Wikivoyage talk:Manual of style

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Some stuff that's been moved:

Garbled English[edit]

Swept in from the pub

I know I am a second language speaker and my English is probably not all that good either, but there are some pages here on WV (naturally mostly when it concerns regions where English proficiency is low) that have been written in an English so garbled, it is hard to make out what was meant. See this diff for one example of what I mean. Given that en-WV attracts even more second language speakers than en-WP does (by virtue of many language versions that are quite alive on Wikipedia being dead in the water or not even existent on WV), we might wish to do something about this. But I don't really have a good idea of what precisely could be done. An expedition? A new maintenance category? A "language rating" analog to the "Latin-rating" of the Latin Wikipedia? Or is this just a non-issue that will solve itself over time as copy editors read and correct the articles in question? Hobbitschuster (talk) 16:21, 20 December 2015 (UTC)

Whatever we do, we wouldn't want to embarrass anyone who has an unwarranted sensitivity about their English proficiency (the possession or lack of which is not a moral question!) I did look at those edits and passed by attempting to copy edit them right now, as it will be a big job. But in this case, it's a single article. It's much more difficult in the case of users who edit dozens of articles at much lower levels of English — that's a problem, but I'm not sure what to do about it, as everyone has the right to edit this site in good faith. Ikan Kekek (talk) 16:28, 20 December 2015 (UTC)
I agree. And we should of course not exclude people with limited English proficiency, nor make them feel bad. Ultimately, we depend on people with limited English in many regions of the world. But on the other hand we have to take our readers into account who will have to read and understand those texts. And while I don't have firm data, some readers may assume the quality of the information to be bad if the quality of the English is. That's one of the reasons I copyedit from to time (mostly my own mistakes, tbh) - I do think your-you're or their-there-they're are among the things some readers will use to judge the quality of our coverage. Much like some Germans judge forum contributions primarily by the number of typos. And not entirely without reason. If a native speaker has not had enough time to sort out the most obvious spelling mistakes, how could (s)he have had enough time to do some research? Of course in this particular case, it might also have been a machine translation, which would make communicating with the editor in question even more difficult... Hobbitschuster (talk) 16:36, 20 December 2015 (UTC)
Fully agreed on all points, but as people say a lot in the US, nowadays, "it is what it is" (though that's a kind of annoying expression, sorry). Ikan Kekek (talk) 17:13, 20 December 2015 (UTC)
There is a Wikivoyage:Manual_of_style template that would point to these kinds of articles without being specific about the quality of English. Andrewssi2 (talk) 19:41, 20 December 2015 (UTC)
From my own personal wiki I sometimes search Wikivoyage for common misspellings, repetitions and grammar issues - This could probably be incorporated on Wikivoyage for editors to use as well - See: Wikipedia:List of common misspellings - perhaps fine tune lists to common issues found in Wikivoyage - might prove useful - Matroc (talk) 21:52, 20 December 2015 (UTC)
While this is a good and important thing to do, I doubt it will help much for articles with next to incomprehensible English. Though I doubt that there is any type of "machine" that could detect that. Hobbitschuster (talk) 22:02, 20 December 2015 (UTC)
Kind of off-topic, but it would be good to have a bot that scans for material copied directly from Wikipedia. Andrewssi2 (talk) 22:08, 20 December 2015 (UTC)
I'm not sure if User:EranBot/Copyright is filtering out text from Wikipeda or not, but it catches a number of copyvios already. -- Ryan • (talk) • 22:12, 20 December 2015 (UTC)
I'm a native English speaker with experience both teaching the language and editing things written by non-natives. Within reason, I'm happy to copy edit things here, and suggestions for what to look at can be made on my talk page.
However, except perhaps in areas like China or the Philippines where my main interests lie, I am not going to put in the effort required to fix a really garbled article. A much better use of my time, also easier and more enjoyable for me, is polishing the already very good English in articles from fluent-but-not-perfect non-natives, of whom we have many. Pashley (talk) 07:22, 21 December 2015 (UTC)
I am quite concerned that we have well intentioned editors whose native language was not english, and am impressed that Ikan Kekek doesnt actually single out our common editing area in the above discussion, it is as he says in part, not wanting to embarass or harass editors with limited english skills, the problem is the sheer volume of time going into areas where the english leaves one somewhat puzzled at original intentions. I am thinking there is no real machine level help on this, but simply time and patience, which at times might not be easily available. JarrahTree (talk) 11:08, 21 December 2015 (UTC)

Perhaps an expedition is the way to go? It has a number of advantages:

  • Choose the right name and it reduces the risk of offense being given. After all, if the article is selected as worth improving, this is kudos for the contributors
  • It is not personal, and can be listed for attention by people with local knowledge which can help in deciphering the intended meaning.
  • It gets many eyes, so a realistic result is more likely.
  • Probably others I haven't thought of yet. • • • Peter (Southwood) (talk): 07:32, 1 February 2016 (UTC)

-ing forms[edit]

Swept in from the pub

I notice that - to the best of my knowledge - the Manual of Style nowhere prohibits the use of the -ing form, yet a certain editor who shall remain nameless regularly excises them in their "copy edits". Are they in the right, are they in the wrong or is it just a pet peeve either way with nobody having the right of it? Hobbitschuster (talk) 18:19, 15 December 2018 (UTC)

But I think although it may be "Sleeping car" it is not Sleeping train, it is Sleeper train. --Traveler100 (talk) 18:37, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
There is no prohibition against gerunds, they are part of the English language. I replace them by an active verb where doing so makes the sentence livelier. Using active verbs instead of gerund phrases seems to be an easy win for improving Wikivoyage's writing. Of course, it doesn't work everywhere. See: I even used "improving" in the last sentence! Ground Zero (talk) 18:48, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
I think word policing has already gone too far on this site, including the systematic extirpation of "located", "situated" etc. (which are sometimes but not always extraneous), and we've become too reliant on WV:Words to avoid in our copyediting efforts, rather than the common-sense considerations of which words make a sentence flow better, to the point where I wonder if WTA isn't doing more harm than good and should be deleted outright. At any rate, I think we should focus less on that and more on adding content. -- AndreCarrotflower (talk) 19:00, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
True. I think the same is the case with the euro symbol. It's too minor to really spend a lot of time worrying about.
If I see "located" in an article, I remove it, but otherwise I don't spend a lot of time on the word. I also feel that some of these frustrations (this one and the above) are just users trying to find negative things to say about each other, rather than serious issues that need to be corrected. --Comment by Selfie City (talk | contributions) 19:24, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
[edit conflict] We might want to recommend what is guideline if not policy on sv-wp: do not change wording where there are different opinions, unless doing significant additions or copyediting to the article. Nobody owns an article, but many of us have preferences on how we write, and systematically attacking some words or figures of speech raises more irritation than it is worth. There are lots of articles in need of copyediting, and not choosing articles to edit based on whether they have some specific "easy win" the author may not agree on lessens friction (don't take me wrong, I myself generally appreciate others improving on my language). --LPfi (talk) 19:34, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
I take a wholistic approach to copyediting: when I edit an article, I remove touting; I update where there is something obviously out of date; I do my best to correct time, date, phone number and currency formatting; I break up long, consulted sentences; I improve the syntax of sentences obviously written by people whose English is weak (it's clear when someone is thinking in a different language while writing in English); I fix capitalization, punctuation and formatting errors. Focusing on one element of my copyediting and suggesting that it is just a pet peeve or a personal preference is not fair comment. Ground Zero (talk) 20:31, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
And using active verbs is not my idea. It comes from, amongst other sources, The Elements of Style, which is a widely used and respected source. In 2011, Time named it as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923. As Wikipedia says
"William Strunk concentrated on specific questions of usage—and the cultivation of good writing—with the recommendation "Make every word tell"; hence the 17th principle of composition is the simple instruction: "Omit needless words." The book frames this within a triplet credited to an influential lecturer:
Omit needless words
Use active voice
Use parallel construction on concepts that are parallel"
These concepts are common to lots of other references on good writing. Its not just me. Ground Zero (talk) 20:42, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
OK. I haven't been following your edits, nor this conflict more than what I have happened to come across. What you describe is more or less what I am trying to recommend, given you don't have a less than optimal way of finding articles to edit. The diffs I have seen pointed out are dominated by the possible pet peeves of the other user, but they may not be representative. And I am not going to tell native speakers what is or is not good writing. --LPfi (talk) 20:45, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
LPfi, from what I've seen of your edits, your English is excellent, as is that of other regular contributors for whom English is a second language. My comment about contributors whose English is weak is not about anyone in particular, but about articles I sometimes come across that have sentences that use English words with syntax from another language. I do not think that not being a native speaker should ever be used as a reason to exclude anyone from a discussion, or to dismiss their views. We should instead turn to outside references like Strunk to guide us on writing. Ground Zero (talk) 20:53, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
Strunk was an American, so here is the perspective of the Englishman George Orwell, who is famous for, inter alia, his essay "Politics and the English Language". There he sets out six rules for writing clear and tight prose:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Numbers 3 and 4 are germane here. I do not think that I have ever applied them in a way so as to run afoul of #6. There are, of course,lots of others who written about good writing, and there are those who disagree with Strunk and Orwell. I cite them because they are widely respected as authorities and to demonstrate that this is not a personal vendetta, or my personal style. This is about good writing, which is something we could use more of in Wikivoyage. Ground Zero (talk) 22:23, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
Ground Zero - I was not, nor do I think anyone else was, singling you out for your edits. I've seen several others doing the same thing, in many cases far less carefully than you. I think it's important to note, however, that Wikivoyage strives for a casual and informal tone. I'd say leave strict adherence to the advice of style experts like Strunk to sites where formality is de rigueur. (As for Orwell, "if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out" is pretty rich coming from the author who wrote about a horrible totalitarian dystopia where the official language was Newspeak.) -- AndreCarrotflower (talk) 22:47, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
Strunk and Orwell were writing about good writing, not about formal writing. Formal writing would use longer sentences, more complex sentence structure, more phrases like "it should be noted that". Formal writing is not vigorous or lively. And no-one is advocating "strict adherence" to anything. I am just defending myself from Hobbitschuster's attempt to personalize this by claiming that preferring the active voice is just a "pet peeve" of mine (above), or that cutting out needless words is a "personal little crusade". I am following the advice of widely respected authorities on good writing, and using my discretion on when to do so and when not to. Your dig at George Orwell does not make him any less of an authority on writing. Ground Zero (talk) 23:03, 15 December 2018 (UTC)
[Edit conflict] I often edit for brevity, but only when I believe it makes the sentences in question more elegant or at least more readable. As for Strunk & White, their opinion has carried way too much weight - it's just an opinion, and some of their viewpoints were opinionated indeed. For example, the idea that you should favor commas before "which" but not use them before "that". Why? Because they said so. I don't agree. I spent a brief few months on alt.usage.english on USENET (remember USENET?). Too many of the users there were crazy, so I didn't stick around after a while, but a lot of really good points were made on how wrong Strunk & White were, if you considered their prescriptive advice against actual, often longstanding usage. That said, Andre, I think "located" and "situated" are in fact rarely necessary, though there's nothing at all horrible about them, either. Ikan Kekek (talk) 23:04, 15 December 2018 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────I'm not against the tight style of writing, but may I say that the writing style that is currently on Wikivoyage seems good to me — it's good English that doesn't add too much information nor have short, choppy sentences. I know I've strayed from this sometimes, like when I partially rewrote the lede for the Atlanta article, but generally I think something between the Dickens style and the Orwell one is appropriate for what we're doing (topics and politics aside, of course). To brag a little on myself (although I'm not even sure if I wrote the lede), I think the lede of Monument Valley is a good example of the form of prose that is best on Wikivoyage. --Comment by Selfie City (talk | contributions) 23:10, 15 December 2018 (UTC)

I also think that the pursuit to remove all of the words on WTA has perhaps gone a bit too far. It's important to ask yourself whether removing the words or phrases will actually improve the legibility, flow and flair of the article. If someone is reading Wikivoyage for the first time and sees a "located" or another WTA word, is it going to negatively impact their opinion of Wikivoyage or make it harder for the reader to comprehend what the sentence says (at a conscious or subconscious level)? Many times the answer will be yes but at other times it will be no. Apart from the extreme marketing hyperbole, all of the words listed on WTA are suitable to be used on Wikivoyage in certain contexts, just as they are used in English writing elsewhere. Gizza (roam) 01:48, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
Perhaps WTA should be changed from the "status" of "guideline" to the "status" of "essay". --Comment by Selfie City (talk | contributions) 02:18, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
I think we should do away with it entirely. We know touting when we see it; we know empty flowery marketing-speak when we see it; we know Captain Obvious when we see him; and we certainly know first-person pronouns when we see them. The article is completely superfluous. -- AndreCarrotflower (talk) 02:28, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
Well, at Wikivoyage_talk:Words_to_avoid#Requests_for_removing_from_this_list I proposed to move a lot of the words from the list, but it was met with a lot of opposition. --Comment by Selfie City (talk | contributions) 02:57, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
Sure, it's easy to dump on Strunk, or on Orwell, but it's not just them. Here are some other guides on writing that recommend using active verbs: University of Iowa, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, simplewriting.org, crazyegg.com, English Grammar for Dummies, Rice University, Penn State, study.com, Royal Roads University, Towson University. It's not just Strunk, Orwell and me. Ground Zero (talk) 03:50, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
I don't need to read any sources on that. I used to be a writing tutor. Passive voice has its place, but active voice is and should be the default. Ikan Kekek (talk) 07:00, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
I think words to avoid is a useful compendium and useful to refer to in edit summaries or comments on user talk pages. So I oppose deleting it. Ikan Kekek (talk) 07:02, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
How about renaming it Wikivoyage:Words to watch? That would help signal that it isn't a list of prohibited words, but rather a list of words that are often unclear or otherwise should be used sparingly or with caution. —Granger (talk · contribs) 10:59, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
I notice Wikipedia uses a similar title: w:Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Words to watch. —Granger (talk · contribs) 11:00, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
I support rethinking the approach to words to avoid. Word policing tactics that have evolved over the past couple of years risk driving away editors – I myself have curtailed my contributions here because of it. Yes, good clean writing should be encouraged, but IMO the current push for style over substance will never permit the site to grow to its full potential. Context matters. –StellarD (talk) 11:59, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
Since most of us who edit with reference to WTA are already participating in this discussion, I'm not so sure the page needs to be changed. We just need to remember that these are words to avoid, not words that we must never, ever use in any circumstance. Perhaps we can all be a little less zealous / strict enforcing it, as we want to encourage new editors, rather than driving them away. On the other hand, we all need to be prepared to have our edits changed by others; if anyone here is unhappy about someone else rewriting their contributions within the agreed upon manual of style, they should reconsider whether a wiki is right for them.--ThunderingTyphoons! (talk) 13:26, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
The problem is, who decides when it's okay to use a certain instance of "located" and when it isn't? Should we perhaps not remove words like "located" at all? Or should we remove them based on circumstance? That's definitely the challenge here. What one person says is an appropriate use of the word (per WTA) may not be with someone else (also following WTA), and the result could be an edit war. --Comment by Selfie City (talk | contributions) 14:47, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
I think it would be fine to change the title to "Words to watch", and I also think it's fine to remove words like "located/situated" that are simply not needed but don't do any harm to an article unless (like almost any other word) they're used over and over again. I sure hope never to see a "Located, located, located, located" edit summary again. Ikan Kekek (talk) 15:22, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
Definitely agree that that kind of edit summary is more likely to turn newbies (and oldies) away than something worded more politely.--ThunderingTyphoons! (talk) 15:38, 16 December 2018 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────I'd agree to removing "located". --Comment by Selfie City (talk | contributions) 15:40, 16 December 2018 (UTC)

If you want to re-name that page, then I recommend changing the title completely, perhaps to something like "Tips for better writing". WhatamIdoing (talk) 17:30, 16 December 2018 (UTC)

WTA is a guideline, which means contributors must use their discretion in applying it. Even our policies should be applied with discretion, because we are not making laws here. (Many laws even allow for some discretion to be exercised.) I certainly do not apply WTA in an absolutist manner. (Any suggestion that I do is simply wrong. My edits demonstrate that I do not remove every instance of "located" or "currently", just most of them.)

Our inability to have an absolute, inflexible law does not mean that we should abandon the principles of WV:tone, which include "Lively writing is welcome", "Be conversational and informal", and "Be concise". We need readers as much as we need contributors, and providing the information is an interesting and informal way just key to attracting and keeping readers, whom we hope will become contributors. That means there will be disagreements that should be resolved through talk pages instead through arbitrary wholesale reversions or edit wars. I am always willing to discuss and negotiate changes on talk pages, and other contributors should be prepared to do so as well in this collaborative project. Ground Zero (talk) 17:39, 16 December 2018 (UTC)

"Tips for better writing" is a good idea. Then, the "Words to avoid" section could be a "words to watch" section, and we could have other sections that suggest writing sentences only as long as is necessary to get your points across elegantly, thereby regarding sentences (like this one) that have multiple clauses with caution, etc. Recommendations to use active voice when passive voice isn't necessary could also be part of such an article. Ikan Kekek (talk) 22:33, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
I don't object to incorporating WTA into a "Tips" article, but I expect it will be a challenge to get agreement on the other parts of the article, given the resistance to standard references in the matter.
Let's remember that this discussion began with a question about whether the Manual of Style prohibits the use of the -ing form, and the implication that if a particular form of the verb isn't prohibited, then it shouldn't be changed. I have been told by other contributors that if a word isn't on WTA, it shouldn't be removed. I use the general guidance provided by WV:tone as the basis for my edits, rather than WTA, but it seems that some contributors either don't like WV:tone, or feel that it isn't specific enough to be useful in determining what edits are appropriate. Ground Zero (talk) 23:54, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
"Tips for better writing" sounds reasonable to me. We should remember WTA is by no means an absolute rule, and be careful not to sacrifice clear, lively writing in order to follow arbitrary rules like avoiding "located" or using the active voice. —Granger (talk · contribs) 23:50, 16 December 2018 (UTC)
Although we should remember that using the active voice and not using needless words is how most standard guides on writing suggest you can make your writing livelier. No-one is suggesting making the WTA guideline an absolute enforceable policy. No-one is suggesting that, so I don't know why some are spending so much time arguing against it. We also should not require contributors to use only their left hands while editing. But no-one is suggesting that either. Ground Zero (talk) 00:10, 17 December 2018 (UTC)
To put it plainly, some people quite obviously feel that you, and possibly I, have been overzealous in making style edits.
As for "standard references": This is not Wikipedia. There is absolutely no reason to refer to any external style guide in order for Wikivoyage to have its own style. Ikan Kekek (talk) 00:16, 17 December 2018 (UTC)
Same here. It's easy to go around and look for minor edits to make, but harder to really contribute. Our goal should be to bring down the number of outline articles, since they are currently over half of Wikivoyage's articles. --Comment by Selfie City (talk | contributions) 00:50, 17 December 2018 (UTC)
Ikan Kekek, by standard references, I mean what most of the rest of the world thinks about good writing. I'm sure that we don't think that the few dozen active editors here are going to come up with a better approach to good writing than the numerous style guides I've mentioned.
SelfieCity, I have so far raised all of the city and park-level outline articles in Canada's four western provinces to usable, and am on the verge of completing Ontario. See my user page. So I make "real contributions" in addition to improving the readability of the articles in line with WV:tone. There is so much crappy writing, bad formatting, incorrect punctuation, random capitalization and so on here, that copyediting is an important part of improving the quality and usability of Wikivoyage. There is nothing in our Manual of Style that says that the only thing that matters is hotel and restaurant listings, and the rest of the article can be shitty. We can and have to do better than that if we're going to be taken seriously by readers. Ground Zero (talk) 01:39, 17 December 2018 (UTC)
I hope everyone realizes how much great work you've done. However, the choice isn't between no style edits and editing everything. When people push back, they don't say "This site should be full of shitty writing, grammar and spelling mistakes, etc." They say things like "Don't edit the life out of an article in order to streamline it as much as possible" or "leave a few 'locateds' alone and do something else". We shouldn't ignore them. Also, if you'd prefer to refer everyone to Strunk & White, don't expect them to thumb through the book. We already have Wikivoyage:Manual of style. Adding some more style information, based on experiences we've had here and without a lot of things Strunk & White deal with that are irrelevant here, might be useful. Or maybe not. Ikan Kekek (talk) 02:18, 17 December 2018 (UTC)
(edit conflict) I agree that copyediting is important, and we have many articles that desperately need it, especially about destinations where English isn't the main language. I rarely find myself disagreeing with Ikan Kekek about style edits, and only occasionally with Ground Zero. But I do sometimes see edits (I can't remember from who – mostly other users, I think) that strike me as overly strict enforcement of WTA. —Granger (talk · contribs) 02:22, 17 December 2018 (UTC)
Ikan Kekek, I absolutely do leave some "locateds" in, and a lot more than I used to. I included the key points from Strunk and from Orwell above. I don't think we need more than the appropriate parts of those. Some of the push-back is coming from people who don't like having "their" articles edited. In the particular case of this discussion, Hobbitschuster is objecting to me making verbs active on the basis that -ing verbs are not prohibited by the Manual of Style. I don't think that his absolutist position, which ignores WV:tone, is something that we should try to accomodate. As I indicated in my first reply, I use gerunds sometimes, but I do change them to active verbs where it makes the writing liveler. I am always willing to discuss and compromise, but some editors are not interested in doing that. Ground Zero (talk) 03:37, 17 December 2018 (UTC)
City-busz and I have done quite a lot of work on the Hungary articles, and when I go through some old listings that were written before City busz or me edited on Wikivoyage, I can hardly understand them at all because they are poorly written. While writing is extremely important on the website, I'd agree that copyediting is important too. The key is to not get distracted from the central goal of the website, which is a travel guide, not articles that follow Strunk's guide to every letter. --Comment by Selfie City (talk | contributions) 05:08, 17 December 2018 (UTC)
It's a good thing that no-one is advocating following Strunk to every letter then. Ground Zero (talk) 10:43, 17 December 2018 (UTC)