Wikipedia:WikiProject Film/Style guidelines/Copy-editing essentials

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The articles that come under the film project's scope have the potential to be the finest resources available anywhere on film production, from those that cover individual films to those that speak of filmmaking technology and history. As well as pursuing high standards of accuracy, verification and neutrality, the quality of prose and formatting of our film articles should aim to be of a professional standard. Good prose is important to maintaining and increasing the authority and reputation of these articles, and their contribution to our understanding of the filmmaking process and the significance of cinema as one of the foremost cultural products of the modern age.

The writing does not need to be beautiful: the challenge is that it be engaging as well as plain and easy to read. Here are general tips on what to aim for in copy-editing film articles.

Organisational tips[edit]

Teamwork can be essential to producing good film articles. Unless you have a lot of experience and the right range of skills, you'll need to be a team-player, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and matching them up with those of others.

Try to network with the membership of WikiProject Films. There are three important factors in how you prioritise your social/professional networking with other editors:

  1. What film topics are they interested in?
  2. What skills do they have? (There are many possibilities, among them copy-editing, researching secondary sources and verification, as well as filmmaking disciplines such as cinematography, visual effects and music.)
  3. How amenable are they to collaborating with you on your chosen topics?

Building fresh collaborations or finding your way into an existing network of editors is very much a social experience. The benefits need to be reciprocal, at least over time, and are partly based on whether people like interacting with you and partly on the fit of your skills and knowledge with theirs. It should be an enjoyable experience.

You may also have opportunities to attract into Wikiproject Films non-member Wikipedians (and even people who are not yet Wikipedians), either to work on a single project or on a longer-term basis. Naturally, this is strongly encouraged by the WikiProject.

Copy-editors are in short supply at Wikipedia, so if copy-editing is not your strength, you'll need to do two things:

  1. Locate those who are good at it; more information on how to do this can be found here.
  2. Be prepared to do the aspects of copy-editing that are easier to learn and perform beforehand.

Often, copy-editors and those with the substantive knowledge of the topic and its sources will need to interact to produce the professional product. This can occur both on the talk page and in invisible comments to other editors, which can be inserted into the body of the article text. Take care to use the latter method judiciously and without mistakenly changing the appearance of the text.

Ways to improve your copy-editing[edit]

Style guides[edit]

  • Be familiar with the Wikiproject Films content guide, which gives tips on article structure and aspects of style.
  • Probably the best place to start after this is the concise Manual of Style, which is only 40% of the size of the main style guide (see below), but covers almost all of the scope.
  • Ease yourself into at least a passing knowledge of the main Wikipedia style guides:

These documents contain much detailed information (English is that kind of language—big and baggy and needing lots of reining in). Don't be daunted by their size: they are there to assist you, and gradually you'll become familiar with the issues and know where to access them quickly and easily if you need to.

Observe the FAC, FLC and GA processes[edit]

It can be instructive to see what reviewers say about the prose of other articles, and to observe the diffs of nominations as they improve in this respect. Look at other film articles that have become featured articles; it may be useful to concentrate on recently-promoted articles rather than older ones, as the overall standard of Wikipedia's featured articles has increased year-on-year.

Strategic distance[edit]

Strategic distance is an important tool for getting the most out of your writing and editing. Ironically, being too close to the text you're working on can be a disadvantage. There are several ways of temporarily distancing yourself from it, including the following:

  • Regularly press the "Show preview" button to peruse the text in a different visual display from that of the edit window.
  • Print out the text and mark it up with a pen, preferably in a different environment from where you normally edit (cafes are good for that).
  • Take time out from it: come back refreshed.
  • Get someone else to go through it.
  • Read it in reverse, section-by-section, or even sentence-by-sentence.
  • Read it aloud.

In terms of your workflow organisation, it is often helpful to copy-edit more than one article or section at a time, and to alternate between them regularly to freshen up your mind. One might require a more high-level copy-edit; the other a more clerical copy-edit.

Language tips[edit]

Generally write for non-experts[edit]

Aim to bring all readers into your topic. It's easy to assume expert or semi-expert knowledge when you're close to a topic; try to read it as though you're an interested, intelligent non-expert. There may be occasional exceptions; for example, where a topic or section is highly technical, such as on film equipment, technology, practice, and terminology, it may be appropriate to pitch the material at readers with specialised knowledge. Even so, try to speak to as wide a readership as possible through the judicious use of focused wikilinking and brief definitions (often within parentheses, dashes or commas); however, you'll know you're trying too hard to explain things if the text becomes cluttered. Editorial judgement and feedback from your collaborators is important in this respect.

Plain English[edit]

Our language is one of the few in which elegance and plainness are intertwined.

Simple vocabulary. Choose basic rather than elaborate words (filming began, not lensing commenced; the scene was completed in an hour, not within an hour, unless you want to imply that an hour was some kind of deadline). There are more suggestions for plain word-choice here.

Simple grammar. Like vocabulary, simple grammatical structures are preferred. Here's an example:

Long snakes. Avoid long, winding sentences; they're too taxing on your readers' working memory. They can typically be split in two using a semicolon or a period (full-stop):

Similarly, gigantic paragraphs are daunting for the readers. Identify where you might break them to allow readers to "start afresh" and download the previous information, as it were, into their long-term memory.


Redundancy, rather than poor grammar and spelling, is the biggest source of problems in prose. A smooth read requires no wasted words: simple as that. All good writing is lean; it's an acquired skill—an attitude that, with practice, you can switch on easily. Here's an example.

Consider trying out your skills on more "weeding" exercises, here.


Be precise where possible. Principal photography took place on several of the studio's Los Angeles backlots.. If it's not mentioned elsewhere in the article, ask the content-writers how many backlots there were. Could be interesting: Principal photography took place on three of the studio's Los Angeles backlots (filming at a fourth was abandoned after it burned down in 2008)..

Unnecessary sequence words[edit]

Many of our articles tell the story of a film's development, writing, filming, release and reception. Stories are strings of actions and facts, and once the reader knows it's a narrative description of a film's journey to the screen, you can usually strengthen the flow by removing such sequence items as "then", "in addition", "also", "next", and "after this" (ironic, isn't it).


English is more particular than most languages about the close repetition of words. By this, we don't mean common grammatical words—such as "the" and "to"—but lexical items. The less frequently used the word normally is, the more the reader will notice its close repetition.

However, repetition isn't quite as simple as this. There's bad repetition, such as we've just looked at, and there's good repetition. Too much elegant variation can introduce ambiguity and "set readers wondering what the significance of the change is, only to conclude that there is none." (Fowler, 1926) In a well-written article, a common word such as "said" will not draw attention to itself, so don't be scared of some repetition, as using increasingly unusual synonyms to avoid repeating yourself can become ridiculous (stated, noted, claimed, uttered, expressed, verbalized, gave tongue to!).

Explicitly "back-referring" to an important word by repeating it can make the text more cohesive and sometimes avoids ambiguity:


Inconsistency in naming and formatting throughout an article makes the text subtly more difficult to read. Sifting through an article, using your memory of what has come before to pick up glitches, is a good exercise for editors who are relatively inexperienced at copy-editing. Here are just a few examples of common inconsistencies in the same article:

  • A spaced en dash like this and then an unspaced em dashlike thisin an article.
  • 6 January and then February 14.
  • Film-making and later Filmmaking.
  • 2nd unit director and then second unit director.

Don't lose the plot[edit]

In many articles about individual films, the first section will be one that describes the plot. These are usually appropriate for complementing the wider coverage that follows about the film's production, reception, themes, and other real-world aspects. However, be wary of including too much fine detail, and analytic, synthetic, interpretive, explanatory, or evaluative claims about the story; the plot section, usually being the first that your readers will encounter, will be a major turn-off if it is too large or difficult to read. Typically, 400–700 words will be enough to describe the plot of a feature-length film, even ones that have an unusually complex structure.

Some of the lessons learned so far can be adapted to help you craft a concise plot section that nevertheless leaves out nothing necessary for a full understanding of the article. Here's an example from an old version of our article on Changeling (2008), a film that runs to 121 minutes:

It might not seem that a lot has been removed from the example above, but the paragraph has been reduced from 88 words to 56; over the course of the section, this will add up to a significant saving. The current version is 628 words, almost 300 shorter than the original and just as comprehensive. Here's one last exercise taken from an old version of Psycho (1960):

Provide only what is necessary to set the rest of the article in its appropriate context. For example, if the Changeling article were to later discuss production information about the Reverend's radio addresses, it may be appropriate to place that detail in the plot section to avoid confusing the reader ["what radio address?"]. Alternatively, if discussion of such is limited to one part of the article, mention it there to keep the plot section short. Use your own knowledge of the film to decide what's important. If you haven't seen it, ask those that have.

The straight line[edit]

Make the flow of consciousness simple. Often, our articles will describe the long, complex process of a film's development; it can be hard to present such a narrative logically to readers, especially when you know the story well yourself. Here's an example from the lead of a non-existent article, summarising the production. Remember that the non-expert readers know nothing yet—this is their first taste of the subject. Make a mental note of the queries many readers would have. Don't expect them to divert to the links right now.

Other resources[edit]