CZ:Article mechanics/Draft rewrite

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Citizendium aims to build a body of articles that cover, at a general level, every aspect of their topics. Their purpose is to introduce the topic in an accessible way that is at the same time authoritative. An article is not a mere summary or list of information, but a connected piece of prose, meant to be read all the way through. Articles must be selective and simplified in the information they present, but this does not mean that they need be brief; they should say what they need to as clearly as possible, in a concise and interesting way.

Opening section

The opening section should always be introductory, and needs no heading. The first paragraph usually begins with a definition or a description of the topic, and we bold the title of the article in the first sentence. (e.g., Philosophy, both the field and the concept, is notoriously hard to define.). The first paragraph should contain a concise and neutral answer to "Why is this topic important (or interesting)?" If the topic is a person, say what the person is best known for; if an event, summarize its impact; if a place, describe things that make it notable. The rest of the opening section should try to tie together the entire article into a cohesive whole, and give the background that is needed for understanding the rest of the article. The opening section can be a ‘’summary’’ of the information found in the article, but this is not necessarily the best use of the space. A brief outline of the article structure is preferable to a summary when the article is very long.

The article body

Generally, articles need a plan which lends coherence and flow and invites readers to keep reading. A central task of editors is to help plan articles, and, for complex articles, the plan should be discussed on the article's Talk page. In general, information that is most important, fundamental, or earliest should be presented first. Major achievements of individuals should be presented before minor ones; the basic tenets of a theory before derivative ones; earlier events before later ones.

Section titles

Section headings help both readers and authors, but too many can be ugly and distracting. A plethora of headings is not necessary in a well-organized narrative, such as this "Biology" article.

Standardized information

If there is to be an article about every species of snake, it is convenient to have a standard order in which facts are presented. When beginning an article, authors should check articles on closely related themes to see if a standard structure has been established. Citizendium workgroups will ultimately settle on any such standard practices.


See Help:Citation style for details.

We expect citations in about the same quantity as in academic encyclopedias. Citations are not usually needed for information that is common knowledge among experts. But the following categories of claims generally do need citation:

  • direct quotations
  • claims with unique sources (such as survey results, or the finding of a particular paper)
  • implausible-sounding but well-established claims
  • claims central to the article

Always give an online link for any reference, at least to the abstract (via for example a PubMed reference.

Rather than use several references in a single sentence it is better to include several sources in one citation.


Factual material, where there is no real narrative flow, may be best presented in subpages; see CZ:Subpages for more about them. These subpages will always include

External links subpage

External links should be neutrally annotated. Links to external websites should not to be placed within articles but in footnotes. Always link words and phrases to Citizendium articles rather than external sources of information about the word or phrase--even if we still lack an article on the subject. We have rules against self-promotion (policy on topic informants), and contributors should not link to websites that they manage, unless it is evident from a Google search (or other adequate proof) that the website is a leading and reliable source of information.

Bibliography subpage

This is an annotated bibliography: books and other material that, in the opinion of Citizendium contributors represent the most important, and useful texts, clarifying why an item is listed ("one of the most commonly used texts in this field"; "the paper which originally defined the concept"). For example, historical topics should list and annotate the leading published sources for information on a topic, and articles about authors should have a list of their works. All books should be given their ISBN number.

Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage

Strunk and White's Elements of Style is very useful; the first edition, is available here.)

For American English, please consult The Chicago Manual of Style for matters of formatting, punctuation, etc. and Garner's Dictionary of American English Usage for issues of usage.

For British English, consult Fowler's Modern English Usage.

Miscellaneous style guidelines

Craft articles for maximum readability. Many topics may be impossible for a non-specialist fully to understand; our task is to write at the university level, but if a difficult or advanced piece of text can be written in a way to make it more accessible to educated nonspecialists, then it should be. Professionals are often accused of writing jargon that is decipherable only by people in their fields; our task is to "translate" the jargon, so far as is possible, into elegant prose.

Write lively prose, not "encyclopedese"

Writing an encyclopedia brings out a tendency in some writers to make prose dull--perhaps the influence of boring encyclopedia articles we read as children. But our writing needn't be like that; we can, and should, give our prose personality.

Many writers today have taken William Strunk's pithy injunction, "Omit needless words," to heart. Tightening up flabby verbiage is one of the most needful improvements we can make, ‘’but’’’ we must not denature our prose entirely: we want our writing to be readable, not encyclopedese.

Another common stylistic rule would have us use simple Anglo-Saxon words rather than hifalutin, impressive-sounding words, ‘’’but’’’ this does not mean that we should prefer a merely adequate word to a really apt word just because the apt word is a bit more obscure. Choose the familiar word rather than the obscure word, but also the precise word rather than the loose word, while avoiding pedantry.

Link relevantly

One strength of a wiki-based encyclopedia is the ease with which articles can link to other articles, enabling knowledge-seekers to follow their interests. We encourage interlinking, but it is possible to take this advice to an absurd extreme--linking so many words that many inappropriate links are created, links that distract rather than help.

So a general rule is:

If our target audience would find that the article linked-to illuminates the present article, then we should link to it.

It is important to add links to articles that do not yet exist. Links that lead nowhere help us to gauge what articles are most needed: see Wanted Pages (linked on the left under toolbox > Special pages). But be very selective here.

Link only the first use of a word or phrase, not every use--unless the word is particularly relevant to the point. Thus, the article about Abraham Lincoln might mention (and link to) the Emancipation Proclamation in its opening section, and also in the section about the Proclamation itself.


In general, avoid quotations longer than one sentence, and do not use many quotations in any one article. Quotations should not be used to “make an argument”; an argument is made by logic and reason, not be authority, and if a quote is used to support an argument by showing that important people agree with the point, then this is a misuse. However if notable people are identified with a particular argument, then it would be reasonable to quote them directly. For example, Richard Dawkins is a vocal proponent of Darwinism. It should not be presented as an argument for Darwinism that its proponents include Richard Dawkins, but as he has contributed extensively to the debate, and writes in a pithy and accessible way, to quote him would be a reasonable way of illustrating a section that describes his arguments.

Valid uses of quotes include (in biographical sections) to illustrate a person’s views; (in literature articles) to exemplify an author’s style; and (in many articles) to add colour and interest to an article. Be aware that, in some articles, using quotes can introduce a bias. Choose them with care, and consider redressing any bias by annotations, or by balancing quotes from other viewpoints.

For further reading

Sage advice on writing CZ articles.