Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Biographies/Archive 3

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Notices of New Categorized Contributions

If you put a note here saying you posted in section such and such with the date & time,

  • users who've come here for the first time can read the whole thread in sequence, and
  • users who've been following the thread already will know there's something new on your thread, and can skim what they've already read again, to put your contrib into context again.

And there'll be no reason to move your contrib.

Comment on DW/Jackie S. matter contributed by Jerzy 23:54, 2003 Oct 20 (UTC) is above under heading "Enormous defense of DW & Critique of WP".

Gordian knot answer from Jerzy 04:23, 2003 Oct 21 (UTC) in section "Casing of Names Beginning with Prepositions".

Organization of biographies

When reading biographies of individuals, I find that the introduction part is chronologically organized rather than being organized by their importance. A case in point is Eduard Shevardnadze. I would normally expect people to know him as a former President of Georgia first, and then as a former foreign minister of the erstwhile Soviet Union. The article prefers to introduce him in the reverse order. Is it a convention in wikipedia to follow this methodology or is it upto the editors? Left to me, I would change the order, but I find simply too many articles like this, and I thought I would ask first.

I tried to find the answer in Wikipedia biography style guides. But, I found no specific answer. chance 06:22, Nov 28, 2003 (UTC)

Left up to editors, not least because "importance" is subjective; for instance, some would argue that Shevardnadze was more important as foreign minister of the SU than as president of a small country. Also note that sometimes it works better to list the most important notability last in a paragraph, because you can make it stand out more - a sort of mini-conclusion. Read it out loud both ways before deciding. Stan 08:22, 28 Nov 2003 (UTC)
What you describe is not limited to biographies, but very common in the natural sciences where I like to work. Lots of "good" facts added over time with no thought to any logical arrangement/organizatioon. But that is how this place works for a lot of people: "Hey, I have a factoiid, I'll go add it to Wikipedia!" IMHO that is just fine. My forte is to go into those articles and do the organizing; I love it, especially if I'm confronted with numerous interesting factoids. It is called copyediting, and a valid persuit that many spend their time here doing. Great system in my opinion; not a short-coming - Marshman 21:02, 28 Nov 2003 (UTC)

Birth and Death Dates

Just a question: How to write the birth and death dates for someone when they are not known or unsure? gbog 11:33, 27 Dec 2003 (UTC)

IMO, several mechanisms that appear outside WP are appropriate:
fl. 3rd century (or, better here IMO, flourished 3rd century ) means "we know they show up in 3rd-century records, but not (significantly) any earlier or later, and that's all we know"
2nd century is IMO a little more specific, e.g, "we know they were young in 150, and stopped being mentioned by 180, so 2nd century is a pretty sure thing",
1840s-1860s similarly: "in grade school in 1854, and died in a Confederate prison camp"
1946 or '47 - 1986 when, e.g., "we know they gave their age as 21 during July of 1968 but not what month he was born"
1946-1986 or '87 when, e.g., "it just says 'aged 40' on the tombstone"
But hopefully others will comment. --Jerzy 02:43, 2004 Jan 12 (UTC)
born c. 1900 - died c. 1975 (c.= circa or approximation) Nobs 20:09, 18 May 2005 (UTC)

Please Consider Changing Dates Style

I note that full dates are preferred, even in the opening 'graph. IMO the alternative is to put at most years in that 'graph, and put full birthdate in the first 'graph of the chronology, and full death date in the last 'graph of the chronology, bcz full dates are too much detail for the opening 'graph. And having to find them in the text is only a problem if everyone thinks they'd only be in 1st 'graph, bcz very few people care about more than what general time-frame to think of the person in. However, the standard is clear & i don't mind checking my contributions & fixing the ones i've done that way. In the longer run: if others agree with my argument, they could note that here. --Jerzy 02:43, 2004 Jan 12 (UTC)

I agree. Maurreen 17:35, 17 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Disagree. It is standard enclopaedic practice to use full date at the start. The opening paragraph should be a suffiently self-contained work to tell who a person was, when they lived and died, and what they are most famous for. That is standard style. If you don't know the full information, you can often just gives years. Older encyclopaedias did that because they had to balance all the information they had on older biographies was years, not dates. But newer encyclopaedias have better methods of chasing such information and produce constant new editions, so they have greater flexibility in updating information. As we can update information instantly there is no excuse for not putting the relevant information up front. And there is nothing more relevant that the birth and death dates as well as years. FearÉIREANN 22:55, 23 Apr 2005 (UTC)


(from the village pump)

User:Wik seems to insist on replacing ndashes – with ASCII dashes -. Style guides for printed work such as encyclopedias, as well as Unicode, state that for ranges such as dates an ndash (1998–2000) and not a dash (1998-2000) should be used. One advantage of using the correct dash is that a linebreak won't occur on the right of it. Is there some official policy from the Wikipedia on this, or should I just wait until Wik tires of his game and restore the correct dashes? Jor 01:00, 12 Feb 2004 (UTC)

Well, if you're prepared to insert the "correct dashes" into all the tens of thousands of articles which now have the ASCII dashes, go ahead. --Wik 01:04, Feb 12, 2004 (UTC)
Okay. I will interprete your quote above in that you'll start leaving them alone from now on. Jor 01:05, 12 Feb 2004 (UTC)
No, only if you go through all articles and make it consistent. I will always edit the articles to fit the de facto standard. Currently, that's the ASCII dash. --Wik 01:07, Feb 12, 2004 (UTC)
Please use two ASCII hyphens -- in a future version of MediaWiki this will be automatically converted to –. The problem with using one hyphen is that they're very difficult to find and convert once the new feature is implemented. I'd be quite happy with people using – in the meantime. -- Tim Starling 01:11, Feb 12, 2004 (UTC)

General discussion on how and whether to use em and en dashes has been moved to Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style. The discussion here should address only which to use in standard bibilographic entries. Elf 21:15, 16 Feb 2004 (UTC)

I chanced upon William Fox and felt that the way the personal details of the person was tabulated is very impressive. The reader has the option of looking at the basic details in the table or read the entire biography. I'd like comments on this kind of style. Or if there are other biographies that follow the pattern can I get some links. Jay 13:48, 4 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Trans people and pronouns

Pasted in by Morwen - Talk 13:19, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC) - this is referring to the Patrick Califia article, which I changed to avoid all use of female pronouns

User:Morwen changed all the pronouns / usage to male-identified only. I reversed this as Patrick on his own websites (and books) is happy enough to identify the pre-transition stuff as female/lesbian. On a generic point, I feel that articles on trans people should probably always work on a pre-as-'A' / post-as-'B' basis as otherwise readers could get very confused. James / Jan Morris is another example where it would be misleading to rewrite history. --VampWillow 12:00, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)

Well, at his official biography on his official website, here [1], it quite happily uses the correct pronouns retroactively, saying 'He came out as a lesbian in 1971'. I can't find any contraindications to this on his website - I trust you will point one out.
I don't think saving readers confusion is a valid reason to deny people's identity. Morwen - Talk 12:09, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
OK. I can see there are going to be issues raised here about retrospective changes in someone's identity (and, by extension, for anyone who has changed their name and remains known by both by history). My own feeling is that what was before should be identified as 'before' and vice-versa but I feel this probably needs a wider discussion somewhere. It would seem very wrong to me (but I will accept maybe not to all) to re-write the 'actualité' of the early books in the way you are suggesting just because very recent events cloud the issue. Late-90s book clearly identify Pat as 'her' and to deny that would also appear wrong. Where should this discussion head to? ps. I've wrote to Pat by email when I first put up the article inviting him to read it; I'll post any reply I get. --VampWillow 12:18, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
btw, surely WikiPedia is here for readers, not for publicity / personal issues? --VampWillow 12:22, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Perhaps you can solve the matter simply, by providing the address of the website you mentioned, where he uses this sort of language. Morwen - Talk 12:26, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
I disagree with the suggestion that all articles on transgendered people should have a pronoun split pre/post transition - I don't think it is a publicity or personal issue, but a matter of respect a transgendered individual's self identification (cf Wikipedia:WikiProject Sexology and Sexuality/Terminology). There may however, of course, be instances where the split would be necessary. For this instance, it would be good to get Pat's views on this and should honor it. Dysprosia 12:34, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Agreed - if Pat is fine with this language, we should keep it. However, I daresay that most trans people (although obviously I can only speak for myself), would find this very uncomfortable, and in no way should it be a general rule; or even the default. Being referred to solely by surname would be better. Morwen - Talk 12:51, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable and I'm sorry if I've made you so. I think that every time this issue arises it will be a case-by-case decision based upon (probably) how widely known the pre, post, transition, etc are, and what current references are in use. Someone who transitioned at 20 but is now 55 would clearly be detailed totally post, but Pat - transitioning only five years ago - clearly has references everywhere to both. --VampWillow 13:07, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
I'd like to keep this on a more general basis than just focus on Patrick's history and would point people at Muhammad Ali for a Wikipedia article where someone else has changed their name/identity and both names are used within the article at the appropriate time points. I may have slightly over-read the web pages concerned but would point out As "Pat Califia," his not-very-girly Girl Name, Patrick has also published Public Sex, a collection of essays on radical sex, Diesel Fuel, a poetry collection, and Sensuous Magic, an S/M manual for adventurous couples. and The appearance of this volume, penned by a known sexual deviant and non-transsexual, nonplussed and peeved many transpeople. . Nearly all the books by Pat Califia that I own which are still available in the shops are still identified in that way. I really do not want to deny Patrick his identity but feel very strongly that the best way to help readers of WP understand is to use both names / pronouns in an appropriate manner, which I believe I have managed to do. It would (imho) be POV to do otherwise as well as complicating reader's understandings of the text (cf. first line proper of Lesbian). I've been through the style manual and guidance pages and there is nothing substantial on this issue, the nearest being Wikipedia:Auto-biography about staying NPOV. I'd like to suggest a proper discussion, maybe on Wikipedia:Manual of Style (biographies)? --VampWillow 13:03, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
The analogy to a name change isn't exact. Wikipedia is indeed here for the readers, so it must be clear to the readers that the boxer who beat Liston in 1964 and the one who beat Frazier in 1975 were the same person, even if for some reason Muhammad Ali now wanted to suppress the fact that he fought in 1964 as Cassius Clay. Changing pronouns, however, won't foul up anyone's recourse to a database. A better analogy to pronouns would be honorifics -- I refer to women as "Ms." but I use "Miss" or "Mrs." for those who prefer those titles. Similarly, for pronouns, Wikipedia should honor each individual's preferences where known, despite the resulting inconsistency. (Default if no information: Make a reasonable guess based on known preferences of persons similarly situated. Kudos to VampWillow for making the extra effort to inquire in this instance.) JamesMLane 14:18, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
But using both pronouns is not appropriate. Transsexuals do not have a variable gender. A male-to-female transitions because she is female and her body does not reflect that. She has never been male. The same goes for female-to-males. They change themselves to become what they always were. Their friends and relatives may be confused for a time, but those can adjust to the change and understand the new pronouns. Surely readers of Wikipedia can do the same. --Eequor 14:34, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
I absolutely agree that someone with a trans history doesn't have a variable gender, but the issue here (as I see it, anyway) is one of reporting events after the fact, and to change the record of those facts could (a) lead to misunderstandings by the reader, and (b) errors of fact. This isn't about how an idividual behaves or acts in the world, but about the reporting of that individual in an article on WP. What we should be seeking as wikipedians is surely the highest clarity of writing to assist our readers in understanding what they are reading. To me, that means usage of applicable terminology at applicable dates. --VampWillow 14:46, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
What "error of fact" could there be? The only error of fact is in using pronouns the person does not identify as. It misrepresents their gender. Why is it unclear to use female pronouns along with e.g. male names? Both are simply labels; the difference between them is that names are artificial. Pronouns label a fact that does not change. --Eequor 14:59, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)

This is undoubtably a very tricky question. That is probably the reason why it took me so long to finish this text. That and a small edit war on de:.
There are two things that have to be balanced, one is the right of transgendered people to have their life and personality respected, the other the right of the readers to understandabel texts. And yes, both are equaliy valid points. And both are not simple, either.

Transgender people obviously deserve to be respected. That means that the pronouns that are used for that person post-transitioning are obvious. There is no obvious answer to the question of the pronoun when refering to the time before transitioning, though. The answer is not obvious for several reasons:

  • Most transgender people don't refer to themseves in the third person anyway, so that is not a question that turn up very often in the first place.
  • Not all transgender people use one pronoun or the other consistently. Some do refer to themselfes with regard for their gender role at the time, some with regard to their gender identity. When refering to acting in a particular gender role, the "old" pronoun is perfectly appropriate for many transpeople.
  • Some transgender people even use both pronouns when refering to "their old self", depending on situation and context.

Therefore, the claim of some people here that it is undisputed that all transgender people perfer or even insist that after trainsitioning the "new" pronoun has to be used, even when refering to the time before transtioning, can not be substantiated, since this use is not consistent even within the transgender community.

Readers do expect texts they can understand. However, understandind of a text does usually not only depend on the information that is presented in a particular text, but also on previous knowledge and understanding, whether accurate or not. So let's see what they might be used to, and what the resulsts of this usage is:

  • Use of the "old" pronoun consistently, also after transitioning. Can be found in:
    • "Scientific" papers; based on the idea that letting people change gender instead of curing them is somehow "giving in to madness". Taking their cue from them, many "scientists" argue that this is common usage, and therefore they have to adhere to it.
    • Many mass media (depending on qualitiy and political standing) are following thes "arguments"
    • Some people with political agendas too are happy to follow that "reasoning"; usually they use it as the basis of texts that set out to proove it. Even if many of these papers appear or are named "scientific" they are not. That would be the like of Janice Raymonds or Michale Bailey.

It seems obvious that this is both wrong and most disrespectful. It is also used to actively discriminate against transgender people. Therefore, this can not be the solution. (And I only wrote about it to be reasonably thorough.)

  • Use of the "old" pronoun when refering to the time "before" and use of the "new" pronoun when refering to the time "after".
    • That is the most widesperad usage in mass media which are symphatetic to transgender people.
    • It is also increasingly used in scientific papers.
    • It is also used by quite a few transgender people when speaking or writing about themselfes, because it illustrates the situation at that time in the past. This pronoun after all does not only reflect what other people saw at that time, but often enough also what that particular person thought about themselfes at this time.

This usage also has the great advantage that it does not confuse people, but makes the situation of a particular transgender person clear at the time.

  • Consistent use of the "new" pronoun regardless of the time it applies to
    • Is very rare, and can only be found in the writings of some transgender people.

It is also extremely confusing. "She went to the male restroom." or "He gave birth to a baby." does not exactly make much sense, and it does not reflect the gender role people had at this time. Since the interaction with other people is based very much on that percieved gender role, and also it has many legal and "technical" consequences; like, in some countries, the ability or non-ability to join the army or take up certain jobs and other. Therefore, the resulting sentences might strike the reader as nonsensical. the consequence of this usage would, in my estimation, only lead to transgender people being viewed as even more "weired" as they are now already. A classical case of shooting oneself in the foot.

Therefore, I advocate very much the usage that applies the pronoun to the gender role a particular person had at a particular time. -- AlexR 18:45, 25 Jun 2004 (UTC)

I think you are overestimating the rarity of the latter type of writing. I will try to do a little survey at some point.
How about avoiding, so far as possible, pronouns? Morwen - Talk 00:11, 29 Jun 2004 (UTC)
I think it's better to try to use pronouns consistently, cisgendered and transgendered alike. Avoiding pronouns is fine when one doesn't know the correct pronouns to use, but it's disrespectful otherwise. Everybody is entitled to being addressed as the gender they identify with. --Eequor 00:42, 29 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Eequor, I agree with following the individual's preference. I'm not sure what you mean by "consistently," though. We might find that two people whose histories are essentially the same are being referred to differently (e.g., both FTM, one always called "he" and the other "he" or "she" for different times). I can live with that inconsistency. Do you mean we should be consistent in following the individual's choice, even if that produces inconsistency of another sort, as in the example I gave? JamesMLane 03:31, 29 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Yes, that's what I meant. It isn't important to have consistency between two different people who have similar histories. --Eequor 03:39, 29 Jun 2004 (UTC)
The main thing I'm worried about - as seen on Talk:Brandon_Teena, is the idea that someone needs to have had genital surgery before they get to be referred to with the new pronouns. This is clearly inappropriate. Morwen - Talk 00:12, 29 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Yes, quite. Surgery is such a minor part of the process. --Eequor 00:42, 29 Jun 2004 (UTC)

How to include places of birth/death briefly?

I recently created a stub about Ruth Krauss. I wanted to include her places of birth and death as well as the dates, without saying anything more about them. (biographies) recommends the standard format

but if you open like that, it is hard to think of a way of including the places succinctly. It's not as if it were a full biography, in which you could have a paragraph beginning "Krauss was born in a red-brick Mongolian yurt in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of a poor but honest woodchopper and screenwriter Anita Loos. The influence of Baltimore's red-brick architecture can be seen every aspect of her work..." (or whatever the actual facts might be).

I settled for:

Ruth Krauss (b. July 25, 1901, Baltimore, Maryland; d. July 10, 1993, Westport, Connecticut)

Thoughts? Are there any experienced sages who have a recommendation (and might consider adding it to (biographies)?)

  • It's hard to work in the birthplace where there is nothing about youth or upbringing. If there were, it would be easy to start with, "Born in Baltimore, Maryland...". Even a short article like this would not do poorly to end by reiterating death date (and that's where place of death can go): "Krauss died July 10, 1993 in Westport, Connecticut." -- Jmabel 21:01, Jul 30, 2004 (UTC)
  • I recommend "born" and "died" instead of "b." and "d.". Much more readable at the cost of only 4 bytes! Gdr 18:26, 2004 Aug 1 (UTC)
  • I don't put in born or died. It is quite obvious that the first date is the birth date and so on. The introductory paragraph states why the person is important. It is in the Bio section, the next section, where I put in the birth place and places the person been to. WHEELER 23:34, 2 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I realize that it's couple of years late, but I think that the way we include birth and death dates breaks up the text too much as it is, so adding places would make it even worse. I always thought articles should be written like:

John Doe (1900-2005) was a blabla. He was born January 1 1900 in Lower Backwater. Bla bla bla bla bla bla. He died December 31 2000 in Upper Backwater.

Birth/Death Places in the Lead

I've noticed some of our fellow Wikipedians put the places of birth and death in the first lines of biographies so it would be something like "E. B. White (July 11, 1899, New York, New York ? October 1, 1985, Somewhere, Maine), e.g. John William Brown. I've not touched any of these because I didn't know what the official style was until now. I see the examples have just dates, e.g. "E. B. White (July 11, 1899 ? October 1, 1985)", which is how I've been writing them. Usually my second graf opens with the place of birth and the last graf states the place of death. Our stylebook is much neater and pleasing to the eye than the practice of including places in the lead. I do hope no change is contemplated. PedanticallySpeaking 20:29, Sep 23, 2004 (UTC)