Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Lead section/Archive 6

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Archive 5 Archive 6 Archive 7

While we're talking...

I'd like to take the BLP comment, and expand to a mid-sized section on two things that I think are clear and present problems:

  • Recent deaths.
  • A recent, well-publicized, but non-controversial BLP event. I'll use an example here: so-and-so won the New Hampshire primary.

Both of these impact more than the lead. But WP:LEAD is a well respected page, IME, and some guidance here wouldn't hurt. I have more opinions, but will save them pending comment on whether this guideline might be useful on this. Marskell (talk) 21:01, 24 January 2008 (UTC)

I'd have no problem with that. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 21:05, 24 January 2008 (UTC)
I'll add it in the morning, and others can rework. Marskell (talk) 21:10, 24 January 2008 (UTC)

Tagging

I've reverted Miles Again's addition that if we see a lead that's too short or too long, and we don't have time to fix it, we should add the too short/too long tag. (Sorry about the messed up edit summary, MA -- "please on discuss" meant "please discuss on talk." :-)

I would prefer this guideline not to mention these tags, or if we do, to discourage their use. Tagging in this way suggests we have two classes of editors -- regular editors who do the actual writing, and über editors who arrive to offer their opinions by disfiguring the page with a tag before moving on, because their time is so precious. :-)

I don't think we should say anything in here to encourage that. If you see a lead that you feel is the wrong length, you can fix it, leave a note on talk, or just walk away. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 20:52, 28 January 2008 (UTC)

Concur. Marskell (talk) 20:58, 28 January 2008 (UTC)

Firstly, my edit was not accurately characterized above. I added, "If you don't have time to correct the problem, mark articles using the over-long lead sections with the {{Intro-toolong}} article message box template." (Sorry about the typo, swap "using" and "with") I added that because I was looking for the name of the tag and couldn't find it. Is trying to engineer editing behavior really more important than providing the uncensored facts about common practice? Do we really prefer that an article with an overlong lead is not tagged for improvement? Of course not, I would hope, on both counts. Who thinks that amboxes are "disfiguring the page"? That's a new one to me. MilesAgain (talk) 21:16, 28 January 2008 (UTC)

Tagging, by itself, accomplishes nothing. The edit encourages another box at the top of the page, not article improvement. If you're tired, move along to something else that wakes you up. If you can manage it, try to improve the lead a little. It's often easier done than said. Marskell (talk) 21:29, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
It encourages other people to help. MilesAgain (talk) 21:46, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
Such utility remains unproven. If you don't like a lead, improve it or ignore it. Marskell (talk) 21:57, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
The fact that some consider them "disfiguring the page" clearly shows that they encourage those people to address the problem. How much proof do you need that a sign saying "this needs to be fixed" doesn't encourage people to fix it? MilesAgain (talk) 23:40, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
What tends to happen is that the page languishes with the tag on it, looking even worse than it did before, or people remove the tags without changing anything. You'd need actual evidence that these tags ever lead to improvement. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 23:44, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
Not a problem, I was able to find these by searching for "intro length" on article talk pages: [1][2][3][4][5] The average time to intro shortening was only 16 days (those were all I found; I didn't omit any that took longer to shorten.) Any further objections? MilesAgain (talk) 02:45, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
One, three, and five show leads that are too long becoming much too short. If people are interpreting the tag to mean "cut the lead to two sentences" then I oppose it even more strongly. Two and four show no reduction. Marskell (talk) 08:53, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
You think 1,3, and 5 are better articles before than after? I don't, and I doubt anyone else looking at them would either. They all have detail moved to section(s), not deleted. 2 and 4 have merged single-sentence paragraphs in accordance with the Manual of Style. MilesAgain (talk) 14:50, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
It seems clear that, certainly in the case of 1 (I haven't looked at 3 or 5) that all that's happened is that a long poor lead has been replaced by a shorter poor lead. Is that an improvement? I can't see how. --Malleus Fatuorum (talk) 20:41, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
Honestly I don't see what's wrong with [1]. Most of the overlong "before" lead was incorporated into the article, and I'm not a doctor, but the "after" looks fine to me. MilesAgain (talk) 17:53, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
When I'm bored, I sometimes surf the categories created by tags like these and fix the articles if I know enough about the topic to do so. So I would definitely agree that tagging can help (but I also agree that sometimes it doesn't). Karanacs (talk) 19:35, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
That could be achieved by adding the article to a category without the tag, or by adding the tag to the talk page. The problem with these tags is that they deface the article. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 21:33, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
I'm in two minds on this. On the one hand I do really dislike the defacing tags, but on the other hand, to pick up on Karancs' point, if I come across an article the I'm interested in with one on it, I'm motivated to do whatever's needed to be able to remove the tag in good conscience. --Malleus Fatuorum (talk) 21:59, 29 January 2008 (UTC)

How about this:

When you find an article with a lead section that is too long or too short, you are encouraged to help correct the issue. However, if you feel you are unable to fix it because you don't know enough about the subject, or don't have time, etc., you may mark articles with the {{Intro-toolong}} or {{Intro-tooshort}} article message box templates.

Is that a reasonable compromise? MilesAgain (talk) 17:51, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

An article is not an essay, a lead is not a summary

Somehow you guys have got the wrong end of the stick here. Look, if we were writing an essay for each article, then the lead would have to summarise the many points that are covered. The lead would usually be written after the essay/article, and would summarise the essay/article or the main points in the essay/article.

The articles in the wikipedia are not essays.

The articles in the wikipedia are on a single topic.

For this reason, another encyclopedia says that the lead (they call it introduction) should contain:

Introduction

The Introduction should contain a brief definition of the subject. This may take one or two paragraphs, and if possible, these paragraphs should contain some statement of the subject's interest and significance. The main topics to be covered in the body of the entry may be mentioned here, so that the reader will get some idea of what is to follow. Plato Guidelines and Policies for Entry Content

So, unless you have a reference to another encyclopedia's lead guidelines which match your ideas, then tomorrow I will be correcting the wikipedias to be inline with Platos.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 07:01, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

Wolfkeeper, Wikipedia is perfectly entitled to develop unique guidelines to match its unique structure. And as it is, what you quote above isn't terribly different than what we have here. Marskell (talk) 10:42, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
What's the difference between "develop unique guidelines" and OR? Are we trying to invent the encyclopedia here? Isn't there a particular way of writing encyclopedia introductions that is encyclopedic? What are the Encyclopedia Britannica's guidelines on this?- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 13:38, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
On wikipedia, the lede has the dual roles of introduction and summary that I mentioned long ago. I don't see what's surprising or problematic about it. Could you explain again exactly what your motivating problem is here? That might help people understand where your thoughts are going. — Carl (CBM · talk) 14:29, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
Developing unique guidelines isn't OR in the way you interpreting it, Wolfkeeper. These policy and guideline pages are monumentally important to the regular maintenance of the Project's content, and altering them requires a lot of back and forth before we agree to any changes. And often, the Monkeys with the Bigger Shopping Carts have to approve the wackier stuff. So, while OR (as you are interpreting it) might be a part of the equation, its that which is agreed upon by both the people driving the bus as well as the people in the bus. It's when one or two folk determine that the bus is a sub-compact (or demand at the point of a keyboard that the bus should go to Funkytown, Goofyville and then an extended trip to Denny's for lunch) that some ideas become original research.
Marskell is correct in noting that Wikipedia doesn't have to follow the formats of other encyclopedias, and that we are allowed to determine our own branding.
But all of that is besides the point. You have been insisting - repeatedly - that the Lead be an overview of the subject, and not the article. It seems rather clear that this is a minority opinion at this time. The Lead is currently an overview of the article it introduces, not the entire breadth of the subject. Perhaps you are confusing the insterpretation of the word 'subject'. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 19:30, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
Perhaps. However, when I was 15 I was tested on vocabulary comprehension and I have done similar things since then; I test at around the 99% percentile level on vocabulary meaning, so there's about a 99% chance that you're the one confusing the various meanings of the word 'subject'. I've also actually checked it in multiple dictionaries as well as looked at guidelines for other encyclopedias, including the French wikipedia and Plato; the English wikipedia seems to be taking the most extreme position of any of them.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 15:47, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
'On wikipedia, the lede has the dual roles of introduction and summary that I mentioned long ago.' I don't even agree that that matches the current way that editors are writing leads in the wikipedia; it seems to me the guidelines are trying to impose this, but nobody is really listening. And you have no references to back up that this is what should be in an encyclopedia lead. That's OR, right there. We're not writing English Essays, we're not writing books of fictions, we're not reporting for a newspaper; all of these leads are subtly different types of leads, no, we're writing articles on single topics, that are referred to be by article names and that are expected to be defined in the lead for the readers of the wikipedia. This is basic, obvious and non negotiable; people come along to the article and say, 'what is XXX' and they expect to find out what it is from the lead; they do not expect some possibly rambling introduction to an article. It's the difference between Aeroplane: "In this article we will be describing the features of aeroplanes, where they fly from, how they work and what dangers they present" (which introduces the article great, but doesn't tell you what an aeroplane is) to Aeroplane: "An aeroplane is a heavier than air vehicle that is capable of leaving the ground and flying in a sustained manner" which tells you what an aeroplane is and doesn't introduce the article at all. I'm saying of the two, if they were given only the choice between the two the reader wants the second. That's because this is an encyclopedia; they do not expect to have to read the entire wretched article to find out what something is.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 15:47, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
This is primary and not negotiable in a lead. And if it's primary and not negotiable then it must be mentioned as such in the lead of wp:lead itself.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 15:47, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
It's impossible for the first three paragraphs of an article not to be viewed by readers as an introduction to the article. The fact that the lede can stand alone should be invisible to a reader, who can treat the entire article as a single text. To put it a different way, a lede is not an abstract.
I can address one other point briefly. Issues or original research are not relevant outside the context of writing articles. Moreover, Wikipedia develops its own style inspired by other encyclopedias, but does not aspire to duplicate their style. So while it is useful to look at how other encyclopedias are written, their practices are not controlling here.
Let me ask, again, what is the actual motivation behind your concern here. Perhaps we can address that and put the matter to bed. — Carl (CBM · talk) 16:01, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
OK, I messed that bit up slightly; there's a difference between 'introducing the article' and 'summarizing the article', but there's an insistence here that they are the same thing. They're not the same. I'm saying that there is always necessarily in an adequate lead a definition of the topic. If you take it away, it's a rotten lead. In WP:LEAD it's the bit where we say the lead is the bit between the title and the first section. That defines what we are talking about, the topic; that bit does not in any way summarize the article.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 16:16, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
Um, excuse me, but you are not at liberty to redefine 'encyclopedia'. The primary purpose of the wikipedia is to create an encyclopedia, that's a core value. You cannot write a guideline that tries to change what an encyclopedia is.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 16:16, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
Please place your comments below those you respond to, not in the middle of them. We are at liberty to set our own practices here, if we believe they are useful for achieving our goals. There is indeed a difference between introducing the article and summarizing the topic; the lede serves both purposes. — Carl (CBM · talk) 16:20, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
That's not what our lead says.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 18:26, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
Regardless what the guideline says, the lede will still have the dual role. It's easy enough to point out the dual role in this guideline. — Carl (CBM · talk) 18:33, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
If it is so easy, then shouldn't our lead, which you claim is a summary of the article say that?- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 18:52, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

(←dent) Is it your contention that it doesn't? And I have to agree with Carl here; I am unclear as to what it is precisely you are aiming to do here. Are you seeking to change policy, refine it or clarify it? Please, if you can, be specific. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 19:37, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

Just clarify really, the idea that the lead should identify the topic seemed to have been systematically removed from our lead here, but has always been present in the article.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 20:54, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
Wolfkeeper, please read this. Our leads give an overview of the article, ideally -- the article, not the subject. However, sometimes (or even often), the lead will given an overview of the subject before the article has caught up. So in that sense some leads will summarize the subject area, while others will summarize the article. But in a well-written article, the lead will be a summary of the article's most important points. Not in the sense that an abstract is an overview of an academic paper -- we are not that strict, and we want our leads to be enlivening prose, not dull summarizing. But broadly speaking, a lead will summarize the key points of the article.
The key words here are "broadly speaking." You're splitting hairs about the meaning of words then trying to apply those hair-line definitions of your own to a creative, non-algorithmic activity, where leads ideally emerge from the structure of a narrative, suggesting themselves to the writers once the article is more or less complete; but where, in fact, reality almost always falls short of that ideal, with people doing their best to give readers an idea of what the article says or will say. That's about as precise as we can get. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 19:56, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
I think we mostly only disagree on emphasis, but I do hold it as self evident that a lead that doesn't identify the topic is inherently non encyclopedic, and this is backed up by the reference I gave, as well as common sense. I also hold that a lead should contain a summary of the article, but it's wrong to claim that the lead is a summary of the article. It is an introduction to the article. These are fine distinctions, but they are important none the less, as the many reversions there have been only illustrate all to well.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 21:24, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
I think we understand the distinctions, but simply disagree as to your interpretations and applications of them. I agree that crafting a Lead that is a summary to the article is difficult, but it is the goal nonetheless. If that summary is engaging enough, it is an introduction to the rest of the article for those who want to read more details touched upon in the Lead. That appears to be the current interpretation of the policy, and I tend to agree with it. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 16:59, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
Sorry, what makes you say that making the lead a summary to the article is a goal. Where's that written?- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 02:41, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

Articles on Wikipedia are essays. They are furthermore argumentative essays that ought to have thesis statements. The type of argument they make is different from the type of argument made in a normal persuasive essay, but it is still an argument and should still be thought of as such. The lead should introduce the topic, provide a general overview of what will be said, and provide a summary statement at the end. Phil Sandifer (talk) 01:14, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

The idea that articles are essays seems to be inconsistent with WP:NOT. It says that 'Note: Wikipedia pages may not be used for advocacy unrelated to Wikipedia, but pages in the Wikipedia namespace may be used to advocate for improving or organizing Wikipedia itself. So essays, portals, project pages, etc. are part of what Wikipedia is.' Which very strongly implies that essays are only to be part of Wikipedia in Wikipedia's own namespace. Additionally an essay implies a degree of OR; and in any case personal essays are banned.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 02:41, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
You do not understand what essays are. Or, rather, you are using a very particular meaning of essay on Wikipedia instead of a more general use of it as "a somewhat lengthy written document that makes an argument in a relatively formal manner." Phil Sandifer (talk) 03:06, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
Isn't an essay supposed to be original, such as making an original argument? If you're merely stating somebody elses argument, isn't that more of a summary or a simple report than an essay? I think the fact that articles aren't allowed to make an original argument in the wikipedia means that it isn't an essay in any normal sense.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 03:36, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
Certainly summaries are routinely given as "essay" assignments in universities. But this largely sidesteps my main point - whatever you want to call an article, it is still an argumentative structure based around a thesis that is supported with evidence, and the lead section functions just like any other introduction to an argument-based piece of writing. Phil Sandifer (talk) 04:36, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
No. Articles do not have a thesis. That would constitute WP:OR: "Articles may not contain any new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources."- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 05:21, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
And to pre-empt your next question, the argument is that the subject of the article is worthy of note. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 04:41, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
No, that's why the topic requires a notable source that says it is worthy of note by talking about it.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 05:19, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
Exactly. Which is why a lead section starts with an overview of reasons that the subject is worthy of note, and the remaining sections proceed to expand on these reasons with evidence of the various significant things about the person. Phil Sandifer (talk) 04:45, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
An interesting theory, but not one I can subscribe to without multiple clear examples and/or a good reference that this is desirable. And I think you'll have difficulty finding even one good example. All article leads I have read end with notability, not start with that, for sound practical reasons.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 05:19, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
Look at today's featured article (Dookie) - notability is laid out in the first sentence. Seventh and eighth words, in fact. Phil Sandifer (talk) 05:59, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
Ok, I am finding that the articles start with a declaration of the topic for practical reasons, so I was wrong to some degree, because the topic has to be notable anyway to be here, then the first sentence does pretty much have to imply notability in the vast majority of cases. But that seems to me to be an accident, rather than a deliberate idea, and basically every fact everywhere in the wikipedia has to be notable and verifiable anyway ;-). But still, the basic idea that you are forming a thesis that makes it notable has to be wrong, because that would be OR, whereas really people here have to find somebody else that says it is notable. Really when you write an article you collect facts from wherever, and collate them and wordsmith them together, more like a reporter. Collation is not normally considered to be OR, since you are not forming new ideas.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 07:02, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
Your ideas are incompatible with the prevailing thought in rhet/comp at the moment - have a look for the book Everything's an Argument. It's one of the most popular rhet/comp books in use right now, and might help you better understand what's going on here. Phil Sandifer (talk) 15:41, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
It's not that articles don't contain arguments. On the contrary, we collate other peoples arguments. We're essentially trying to collect all the notable arguments that are within a particular articles scope. That also means we aren't writing essays.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 18:58, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

<outdent

A Wikipedia article is still structured as an argument - it is not just a collection of other people's arguments. It is an argument-structured account of those arguments. Phil Sandifer (talk) 19:20, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
But arguments are expected to come to a conclusion and have a main contention. AFAIK the only main contention that articles come to is, at best, 'the following facts/opinions/arguments are currently known to be notable on this subject'. But that's really just collation. While you can argue that it's a form of OR, it's a very weak one, and it's explicitly disclaimed in the OR policy. And anybody can come along at any time and add more notable facts, so it's an argument that can never conclude, if you want to look at it like an argument.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 20:57, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
It's more accurate to say that the argument is "These are the important things to know about this subject," or "this is why the subject is important." It may be that the argument can be improved - more facts, better facts, better presentation. But the argument should, in any given version of the article, be well-structured. That said, I don't think I even understand what you're objecting to anymore. Collation is still a form of argument. Argument and OR are not synonyms. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:57, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
My point is that a collation argument cannot form an essay. An essay is not simply a collation of notable facts, even though a collation of facts may be considered to be an argument, it's not the right sort of argument.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 22:27, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
OK. Putting aside the term essay, as it's not the point, a collation argument still depends on an introduction that summarizes the major points of the argument. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:28, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
Well, you say it's not the point, but read the heading of this section, I'm actually trying to stay on the point. The point is that the introduction is not of the form of an essay summary, because the article is not of the form of an essay.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 23:18, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
The issue about the introduction being a summary or not is multifold. First there can be trivial elements of the introduction which don't appear in the body of the article, such as dates and so forth, but that's minor. Also the very first few sentences which define context and declare the scope of the article are not normally repeated elsewhere in the article, so are not summaries either. Secondly, the emphasis of the article and the emphasis of the introduction are not the same. The introduction emphasises interest and conflict, whereas the article tends to be more of a collation of notable facts, and the introduction misses out quite a lot of notable facts to make room for the conflict and interest and so forth. A true summary would have to have similar emphasis.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 23:18, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
My original contention, which I stand by; but that I am not planning to edit the guidelines based upon; is that the introduction and the article are both descriptions of the *topic*, and that they look similar because they are based on the same data that was discovered by the same editors that wrote the article. And if you look at it that they are on the same topic, then building a semi-reasonable lead for a non existent or stub article is fairly straightforward, whereas if you look at it that one is a summary of the other, then the introduction is only written after the body.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 23:18, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
That seems to me to depend on treating the lead and body as two separate things instead of as a unified document. That does not make sense as an approach. Phil Sandifer (talk) 00:01, 3 February 2008 (UTC)
That's like saying that the wheels on a car are entirely separate things. Wheels are free to move somewhat independently, but they're still attached to the same car. And front wheels and back wheels do different things. The guidelines for wheels don't include demands that the back wheels follow the tracks of the front or vice versa, because they don't, but the front wheels surely do steer the car where it is going.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 02:23, 4 February 2008 (UTC)
That metaphor is too mixed for me to follow. My point remains: the introduction of a Wikipedia article is not substantially different from the introduction of any other argumentative document. It serves the same purposes, and follows the same rules. Phil Sandifer (talk) 03:57, 4 February 2008 (UTC)

<outdent An introduction lets people know if they found the right article, and gives them a quick summary in case they want to know very briefly what something is. It's also useful to establish the tone or serve as a roadmap for the important points to be discussed. Personally, I'm not terribly fond of leads that grow into a several paragraph mini-article because they don't serve the purposes as effectively anymore, and that also creates a content fork. It's often useful for the lead to establish the context of the subject in terms of other, more familiar things, and also to explain notability. But it's not necessary in all cases. It really depends on the type of article. For example, the Luisa Tetrazzini lead is deficient and could benefit from a little context and an assertion of notability - as is, it doesn't tell people why they should care, so I'll bet many people ignore the article who might enjoy reading it. Maria Callas has a much better lead because it brings the reader in. By contrast, I think the lead sentence's assertion of notability and context in the Water article that "water is a common chemical substance that is essential to all known forms of life" is obvious and unnecessary to the point of absurdity. I think the Hydrogen lead sentence that "Hydrogen (pronounced /ˈhaɪdrədʒən/), is the chemical element represented by the symbol H and an atomic number of 1" is more appropriate - no need to say "and it's also an extremely important element and part of nerly every chemical compound." Wikidemo (talk) 01:47, 3 February 2008 (UTC)

Context?

Context is[6]:

con·text /ˈkɒntɛkst/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[kon-tekst] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation –noun

  1. the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.
  2. the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.
  3. Mycology. the fleshy fibrous body of the pileus in mushrooms.

So how does:

"The first paragraph needs to unambiguously identify the topic for the reader."

Describe any of these things? Why are editors repeatedly moving it into this section?- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 19:13, 1 February 2008 (UTC)

Well, thanks for the exercise in pedantry. It was a redundant, two sentence section. No one is going to be confused by "The first paragraph needs to unambiguously identify the topic for the reader" under the heading "Establish context." Marskell (talk) 20:24, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
What the "context" part means in practice is that the lede should identify the broader subject area in which the topic is located. For example "In the theory of music, harmony is...", or "In chemistry, an acid is...". — Carl (CBM · talk) 20:52, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
I agree, that's the original intention of the section. And it looks to me that as a group we're being confused by our own section so what on earth is the reader going to think?- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 21:14, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

Lead section length

It would be more useful if the recommended lead section length and the article length used the same units. The lead section is measured in paragraphs while the size of the article is measured in bytes. Using a ratio, for example saying the lead section should be 1/6 the size of the article avoids the units issue. BradMajors (talk) 22:55, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

Use of "to be" in opening sentences

On 2008-01-25 at 10:45 a fellow-editor added the recommendation:

In most cases, the first sentence should use the verb to be so that readers knowing nothing at all about the article's subject immediately find the answer to the simple question: What is it? or Who is he/she?.

I propose removing this limiting recommendation. The disadvantages of using forms of the verb "to be", as detailed in the E-Prime article, apply. And our readers may just as readily come to a Wikipedia article with simple questions like "What does this do?" or "Where does so-and-so fit in?" or "What does a such-and-such look like?".

In the context of Wikipedia, opening an article with the bland claim that "X is ..." smacks of the a dictionary definition -- something to avoid. But worse, providing a simple "X is..." opening may unwittingly undermine a neutral point-of-view. "Is" statements tend to lay down the law, to restrict the scope of discussion, to highlight one aspect of a subject at the expense of others, excluding alternative viewpoints and angles. Avoiding the verb "to be" can result in more dynamic, active and interesting openings. Above all, we can discourage lame sentences of the type "The Internet Protocol is a protocol...".

-- Pedant17 (talk) 01:13, 4 February 2008 (UTC)

I don't see how we should encourage people to write their leads in e-prime. Your points on WP:DICT and WP:NPOV are not sustainable as WP:NPOV must be followed in all cases anyway, and WP:DICT is mostly about not having articles about a word, instead they must be about a single topic, and it's not about not defining the subject in a dictionary-like definition, indeed I think that is encouraged in one of the policies somewhere or other.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 02:08, 4 February 2008 (UTC)
I too do not see "how we should encourage people" to use an E-Prime style -- but the proposal to stop recommending using "to be" leaves the matter open so that editors can vary their style as they find most appropriate. -- I agree that WP:DICT emphasizes not having articles about words, but I note that "Wikipedia is not a dictionary" has become a mantra, and that we have the resource and flexibility to avoid dictionary-like formats.-- I also agree that all editors should follow WP:NPOV rules at all times -- and I therefore propose making the achievement of a neutral point-of-view easier and more natural by not encouraging editors into the straitjacket of potentially biased statements using the verb "to be". -- Pedant17 (talk) 00:18, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
The use of 'is' is not mandatory anyway.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 02:08, 4 February 2008 (UTC)
I agree that the current text does not actually make the use of "is" mandatory. But it strongly encourages that usage, stating: "In most cases, the first sentence should ..." [my emphasis]. Such prescriptiveness appears restrictive and unnecessary. -- Pedant17 (talk) 00:18, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
Making that change would seem to be part of advocating for the use of e-prime. Since advocating for e-prime or anything else not directly involved in creating an encyclopedia violates WP:NOT, then I don't see that this change should be made.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 05:56, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
The proposed change forms no part of advocating for the use of E-Prime. It merely references the E-Prime article in support as pointing out some of the deficiencies of using the verb "to be". The proposed change advocates only the removal of explicit encouragement of the "to be" forms. -- On the other hand, the change of 2008-01-25 advocates -- virtually mandates -- the use of a single limiting formula: X + 'to be" + Y. If advocacy of "anything else not directly involved in creating an encyclopedia" does indeed violate WP:NOT, then we should remove this stricture. -- Pedant17 (talk) 11:07, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
Not really the same thing, I don't think that the people that wrote it were deliberately advocating a cause, they were just trying to write a guideline that would help build an encyclopedia. However, provided that the change improves the guideline, and doesn't explicitly or implicitly advocate e-prime then there's no particular reason you couldn't change this. What particular phraseology did you have in mind?- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 17:04, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
As stated on 2008-02-04, I propose simply removing the sentence:

In most cases, the first sentence should use the verb to be so that readers knowing nothing at all about the article's subject immediately find the answer to the simple question: What is it? or Who is he/she?.

This removal would improve the guideline by encouraging a greater diversity of compliant opening sentences and by eliminating restrictive advocacy of use of the verb "to be". -- Pedant17 (talk) 07:26, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
I agree. That advice is very restrictive. We're not baking a cake here. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 08:15, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
Agreed also. There are a variety of ways of fulfilling explanatory requirements. Tyrenius (talk) 09:57, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
I can see the potential for rampant nonsense, but with all change comes a period of rampant nonsense. I agree too, bc there is room in my life to love The Crazy. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 17:35, 6 February 2008 (UTC)

Hm, somebody even created a template {{intro-tobe}} which demands a "to be" in the first sentence of an article. I have removed it from the handful of articles it appeared on. Would have listed it on TfD too, except that I need to run now. Perhaps later. –Henning Makholm 23:01, 8 February 2008 (UTC)

OK, now you've crossed two different lines simultaneously:
  1. you've edited articles purely to espouse a (frankly slightly weird) cause
  2. the articles in question still have horrible leads, but you've completely removed all record of this; they used to be in Category:Wikipedia introduction cleanup, but no longer are
I wouldn't have minded if the article leads had actually been sorted out...

- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 00:14, 9 February 2008 (UTC)

No other response? Oh well, I thought I saw consensus that requiring a specific verb is not a productive way to prescribe how to start with a good definition – it is neither strictly necessary for one, nor does it guarantee that one will result. One of the articles in question did actually use the verb "to be".
I am impressed with how you were able to review the articles I removed the template from, even after I removed all record of which they were. I must have been insufficiently thorough in my destruction of evidence. I will investigate ways to do it better. The fools, they will cower before me yet! –Henning Makholm 04:10, 11 February 2008 (UTC)

"clearly, continued discussion is needed"

This edit called for discussion: (reverting Wolfkeeper - clearly, continued discussion is needed. Rather than disrupt a guideline page in edit-warring, perhaps find consensus FIRST on the page set aside for discussion) (undo)

But to be honest the only thing that made it clear was the fact that it was reverted, and anyone can revert anything any time, but the material had been on the article page for almost a week from [7] to about [8] until it was removed on the grounds that it was supposedly redundant with the context section; but as Carl says above, there is no actual redundancy, it is a different sort of context there entirely, so how can it have been redundant?

I wish to revert this edit, I consider that it weakened the guideline, please vote here, its non binding, I just want to see how far or near we are to consensus on this: —Preceding unsigned comment added by Wolfkeeper (talkcontribs) 16:13, 4 February 2008 (UTC)

I don't think we should be footnoting other collaborative encyclopedias as authorities on what we should be doing here on Wikipedia. Further, I think the scope of the article is a determined as a matter of ongoing consensus, logic, and editorial decisions that are up to the individual editors of the article, not for someone to lay out in a lead in the expectation that others will follow. So I would terminate the sentence "The first paragraph also helps declare the scope of the article for other editors and assists in deciding what material should be covered" after the word "article." Wikidemo (talk) 18:41, 4 February 2008 (UTC)
I agree with both parts of that. For the first statements of Wikidemo's, WP should be allowed to determine its own style. As for the latter statements, I likewise concur. In its current state, it leaves the impression that consensus cannot ever change, and puts a bit too much power in the Lead to control the article when in actuality it is supposed to be the other way around. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 18:56, 4 February 2008 (UTC)
I don't consider that external links are to be determinative here, but I think that we should include them because they are material that back up our choice of guidelines- if a guideline is very different to others guidelines that can be a signal that we are off-base; external links have a normative effect. I wouldn't be opposed to moving into an external links section for example, and adding other similar guidelines if they can be located, whether or not we follow them.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 17:10, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
As pointed out earlier, we don't need them to be material to our choices. Wikipedia is allowed to determine its own structure without having to justify its actions through the use of external links to other encyclopedias. I realize its frustrating to you that there are no apparent handrails to help guide you, but they aren't necessary. We aren't lemmings, falling of a cliff. there are enough of us with the absorbed experiences of other encyclopedias that keep us on point. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 18:28, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
That amounts to hypocrisy, since WP:LEAD doesn't follow its own guidelines. It says: "The emphasis given to material in the lead should roughly reflect its importance to the topic according to reliable, published sources." You don't have any reliable published sources, and you're arguing that they completely aren't needed, and that you that you get to make up what's important and what isn't. That is so far from the spirit of the wikipedia it isn't even funny.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 08:14, 7 February 2008 (UTC)
We don't need external references to define the construct of our rules. Just because some other website does it in some way doesn't (and shouldn't) have any bearing on whether we do it too. — BQZip01 — talk 20:05, 7 February 2008 (UTC)
I understand where you're coming from, and the wikipedia clearly is and should be able to define its own rules according to a decision process. However, the traps of most decision processes in general tend to be things like groupthink; but you would hope and expect that by skeptically looking at others work, you can help kick out of any 'consensus' traps which might not truly based on any real evidence for their utility. For something like an encyclopedia introduction- which has been around for centuries, you would expect that by now there would be good guidelines that we could examine.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 20:57, 7 February 2008 (UTC)
This guideline (and its mention of WP:RS) only applies to articles, it does not apply to policies and guidelines, which are obviously written in a much different way, subject to a different kind of consensus process, for a different purpose and audience. We source articles so we and our readers can verify that the content accurately reflects the mainstream of knowledge in the world, as opposed to opinion, non-mainstream beliefs, propaganda, fraud, or simple error. Truth and believability simply are not issues on most non-article pages. Wikidemo (talk) 00:10, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Allow me to suggest that you re-direct your energies to the Village Pump. Clearly, you are advocating a philosophical stance that is not in current use in Wikipedia. Perhaps, in changing the world, the Pump would be a more appropriate launching point. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 22:13, 7 February 2008 (UTC)
No, look, let's take a concrete example, take the article Diamond. Is that a good lead? It's featured, but it featured more than two years ago. It seems to me that it covers the main points in the article; but I don't think it's a good lead. What do you think?- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 23:45, 7 February 2008 (UTC)
It's okay. It does cover the main points, but it fails to bring the issue alive, or make people want to keep on reading.
Yes, I agree but for example it doesn't even actually identify what diamond is in any functional way. If it said 'diamond is an allotrope of carbon where the carbon atoms are arranged in a isometric lattice' then at least I would be able to do an x-ray diffraction on it and tell that the rock in my hand is diamond. The fact given is that it is 'third hardest' when it doesn't tell me what 4th hardest is so I couldn't (from the lead) actually even in principle check that the a stone in my hand is harder than 4th and softer than 2nd. You don't completely know what it is the article is talking about, and yet this seems to be more or less in accordance with our guidelines. And the whole lead is sort of vague like that. It should be boom, boom, boom, precision. The lead should be such that the subject of the article is not in this general area it's ->here<- and nowhere else. And if you can't do that, it's likely to be a poor article.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 16:21, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
It also covers the main points in the wrong order, I would say, although that's obviously a very subjective judgment.
I don't think it's purely subjective; the article can be massively improved on objective grounds.- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 16:21, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Can you give us an example of what you see as a good lead? SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 00:02, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
I checked through the recent WP:FA articles and all have leads that are perfectly acceptable and very much more precise, they rather outclass WP:LEAD ;-)- (User) WolfKeeper (Talk) 16:21, 8 February 2008 (UTC)