A Manual of Style for humans.

Our Manual of Style is lengthy, comprehensive and really sucks to try to read or use. Compare to a really readable reference, like Fowler or Strunk & White. Or even Chicago. Have you ever picked up those books and thought “this is really good, I can use this stuff”? I’d hope you had. If you have aspirations to writing better, those books get your brain sizzling.

But, rather than being a guideline for thoughtful application by editors seeking guidance in writing effective encyclopedia entries, our manual of style has become a sequence of programming instructions for bots. So no-one ever looks at it unless they’re looking for (or adding) a stick to hit other editors with.

Our MOS should be something that editors will want to read.

Here‘s my attempt to make the intro readable.

Anyone want to help recast the rest of the megabytes of MOS as thoughtful guidance in English, rather than programming instructions for bots and weapons to be wielded by the antisocial?

Edited to add: From my user page, my personal style guide: We’re writing articles for someone who knows nothing about a topic but needs to get up to speed really quickly. You have ten seconds.

I sometimes picture my reader as a very bright ten- to twelve-year-old. Someone with a good reading age, but who knows nothing yet. Did you used to devour encyclopaedias as a kid?

5 thoughts on “A Manual of Style for humans.”

  1. Two thoughts:

    (1) If contributors to Wikipedia tried to follow the inverted pyramid style — put the most important thing about the subject in the opening paragraph — I figure that would solve a big chunk of “notability” issues. Well, at least the ones that can be resolved.

    Seriously. If a biographical article explains why Ms. So N. So is important (e.g., “inventor of the print screen command”), I will overlook the fact that half of the article is about whether or not Ms. So was a member of some obscure but infamous political group. However, if the biography on the same person starts out telling me where she was born, were she went to school, who she married, etc. & assumes that I know why she is important, I’ll be sorely tempted to nominate this article on AfD. (I encountered an article with this exact same flaw the other week. Instead of nominating on AfD, however, I rewrote it so that the most important fact of the person appeared in the lede. I figured it was a simpler solution dealing with AfD.)

    2. I am honestly at a loss to understand why this version of this article is better than this one I wrote. No, my version is not perfect, but I think it is closer to what a user wants. Trying to be a nice guy & avoid an edit war over the matter (said editor, a self-described specialist in “document processing and am highly skilled in research, editing, formatting, etc.”, has done much the same with many of the other articles about the dynasties of ancient Egypt.) I even asked on her/his Talk page. Still waiting for an answer. Maybe when I have the time I’ll open an RFC on the matter.


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