Introduction to objectivity
Giving a completely objective account of a subject is nearly impossible because no one can say exactly what "objective" is.
OK, that's the philosophical concession. Nevertheless, we still should strive to be as objective as possible. This article explains what we think an objective travel article should look like.
What is necessary?
While writing or editing articles always remember that Wikivoyage should provide practical and useful information for everybody who travels for any reason. Attempt to describe possible destinations soberly and hold back your own personal feelings, experiences and reviews. That doesn't mean using only "hard facts", or writing in a colourless, empty, bland or timid way.
We must describe things truthfully; if a restaurant is crowded, noisy and too expensive, we need to say that. If a hotel has bugs or smells of urine or is in such poor condition that it's downright dangerous, we have to say just that. If a "tourist attraction" is ugly, unpleasant or not worth the effort, we should say that.
It is important to give our readers an overall impression of a city, a particular district or a landscape. "Run-down neighbourhood, its crumbling stucco façades tell of better days, with overflowing trash cans and stray dogs" or "... is a lush green valley full of orchards and gardens where the widest variety of plants thrive, in stark contrast to the surrounding barren and rocky plateau ... " gives our readers a better idea of what to expect and what adaptations may be needed. This is both necessary and important.
Neutral point of view
Wikivoyage strives to maintain a neutral stance in our articles.
Our "neutral stance" does not necessarily mean that we omit assessments of attractions, hotels, restaurants, bars, etc., so that the reader is forced to discover the quality of the subject described by himself. One of our missions is to make a complete and reliable guide and a guide that gives no qualitative information about the things it describes, is neither reliable nor complete.
We must call a spade a spade. If a restaurant is crowded, noisy and too expensive, we have to say that. If a hotel has bugs, smells of urine and is dangerous or in bad shape, we have to say that too. If a tourist attraction is ugly, unpleasant or not worth the effort, we have to say that.
A "neutral stance" does not mean that one uses colourless, empty, bland or timid prose. Wikivoyager should - no, is obliged - to write concrete, vivid descriptions that provide a clear, concise picture of the subject matter. "Greek restaurant just off the square" will not tell anyone anything. "Shabby, but long established Greek restaurant with surly waiters, generous servings of Moussaka, tinny background music" is very much more informative. Writing does not have to be weaker to remain neutral.
Our "neutral stance" means: we have no agenda at Wikivoyage. We advocate no particular religion, political philosophy, environmental practice, feminist theory, international language, home-cooking equipment, travel company, or other ideas, companies and causes. We are not trying to push a hotel out of business or to punish a restaurant because they didn't want to accept our expired credit card. We try to leave personal feelings about a subject or destination behind us as we share our knowledge and experiences with others Wikivoyagers.
Ok, it's not a hundred percent right that we have no agenda at Wikivoyage. We have goals, and we want to achieve them. We want a really, really, really good guide that is useful for travellers worldwide and is readable. We want to share our knowledge and let others (you) use it. If we keep these goals in mind, we can recognise where it is in our best interest to omit the trivial, non-travel related ideologies. We want to make a guide - not a religious treatise, that scares the reader witless before they even finish reading the first sentence.
What to keep in mind
Don't talk about your own experiences
Personal experiences and memories should remain personal. Assume that the vast majority of readers are not interested in your experiences and avoid phrases like "when I recently, the first time since three years, finally came to Madrid ..." or "here I got such diarrhoea that I ...".
Don't badmouth living persons
If you can't say something positive about identifiable living persons, it's better to say nothing at all about them.
Don't let your own emotions overwhelm your objectivity
People, landscapes and cities have their own character. And each traveller reacts differently. Avoid writing about your own emotions. A phrase like "desolate region that makes one melancholic" is inappropriate. It could very well be that somebody else enjoys the barren landscape and finds it inspiring. That does not mean that you should completely give up on a more detailed description, but try to keep it as objective as possible. "Barren landscape devoid of trees and shrubs" might be better.
Don't write something like "a city which you will certainly have fond memories of" , just because you do. If you have found, however, that a large majority of its visitors find the city attractive, you could state "a beautiful city that appeals to many different categories of visitors" .
Readers expect our guide to help them in their selection of hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. You should not limit yourself to just enumerating them. If possible, try short and concise, but meaningful characterizations. Tell people a sight is very impressive and a boat rental firm is ready and willing to respond to special requests. Don't hide the facts if service is sloppy or the food is bad.
But stay fair.
Write for all travellers
Articles about travel destinations are not addressed to a specific audience, but should appeal to all types of travellers. Therefore avoid phrases such as "uninteresting, since best suited for retirees," or "do not miss, because the people here are still really cool and trendy." Instead, you can say "... caters for the elderly" or "... is an alternative culture centre."
In contrast, some articles focus on specific topics or areas of interest which are of interest to a limited readership. Here, formulations deprecated above may even be useful if they specifically address this specific group of readers.
Phrases like "... is the dirtiest country in the world" or "... in this city, no one is depressed" are generalizations, so certainly not true. Express yourself a little more cautiously, e.g. "... hygiene standards are different to Germany here." or "... The people are very cheerful."
Omit your own belief system, point of view or ideology
Keep your descriptions free of your own beliefs. Descriptions such as "The 'Dorian Gray' pub is a dive for sad, misguided, homos looking for like-minded queers to satisfy their sinful lusts." should be avoided. Better: "The 'Dorian Gray' is a central meeting place for the gay community." If you have a strong aversion, because of your beliefs, just don't write about such place; leave it to others!
Rather than: "In this district just Negroes dwell and they're especially dangerous at night." (if a district is considered dangerous for foreigners at night by the local police), you might write: "This district is inhabited exclusively by the local black population. People who will stand out as foreign to the district are advised to avoid the area at night for their own safety."
Critically check your source of information
Not everything that is said or written, may be correct. Information should be first hand whenever possible. But even then it may still contain errors or outdated information. City tourist bureaux may try to unjustifiably boost their city for commercial or political gain. Residents of a city sometimes sacrifice the truth to local patriotism. Statements like ".. is the oldest half-timbered house in Eastern Europe" or ".. is the fourth holiest city of Islam" should be met with some scepticism.
No manipulative representation
Certainly, readers expect an honest assessment of Wikivoyage and evaluation of individual goals. We must provide readers the most reliable possible foundation for their own decisions.
Basically, we assume that anyone who takes up a trip has his personal reasons. It's not your job to convince readers by suggestive or tantalizing phrases that they absolutely have to go to where you found it great. In contrast to commercial travel magazines we are not forced to promote our goals.
Sometimes a restaurant, bar, hotel or tourist attraction has such serious deficiencies, that it's just not worthwhile to go there. If that's the case, leave it out of our article. It makes no sense to fill our guide with a list of places which are not worth a visit.
The exception to the rule, however, is if a traveller may be encouraged to visit by other sources of information. Like:
- The place is highlighted in other guides.
- It's extensively advertised.
- It's located very conveniently - opposite the station, right in the middle of the city, etc.
In these cases include the place in the list of recommended sights, but with a note that the place is not worth a visit.
The tone of Wikivoyage articles should be factual, but appealing and relaxed. Aim for a happy medium between the unrestrained use of florid prose and dry academic language.
Write in complete sentences. Do your best not to complicate your sentences too much. If a sentence threatens to become too long, divide it into two or three. Your sentences should be formulated so that they are both easy to read and accurate.
Within bullet point lists (e.g. in the descriptions of individual restaurants) you can limit yourself to headlines or even half-sentences.
Not an Almanac
Stick to information that is relevant to travel. We don't feature all the details about a place. The "Background" section of each article only gives travellers an idea of the place; therefore it should be limited to a reasonable range of information. A treatise on the kindergarten system of the country would be totally out of place here.
Avoiding longwinded excesses
Attempt to be clear and concise. Repetitions and wordy embellishments make it more difficult to find the actual information.
"After a long, tiring journey the steel worm spits you on the platform in a surge of fellow passengers, into the midst of the hustle and bustle of traders, porters and travellers from all over the world. Some scurry to hurry past you, almost running, while others are standing calmly in the crowd or shoving as if nothing could touch them at all. Porters advertise loudly for their services, travellers call out loud, whether it be the last words of farewell or the joyous welcome of their families. Couples share their last kiss before a painful separation, but you should now get away as quickly as you can manage for dawn is already breaking."
It is a marvellous piece of writing, but where is the necessary information? What is relevant for Wikivoyage can be said in one sentence: "The city is accessible by train."
Not too prosaic
Do not try to take the reader with you by a description in a narrative style. There are guide books that are kept in this style, but it's not the style of Wikivoyage.