron 05:18, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

Prerequisites[edit]

Prerequisites
Labor theory of value
Thermochemistry
Computational complexity theory

I am strongly opposed to any article having a box of the top with necessary prerequisites, as on the right. I don't think that is encyclopedic style. Wikipedia is a reference work, an encyclopedia, not the mother of all textbooks.

If an article introduction is well-written, there will be relevant links embedded in context, which should give a smart person enough hints of what to read first. Oleg Alexandrov (talk) 17:34, 4 February 2006 (UTC)

Agree with Oleg. These occasionally show up in articles, and are usually/always argued about. Their use should be eschewed. linas 18:22, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
Agree with Oleg. I've been involved in editing the article on American Conservatism and the article on Manifolds, and I've found it much easer to get liberals and conservatives to agree than to get mathematicians to agree. The battle seems to be between those who want the mathematics articles to start out with a "This is what this area of mathematics is all about." paragraph, accesable to the layperson, and those who call this drivel, and want, for example, the article on the limit to begin, "For every epsilon there is a delta..."
One of the best pieces of advice I got on giving a mathematics talk is that everyone in the audience should understand the first ten percent of your talk and at least ten percent of the audience should understand all of it. I think this is a good criteria for a technical article as well. Someone above complains that the person who has already taken a course in the subject finds nothing new in the Wiki article. Nor should they -- other than, perhaps, an insight into what it is all about. If they want something beyond an introduction, they should turn to the research journals. Rick Norwood 19:13, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
Agreed. — Omegatron 05:18, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

Keep or Not[edit]

I'm in favor of keeping this information for reference to future editing. DyslexicEditor 08:20, 14 April 2006 (UTC)

Merge[edit]

I think this should be merged with Wikipedia:Technical terms and definitions and Wikipedia:Explain jargon.-- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  00:18, 29 July 2006 (UTC)

I agree with the merge suggestion. This is very confusing. -- Quiddity (talk) 18:01, 18 May 2008 (UTC)
You're replying to a suggestion that is quite out of date. See below, "Manual of Style", for a more recent discussion of this topic. Markus Poessel (talk) 21:45, 18 May 2008 (UTC)

Changes made[edit]

I've updated both Category:Wikipedia articles that are too technical and Wikipedia:Make technical articles accessible based on comments in both places. --Scott McNay 03:53, 23 August 2006 (UTC)


How Scientific American does it[edit]

If you want to know how Scientific American (and its competitors) makes science accessible, I wrote an article about that. Before he died, I asked Gerard Piel how to explain science. He told me. Nbauman 05:07, 1 November 2006 (UTC)

I was hoping for real tips on how to make difficult concepts accessible without compromising them. Instead, when I followed the link above, I found a depressing account of how a once-great magazine surrendered to the fifteen-second attention span.
We should be looking to Scientific American for examples of how to "make technical articles accessible"—but not the SciAm of today. Go to the library (I know, I know) and go down in the musty old stacks, and find the ones from, say, 1955 to 1980. Pick any issue at random, and read an article at random. Be prepared to give the article at least an hour; it'll be worth it. You'll learn something you didn't know, at a serious level, with no sensation of effort.
The magazine was still good into the 80s; the reason I set 1980 as the upper bound was not really the science, but because that was when (as I recall) they started to get political. --Trovatore 16:48, 1 November 2006 (UTC)
I too have been reading SciAm since 1955, and I agree with you about the decline. I think the high water mark was their September 1996 special issue on Cancer. They got a National Magazine Award, then they moved into a smaller office and hired magazine consultants to figure out how to make more money. Gerard Piel was the guy who created the concept and guided it through its greatest years, and I think his explanation is still useful.
As for politics, we don't have to agree on everything, and I disagree on that. SciAm, Science, New England Journal of Medicine, and probably all the major science magazines were always political. SciAm had articles in the 1960s (and maybe 1950s) about nuclear war strategy, and they supported the nuclear test ban, as did NEJM. I remember reading about Soviet dissidents in Science. You might call them liberal, but there are other professional magazines, and popular magazines like Popular Mechanics, that lean conservative. Scientists have always been involved in politics, politics has always been a major part of science, and a magazine that informs its scientist readers about the important things in their profession has to include politics too. (Altough the Soviet science magazines were negligent in that area.) Do a Google search for "Chris Mooney". But I digress. Nbauman 04:40, 2 November 2006 (UTC)

FAC debate on "trampoline articles"[edit]

There is currently an ongoing debate at Introduction to general relativity FAC about the merits of creating "trampoline articles" in parallel with the technical topic. Please go and comment and there will likely be requests for policy clarification based upon this. Madcoverboy 23:54, 13 July 2007 (UTC)

Actually, the more general debate has now mostly moved to the discussion page over there, Wikipedia_talk:Featured_article_candidates/Introduction_to_general_relativity. --Markus Poessel 19:00, 14 July 2007 (UTC)

Proposed addition: reducing direct quotes[edit]

This one mainly derives from {{quotefarm}}. It would make sense to me that adding a bunch of direct quotes inherently makes an article less accessible-- unless the direct quote actually does simplify the concept. Anecdotally, that doesn't seem to be the case, though, as it seems like the number of block quotes is directly related to the inaccessibility of the article. :\ Anyone have any thoughts on this? --slakrtalk / 05:34, 9 October 2007 (UTC)

Oh yeah, this also kind of relates to WP:QUOTE; so, I'm not sure if this discussion is better for there or here. The latter isn't an actual guideline, so I figure it kind of makes more sense here. --slakrtalk / 05:37, 9 October 2007 (UTC)

Manual of style[edit]

Should this page be marked historical? A user promoted it [1] [2] from proposal to guideline twice, apparently without consensus. The above discussions contain extensive criticism of this guideline with few people defending it. Can this be considered consensus to mark the guideline historical? Feezo (Talk) 04:51, 15 October 2007 (UTC)

I'm certainly for keeping this page. There needs to be some consensus about how to deal with unavoidably technical articles, when they are acceptable and what to do (keep the lead simple, if nothing else works create "Introduction to..."). If some of what's written here is controversial, let's discuss and change, but there needs to be some guideline like this. --Markus Poessel 09:50, 15 October 2007 (UTC)
The problems discussed here are that the proposed remedies are either a) already characteristic of good writing and are therefore covered by other guidelines; or b) are essentially in conflict with good writing. There does seem to be consensus that technical topics of general interest (e.g., special relativity) benefit from a separate introductory article. Feezo (Talk) 21:07, 15 October 2007 (UTC)
In my experience, while there is consensus on having "Introduction to..." articles, there are also some that are firmly opposed. When Introduction to general relativity became a FAC (see the discussion here), there were two or three people opposing on principle, in opposition to the whole idea of "Introduction to..." articles. I was quite glad to have this guideline to point to, and if it were to go, it would make my future work more difficult. I think that the question of "unavoidable technicality", the question of what our intended audience is and whether there can/should be several audiences (which is what I think, and even wrote an essay about) should be addressed somewhere, and I don't see where else it is being addressed. I'm not opposed to streamlining this guideline (if it duplicates what's explicitly (!) said elsewhere, let's leave those parts out), but throwing it out altogether would, in my opinion, leave a regrettable gap. --Markus Poessel 13:20, 16 October 2007 (UTC)
Well, demoting this page won't make the issue go away. We hit it all the time at WP:PLANTS which is an interesting case in the sense that there is tons of specialized botanical terminology/knowledge, much of which is quite necessary some of the time, but also plenty that can be understood by just about everyone ("it is a tree with big red flowers"). For example, it seems to me that Eupatorieae should say "slightly yellowish off-white" (or something similarly non-technical) rather than "ochroleucous" which is what the source calls it. I find it hard to clearly express exactly what the rule should be, but I think we're better off with "Make technical articles accessible" than with nothing. Kingdon 19:56, 16 October 2007 (UTC)
Do you mean Wikipedia:Technical terms and definitions? That guideline is, I think, what this one is trying to be. Feezo (Talk) 16:41, 17 October 2007 (UTC)
If that were the guiding principle here, I'd say "ochroleucous (slightly yellowish off-white)" (which I find to be simply unreadable). That's not a slam against Wikipedia:Technical terms and definitions, but it covers a fairly narrow topic: typography of jargon and how to write a definition. Kingdon 17:04, 17 October 2007 (UTC)
OK, I found what we're looking for: Wikipedia:Guide to writing better articles#Provide context for the reader — "Avoid using jargon whenever possible." This is a clear and precise directive, and should definitely be restated in Wikipedia:Explain jargon. Compare that to the instruction creep here: "use more verbs"? "eliminate strings of adjectives"? And why is the section called "ideas"? This looks like an interrupted brain storming session. Feezo (Talk) 22:10, 17 October 2007 (UTC)

Now, I agree that there is some useful material; the note about introductory topics, for example, might be merged into Wikipedia:Explain jargon. The bit about chronosynclastic infundibulum, on the other hand, is just painful. Feezo (Talk) 22:10, 17 October 2007 (UTC)

But the topic of this guideline is much more general than just "Explain jargon". It's a question of levels of presentation. Jargon is easy. If it's just about words which can be explained briefly, i.e. jargon, we explain them, end of story. Technicality is more difficult. Should there be articles which are too technical to be of interest to the average curious reader, but might be very useful indeed to a more specialized one? By this guideline, with which I agree, that is an option, as long as the lead is accessible or, under certain circumstances, there is an "Introduction to...". Again, if there are specific parts you don't like about this guideline (such as the chronosynclastic infundibulum), let's see about removing or changing them, but we should preserve the main points of this guideline which, in my opinion, are quite important. --Markus Poessel 07:52, 18 October 2007 (UTC)
Two changes that would appear to address the objections I've read in this thread so far would be to a) streamline the "Ideas for enhanced accessibility", pointing out that much of it is simply good writing anyway, and b) streamline the "unavoidably technical" section (for the latter, my proposal would be to replace the current example with some mathematics/physics example, make it clear that there should be an accessible lead and, while we're at it, re-iterate the possibility of "Introduction to..." articles, including a warning that these should only be used as a last resort). --Markus Poessel 08:23, 18 October 2007 (UTC)
This will, I think, mean cross-referencing the ideas for improvement with relevant parts of the manual of style. I strongly feel that we should not have separate guidelines for writing technical articles. That is, an article that follows our manual of style is already as accessible as it can be without being, as this guideline puts it, "dumbed down". Therefore, this guideline should ideally serve as an explanation of how existing guidelines apply to technical articles. Feezo (Talk) 23:37, 19 October 2007 (UTC)
To expand a bit, the ideas in this page can be shown as applications of Wikipedia:Lead section, Wikipedia:Explain jargon, Wikipedia:Technical terms and definitions, and, in general, Wikipedia:Guide to writing better articles. I also think that this guideline should be retitled Wikipedia:Technical writing or somesuch. Accessibility has the undesirable connotation that we are writing for people who are in some way disabled. Feezo (Talk) 20:49, 20 October 2007 (UTC)
I agree that we should add more links to other style guides, but I think it's good to have everything that's needed to make the article more accessible in one place. Technical writing is something else again, and it's exactly what we don't want (writing for a very narrow target audience). "Accessible" is, on the other hand, exactly what we're aiming for. I'm against replacing this apt and common description just because recently, its other meaning (accessible to people with disabilities) has become more common online. --Markus Poessel 17:14, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
Accessiblity issues on Wikipedia are addressed by Wikipedia:Accessibility and Wikipedia:WikiProject Accessibility. These deal with how information is formatted, i.e., for compatibility with screen readers. This page, on the other hand, is concerned with how information is actually presented. Technical writing includes the presentation of information to the general public.[3] Accessibility has an entirely different meaning, [4] based on a legally defined standard for the US government. [5] Feezo (Talk) 19:51, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
Looking at the links you listed, I don't see anything that contradicts what I wrote. Technical writing is specialized - software manuals, technical manuals and stuff like that, help with research articles. What we're looking for here is more along the lines of what a good science writer would produce: Taking a topic from science, mathematics and so on and writing about it in a way that makes the text understandable for a general audience. As for accessibility, I'm not disputing that the meaning you're referring to is getting ever more common online. Doesn't change the fact that the word has an even more common meaning in everyday, off-line usage, too, and that usage includes exactly what we're aiming for here: capable of being understood or appreciated. We want people to understand what we're writing. Linking to Google in this context isn't very useful - that way, you could "prove" that "web" is not something that refers to something spun from physical threads, it can obviously have no common meaning beyond the WWW! --Markus Poessel 08:25, 3 November 2007 (UTC)
This guideline appears to disagree with Wikipedia:Accessibility's notion of the term. Is the potential for confusion worth changing one or the other? I'm not sure. "Accessibility" is a pretty spare guideline at the moment. This guideline borders on instruction creep. Since they address roughly the same concept, it might make sense to merge the two guidelines. The main concern I'm seeing here (expressed by Kingdon) seems to be that this guideline is necessary to warn editors against unnecessarily using technical language. If this is really the crux of the issue, it could be resolved by merging this guideline into WP:ACCESS. Feezo (Talk) 06:03, 19 November 2007 (UTC)
I'm agree, the use of the term "accessible" is misleading, and has nothing to do with web accessibility. IMHO it should be renamed, e.g. something related to understandable. —surueña 13:09, 15 December 2007 (UTC)
I especially like the suggestion of a link to Wikipedia:Lead section. Don't let the disagreements about some of the suggestions impede work on those which are (apparently) uncontroversial. Kingdon 16:58, 2 November 2007 (UTC)

Keep. My 2¢: There are too many authors who are otherwise decent writers but to whom it hasn't occurred that articles should accommodate non-experts. These authors also tend to be "high-volume" editors who don't see the relevance of a guideline like or don't look for the appropriate subsection in a guideline unless it's an exact match for what they might expect. I believe Wikipedia:Make technical articles accessible should not be merged for the following reasons:

-- DanielPenfield (talk) 22:10, 26 December 2007 (UTC)


Simplifying articles after 2005[edit]

27-Oct-2007: It's interesting to see activity at this topic again. There was a lull here for about 2 years (end of 2005), and resources have grown since then, such as: other wikis to copy & Wikimedia Commons now has over 2 million images/diagrams to search/link. The articles tagged "{{technical}}" total to about 580 in October 2007. This month, I have been simplifying about 20 complex articles marked "too-technical" and found they were, and could be, simplified. Since 2005, many people have chipped away and added simpler sections or explanations in many articles, some totally ready to untag for "technical".

The main point is that many horrendously complex articles can be simplified, but it is a lot easier when you know the tricks, which might be overlooked, and should be explained somewhere (such as here). Also, obviously, way more than 580 articles are "too-technical" but are very tedious to simplify, perhaps 2 hours per article, before untagging. This "ain't one-word disambiguation fixes" but, at least, these articles are being read by someone (who tagged them), so any simplified article is likely to actually be read, unlike the vast ocean of 2 million wiki-whatever articles. Please do keep focusing on ways to simplify articles, and avoid/forwarn complex writers who might otherwise overcomplicate their new articles. -Wikid77 21:04, 27 October 2007 (UTC)

Finding/tailoring images/diagrams[edit]

27-Oct-2007: In the past month, Wikimedia Commons announced surpassing the 2-million-image mark, apparently having more articles than even English Wikipedia, because of continual 24/7 worldwide contributions. I would like to tie the guideline to using such images. Wikimedia Commons is an excellent resource for finding simple images to illustrate "too-technical" articles. So, people should use the Wikimedia search option to hunt for images & diagrams. Also images can be customized upon display, by overlaying with symbols or labels, using:

Even though those images/diagrams might not be the "perfect" simplicity, by overlaying words or symbols and carefully wording the captions, it might be possible to help illustrate many articles of horrendous complexity, without custom editing/uploading of images. -Wikid77 21:13, 27 October 2007 (UTC)

Why were the categories removed from this page?[edit]

Looks like it could have been vandalism to me.--h i s s p a c e r e s e a r c h 04:27, 17 November 2007 (UTC)


mathematics and physics articles[edit]

I totally agree with this guideline; Wikipedia is a general encyclopædia for general audiences, not a textbook that assumes that readers already have a prerequisite level of knowledge. The way that mathematics and physics articles are written now is most useful for those who are expert in the field and therefore have the least need to consult Wikipedia. Articles should be comprehensible to the average college-educated reader.

In this regard I noticed that WikiProject general audience is presently inactive. Would anybody care to volunteer? 69.140.159.215 (talk) 12:42, 12 January 2008 (UTC)

"Introduction" articles[edit]

I have great misgivings about these. See my comment at Category talk:Introductions. In a nutshell, they are WP:CFORKs. If our resident crowd of pov-pushers, cranks, trolls and ideological zealots discover the tool of "introductory" article, we'll never hear the end of it... A well-intentioned idea, but one wide open to abuse. dab (𒁳) 18:34, 22 January 2008 (UTC)

I wouldn't discard them just because they can be abused, but I think I probably agree. I tried browsing a few pairs of introductory and non-introductory articles, and the non-introductory ones (Virus and M-theory) didn't seem all that unavoidably technical to me (there's an amusing complaint at Talk:M-theory#More Technical and following comments that the article needs to be more technical, and apparently the people discussing it lack the skills to do that. Heh). The problems with introductions seem quite obvious (there was a lot of duplication between the introduction and the non-introduction in every pair which I look at). Whether there is a benefit which makes up for that, I'm not as sure about. The concept sounds good - you'd think that you could have the two articles linking to each other (sort of analogous to Wikipedia:Summary style but not quite the same). But I'm not sure how well it works out. I suppose my opinion would be influenced a fair bit if we heard from people who have worked on articles with pairs like this - did the distinction seem to hold up? Did the two articles attract a different set of editors (easy to determine) or readers (harder to determine)? And so on. Kingdon (talk) 19:07, 22 January 2008 (UTC)
I agree that these articles are problematic, but frankly I haven't heard a better suggestion. The problem that they attempt to address is a very real one and very difficult to solve. As someone once put it, Wikipedia is not so much a single encyclopedia as a collection of overlapping ones; on topics such as special relativity, where the "popular encyclopedia" and the "scientific encyclopedia" overlap, it's really hard to see how you can write one article that serves the needs of both. --Trovatore (talk) 19:49, 22 January 2008 (UTC)
One thing we hopefully all agree on is that at least the first part of every article should be as simple and motivational as possible. The technical details and generalizations can come later. Oleg Alexandrov (talk) 04:45, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
I think the intro paragraph should be general. For specialized technical topics in particular, a good introduction will stand on its own; it should define the topic in a useful way, and contextualize it within its discipline. Feezo (Talk) —Preceding comment was added at 05:42, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

I believe the solution is summary style. Experts are free, and indeed most welcome, to get as technical as they like, but they have to accept that the gory details will be exported from the main article and delegated to specialized sub-articles with a narrow focus. If "summary style" is used with circumspection, I do not think "introductory" articles are a necessity. The introduction should be the main article's lead, and if necessary an "overview" h2 section. dab (𒁳) 09:42, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

I found a case where summary style is indeed being used this way: Classification of finite simple groups/List of finite simple groups. Kingdon (talk) 17:58, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
Last year, there was a discussion of the necessity of "Introduction to..." articles in the FA-candidacy of Introduction to general relativity. My point of view, laid out in more detail in the essay Wikipedia:Many things to many people, is that "Introduction to..." should only be a last resort, but that with some complex subjects, there is simply no other option if you want to a) present the subject in a pedagogical way, but still b) want to have a reasonably complete encyclopedia article (with all necessary links to related articles). --Markus Poessel (talk) 20:11, 24 January 2008 (UTC)
Thanks; there's lots to read in that discussion and essay. Now, how can we distill that into better-worded text for this guideline? The current, controversial, sentence is "Depending on the topic and the amount of interest in it, it may be appropriate[dubious ] to write a separate "trampoline" article; see for example: Introduction to special relativity." I would propose: "For topics which are unavoidably technical but also of interest to non-technical readers, the best solution may be a separate introductory article, for example Introduction to special relativity. Only choose this approach when other choices, like an overall article on the topic and specialized subtopic articles (joined by summary style), will not do the job." We might also want to link to Wikipedia:Many things to many people (in the See also at the bottom of the page?), but linking to an essay shouldn't be a substitute for trying to make the guideline concisely provide distilled advice. Still, I do like the way that the essay covers things like the difference between "understandable to only a few" and "interesting to only a few". Kingdon (talk) 21:14, 24 January 2008 (UTC)
You're welcome, of course. My impression is, though, that, given the list of caveats and qualifications to be added to the trampoline suggestion, we might have come to the point where trampoline articles get their own section in this guideline. Proposal: to shorten the current sentence in the lead to "Depending on the topic and the amount of interest in it, it may be appropriate to write a separate "trampoline" article." and then add an extra section "Trampoline articles" stating basically what you were suggesting:
"For topics which are unavoidably technical but also of interest to non-technical readers, the best solution may be a separate introductory article. An example is Introduction to special relativity. A complete list of current trampoline articles can be found here, and a list of articles which have a trampoline attached, here. However, the number of trampoline articles should be kept to a minimum. Before you start one, ask yourself
  • Following the advice given above, can the article be made sufficiently accessible as a whole, without the need for a trampoline?
  • Given the degree of general interest in the topic at hand, might a well-written lead be sufficient?
You should start a trampoline article only if the answers to these questions are "no". "
Naturally, I'm also in favour of including a reference to Wikipedia:Many things to many people. --Markus Poessel (talk) 15:17, 25 January 2008 (UTC)
That wording looks OK to me, and I don't think it strays too far from consensus (well, or maybe "closer to consensus than the existing wording" is all we can hope for). My comments are minor: (1) I would prefer to remove the word "trampoline" in favor of "separate introduction", "introductory articles", "separate introduction articles", or some such (the word "introduction" is in the titles of such articles, and the existing categories), (2) Perhaps a good way to link to Wikipedia:Many things to many people is with Template:see also (at the start of the section on separate introductions). Probably a link to Wikipedia:Content forking in the same template invocation also makes sense (since that article talks about things like spinouts). Kingdon (talk) 21:45, 25 January 2008 (UTC)
I'm all in favour of changing from "trampoline" to "separate introduction" or similar. My reason for using trampoline was the way the text is currently written. I'm also in favour of using Template:see also, although the content forking guideline might also be worked into the text. So how about:
"Introduction to..." articles

For topics which are unavoidably technical but, at the same time, of significant interest to non-technical readers, the best solution may be a separate introductory article. An example is Introduction to special relativity. A complete list of current "Introduction to..." articles can be found in Category:Introductions, while a list of main articles thus supplemented is Category:Articles with separate introductions. However, in keeping with the spirit of Wikipedia's guideline on content forking, the number of separate introductory articles should be kept to a minimum. Before you start one, ask yourself

  • Following the advice given in the preceding sections, can the article be made sufficiently accessible as a whole, without the need for a trampoline?
  • Given the degree of general interest in the topic at hand, might a well-written lead be sufficient?

You should start an "Introduction to..." article only if the answer to these questions is "no".

--Markus Poessel (talk) 16:43, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
Looks good.Kingdon (talk) 17:50, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
That looks a good formulation to me. Tim Vickers (talk) 23:04, 28 January 2008 (UTC)

My two cents is that Encyclopedia Britannica is the gold standard in encyclopedias, and still a bit of a model for Wikipedia, although we have surpassed it in a few different ways. And EB has 6 levels of articles, for those with different levels of education, background and understanding and literacy. SIX! So why cannot have two levels? I would even point out that the entire reason for Simple Wikipedia is to create another level of article, still in English, still in Wikipedia. With the Simple Wikipedia articles we would have 3 layers of articles, still much less than the 6 levels of EB.

In addition, the average adult has about a grade 8-10 reading level in the US. It is atrocioius, I know, but this is reality (Washington DC has an average adult reading level of grade 3, so at least the national average is better than DC's). We are eventually only valuable if people read our articles. And they will not read our material if they cannot understand it. So we need to make it accessible. And some articles just are not or cannot be accessible, given the special language and technical information. So we have two levels of article, or 3.

Also it is impossible for a single article to be all things to all people. It would be too long. And so, since Wikipedia is not paper, what is wrong with a sequence of 3 different levels of articles for the most difficult topics, and 2 for most topics? Seems perfectly reasonable to me and in fact quite obvious.--Filll (talk) 23:14, 28 January 2008 (UTC)

Agree. Let's not do away with introductory articles, instead make the few we have as good as they can be so they play a real service for the lay readers. David D. (Talk) 03:20, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
Thanks for Filll, David D., and TimVickers for looking at this wording. I had thought that Markus Poessel and I were just summarizing a discussion which had already taken place, but it always good to see more eyes on our text. I have gone ahead and installed this into the guideline (with two more changes of wording from "trampoline" to some variant of "introduction", but no other changes to the text above) - hope I'm not jumping the gun on that. As for your endorsement of multiple levels, Filll, given the lengthy and sometimes contentious debate at Wikipedia:Featured_article_candidates/Introduction_to_general_relativity, I don't imagine that this issue is really settled. But giving a bit more guidance about when/how to write these introductory articles, and linking to Wikipedia:content fork and Wikipedia:many things to many people, should be a step forward in helping write good articles and helping people think clearly about the policy. Kingdon (talk) 14:39, 29 January 2008 (UTC)

I think part of the problem is that most editors on Wikipedia still do not know about this project and many have never seen an introductory article on Wikipedia. So it is a bit of a shock, and they lash out because they do not understand. However, as they become more publicized, as this AfD for Introduction to evolution is doing, people will become more familiar with introductory articles and will start to understand the reason for them. As painful and difficult as it is, it is part of the educational process which is necessary to build an encyclopedia. Without editors who understand the reasons for certain things and certain goals, the information and value will not be passed on, and will be lost.--Filll (talk) 16:11, 29 January 2008 (UTC)

Ah, that explains the sudden burst of interest. The quality of the debate does seem to be going up (relative to the 1st AfD, or the Wikipedia:Featured_article_candidates/Introduction_to_general_relativity). I don't expect a consensus to gel overnight, but we should definitely try to explain the concept so that people can evaluate the pros and cons and when it does or does not make sense. Kingdon (talk) 16:53, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
Whatever the outcome, the simple english wiki page should be modified (or this discussion be spammed over to SW) for clarification. Right now, it's arguable that the 'introduction' articles are redundant to SEW (note I said arguable!!!) and I didn't find the SEW page particularly clear on this. Though it states very clearly that language is a big concern, it doesn't address concepts as clearly. In other words, is SEW just about linguistic clarity while conceptual complexity is maintained (i.e. attempts to be as comprehensive as the EN wiki article and cover as much detail) or is it simple in both language and concept? It could be I am just insufficiently clear on the matter; if it's simple and uncontroversial, then all it needs is a little half-sentence saying so. IMHO it would help distinguish SEW from intro articles a bit better. Right now the water that lies between them is muddy - differences between the two should be highlighted. WLU (talk) 20:04, 29 January 2008 (UTC)

Having worked quite a bit on Simple Wikipedia, something I suggest everyone should do, after a while one realizes that it is both simpler English and simpler content, for a variety of reasons (some of which have to do with the difficulty of explaining advanced concepts in Simple English anyway, so the content has to be simpler). But that gives us 3 levels of articles and Britannica has 6. Simple Wikipedia is suitable for those with maybe 3-6 years of schooling. Introductory articles are suitable for those with maybe 10-14 years of schooling. And the regular articles are suitable for those with 12+ years of schooling. These are just my rough estimates mind you, and based on no more than my personal opinion.--Filll (talk) 20:19, 29 January 2008 (UTC)

SEW's own take on itself can be found at Simple:Wikipedia:Simple English Wikipedia: note in particular the sentences about simple English making hard articles and complex ideas easier to understand. The stated purpose is clearly simpler English. As Filll suggests, any tendency towards simpler content is likely a consequence of the simpler English rather than an additional purpose. Geometry guy 21:17, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
I've no problem with, and would in fact prefer, that this be made clearer on both Simple and on any guidelines that come out about intro articles - if they're for different purposes, let's make that clear. Filll's distinctions look good to me. WLU (talk) 21:48, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
I'm with dab on this; I think a proper application of summary style should be able to eliminate the need for an Intro to... article. For a more complex scientific article, this would certainly be hard work to define and create the right hierarchy of articles, but it seems like having an option to just create an introductory article means that people won't put it in that effort. The main article on a broad scientific topic (like evolution) should probably not be all-inclusive for someone with an advanced degree; instead those facts would occur in children articles (or maybe at the fourth level of the hierarchy, who knows). Karanacs (talk) 21:52, 29 January 2008 (UTC)

Although that is great in theory, it has not worked so well in practice, leading to impossible arguments about tone and level. Even at Introduction to evolution we ran into the same problems as happened at evolution on level. Even Intelligent design has been judged by many visitors as too difficult for the average reader to understand. And we fought about how advanced to make it for a year or two.

Encyclopedia Britannica decided to make 6 levels of articles. They do this for practical reasons and based on centuries of effort with paid experts. So I think that they are doing it because it is a reasonable thing to do. You are free to disagree however.--Filll (talk) 22:07, 29 January 2008 (UTC)

What are those six levels? I'm aware of micro and similar labels, but can't recall six levels. Carcharoth (talk) 01:15, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
I made my approximate list of the different types of Britannica product below for you to peruse and ponder. My estimate of 6 came from visiting my local library but the list below is a bit more complete.--Filll (talk) 17:04, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
I'm aware that we haven't reached consensus on this issue yet. Which is why, instead of proposing a more comprehensive text about "Introduction to..." articles, I've tried to formulate the proposed section in a way that will hopefully minimize the potential for abuse that some have argued is associated with this kind of article. @Karanacs: From my own experience with Introduction to general relativity and General relativity, I've found that in some cases, summary style just isn't the answer. It's crucial for the main article to be the central hub in the semantic web surrounding the concept in question, and for that to be the case for general relativity, even an article written in summary style would need to touch upon so many technical/mathematical concepts as to greatly reduce its value for the non-technical reader. --Markus Poessel (talk) 16:24, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
I would like to add my two cents here. I think that "introduction to" articles serve a valuable function on wikipedia, namely instruction. Since we have the opportunity to present information in a variety of ways (e.g. both mathematically and non-mathematically in the case of general relativity), I see no reason why we should not. Wikipedia can cater to more audiences and do so better than a paper encyclopedia because it is not limited to a single article on each topic. This, of course, does not mean there should be "introductions" to every topic, but if the need for one should arise, we should boldly create it. We should boldly go forth and provide as much information in as many forms as we can. Awadewit | talk 00:09, 31 January 2008 (UTC)
I think there may be a good rationale for the existence of these articles, but "instruction" is surely not it. WP articles are specifically not supposed to be pedagogical. A pedagogical article article is almost guaranteed to be POV and "original research by synthesis", because you have to take a point of view to guide the student through the material.
Where I think the articles could be useful is where the notional "scientific encyclopedia" part of WP overlaps with the notional "popular encyclopedia" part. However I have not yet seen an example where I thought the break along these lines was particularly well done. Part of the problem is that these overlap topics tend to be big, unweildy things, on which it is very difficult to write a good article, especially by committee. --Trovatore (talk) 00:27, 31 January 2008 (UTC)
People are coming to wikipedia articles to learn - we are therefore teaching. There are many ways to be "pedagogical", as you put it. If we don't think of the best way that our readers can learn and comprehend the information that we are providing, I'm not really sure what our purpose is. We might as well just have wikisource. (And, yes, every article in this encyclopedia is OR by synthesis, unless it is directly copied from something else. That is technically unavoidable.) Awadewit | talk 00:50, 31 January 2008 (UTC)
It's a slightly subtle point, but while people do come here to learn, we are absolutely not teaching. I must insist strenuously on this point. Wikipedia is a reference work, not a textbook; you look things up here. Then you can teach yourself the topic, using what you look up. --Trovatore (talk) 01:06, 31 January 2008 (UTC)
Yes, but there are different kinds of reference works and one function of Wikipedia is serve as the teaching kind. There are academic reference works, such as those that list the masses of elementary particles, but the majority of Wikipedia's users do not come here for academic information, they come here because they are ignorant of something and need to learn about it. We cannot pretend that we are "simply" presenting information. Any article requires the judicious selection of information, the arrangement of it, the writing up of it, etc. All of these things have to take the audience's needs into account. One of their needs is to learn. Awadewit | talk 01:28, 31 January 2008 (UTC)
They can learn without us teaching. Yes, presenting information in such a way that it is easier to learn from, is important. But this does not constitute teaching. We have to be extremely clear on this. When editors think they are "teaching", they write in an overly discursive style that is absolutely inappropriate here. There may be a good rationale for "introduction to..." articles, but I would be unalterably opposed to letting them become a refuge for that style. --Trovatore (talk) 01:36, 31 January 2008 (UTC)

Consider several articles per subject[edit]

30-Jan-2008: Beyond the concept of an "Introductory" article, I recommend to advise people to consider if 3 or 5 articles should be written about a particular subject to more easily address certain aspects. At the risk of being presumptuous, I'll say that Albert Einstein, himself, would have recommended writing a "confederation of articles" about a subject, patterned after the concept of a poly-technic university, such as Einstein's Swiss Federal Polytechnic (ETH) in Zurich (ETH literally means "confederated technical highschool"). Einstein isn't rolling in his grave due to the array of Einstein articles: Albert Einstein's brain, Albert Einstein in popular culture, Albert Einstein House, List of scientific writings of Albert Einstein, Albert Einstein Memorial, etc. Rather than limit the article-count theory to 2 articles (intro+main), I suggest to extend the concept, with some underlying postulates, such as: assume that one-size won't fit all, nor 2 sizes of article. The conclusion is so obvious, once the underlying reasons are noted. However, I will also warn that Einstein disliked the proliferation of trash technical papers being churned out by university people, so the need for balance is important: allow a confederation of articles about a subject, but avoid flooding the subject with redundant views. As an example, I feel that the "American Civil War" and "The War of Northern Aggression" should be 2 SEPARATE articles (not redirects), to encourage at least 2 alternate viewpoints, including the "barbaric" burning of Atlanta/Georgia. However, I wouldn't encourage too many variation articles, such as a "War of Grant versus Lee" and such, but base variations on prior research divergence. That said, I would create some new articles for the topics "Albert Einstein humor" and "Albert Einstein politics" (big subjects) in addition to the technical viewpoints. What do you think? -Wikid77 (talk) 11:50, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

One of the core principles of wikipedia is neutrality, so separate articles for American Civil War and War of Northern Aggression would constitute WP:POVFORKs, which are generally considered very bad. Karanacs (talk) 14:34, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
Karanacs is right about POV Forks. In this example, the current split is better: Origins of the American Civil War, Confederate States of America, Naval battles of the American Civil War, Reconstruction, etc (I didn't try to list them all). Your Einstein examples are closer to what we want (well, if a split is desirable at all). This is covered at places like Wikipedia:Content fork (which is already linked from this guideline, and covers how to and how not to split an article) and Wikipedia:Summary style. Kingdon (talk) 15:51, 30 January 2008 (UTC)


We are not Wikinfo which is designed to feature only POV articles, like pro and con of a debate. All our articles, at least approximately, must satisfy NPOV. However, in well developed areas this has already happened to a large extent. In evolution, there is the Simple Wikipedia article on evolution, Introduction to evolution, dozens of articles on creation-evolution controversy, and hundreds of articles on various aspects of history such as orthogenesis and more advanced concepts like epigenetics. The same is true of intelligent design, which is actually at the head of a cluster of almost 200 articles, and growing. There is a Simple Wikipedia version of intelligent design, but not yet an Introduction to intelligent design (although I have such an article in rough draft in a sandbox and have tried to recruit people to work on it with me). One of the problems that intelligent design faces is that the great unwashed that we are trying to reach with that article cannot read it since it is too hard for them and the material too detailed and the article contains too many big words. So, we need an introductory article there too I think, but I have not yet got enough of the "powers that be" in the intelligent design interest area to agree to it, so I have not moved ahead.--Filll (talk) 16:50, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

NPOV by multi-articles[edit]

31-Jan-2008: Just as with the fork to have articles on Intelligent design, many subjects need an array of articles to attempt an unbiased, NPOV treatment of viewpoints. The very term "Civil War" presumes one nation fighting internally, rather than seeing the nation of the Confederacy being invaded by the northern states, hence from the start, the term "Civil War" is an opinionated, extremely slanted twist, with "inherent bias" against neutrality. Policies about NPOV should recommend to "state your biases" from the outset; however, such sophisticated meta-data about an article is somewhat beyond the scope of today's Wikipedia. In computer software, there are levels of meta-data called "requirements" or "design specs" or "baseline test data" (etc.) which exist outside the software itself; I have attempted the same in some articles, putting (on the talk-page) the "article requirements" or "baseline test data" to check for vandalism against core article facts such as birthdate/awards or Hurricane landfalls/windspeeds (as a sanity check). Beyond those types of meta-data, articles should link underlying assumptions/biases, such as "treat the conflict as a war between 2 independent nations rather than one nation split years ago"; Wikipedia needs a "third tab" for "META" information that designates an article's structure, separate from talk-pages that ramble and get archived. I don't blame Wikipedia for starting as a Britannica view of articles, but the time to document article meta-data has come, is here, in the form of talk-pages, and perhaps should be implemented today as "/meta" (or such) subpages on many articles, including "known biases" or assumptions in an article's slant (Of course, some people would freak as "non-standard subpage"). On each meta-subpage, clearly state the biases of the article's content, realizing that "neutrality" is relative to the observer's viewpoint, regardless of how objectively stable that location might seem: it's all relative to the implicit assumptions. -Wikid77 (talk) 12:07, 31 January 2008 (UTC)

Encyclopedia Britannica levels[edit]

  1. Micropædia: short articles (generally having fewer than 750 words), currently 12 volumes
  2. Macropædia: long articles (having from two to 310 pages), currently 17 volumes
  3. Propædia: intended to give a hierarchical outline of human knowledge, currently 1 volume
  4. Britannica Concise Encyclopædia has 28,000 short articles condensing the larger 32-volume Britannica
  5. Compton's by Britannica, which incorporates the former Compton's Encyclopedia, is aimed at adolescents ages 10–17 and consists of 26 volumes and 11,000 pages
  6. A Children's Britannica was published by the company's London office in 1960
  7. My First Britannica, aimed at children ages six to twelve
  8. Britannica Discovery Library, written for children ages three to six

When I stated that there were 6, I was going by what was available in my local library. Depending on what library you look at, you might find as many as 8 levels of Britannica product, aimed at slightly different levels of sophistication. There is obviously some overlap, so the estimate of 6 is a reasonable compromise and number to use for the sake of argument, I would claim.--Filll (talk) 17:01, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

Use analogies vs. Use analogies or similar examples[edit]

For the sake of being too technical can we change the section that says to

Use analogies to describe a subject in everyday terms.

to

Use analogies (or similar examples/ideas) to describe a subject in everyday terms.

Ok, so the '/' (slash) isn't super helpful but honestly I didn't really know what the word analogies was until I looked it up (and this wasn't just in this article, it was in a regular Wikipedia article that I was reading). Ok, so I'm a bit slow... but still. ;) Strawberry Island (talk) 22:18, 13 February 2008 (UTC)

At least for me, the wording "analogies (or similar examples/ideas)" isn't very clear. It makes it sound like "similar examples/ideas" is something different from analogies. If you want to wikilink analogies, say to wiktionary:analogy or Analogy, that might be OK, but it is hard to give good advice on writing if we can't make use of the ordinary vocabulary which describes writing. Kingdon (talk) 03:19, 14 February 2008 (UTC)

Retaining technical language[edit]

(popped from Scientific American Quality thread)

Unfortunately, I don't have time to read the surrounding comments, but I thought I would just add that one of the main reasons Wikipedia is valuable is that the articles get into the real technical language of various fields. It makes the articles harder to read in many cases, but I don't see how to avoid this if you're going to get any more specific than the most general overview. An article on a subtopic of group (mathematics) is going to have a lot of equations and technical terms. If you tried to simplify the topic for a general, or even a wider, audience, there wouldn't be much to say. This "guideline" seems to me to be well-intentioned but misguided. Also, for what it's worth, Scientific American is not a good publication to try to emulate in my opinion. modify 15:58, 3 July 2008 (UTC)

I think that the great thing about Wikipedia is that one can have simple articles, and intermediate level articles and advanced articles, all on the same subject. Since Wikipedia is not paper, all these views can and should be accommodated. I will note that this is exactly what Encyclopedia Britannica does with its 6 different publications at different levels.--Filll (talk | wpc) 16:15, 3 July 2008 (UTC)
This guideline isn't saying that technical details or language need to be removed, only that context should be supplied for non-technical readers to be able to learn something about the subject, and that technical details that can be explained in a non-technical manner (the vast majority of things, including mathematical groups), should be. -- Beland, 07:59, 11 August 2008 (UTC)

Two recent AfD's regarding "Introduction to..." articles[edit]

I thought I'd mention Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Polymerase Chain Reaction (simplified) and Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Introduction to genetics. On the whole, I think the comments on those deletion pages seem to be fairly well thought out, although I will admit to being a bit amused that no one seems to be mentioning this guideline. Kingdon (talk) 06:23, 15 May 2008 (UTC)

Perhaps because a lot of us had no idea that was added into this guideline as it goes against longstanding practice. Yes things can change, but as I wasn't aware of this page, I started another conversation elsewhere to discuss the merits. I believe the above discussion missed some important points and led to a less than ideal solution. Specifically different level articles aren't necessarily a sign of Brittannica doing anything right as they published in separate editions for marketing purposes in many of those cases which we don't need to worry about. Also proper use of summary style can avoid the problem anyway. - Taxman Talk 16:19, 6 June 2008 (UTC)
I have no idea what you mean by "added into this guideline" - trampoline articles, as they were called back then, were part of "Make technical articles accessible" since 15 July 2005, as far as I can see. If anything, the changes that have been made since then make the guideline more restrictive, and try to preempt abuses of the concept. Markus Poessel (talk) 18:40, 6 June 2008 (UTC)
Agreed. The ongoing debates make it clear that this issue isn't likely to die any time soon. If I thought there was a consensus about whether introductions are good or bad, it would have been much easier to propose wording for the January 2008 revision. Instead, we had to settle for trying to give an idea of the pros and cons, and link to Wikipedia:Many things to many people which discusses the issues at much more length (and has many examples where summary style, or some other solution, is the right approach and even introduces separate introductions with the header "When all else fails"). Kingdon (talk) 03:38, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

Thank you for this initiative to make articles more accessible[edit]

I just want to say thank you for this initiative to make articles more accessible! I have a hard time sometimes understanding something even in the computer science fields when I spend a fare amount of time using and doing computer related type work (not using computers as tools but rather fixing them, debugging them, programming, etc.). So keep it up! Strawberry Island (talk) 19:34, 17 July 2008 (UTC)

I might add that some technical articles provide information on subjects that are job-related, and other technical articles provide information that informs public policy debates. By making technical articles more accessible, you are adding value to Wikipedia. 69.140.152.55 (talk) 04:58, 12 November 2008 (UTC)

Chartjunk[edit]

I think chartjunk should be mentioned somewhere in the article. Scientific articles often have charts or tables that aren't understandable by novice readers and should be refactored in such a way that makes it easier to grasp the general idea behind them from just reading the introduction. SharkD (talk) 00:59, 17 August 2008 (UTC)

We do recommend to "add pictures" (and diagrams). There, we could just add a sentence "Keep images and diagrams simple (avoid chartjunk)." Markus Poessel (talk) 07:40, 17 August 2008 (UTC)
Is there a generic "how to make a graphic, table, etc" page? The chartjunk article is OK but it doesn't really describe the pitfalls which are most relevant here, such as including extraneous detail in a chart, presenting the chart so it needlessly assumes prior knowledge, etc. And in general I'd rather explain what people should be doing, not just give a list of (fairly vague) don'ts. I'm not sure what "charts or tables that aren't understandable by novice readers" really means; is there an example(s) to point to (for example, of a chart which used to be confusing and has since been improved without watering down the article)? Kingdon (talk) 05:44, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

Removed material[edit]

I have removed:

As an example, the Brownian motion article contains a singularly useful entry entitled Intuitive Metaphor:
Consider a large balloon of 10 meters in diameter. Imagine this large balloon in a football stadium or any widely crowded area. The balloon is so large that it lies on top of many members of the crowd. Because they are excited, these fans hit the balloon at different times and in different directions with the motions being completely random. In the end, the balloon is pushed in random directions, so it should not move on average. Consider now the force exerted at a certain time. We might have 20 supporters pushing right, and 21 other supporters pushing left, where each supporter is exerting equivalent amounts of force. In this case, the forces exerted from the left side and the right side are imbalanced in favor of the left side; the balloon will move slightly to the left. This imbalance exists at all times, and it causes random motion. If we look at this situation from above, so that we cannot see the supporters, we see the large balloon as a small object animated by erratic movement.
Now return to Brown’s pollen particle swimming randomly in water. A water molecule is about 1 nm, where the pollen particle is roughly 1 µm in diameter, 1000 times larger than a water molecule. So, the pollen particle can be considered as a very large balloon constantly being pushed by water molecules. The Brownian motion of particles in a liquid is due to the instantaneous imbalance in the force exerted by the small liquid molecules on the particle.

Surely no one thinks this should be held up as a shining example of encyclopedic writing. The prose is chatty, textbook, verbose and even unclear. ("In the end, the balloon is pushed in random directions, so it should not move on average."?) Furthermore, the text is completely unreferenced in the article and is likely OR or OR by synthesis. Geometry guy 20:01, 14 November 2008 (UTC)

I agree with the change to remove this. I could quibble about details (such as whether the explanation itself needs sources, or just the facts which are being explained), but generally agree that wikipedia should not contain those kinds of detailed explanations (in general, or even more so that example in particular). Wikibooks is one place where well-written explanations might fit better. Kingdon (talk) 15:48, 15 November 2008 (UTC)

chronosynclastic infundibulum[edit]

I've removed the following from the guideline:

For example, an article on the chronosynclastic infundibulum might begin like this:[dubious ]
Chronosynclastic infundibula are interesting locations in space-time, studied primarily by people known as quantum infundibulists, who are specialists in the mathematics of infinite probability. They are useful because they are locations in which everyone is right all of the time, even when your mother-in-law is visiting. In order to understand them, you must read the entire collected works of Kurt Vonnegut.
(A chatty, unencyclopedic {{tone}} is used above to make sure that the subject itself is clear, while at the same time implying the subjective judgement that it is "not possible for ordinary mortals" to actually understand how it works).

This example is hardly an example of how to do things right (the chatty tone, the in-universe writing, the lack of a clear statement of how this topic is important, probably other things I'm not putting my finger on just now). It has been complained about before, for example Wikipedia talk:Make technical articles accessible/Archive 1#Manual of style.

This is the place to speak up if anyone thinks this example is at all worth keeping as part of the guideline. I suspect that if we want an example at all, we're better off starting from scratch (maybe looking for a real Featured Article which illustrates the point). Kingdon (talk) 03:41, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

I don't think that introduction to articles are for wikipedia[edit]

I think they should all be moved to wikiversity.--Ipatrol (talk) 01:16, 24 December 2008 (UTC)

From what little I've seen of Wikiversity, I don't think they would quite fit in there. An "Introduction to..." is still an encyclopedia article in style and nature. Printed encyclopedias at that accessible level do exist, so including the material here on Wikipedia isn't that unusual. After all, Wikipedia is already a great number of different encyclopedias (most of them specialized) in one. Markus Poessel (talk) 17:25, 24 December 2008 (UTC)
They should be moved to Wikibooks as they already host numerous books like b:Introduction to Organic Chemistry and allow different textbook / howto style articles for various knowledge levels. Matthias M. (talk) 20:53, 25 August 2010 (UTC)
There are currently 32 "Introduction to" articles here (However, many of those are actually articles about specific books, or albums).
There are currently 591 "Introduction to" articles at Wikibooks.
17 prior AfDs here.
The articles here that are good examples for discussion, include Introduction to general relativity and Introduction to viruses (currently both Featured Articles), and also Introduction to evolution, Introduction to special relativity, Introduction to entropy, Introduction to mathematics of general relativity, and Introduction to eigenstates (and others, sample list only).
The relevant essay is Wikipedia:Many things to many people. HTH. -- Quiddity (talk) 21:31, 25 August 2010 (UTC)

Joke?[edit]

If this "(and perhaps the names and addresses of several organizations and psychiatrists that will help you rehabilitate yourself afterwards.)" is a joke or vandalism perhaps it should come out of the article. I don't know enough of the mindset behind this page to take action. Julia Rossi (talk) 03:14, 19 January 2009 (UTC)

I see you have now removed it, which is fine with me. I think it was a joke (or a light-hearted tone or whatever you want to call it) in reference to what it can be like to dive into an article which turns out to be over the reader's head. The problem I noticed with that paragraph is actually a bit more subtle (and was present both before and after Julia Rossi's changes). First it says "There should be at least a sentence above the ToC [which is non-technical]" (implying that the rest of the introduction should be technical enough to introduce the topic to someone who knows something about the field) but then it says "A better place for going into technical details might be in the body of the article, after the ToC". But I don't know, maybe leaving the current text alone is best (although I'd change ToC to "table of contents"). I took a look at Axiom of Choice (as an example of something which is unavoidably technical but which is of interest to a general audience), and it seems to do a good job of keeping the more technical aspects (like a detailed discussion of choice functions) out of the introduction. Kingdon (talk) 14:51, 19 January 2009 (UTC)

Templates for articles or talkpages?[edit]

I'd like to revive the discussion about whether the templates {{Technical}} and {{Technical (expert)}} should be used in articles, talkpages or both. And I'd like to add to this the question whether perhaps they should be merged.

Historical overview[edit]

{{Technical}} was created in December 2004. At that time, the recommendation on the page Wikipedia:Make technical articles accessible was to add it to the article. [6]

{{Technical (expert)}} was created in August 2005. The recommendation on Wikipedia:Make technical articles accessible was not changed at that time.

On 12 October 2005, after discussion on the talk page of Wikipedia:Make technical articles accessible, the recommendation became to place these templates on the talk page. [7]

With the appearence of amboxes, where "ambox" stands for "article message box", both templates were turned into amboxes on 15 September 2007. [8][9]{{Technical}} was promptly reverted to a talkpage message box and has remained so ever since. [10] {{Technical (expert)}} stayed an ambox till today,[11] when it was turned into a "tmbox", which stands for "talkpage message box".

The subject of placement of {{Technical}} has been raised (basically) three times:

  1. In October 2005, as mentioned before.
  2. On Template_talk:Technical#Location_of_tag and Template_talk:Technical#Summary_of_placement_issues in December 2005.
  3. On Template_talk:Technical#Informal_RfC:_Should_Template:Technical_be_added_on_the_article_or_talk_page.3F in August-December 2008.

The later two discussions have not reached consensus. The main argument in favor of placement in articles was that it is a cleanup tag. The main argument in favor of placement on talk pages was that it is addressed to editors, not readers.

My opinion[edit]

My arguments for placing {{Technical}} in articles.

  • As all cleanup and expert templates.

My answers to the argument in favor of placement on talkpages (that this template addresses the editor rather than the reader).

  • The best way to reach potential experts is through placement in articles rather than talkpages.
  • Any reader is a potential editor and expert. This is Wikipedia!

Debresser (talk) 19:52, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

Discussion of proposal[edit]

An observation: the last two discussions Debresser points as having "no consensus" were not widely advertised. It's fair to say a number of people would have supported the talk page requirement if they had known about it (for example, I only noticed it months later, when I figured the point was moot), especially people from the first discussion listed above. An "informal" RFC which was never closed (meaning certain stragglers come by and then throw in their comments after everyone has lost interest) does not in any way "point" toward anything as Debresser seems to think (Debresser: "Please notice that the discussion on Template_talk:Technical#Informal_RfC:_Should_Template:Technical_be_added_on_the_article_or_talk_page.3F points to article namespace with 6 against 4"). --C S (talk) 20:42, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

  • It is equally fair to say a number of people would have supported the article page argument if they had known about it. Logic dictates so.
  • Now why, pray tell me, wouldn't that informal RFC give at least some indication? Please also notice that you quote me from your talkpage, not from this more official proposal. —Preceding unsigned comment added by debresser (talkcontribs)
  • Logic does not dictate consensus or overrule Wikipedia experience.
  • The informal RFC was opened in August 2008. Over the next several months, random people made their voice known. Indeed, since it was never closed, I (and others) could go make comments now, right? That is why it is important to have time limits for these things. I'm speaking here from experience (and no, please don't accuse me of ownership again). I've seen many RFC discussions. If you keep letting them run on and on, the "consensus" will swing around radically. What is more reliable is to notify groups of people who work on the relevant issues, and get their experienced opinions on what is best to do. Then you end the discussion after a reasonable time. --C S (talk) 22:42, 11 June 2009 (UTC)
I agree with you on both points. Which is precisely what I am trying to initiate here: develop consensus and then close the issue. Debresser (talk) 23:07, 11 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Oppose moving template to articles. The biggest waste of time for people responding to the technical request is that people tagging articles often have no idea if there is a problem with the article. That is why originally the template had a "check talk" on it, before it was moved to be a talk page template. This way people were (and are) required to leave a comment pointing out what they think the problem is. Indeed, it may take a couple hours to go through just a few of these requests, and with ones that don't have talk page comments, I've found they are just wastes of time, so I just remove it if the tagger clearly didn't read the guideline. Since these templates are often misplaced and the tagger is supposed to leave a talk page comment, I think it's a smart move to have the template on the talk page. --C S (talk) 21:03, 11 June 2009 (UTC)
The requirement to put this template on the talkpage, does nothing in and of itself to ensure editors will leave a description of what it was they found overly technical. Debresser (talk) 22:22, 11 June 2009 (UTC)
On the contrary it helps immensely. Because they have to know how to read the guideline and template instructions in order to properly leave the template on the talk page. --C S (talk) 22:42, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

I believe the template should only go on the talk page. The only good reason I can see for sticking a template on an article page is if it is going to convey useful information to a reader who is not going to edit the article. Cleanup warns readers they may be better off looking elsewhere. in which case only major cases should be warned about on the article page and that in fact is what the directions for use say. Technical does not really say very much to a reader, it all depends on their level of expertise and they can only really tell by reading the article anyway and it depends whats technical for that subject. So I see no reason whatsoever for it being flashed out on top of an article. Technical needs some qualifying talk too to describe what in particular the person placing it though was wrong and the right place for that is the talk page. Dmcq (talk) 23:13, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

  • The tag should definitely be for the talkpage. Maintenance tags clutter up the article, making it look sloppy. Unless the maintenance tag has warnings which a reader should see (e.g. {{hoax}} or {{afd}}), these tags are made for editors and should be behind the scene. The "too technical" tag is not something we need to tell the reader. If the reader finds the article too technical, we don't need a tag telling them that. Sjakkalle (Check!) 10:22, 13 June 2009 (UTC)
  • The debate on where tags in general should go has been won by the "article" brigade. It could be re-opened of course. I favour a better solution where a different aspect of the tag is presented depending on the view - article/talk and editor/reader. However there is no reason that the tag can't be added to the talk page provided someone takes it off in the end! Therefore it should be associated with a section explaining the problem and that section should be non-archived. Rich Farmbrough, 00:40, 15 June 2009 (UTC).
  • talkpage. I guess if Rich Farmbrough is right that talkpage cleanup tags have been rejected in general, I won't fight it, but I do agree with "the only good reason I can see for sticking a template on an article page is if it is going to convey useful information to a reader who is not going to edit the article" from earlier in this thread. Kingdon (talk) 16:20, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
Resolved

Consensus seems to be to have them on the talkpage. Sigh. Debresser (talk) 11:03, 13 July 2009 (UTC)

Merge[edit]

A second proposal is to merge the templates {{Technical}} and {{Technical (expert)}} into one template, that should be like {{Technical (expert)}}.

Rationale: if a text is technical, then it would need attention from an expert. Debresser (talk) 11:03, 13 July 2009 (UTC)

Expertise would, all other things being equal, make it harder to write for an audience of non-experts. So I could see merging those, but would think the result should be worded like {{Technical}} rather than the other one. Kingdon (talk) 17:23, 14 July 2009 (UTC)
Agree with merger but suggest neither current wording is adequate. Demonstrating need for merger, {{Technical}} has See also: {{Technical (expert)}} - the equivalent of this template but with the addition of an expert request but this is not a useful distinction because the action {{Technical}} itself invites implies a need for an expert. I suggest wording should make expert a prerequisite and state goal explicitly, so perhaps a kind of hybrid of the two: "This article may be too technical for most readers to understand. If you are an expert on the subject, please help improve the article by making it accessible to non-experts, while preserving all technical detail of value to experts." PL290 (talk) 20:59, 15 July 2009 (UTC)

Too technical leader[edit]

The major problem in many articles that are too technical is the leader or not having an introductory section. I know it's what editors simplifying the article should do anyway but I think a more directed template that specifically targeted the lead part of an article as being too technical would be of use. For that part we should really make a big effort for general users. Is there already a template like that or do you think it is a need for it?

I agree that a focused template for a simplified lead would be very useful. Jojalozzo (talk) 03:08, 13 July 2009 (UTC)

Definitely agree that the lack of a good WP:LEAD is often the problem. Kingdon (talk) 17:33, 14 July 2009 (UTC)

Active and passive voice[edit]

One of the suggestions for making an article more accessible is to use active voice. This suggestion is accompanied by the statement that "this article uses active sentences." Either the article should not be using passive voice or that statement should be eliminated. Jojalozzo (talk) 03:12, 13 July 2009 (UTC)

I'd be fine with deleting the sentence "This article uses active sentences". It is a self-reference and not a very helpful one at that. Other than that, I'd say keep this point as a brief mention with a link to something which is a more detailed writing/style guide. The reason the passive voice, as opposed to other aspects of writing, warrants a specific mention is, in the words of English passive voice: "The passive voice is often used in scientific writing because of the tone of detachment and impersonality that it helps establish. However, some scientific journals prefer their writers to use the active voice". I guess we should change "eliminate passive voice" to "prefer active voice to passive voice" just because I don't think any style guides suggest eliminating the passive voice entirely. Kingdon (talk) 18:42, 14 July 2009 (UTC)
I agree as to the preference for active voice and the utility of listing it. I was only suggesting the removal of the statement that the article uses active voice. A change inspired by your proposal has been made. Jojalozzo (talk) 05:09, 15 July 2009 (UTC)
Agree with previous user. That is: active voice is preferable; this should be listed. The suggestion that passive voice is being used, which was added in this edit of 2 September 2006, has been removed in this edit of 15 July 2009, so subject closed. Consensus about the need to avoid passive sentences has been firmly established since this edit of 13 April 2006, which was based on a the text of a template that existed even before that. Debresser (talk) 05:35, 23 September 2009 (UTC)

Then here's the evidence why this proscription should not be here. I went to the featured article directory and randomly chose a few articles on technical subjects. These articles have been read through by multiple senior editors and thousands of others. If any articles should follow the advice of this guideline, it should surely be these, right? Apparently not. You don't even have to read past the first paragraph of Quark to find this:

Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never found in isolation; they can only be found within hadrons.[2][3] For this reason, much of what is known about quarks has been drawn from observations of the hadrons themselves.

Oops. But that's just a fluke, right? Nope. In the first paragraph of Uranium:

It is commercially extracted from uranium-bearing minerals such as uraninite (see uranium mining).

In the first paragraph of Atom:

The electrons of an atom are bound* to the nucleus by the electromagnetic force. [...] An atom is classified according to the number of protons and neutrons in its nucleus[.]

In the first sentence of Big Bang:

The Big Bang is the cosmological model of the initial conditions and subsequent development of the Universe that is supported* by the most comprehensive and accurate explanations from current scientific evidence and observation.

In the first paragraph of Oxygen toxicity:

Historically, the central nervous system condition was called the Paul Bert effect, and the pulmonary condition the Lorrain Smith effect, after the researchers who pioneered its discovery and description in the late 19th century.

In the second paragraph of Gyromitra esculenta:

It may be sold fresh in Finland, but it must be accompanied* by warnings and instructions on correct preparation. It is eaten in omelettes, soups, or sautéed in Finnish cuisine.

In the first sentence of Atomic line filter:

An atomic line filter (ALF) is an advanced optical band-pass filter used in the physical sciences for filtering electromagnetic radiation with precision, accuracy, and minimal signal strength loss.

In the first paragraph of Gamma-ray burst:

The initial burst is usually followed* by a longer-lived "afterglow" emitting at longer wavelengths (X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio).

In the first paragraph of Equipartition theorem:

The original idea of equipartition was that, in thermal equilibrium, energy is shared* equally among all of its various forms[.]

In the first paragraph of Photon:

Like all elementary particles, photons are governed* by quantum mechanics and will exhibit wave-particle duality – they exhibit properties of both waves and particles. For example, a single photon may be refracted* by a lens or exhibit wave interference, but also act as a particle giving a definite result when quantitative mass is measured.

In the first sentence of Scattered disc:

The scattered disc (or scattered disk) is a distant region of the Solar System that is sparsely populated* by icy minor planets known as scattered disc objects (SDOs)[.]

In the second paragraph of Oxidative phosphorylation:

During oxidative phosphorylation, electrons are transferred from electron donors to electron acceptors such as oxygen, in redox reactions.

In the first sentence of Data Encryption Standard:

The Data Encryption Standard (DES) is a block cipher (a form of shared secret encryption) that was selected* by the National Bureau of Standards as an official Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) for the United States in 1976 and which has subsequently enjoyed widespread use internationally.

Passive constructions are underlined; those followed by an asterisk are accompanied by the "doer" (usually in a by... phrase). The assertion that "Passive voice does not identify the 'doer' of an action" is a lie. So far I haven't opened a single article that doesn't use the passive voice within the first few paragraphs. What's more, these articles are littered with passive voice all the way through. Again, these are featured articles on technical subjects. Do they "communicate an incomplete picture"? Do they demonstrate a "lack of clarity or knowledge" about their respective topics? No: they are clear, professional expositions written in good English prose. And like all good English prose, a sizable fraction of the verb constructions are passive. This guideline is suggesting that editors write prose that is unlike that of Wikipedia's featured articles and that is unlike that of the whole corpus of English texts. It's just bad advice. Strad (talk) 06:30, 23 September 2009 (UTC)

All of these examples, and a lot more of them, are not to the point. The point is that one of the characteristics of an article that is too technical and hard to read, is extensive use of the passive tense. In such a case the advise will be, among other things, to diminish the use of said passive tense. That is not to say that occasional use of the passive tense is in and of itself problematic. Those are different propositions. Hope this solves your misunderstanding. Debresser (talk) 07:43, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
Huh? Sorry, what does the passive voice (not "tense", please; there is no such thing as the "passive tense") have to do with whether an article is too technical? --Trovatore (talk) 08:32, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
Sorry, voice. That is precisely what I explained before. These things often go hand in hand. Technical language and use of passive voice. In other words, passive voice is often a part of the overly technical style. So when we try to make such an article uderstandable, we fix both things. Debresser (talk) 09:03, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
I think you're mixing up correlation and causation here. The instruction is out of place; it has nothing to do with whether an article is too technical, and passive voice is no harder to understand than active voice. Some people dislike passive voice as a matter of style, but it's off-topic here. --Trovatore (talk) 09:08, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
I agree with Trovatore here. There are good reasons to recommend active voice in general, but I don't think this is the right guideline for it. WP:MOS maybe? Pcap ping 09:26, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
Actually MOS says nothing about this issue in general, so it seems quite a stretch to add it here. WP:YOU actually recommends using passive voice in certain cases. Pcap ping 09:29, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
I agree with Debresser that it's relevant here. But rather than simply discourage the use of passive voice, I'd prefer any guideline to draw attention to the effects of the active/passive choice. (Like this—note also its remark about relevance to writing styles, e.g. scientific writing.) Once these effects are pointed out, I imagine anyone can easily see that a certain sentence makes its point far better when switched to active voice, while other sentences lend themselves to the use of passive voice. PL290 (talk) 09:33, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
There was no consensus in the much more watched main MOS that a recommendation to avoid passive voice is desirable. Pcap ping 09:37, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
A more recent rehash ended in the same conclusion. Pcap ping 09:39, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
In general, the consensus on MOS is against including grammar lessons in these guidelines. Pcap ping 09:46, 23 September 2009 (UTC)
I have know this Wikipedia guideline - not to use passive voice too much - for a long time. On this page alone it has been cleaarly stated over three and a half years. From the discussions linked above (Wikipedia_talk:Manual_of_Style/Archive_109#Sick_of_passive_phrases and Wikipedia_talk:Manual_of_Style/Archive_78#Passive_voice_should_be_avoided.3F) it would seem that we should be moderate in using the passive voice, without being too offical about it (paraphrase of what I perceive to be consensus over there). Let's keep this discussion running a few more days, and then come to some conclusions. Debresser (talk) 12:55, 23 September 2009 (UTC)

(←) I doubt the claim that overly technical writing can be fixed by removing the passive voice. I looked through some pages listed at Special:WhatLinksHere/Template:Technical, and I have to say that passive voice doesn't seem to much of a problem at all. The problems appear to be overall bad organization, bad grammar and style, lack of context, and lack of consideration for audience. Mechanistically converting one grammatical construction to another does nothing to fix these problems. It's very much like saying that an analytical chemist with all-around bad skills, bad equipment, and bad technicians can solve his problems by buying a new mass spectrometer. If a proscription against the passive voice is to be included here, it needs to be backed up with good, hard evidence that Wikipedia's technical articles overuse passive voice. Strad (talk) 17:42, 23 September 2009 (UTC)


I don't want to dismiss out of hand the notion that some technical articles might be made more understandable by some judicious edits changing passive sentences to active ones. That's entirely possible, and it's reasonable, if so, that it might be mentioned here. But the former text made it sound as though one could just mechanically change all the passive sentences to active ones, and lo and behold the article would be more accessible. That's clearly nonsense. Maybe we aren't so far apart; it just needs to be reworded. --Trovatore (talk) 04:54, 24 September 2009 (UTC)

I subscribe to that. Debresser (talk) 10:47, 24 September 2009 (UTC)
I agree too; that is exactly the point in my opinion. A list of things to consider when making a technical article more understandable should mention the possibility that changing a sentence to active voice may help in some cases, and should include or link to examples that illustrate the point (like this one I mentioned before) but should not bring proscription and blind following of what is clearly not a universal rule. PL290 (talk) 11:06, 24 September 2009 (UTC)
I see no other examples in that section. So let's not start with that. Debresser (talk) 11:11, 24 September 2009 (UTC)

Discussion re whether to permit use of all-numeric YYYY-MM-DD format in footnotes[edit]

FYI -- there is a discussion at [12] as to whether or not to allow the use of the all-numeric YYYY-MM-DD format in footnotes/references.

I'm raising the point here in the event that you would like to follow it or join in. Thanks.--Epeefleche (talk) 07:33, 29 September 2009 (UTC)

  • Note: The discussion has now moved to here.--Epeefleche (talk) 07:45, 30 September 2009 (UTC)