Wikinews:Tips on reviewing articles

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Reviewing an article for publication is a demanding task. This page gives you some tips to help you through it.

Only a little of the review process is visible on the wiki — some edits that you make during your review to improve details of the article, nudging it closer to publishable quality; and of course the climactic edit where you submit your review, passing or failing the current draft of the article. The machinery on the wiki that coordinates that visible process, like the {{review}} template and the "Easy Peer Review" gadget, is explained at Wikinews:Reviewing articles.

This page is about the larger, behind-the-scenes part of the reviewing task. About half of it is a classified list of things to remember to check.

How much to do[edit]

Peer review serves two vital purposes — one absolutely vital in the immediate event (right now!), and the other crucial for the future (which starts now).

Note: A handy rule of thumb is, if it should ever happen that nothing else came up during review, always try to find some useful copyedit or other to make before reviewing: looking for a useful copyedit can help keep you focused, and seeing the visible evidence of the copyedit can help keep authors focused. A passing peer review with no preceding edits by the reviewer should be a rarity, and a situation that submitting contributors should strive towards.

Quality control[edit]

Peer review makes sure no article gets published until and unless it is up to the standards of the project. That starts with legal concerns — the author and reviewer are both potential targets for lawsuits if plagiarism or libel is published — and continues to a wide range of stuff with varying potential to corrode the reputation of the project (even little things add up to significant corrosion, with time), which is the subject of the checklist, below.

Of course reviewers aren't perfect, and little things may get through (alas), but big problems shouldn't (note: the legal stuff, copyvio and libel, are big problems). A misspelling might get through, but if there are a lot of them, you should catch that; and so on. By the time an article is published, it should be good enough that, even if no later improvements were made, it would be a credit —rather than an embarrassment, or even a black mark— to Wikinews.

Quality control isn't just a safeguard against inexperienced authors (or malicious ones) doing things they shouldn't; just as you the reviewer aren't perfect, experienced authors aren't perfect either, and in reviewing an experienced author's work, you are their safety net against goofs and blunders. Don't relax your reviewing standards just because you expect the author to know what they're doing; it probably will take you less time to review experienced authors' work, but that's just because there probably will be fewer problems for you to deal with.

Teaching[edit]

You aren't just accepting or rejecting the article, you are pointing out to the author(s) what should be done differently, what can be done better, and how to do those things. You are teaching, and the success of Wikinews going forward depends on everyone continuing always to learn to do better next time (including you, of course). Newcomers are starting along a steep learning curve, and even Wikinewsies who have been here for years and written hundreds of articles aren't past learning (and yes, you can be the vehicle for that even though you may have far less experience they they do — keeping in mind that you too may learn).

So writing informative comments about failures, and writing helpful suggestions when passing (on any given criterion, as well as overall), and not giving things a semi-apathetic pass when they aren't acceptable enough to be repeated — are all vital to help Wikiniewsies grow, which is where the future of the project comes from.

Changes too large to remain uninvolved[edit]

As reviewer, you are well placed to see changes that would make the article better, but are too substantial for you to make during review without disqualifying yourself from publishing.

If the article is already acceptable for publication, here are three options:

  • Occasionally, if you are in sufficiently real-time communication with the author, you might choose to hold up publishing while you negotiate with the author to make improvements. Be careful not to become too involved simply by virtue of your suggestions, even though the author is the one who actually edits the article.
  • Publish, and in doing so, mention possible improvements in the review comments. This may or may not result in improvements to the current article, but either way it allows the author to consider your suggestions for the future.
  • After publication, edit the article, submitting improvements for another reviewer to review. Be careful not to let the publication blur in your mind with your edits: if the article isn't acceptable without your changes, it doesn't pass review in the first place. Also note, even if your edits would be acceptable to another reviewer, they may fall through if there isn't another reviewer currently available to review them.

If an article is not acceptable without changes that would disqualify you from publication, and there is another reviewer currently available, you may choose to give the article a not-ready review and then undertake the edits yourself, disqualifying yourself from further review. This doesn't work if you can't arrange for another reviewer to take over. Also, be sure to consider how the author is likely to feel about it.

What order to do it in[edit]

Our advice: don't let anyone else tell you what order to do these things in. (The order of the checklist below is a way of arranging the list, not a recommendation for arranging the review process.) Any order that works best for some reviewers is sure to fail miserably for some others. Try to find an arrangement that plays to your strengths.

Some reviewers don't even do the subtasks of review in a sequential order at all. Some do, perhaps breaking up the review into a large number of subtasks taken one-at-a-time. Others may do a large clump of subtasks in parallel, and then another large clump — for example, all the subtasks that only require looking at the article itself, then all the subtasks that involve comparing it to the sources (or vice versa: all the comparison subtasks and then all the article-only subtasks). Some reviewers, though, can and will simply read through the article and the sources and remember to do all the things that need doing, effectively doing all the subtasks in parallel.

There is an On Screen Edit gadget that might be helpful in taking temporary notes during your review process (depending of course on what your review process is). It allows you to mark up a scratchpad copy of the article in various ways (for things like verified-by-source, possible-copyvio, or whatever else you want to use the markup to mean) without any danger of accidentally saving changes to the article page.

Checklist[edit]

This is a quick-reference list of some rules and guidelines that, as a reviewer, you might like to be reminded of. Besides reviewing an article for publication, there are a few items that only matter for changes to an article after publication; and the list might just be useful when writing an article, too.

Don't follow the list blindly. Some items are hard policy, others are guidelines, and some guidelines are softer than others. As a thinking reviewer, you can judge which are most important, when the spirit is more important than the letter, and when an article has a problem even though the problem isn't mentioned here (nor, for that matter, in any of the policies, guidelines, and help pages); hang on to that thinking advantage!

The size of the list is a compromise. As the list is meant to serve as a quick reference, it has been kept short. Too short, though, and some details under a general item might be overlooked despite the general reminder. (Compare the five-item checklist on the {{peer reviewed}} template.) Ideally, each item listed would be just specific enough to remind you of any further details omitted under it.

If there are other things you think should be added, by all means, suggest them!

The news story[edit]

Factual.
Relevant (probably to more than a few hundred people).
Timely (for synthesis: event within a week, new details have come to light within 2–3 days;  OR may extend shelf life, sometimes by a lot).
After publication, significant edits should be made only within the first 24 hours and should not be self-sighted (they require peer review).
  • Headline (article page name) — See here.
  • Prose — Clear, concise, unambiguous. (Details here, especially here and here; also, here.)
Prefer active voice and active language, and promote the human aspect of the story (using quotes, etc.).
Use simple, plain English. No cliches or metaphors.
Attribute every factual claim to its source, within the story text and without interrupting its flow.
Attribute to non-news source when possible. Don't attribute uncontroversial non-exclusive information to a news source.
Don't direct-quote a source unless (very rarely) the source is part of the story.
Tense. Generally, use past, or present perfect. For timelines, present. For future events, say they're "scheduled", "planned", or the like.
Concentrate on the new facts.
  • Lede — Typically, the first paragraph succinctly answers the six basic questions:
Who What Where When Why and How.
Typically 50–80 words.
Oughtn't have too much detail; and once read, newsworthiness should be clear.
At least another couple of paragraphs after the lede.
Avoid single-sentence paragraphs. Paragraphs of 50–80 words are usually about right.
Each paragraph should cover a single topic.
Article content should get gradually more detailed.
  • Balance
Is it presented in a neutral way?
Does it cover all the most relevant/interesting points of the story?
Are parts of the story given undue weight? Is there excess, encyclopedic content?
Is the relevance explained for an international audience?
Are controversial claims attributed? Is exclusive information attributed?
Be on the lookout for disagreements between sources; resolve the discrepancy, back off to a weaker claim agreed on, or acknowledge the discrepancy.

Other elements[edit]

date/dateline — don't use {{dateline}} unless the reporter was actually there
lifecycle control — {{review}}, {{breaking review}}, {{under review}}, {{tasks}}, {{editing}}, {{develop}}
Sources — bulleted; {{source}}; note Citing syndicated (wire agency) content.
Related news — before Sources; bulleted; only articles published before this one.
External links — after Sources; don't use at all without good reason.
Other — Strongly discouraged as encyclopedic: References. Never: See also.
At least one geographical category — something from this hierarchy:
At least one major topic category — one of these.
  • Infobox
If any appropriate infobox can be found, use the most appropriate one.
The list of all infoboxes is here.
Don't trust the infobox to add appropriate categories; the categories should stay even if the infobox is later changed.
  • Peripherals
Picture(s) — caption, {{image source}}. See Image use policy.
Displayed quotations.
Have your say.
Miscellaneous — {{Translated quote}}, {{WikimediaMention}}, {{PhoneContact}}, etc.
  • Wikilinks should be internal to Wikinews whenever possible. Use mainspace redirects.
Check all non-Wikinews links to make sure they work. (Those links —including Wikipedia links— don't turn red when broken.)
Article links should go in Related news, {{Wikipedia}} in External links.

Sources[edit]

  • Two or more sources are required for a synthesis article.
  • List the sources from newest to oldest.
  • Freshness — New details of the story must have come to light within 2–3 days.
    • There are rare exceptions for synthesis in both directions (early and late staleness); OR postpones staleness, in extreme cases by weeks.
  • The sources must verify all facts in the article (except the obvious).
  • No copyvios (copyright violations).
Paraphrasing a copyrighted source sentence-by-sentence is still a copyvio.
Gratuitous paraphrasing often leads to needlessly poor prose.

The On Screen Edit gadget[edit]

Select the gadget on your user preferences. With Javascript turned on (you'll need that for the Easy Peer Review gadget too, of course), "On screen edit" will appear as an option on the toolkit on the left side of each page.

Open a tab viewing the article (not editing it), and click the gadget. You're now in on-screen edit mode. A toolbar appears at the top of that copy of the article.

To shade part of the text to some color, or to strike it out with a horizontal line (like this), highlight that part of the text and click the appropriate button on the toolbar. You can also delete the highlighted text entirely with the delete key; and, once you've clicked anywhere in the article body, you can even add text. All without having any effect on the saved version of the article.

See also[edit]