Hints on style

An occasional series of observations to supplement the FAQ. These are my preferences and recommendations, not rules.

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If you're talking about famous people, don't link to their surnames.
Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory, Dvorak is a keyboard layout, and Wittgenstein is a film by Derek Jarman. None of those nodes contain any write-ups about Charles Darwin or the other people. Hardlinking to them just creates wrong associations. You don't have to link Darwin every time you mention him, but whenever you do link, pipelink to the correct node: [Charles Darwin|Darwin]. (I was very guilty of hardlinking surnames in my early write-ups: feel free to point them out.)

The softlink tables for common general concepts like art, life, love, and god are going to be so full that there's no real value linking to them. A link to Andrea Mantegna, even if he hasn't been noded yet, is far more useful in binding the database. Link to less familiar words you use, like grisaille, if they're relevant, and activate the links by clicking them. There'll be a Webster 1913 for it with very few softlinks, so your write-up will stand out.

Long write-ups
Be wary of making write-ups too long and comprehensive. If you do, you have to make sure the early parts are readable on their own. Don't begin a biography with the subject's birth and schooling and take a page to get to the time when they become well-known. Most people aren't interested, if they haven't heard of the person. In journalism the important opening is called a lede (q.v.).

Don't assume the short write-up above yours will still be there. The short one might say succinctly who they are, and when you write yours you're assuming you don't need to recap, and can add to it. But if an editor later deletes the old one as superseded, yours suddenly becomes much harder to read, if you haven't introduced the person yourself.

School and college essays don't seem to work very well here. They tend to be too long, and not broken up enough. The language is often an academic style that doesn't read naturally. Essays in English literature are particularly prone to this. If you're referring to page numbers of a text that everyone else in your class could get hold of, but that no-one on E2 will have, you should rewrite it for an E2 audience. Here we have nodes and hardlinks to refer readers to additional authorities, not page numbers.

If you're gaily writing something in which you include a hardlink to a familiar word like *conciousness, then click on it and get "Nothing Found", pause a moment before creating the nodeshell. Either (a) the word didn't exist in 1913 when Webster was being compiled, and none of the thousands of people on E2 has ever written about the subject; or (b) your spelling is wrong.

Of course this is related to the Darwin problem. When you look up Darwin and find there's nothing about the famous biologist there, should you (a) take the opportunity to be first to provide a four-line biography, or (b) suspect you need to look harder?

Next is the Barbra Streisand problem. Her name has an unusual spelling, so you might naturally look for Barbara Streisand, and think she hadn't been noded. There are two points here. Don't use Create a Node to create a node. You should use the Search function, then you get to see if anything similar already exists. In this case, if you spell Streisand right, she should be near the top of the list.

Next is the Muammar Qaddafi problem. He's got hundreds of variations in romanization, Moamer el-Kedhafy and Colonel Quackbiscuit and who knows what else. In this case, you could click Near Matches in the vague hope that the phonetic matching throws him up, but usually that's hopeless. Much better: look at the softlinks under Libya. Related to this is the hummus problem. These Middle-Eastern foods often have variant spellings, and you need to check before you dive in and node yet another one.

Umlauts don't work properly: umlauted and unumlauted characters don't match in search or hardlinks. This is a failing in search, and ought to be fixed, but until it is I have decreed that the best solution is to use the plain letter. So you'll find write-ups under Mobius strip, and nothing but a firmlinked nodeshell at Möbius strip and Moebius strip. Likewise with Godel, Erdos, Lowenbrau, and anything else common enough that people might actually want to link to it or find it.

Another (I hope fixable) failing is that hyphenated and unhyphenated don't match. You might think blue-eyed is grammatically more elegant, and I might agree with you, but no-one will find it if they're looking for blue or eye, so in general blue eyed is preferable.

Correct titles
Many books have both titles and subtitles, such as Llamas in Paradise: A Photographic History of the Inca's Best Friend. This should be noded under its title, Llamas in Paradise.

Product names are often shown with a TM symbol on them, e.g. Whizzo™. The TM indicates that the name of the product, viz Whizzo, is a trademark. It is not itself part of the name. Do not add it.

For legal purposes, companies have lettering after their name to indicate their limited liability, varying by country: Boots plc, IBM Inc., Saab AB, Rio-Tinto Pty Ltd. This should not be treated as part of the name. We want them noded under their normal names Boots, IBM, Saab etc.

Don't use unnecessarily long names. If you were writing about politics you'd hardlink to e.g. Tony Blair or George W. Bush, wouldn't you? Because that's where you'd expect to find them written up. Not under Blair or Bush, but also not under *Anthony Charles Lynton Blair or *George Walker Bush. Can you imagine having to keep typing [Anthony Charles Lynton Blair|Tony Blair] just so your hardlinks work? For the same reason, don't add titles like Dr or M.D.. Can you imagine typing [The Rt Hon. Antony Charles Linton Blair, P.C., M.P.|Tony Blair]?

People in books are often named in specific styles, which are exceptions to our usual formats: in Pride and Prejudice the men are called quite plainly Mr Darcy and Mr Bennet: how many of us would even know if their forenames were mentioned in the book? Dorothy Sayers' detective is Lord Peter Wimsey, not Peter Wimsey. Make your titles usable.

Spanish names should not include matronymics: Fidel Castro, not Fidel Castro Ruz. Arabic names should omit al if they're common without it: Anwar Sadat, not Anwar al Sadat or Anwar as Sadat, and definitely don't hyphenate them as Anwar as-Sadat, because that won't be found in searching for Sadat. Russian names should not include patronymics: Boris Yeltsin, not Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin.

A general principle is to omit elements if the name is equally common and correct with and without them. So Iliad, Bible and so on, not The Iliad or The Bible. (But The Hobbit because twentieth-century books have precise names.) Note that an exception had to be made for The Odyssey, because of the large number of other things also named Odyssey.

Don't try to force people into FORENAME + SURNAME format. That should be the default format, the way they're noded all other things being equal: that is, *Sir Winston Churchill and Winston Churchill are equally correct and common, so we choose by the rule of thumb of omitting the omissible element. But we would always call Sir Walter Scott that. Richard Nixon or Richard M. Nixon? It should be Richard Nixon. Raphael or Raffaele Sanzio? It should be Raphael. Old Italian artists did have surnames, but are usually known without them.

Should the main node be magnetic resonance imaging or MRI? Both are very common. I can't see any good reason for one or the other being better in this case. But definitely BBC, not British Broadcasting Corporation, because BBC is universal. However, node the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, because the ABC node is full of all sorts of things.

Names of units of measure and chemical elements are written with lower case, even if they're named after people or places: joule, kelvin, einsteinium, americium. The exceptions are those preceded by "degree", such as degree Celsius. But the SI units are kelvins, not *degrees Kelvin. (And if you have more than one kelvin, they're kelvins.)

Some things are commonly known by their initials, e.g. magnetic resonance imaging is known as MRI. The initials are usually in upper case: we don't write *mri. But the fact that the initials are capital doesn't mean they come from capitalized words. There's no need to write it as *Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Also, remember that people are likely to hardlink to subjects, but no-one is going to think to hardlink *magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Don't combine them like that: use one as the node title and the other as a nodeshell linked to it.

Nouns and adjectives of religion: Christian, Hindu, Jew, Jewish, Muslim, etc.

Biological names: capital for genus, lower-case for species, and to be strict about it it should be in italics: Caenorhabditis elegans.

Pop songs and albums often have special typography. It is common to see every word capitalized, or to see everything in lower case. This should not be regarded as the definitive title: it's just a quirk of the typography, not a choice that A and The should be capitalized. Use standard capitalization rules, not what's printed on the cover, unless with very good reason.


There is plenty on E2 about why plagiarism is bad and why copy and paste writeups are usually bad. The exception to copy and paste is where the original text is important and public domain: we don't need the UN Charter or Ode to a Nightingale rewritten in your own words.

A few people seem to think that this important task of 'writing in your words' can consist of taking someone else's words and changing some of them. It can't. This is still copying, and plagiarism. Just changing the odd 'and' to 'but', and 'rich' to 'wealthy', or omitting a minor clause and sewing two sentences together with a comma, doesn't make enough of a difference.

On the naming of music

These are not rulings. These are my ideas, suggestions towards a possible future policy. After other interested experts concur we might make an FAQ out of it. These were devised for the "classical music" quest. (Long after this, I noticed we already had a discussion under
noding classical music.)

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Symphonies and concertos
Musicians call it
Beethoven 5, music-lovers call it Beethoven Symphony No. 5, and the unwashed masses call it Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. On the CD cover it also contains the key and the opus number. I think the middle way is a clear, simple identifier, devoid of all that is not strictly necessary.

With nicknamed symphonies we could either have a nodeshell for one form, probably the nickname, or incorporate it, such as Beethoven Symphony No. 6, Pastoral. (We could put the name in quotes, but then we'd have to debate about single or double.)

The use of the composer's name is namespacing, and in allowing it we are making an exception. Titles Symphony No. 5, Violin Concerto (as a proper name) would convey little, so we say Sibelius Violin Concerto. But this applies only to these works that have generic titles.

Most works of other kinds have individual names, and a few symphonies and concertos do too (Manfred Symphony, Harold in Italy). The composer's name is not needed to distinguish these.

We might need more information, such as key or opus number, for some works, such as the Chopin études.

The main question is whether to use the English name if there is a well-known one. I incline to go for The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, and The Flying Dutchman. However, with other works the original name is these days usually used in preference over the English: Die Walküre, I vespri siciliani. In other cases there is no question: I puritani, La Cenerentola; but The Queen of Spades, The Cunning Little Vixen.
In general, composer's name is needed only to disambiguate a title that is otherwise not clear, such as symphonies. There might have been many boleros, but
Bolero is pretty obviously going to mean Ravel's, so I don't think there's any need to spell it out as Ravel's Bolero. However, Pachelbel's Canon and Albinoni's Adagio are so well known in that fused form, and the true title would probably not be familiar, that I think they're preferable like that. There will be borderline cases: Adagio for Strings, Serenade for Strings? The general principle is to omit the composer's name if it's still clear what work is meant, without it.

If two people happen to write something with the same named title, they go in the same node: I'd expect to see Busoni's Turandot up there with Puccini's, not namespaced.

The list of a composer's work should be noded under the composer, and we can't reasonably expect to find them all using Search. A search on Beethoven will pick up some symphonies, but won't and shouldn't pick up Fidelio. We don't need to pack the node titles with information: they're just a clear, simple name for the thing.

If you node a work, you might like to /msg the noder of the composer, if yours is not already explicitly hardlinked there.