Factual write-ups - the basics
When you are planning a factual write-up, think about your target audience. Do you want to appeal to lay people, experts or both? In an ideal world, I suppose it would be both. You don't want to disenfrachise the readership by always writing about things way above most people's heads, to the extent where they see your name in new writeups and think - "so-and-so again, I won't bother looking there". On the other hand, some people may wish to use E2 write-ups as authoratitive works on a given subject, so you don't want to skimp on the important facts either. In order to strike a balance between the two, give some thought to the following:
Introduce your topic carefully
- Start with an introduction which enables the reader to understand what they are going to be reading about. What's so good about this thing? What will it do for me? Why is it important?
- Always bear in mind that it's easy to forget the limits of people's understanding. Be careful when using scientific terminology in your introduction to your topic - you dont want to lose your audience before you've even begun. You need to remember that science is like a foreign language to many people. Put yourself in their shoes - remember that they are reading this because they want to learn, so try to explain in language they will understand.
Take a look at How we are assembling the human genome
to see an excellent example of writing in layman's language. A much more specialised topic is covered in Alpha Ketoglutarate Dehydrogenase - Links Krebs Cycle to Amino Acid production
, but OneDragons
has made an admirable effort to make it accessible to the non-biochemist.
Hard linking and pipe linking.
- When dealing with complex scientific issues, perhaps you can talk in everyday language but hard link or pipe link to other relevant nodes.
- Take the time and make the effort to check the links out to make sure they are there. It might be hard work and annoying, but remember that one of the ideals for E2 is to be an integrated database.
Formatting and use of sub-headings.
- Sub-headings allow the reader to see at a glance the complexities or scope of a subject. Some readers may only be interested in certain aspects of a topic, so make sure that they are easy to find on the page.
- Break your write-up into bite-sized pieces and people are more likely to read at least some of it, even if they find it hard to understand.
- If there are lots of facts and figures, try to tabulate, format or structure the write-up such that they don't get lost in amongst the body of the text.
There are very many write-ups out there that are well written and nicely formatted - read pea
, food poisoning
by Professor Pi
, and kinetic energy
How many write-ups?
Ask yourself - is this one wu? Just occasionally writing the subject in or two, maybe even three sections makes more sense. While it's great to learn everything about a subject in one long write-up, sometimes it makes it unwieldy and overly long.
- Remember, information is fractal! For ease of writing, reading and, especially to make searching easier, sometimes two or three shorter pieces make more logical sense from the database point of view than one long one. (My own research for stinging nettle also gave rise to nettle tea and nettle beer.)
has produced some incredible historical factuals, tackling long and complex issues. In dealing with the Rio Negro Massacres sid has split the subject into 3 wus, dealing with the background
, the killings
and the responsibility
. Each of these parts is still very long, but again, the use of sub-headings breaks up the page and makes it easier to follow.
- When you have finally said all that you have to say, end up with a summary or conclusion to refocus the reader's attention on the important issues and the meaning behind them.
My overall advice then, when writing a factual or scientific piece is, 'stop and think' - at every step of the way. Think about the beginning, the middle, the end. Remember why you are writing it, and especially who you are writing it for. Constantly ask yourself these questions and decide whether you are fulfilling these criteria. YMMV