The Perfect Stub Article

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Monday, July 2, 2001, 11:05 AM -- Part of what makes Wikipedia work is that we do not require perfection, and I strongly believe we should continue adding as much imperfect stuff to Wikipedia as we possibly can. There is some value, however, in describing what sort of thing we're aiming at, namely, The Perfect Article. That's not my subject today, however. My subject is something that is something more clearly within our immediate grasp: The Perfect Stub Article.

Most of us can agree that stub articles are good things. They help to fill out the breadth of Wikipedia, giving us actual content to work with in our attempts to organize and present all of human knowledge, and--important from a practical point of view--giving the search engines more to link to. This means more traffic and therefore more contributors--a virtuous cycle.

(But, just by the way, I think that we need a lot of in-depth articles as well, if for no other reason than to attract and retain the well-educated people who are more interested in the in-depth articles. Having nothing but stub articles would make the project look frivolous. Besides, we are going to want nearly all our articles to be in-depth articles in the end.)

Let's say that you want to start adding in a bunch of stub articles on various subjects. Great! Wonderful idea! So what guidelines would you follow in order to create the perfect stub article?

  1. Give a clear, precise w:definition (or description--see below) of your topic. Make the first sentence a full sentence, which repeats the topic title in either italics or bold. (Probably bold, I concede, because that just looks better in most browsers.) See w:fallacies of definition if you're not sure what constitutes a good definition. But make sure that your topic (and therefore your definition) is one on which we are going to want an actual encyclopedia article. In other words, bear in mind that w:Wikipedia is not a dictionary. There are only two (closely-related) sorts of article, that I can think of, that will consist of just a definition. First, jargon. In some cases it will be fine and quite useful to include just a definition of some jargon, where the substantive issues surrounding that piece of jargon are discussed elsewhere. For example, I might define a priori in the w:a priori article, and then put pointers to w:a priori truth and w:a priori knowledge articles, where the real content about the topic will exist. Second, pointer pages. The other sort of acceptable "definition-only" article would be a pointer page, consisting of a list of several divergent senses of a word, each defined on the page, and each definition followed by a pointer to an article where the topic, in that sense, is discussed in more depth. On such a pointer page, by the way, I see little reason to list senses of the word or phrase if those senses are not the subjects of encyclopedia articles.
  2. For biographies and articles about non-concepts (e.g., about countries and cities), definitions are impossible; so begin with a clear, helpful, informative description of the thing, e.g., what he person is famous for, where a place is and what known for, the basic details of an event and when it happened, etc.
  3. Do not simply repeat the title in the article, except as part of a full sentence. The article already has a title, at the top of the page.
  4. Give more than just a definition--at least a little more. Write at least a sentence, giving a few more details about why the person is important, what role a concept plays in a field of study, some important details about a historical event (or some of its important consequences), etc. Now, why do I keep harping on this? I have a hypothesis, which I think is a very reasonable hypothesis. I think that it is important to the psychology of Wikipedia that we all understand ourselves as not writing articles that simply identify people, events, and concepts, in a very basic way, but that actually give details, "empirical facts," content. That tiny extra bit of content is very important, psychologically speaking, because every time it is written, or read by another contributor, it makes it clear that the project is indeed eventually going to be about going deep into all these subjects. See Wiktionary
  5. Follow the standards of proper English. Write in full, clear sentences.
  6. Be accurate. Say things that are true, not false.
  7. Be unbiased.
  8. Make sure any linkable words have been linked. But be careful about which words you link to; see w:naming conventions and w:topic creation.
  9. Optional: leave something undone, or even ask a question (often, italicized) in the article for others to answer.

For most of us, these aren't hard rules to follow; it just requires a bit of extra time and concentration. And it is possible to follow these guidelines without writing a treatise. Generally, for the shortest of Perfect Stubs, two sentences will do fine--as long as they're two good sentences.

On the other hand, you can always ignore these guidelines entirely, and someone will probably fix the article for you! That's the beauty of a wiki.

But if we all make an effort to follow these rules, I think it will raise the overall level of quality on the project.

Some version of the above should probably be added to w:Wikipedia policy...


You can use {{Stub}} in the stub articles.This is how it looks like

See also[edit]

Look up The Perfect Stub Article in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Look up The Perfect Stub Article in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Look up The Perfect Stub Article in Wikiquote, the free quotations.
Look up The Perfect Stub Article in Wikisource the free source.
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