Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/November 2012/Op-ed

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How to navigate the FA and A-class review process

While some reviews end up like this, you can set yourself up for relatively straightforward nominations by preparing the nomination well and responding politely to reviewers
By Nick-D

While there's lots of good advice on how to prepare articles for nominations for featured and A-class status, little has been written about how nominators should handle the reviews themselves. This is a shame, as the way in which articles are presented to reviewers and the responses these editors receive can have a significant impact on the likelihood of the nomination succeeding.

Since 2006, I've placed 20 articles through successful featured article nominations (with what I hope is #21 underway at the time of writing) as well as a large number of A-class and GA nominations. I've also reviewed dozens of articles at these levels, and deliberately chosen to not review many more. The following comments are my reflections on what works during the nomination process, organised into the different stages of preparing the article and persuading reviewers to support it. I've included a bit of a focus on how to attract people to review articles, as it's often a significant problem at the moment.

Preparing an article for a review

While the content of articles is obviously of central importance, it's also important to consider the 'look and feel' of your article, and how accessible it is to readers who are unfamiliar with the topic. After you've developed (and posted) the initial version of your article, you may wish to consider the following:

  • Compare your article to articles on similar topics which have passed a review, and consider adapting their structure, referencing style, etc.
  • Read the comments left by the editors who reviewed these articles, looking out for the common issues which are raised (for instance, do reviewers who are unfamiliar with the subject matter commonly ask for technical terms to be removed or translated, and what kind of sources are considered problematic by the reviewers who specialise in these fields?)
  • Put the article through as many reviews as you can. I recommend that all articles nominated for FA class should be placed through a GA nomination first, as well as an A-class nomination for articles within the scope of a project which conducts such reviews (in general, articles nominated for A class should have also been through a GA nomination, though this is less important than at the FA level)
  • At the risk of being shallow, also make sure that if your article includes an image in its lead (as most do), it's the most interesting photo of the subject you can find - don't underestimate the importance of photos in drawing readers in.

Initiating the review

Once you think that the article is up to scratch and decide to start the nomination, you need to post a statement which grabs the attention of potential reviewers and convinces them that the article is worth reading. In my opinion nomination statements should explain why the topic of the article is interesting and why you think that it meets the criteria (I generally post a short paragraph on each topic). If the article has passed previous reviews post links to them as part of the nomination statement - this helps to assure potential reviewers you've laid the groundwork for your nomination.

Also, don't initiate a review if you won't have the time to monitor it and follow up on comments. In general, you need to be able to regularly check the review and edit the article for about three weeks after the date the nomination is lodged. It's very bad form to initiate a review with comments such as "I'll be traveling for the next week, but will try to check in", but this happens surprisingly often (and, not surprisingly, these nominations tend to attract few reviewers). That said, if something unexpected comes up it's okay - but do post a notification on the review page.

Responding to reviewers

Ideally reviewers will examine your article in detail, but not be obsessed or cranky

OK, the review is up and running and people have left comments - great! However, it's now up to you to convert 'comments' and 'oppose' votes into 'supports' by addressing the reviewers' concerns and suggestions. While this sounds straightforward in theory, it sometimes goes horribly wrong. The following are my suggestions on how you should respond to reviews:

  • First of all, thank your reviewers! It can take an hour, and often longer, to conduct a comprehensive review that checks prose quality, neutrality, structure, referencing, image licencing and sources, and by posting comments reviewers are also (in effect) signing up to monitor the review until it concludes. The least you can do is to thank them for taking the time.
  • Always respond to comments promptly (within 48 hours, and sooner if practical). Aside from being polite, this encourages other reviewers to take the time to leave comments as they'll feel confident that the nomination is being actively monitored. If you're busy or need time to consider the comments, an interim response is fine.
  • Bad-faith or low-competence reviews at A-class and Featured level are unusual. If you think that an experienced reviewer is entirely wrong headed, re-examine the comments and your article - it may be you who's mistaken.
  • That said, you certainly don't need to agree with all the comments left by reviewers. If you disagree with a comment, politely explain why (and, where appropriate, give an example of a comparable high-quality article which uses whatever it is you prefer). Most reviewers are willing to be convinced that your approach is superior to what they have suggested.
  • Try to avoid arguing with reviewers - if they don't agree with your response, try to determine if it's a big issue or whether you can agree to disagree. A lengthy or bad tempered exchange will act to drive away other potential reviewers.
  • ...and, of course, you do occasionally get reviewers who are obsessed about a single issue (for instance, arcane details from the manual of style or including/not including coordinates) and post reviews which aren't helpful. If you don't agree with these guys, you're unlikely to be alone and their comments generally won't be given much weight when closing the nomination.

Why did no one review my article?

Unfortunately some reviews don't attract many comments. While this often comes down to bad luck due to not many reviewers being around (which can be a major issue during university exam periods and the major annual holidays), several other factors can contribute to this, such as:

  • Your article might not meet the criteria. In general, editors are reluctant to post 'oppose' reviews. If your review doesn't attract many comments, it's likely (though certainly not always the case) that it doesn't meet the criteria.
  • Related to the above, the article might be too long. Reviewers generally avoid long articles, especially if they feel that the article covers its subject in excessive detail. As a very rough rule of thumb, the length of a high quality article should be in accordance with the importance a moderately interested reader would accord to the topic (I'm guilty of breaking this rule though!).
  • Consider the article's, and your own, track record. If the article has been unsuccessfully nominated multiple times or you have a low 'strike rate', the regular reviewers will probably avoid the topic. In these cases, you need to do a really good job of explaining why the article is now up to scratch in the nomination statement.

After the review

While it's not a requirement for any level of the assessment process, it's good form to review other editors' nominations. Aside from being a de-facto requirement of good wiki-citizenship, this will expose you to other approaches in article writing (including approaches to avoid!). Also, bear in mind that there's a growing expectation that editors who regularly post nominations will also be active reviewers, and people who don't post reviews can have difficulty persuading other editors to look at their articles.

Nick-D is a self-confessed war nerd who has been active on Wikipedia since late 2005. He is currently one of the Military history project's coordinators, and was recently unsuccessful in a bid for a position on the board of Wikimedia Australia.
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+ Add a commentDiscuss this story

Great advice. I've mentioned this article at the FAC talk page. Per Sandy's comment there, you might consider clarifying to avoid giving the impression that GA/A-class are pre-requirements to FAC. Maralia (talk) 04:30, 29 November 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

It is very nicely done, but FAC does not require articles to first go through A-class or GAN, so I hope that can be corrected so as not to confuse folks. SandyGeorgia (Talk) 04:32, 29 November 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Just a note to follow Maralia's above link to WT:FAC for further discussion on this point. Cheers, Ian Rose (talk) 05:49, 29 November 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I've tweaked the wording per Sandy's suggestion; I don't want to confuse anyone :) Nick-D (talk) 10:27, 29 November 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Excellent practical advice useful for any article, not just for our project. Many thanks! Best, VєсrumЬаTALK 03:42, 27 December 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Thank you Nick-D (talk) 06:17, 27 December 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]