Just this goy...

Friday, June 08, 2007


There are controversies regarding content. This guide points out an Important Point: although there are controversies regarding a subject, it only covers issues subject to ongoing professional or scholarly debate.

I cannot explain how important that subtlety is to avoiding becoming a platform for ideologues.

An example is global warming. The trend to global warming, and the acknowledgement it is caused in great measure by human actions, has not been a subject of professional or scholarly debate for more than a decade. Therefore an article regarding meteorological global warming should not include any mention of such a debate, but should link to articles which discuss such debate as it is carried on politically, economically, etc.

That said, the guide discusses the use of the encyclopedia by readers seeking accurate information about controversial topics. They ask authors to "illuminate for readers the complexity of the debate, at the same time avoiding advocacy."
Human Diversity

Believe it or not, there is a range of human diversity in health topics. And this particular encyclopedia has diversity as a core element, just as Wikipedia does. The guide mention the scope description of nearly every article includes a paragraph akin to this paraphrase:
With a focus on the [English language], make comparisons of societies, cultural traditions, and historical periods insofar as possible. As appropriate, consider gender, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and environmental variation related to this topic, as well as the short- and long-term consequences of such variation.
The guide goes on to explain these variables are ones the editors want all articles to consider, but that they are not only variables regarding diversity to consider. They re-iterate that the goal of inclusiveness must be balanced with the word count available. This is about the 5th time they have commented on word count: the only thing mentioned more often is the contact person to whom authors may address questions.
Navigational Tools

The Companion encyclopedia articles have 3 types of navigation tools, none of which are under the control of the authors.

These are used by the editors to list articles related
(in subject matter) to an article, by the authors to give "a sense of what needs to be treated" in their article as well as what will be covered in other articles.

On Wikipedia, this is akin to a category listing except there is no ability to cross-reference all the categories an article is a member of (well, there are a few extensions which can do this, but they are not available on wikipedia projects.) More importantly, without any clear editorial oversight articles tend to propagate on a given topic under a half-dozen and more related titles.

Blind entries
These are simple entries which redirect readers to entries where the topic is discussed.

It is quite possible redirects on Wikipedia should be categorized in some manner to allow a tree-view of what redirects where in a category format.

Topical index
This is the power-house search system of the encyclopedia, though more akin to wikipedia's categories in implementation.

It need hardly be mentioned that Wikipedia's search engine is rather less than optimal, and the usual approach by readers is to use Google minimally complex searches rather than the not-very-useful search system of Mediawiki.

Wikipedia clearly has more and better navigational tools than a dead-tree encyclopedia, but then it lacks the paper-turning options. A primary weakness, however, is the categorization system of Mediawiki which does not present a hierarchical view of categories, necessary for browsing related content. For category views it is likely an ajax-based dynamic breadcrumb navigator (including subcategories of viewed category) is the best option, although this would rely on JS being activated for the client browser.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Individual Articles

The articles in the Chicago encyclopedia will each have 5 common elements:

  1. A descriptive title ("entry term")

  2. A specific number of words of text on a carefully defined topic

  3. Cross-references to other articles

  4. List of further reading suggestions

  5. Signature of the contributor

That's a pretty good list, excluding the signature.

Most of the articles in this volume stand alone under their title, as is typical of a dead tree publication. However particularly large topics have "composite entries", where the most descriptive term is used with a sub texted descriptor to represent various specific coverage. Mediawiki supports the use of sub-pages, which would allow the strictly alphabetical sorting of composite entries, however the system is clumsy and does not currently allow for intuitive Go commands (would [[sloop]] find [[Sailboat: Rigs: Sloop]] without a redirect? can anyone reasonably expect to create redirects for every possible categorization scheme?)
Alphabetical and Conceptual Structure

All articles in this encyclopedia are organized Alphabetically, exactly as is Wikipedia. This organization is arbitrary, and irrelevant to the manner in which the encyclopedia is actually accessed.

However, of the infinite possible categories for articles in this volume, the editors have selected a limited number of "top-level" categories which undergird the work. Each article is developed in the context of a specific top-level category.

Clearly a broad encyclopedia cannot work at this level of categorical simplicity. However, knowledge itself has often been broadly categorized hierarchically, such as the Dewey Decimal system's approach of 10 primary categories, each with 99 sub-categories, each of which may be further sub-categorized with 999 sub-categories. The Universal Decimal system takes this further with cross-categorizing system which is extensively flexible.) A level may be defined as the "editorial category level" within these categories, and under this category level can be a finite number of categories - either standardized across all editorial categories or locally managed by the category's community - and all articles within the editorial category must be written in the context of one of these finite categories.

  • Overview

  • Theory

  • Application

  • Specialization #1

  • Application Specialization #1

  • History

  • Legal and Public Policy

  • Research

  • Publications on

  • Biographies
I have in my hands a hot little pamphlet, something most every Wikipedia contributor should have access to, a contributor's guide to submitting an encyclopedia article.

This particular encyclopedia is a "Chicago companion to the..."; part of the University of Chicago. It is a health subjects encyclopedia intended primarily for health professionals.

The pamphlet covers in precise language (and 20 pages) all primary elements regarding all encyclopedic articles, no matter the subject matter. It is quite generalizable to any encyclopedic content.

The first element of the pamphlet is a welcome/thank you note from the editors. All readers of this pamphlet will be invited authors, recognized specialists in their fields individually selected and recruited to create a specific article. This note explains the purpose of the guide, re-iterates the purpose of the encyclopedia, gives an overview of the content of the guide, and provides a contact person to whom questions may be addressed. Immediately following the note is contact information for the complete editorial board and the project officer (the primary contact person of whom questions may be asked.)

The table of contents follows, a 50-point outline of the pamphlet with three levels.

The first page of the guide itself is an overview of key points, with page numbers for where the topic is covered in more depth.
  • General contact person (third mention)

  • Audience for the encyclopedia

  • Scope of articles for this encyclopedia

  • Length of articles (the longest class is approximately 4,000 words)

  • Themes: I'd like to quote a portion of this, and I'll address it further later in this essay:
    We also encourage you to address any controversies of broad general interest related to your topic in a balanced, nonpartisan manner.

  • Professional advice: net message, do not provide any advice.

  • Quotations and citations: Do not use direct quotes. Use inline citations minimally.

  • Further reading: NOT a bibliography, rely on sources "useful and accessible to nonspecialist readers."

  • Editorial style: With exceptions, the Chicago Manual of Style, natch.

  • [Class of articles] which are non-encyclopedic but intended for this volume. (A fairly standard element of encyclopedias is to have special elements which set them apart from their competitors in some manner)

  • Due date: reminder to follow the due date.

  • Software and electronic file formatting: A request that formatting be kept to a minimum, use Word or WordPerfect if not submitting plain text.

  • Article submission and editing: submit both electronic and paper forms to the primary contact person (fourth mention). Mention of galley proofs, honorarium.

I'd love to reproduce the entire pamphlet here, but I'm not going to do so. I am going to reproduce the outline and, perhaps, links to notes relevant to Wikipedia.

  1. Placing Your Article in Context

    1. Organization of the Volume

      1. Alphbetical and Conceptual Structure

      2. Individual articles

      3. Navigational Tools

    2. Themes of the Volume

      1. Human Diversity

      2. Controversies

  2. Putting Your Article Together

    1. Content and Writing Style

      1. Title and Scope Description

      2. Length

      3. Audience

      4. Professional Advice: A Caveat

      5. Definition of "[primary topic of encyclopedia]"

    2. Authorship

      1. Quotations and Originality

      2. Collaboration

      3. Translation

      4. Signature

    3. Editorial Details

      1. Spelling, Punctuation, and Capitalization

      2. Bias-free Language

      3. Names

      4. Dates

      5. Numbers

      6. Abbreviations

      7. Foreign Languages and Special Characters

      8. Subheadings

      9. In-text Citations

    4. Further Reading Suggestions

      1. Number and Types of Sources

      2. Information to Include

      3. Sample Citations

    5. Illustrations

    6. [Class of articles]

      1. Elements and Relationship to Topical Articles

      2. Title, Scope Description, and Length

      3. Originality

      4. Writing Style and Editorial Details

  3. Preparing Your Article for Publication

    1. Manuscript Preparation and Submissions

      1. Due Date

      2. Software and File Naming

      3. Elements and Formatting of the File

      4. Submitting Electronic and Hard Copies

    2. Editing and Review

      1. Content Editing

      2. Copyediting

    3. Publication

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