RE: WIKIPEDIA

Subject: RE: WIKIPEDIA
From: Jimmy Breck-McKye <jb527 -at- hotmail -dot- co -dot- uk>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2011 21:46:29 +0000


> Does Wikipedia count as technical writing?
I think so. You're still trying to communicate a concept through prose.
> Can I use Wikipedia in a CV?
You can, but you would need to link a particular revision. Even then, if your interviewers can't use Wikipedia's change tracking tools, they can't identify _your_ edits. You'd be better of creating an offline document with a 'facing pages' view of the original text versus your revision.
> Do other list members post and edit Wikipedia pages?
I tried to be a copyeditor, but found it hard to make an impact. A pristine page degrades quickly, and some contributors just didn't like me changing their prose, however I explained myself.
> Poor writing
I think Wikis have three key problems:
- Iterative insertion of caveats and qualifiers slowly breaks flow
I don't have the metrics, but many wikipedia edits seem to insert or remove just single fragments, mostly qualifiers to an existing statement or clause. The issue is, individual writers keep adding these, not realizing how, over time, this iterative rewriting can create some very unwieldy sentences. More importantly, contributors only write on the 'level' of the fragment they're inserting - not 'seeing beyond' the sentence they're working on. I think they don't always see how their caveats might work better in another part of the copy, where the tenor of the article shifts, or changes emphasis. For instance, an author might write two paragraphs, one thesis, one antithesis. Her prose has clear direction and hangs together well. But iterative editing adds caveats to the thesis that would better belong to the antithesis, and vice versa.
- Weasel words
Encyclopaedias account for the world. And the world is a controversial place. It's no wonder that articles can touch on some *particularly* contentious issues. These articles are the focus of many editors, because their topics illicit a response from just about everyone. But because the topic is _so_ prickly, this legion of editors chooses woolly, weasly, non-committal language. They insert lots of hedges, and load sentences with qualifiers. They choose the passive voice, so they needn't offend anyone by identifying specific people. They like to place explicit parameters and delimiter around everything they say, so they don't sound overweening. It's great that editors recognize the limitations to their knowledge, and don't assert themselves excessively. But the articles they produce become hard to read.
- No-one wants to play copy-editor
Copy-editing is hard when you have no authority over your colleagues. Some of the most mild-mannered, urbane sorts become completely irrational if you even _touch_ their text. As schoolchildren, we're judged mainly on our writing, so it's little wonder some take edits as digs at their intelligence. Whatever the reason, having contributors accept your revisions can be an uphill battle, and one rarely worth winning - because the victory only lasts until the next edit. Speaking cynically, it also lacks its rewards - create a new article, and you're something of a celebrity. Tidy one up, and you're a 'gnome' - a helpful minion, but nothing 'special'.
> Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2011 14:28:17 -0500
> Subject: WIKIPEDIA
> From: editorialstandards -at- gmail -dot- com
> To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
>
> Does Wikipedia count as technical writing?
> If not, stop reading here, and Admin can spank me (no permission
> needed, just sayin'...)
>
> If so, well, a recent newspaper article warned women, and men of sensibility,
> that Wikipedia - used more and more, by more and more people (and reporters)
> as an authoritative reference - is being written largely by 25-year-old males.
>
> This is problematic for many reasons, but here are two:
>
> - 25-year old men are lacking in life experience in general, and the
> geeky ones
> who are most likely to sit at computers for endless hours [re-]writing
> Wikipedia
> pages are least likely to have wide educational and experiential backgrounds.
> Certainly, they don't have a woman's perspective on any topic.
>
> - many (most) of them are not very good writers
>
> The first is a problem because they don't even know they HAVE biases,
> let alone where those biases fit in the various spectra and axes. And the
> people most likely to edit their submissions are other young, narrowly
> educated geeks. Yeah, all that "history" in all those war games you've
> played for years is real and accurate and complete...
>
> The second is a problem because reasonably good writers (who also
> have wide and deep experience in many cases) are discouraged from
> writing submissions, because of what will happen to their work.
>
> As an example, I basically wrote-the-book on skydiving/parachuting
> in Wikipedia, early this century. Some of the middle section is still
> recognizably my writing. But somebody - or several successive
> somebodies - did some necessary updating of the first section and
> other sections, and made the writing choppy, childish and ugly.
> They also introduced some editorial compression - as if space were
> a consideration - that brought factual inaccuracies and reduced
> clarity.
>
> Early material that I wrote about libertarians and libertarianism
> has been totally obliterated and, depending on what day I
> revisit, has lost much in the translation.
>
> I've often recognized different writing styles within single Wikipedia
> pages on other topics, but I'm reminded how spotty and irregular
> the standards can be.
>
> If the newspaper article is right about the demographic description
> of the average Wikipedia writer/contributor, then much is explained.
> But these days, chances are the author cadged her article from ...
> Wikipedia.
>
> I can see a Wiki becoming legitimately authoritative on hard
> technical subjects, but I'm not so sure about anything to do
> with culture, history, or anything that has a subjective component,
> or where anybody's livelihood (or profit margin) is at stake.
>
> An example of the latter would be cases where large companies
> [no names, but they live in Redmond] employ significant staffs
> to re-write Wikipedia pages to suit the corporate take on any
> given topic, and then to keep watch and prevent repairs from
> being made. All the dedicated amateurs in the world aren't
> going to beat a paid staff that works night and day and has
> programming staff to assist in their watching and "correcting"
> duties... as well as resources to make their contributions
> appear to come from different people all over the world.
>
> Of course, even if a Wikipedia page is relatively accurate,
> and reasonably free of bias, there's the likelihood that many
> people will never see it. If they happen to be using the
> wrong search engine (rhymes with ping), they might be served
> a cached version that says what the engine owners want
> it to say, rather than what the real wiki page says most
> of the time.
>
> Do other list members post and edit Wikipedia pages?
> How successful are you at maintaining editorial consistency
> and accuracy of content - or do you bother to go back
> and police your submissions?
>
> Probably your contributions to (say) Wikipedia might not
> be a good item for your resume. The prospective employer
> might visit on the day when the 25-year-old male "contributor",
> with an ax(e) to grind, has just "improved" the content.
>
> </kevin>
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References:
WIKIPEDIA: From: RÃdacteur en chef

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