LitWiki:The perfect article

From LitWiki

The perfect LitWiki article...

  • Begins with a definition or clear description of the subject at hand. This is made as absolutely clear to the nonspecialist as the subject matter itself will allow. The purpose of an encyclopedia is to codify human knowledge in a way that is most accessible to the most people, and this demands clear descriptions of what the subject matter is about. So we aren't just dropped into the middle of the subject from the first word — we are eased into it.
  • Acknowledges and explores, in depth, the different ways there are of approaching the same topic. It is not intellectually provincial or academically imperialistic (often, two sides of the same coin). It does not reflect just one person's point of view — it is evidently the result of many people collaborating, or one person really thinking hard and really understanding very well all the different ways there are to come to grips with the subject.
  • Is completely neutral and unbiased. It makes a careful attempt, as is sometimes possible only in the hands of a true expert, to present each of various competing views on controversial subjects fairly and sympathetically. Not only are the competing views sympathetically presented, they are organized logically, so that the reader has a clear understanding of the concerns and issues involved. Of course, the most popular views, whatever they are, are emphasized, and the extreme minority views are underemphasized (though they might be highly detailed on their own pages).
  • Is sufficiently long and provides as much content as is needed. Although concise and to the point, a truly excellent article provides sufficient information, depth, and analysis.
  • Reflects expert knowledge that is careful and precise, and free of vague generalities and half-truths that stem from an imperfect grasp of the subject.
  • Is well-documented and cites its sources, which are not idiosyncratic to the author but are considered standard and used most often in the field.
  • Is very clear and written in such a way that it is difficult to misunderstand what is meant. Not only does it begin with a definition, it follows a logical structure and uses clearly-worded sentences. It is written throughout with attention to how someone who actually needs the article will understand, or might potentially fail to understand, what is said.
  • Is such that its structure, and the necessity of each of the parts of the article, are either self-evident or carefully explained. For example, a reader should not encounter a section of the article and not know the answer to the question, "Why is this section of the article here at all?"
  • Includes enough images — whether that be none or many — each bearing a good caption, to cover the subject without any superfluous ones. The purpose of each image is evident from the caption, and the text does not leave the reader with questions that could be answered by an absent image.
  • Does not leave essential terminology unexplained, even within the article itself. If some piece of terminology is essential to the subject itself, then it should be explained in the article about that subject, even if it is also explained on another page as well. The reader should not have to visit other pages to view essential parts of the exposition of a subject (unless the article is very obviously mainly just a high-level introductory page that points to other articles).
  • Is written in an engaging manner. It does not use long, convoluted sentences and otherwise needlessly boring language.
  • Contains all the same basic sorts of information that other articles of the same kind contain. All biographies, for example should contain birth and death dates, if known. (Wikipedia is a long way off from having this sort of consistency and completeness.)
  • Uses links to additional information that can help clarify the central topic. Try to stick with one central topic per screen and use links to expand and clarify that topic.

...does not exist.

By no means do we think that anyone should try very hard to meet all of these various standards. The perfect article is a Platonic ideal — not humanly achievable. It's very important that we add as much imperfect work to LitWiki as possible: see LitWiki:Editing policy. But it can't hurt to keep in the back of our minds the various ways that this imperfect work can be improved.

This document was modified from a similar one contained on Wikipedia.