A Conversation for The Scouts' Home Page

Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 1

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

Every so often something pops into my 'in' basket that, try as I might, I find it awfully difficult to see brilliance in. In the good old days, when men were real men, and so on, we could simply have stamped reject all over it and sent it back, after giving it to the hamster to play with for an hour or two. Nowadays everything is supposed to be marvellous by the time it reaches the Subs, and we're discouraged from scribbling sarcastic remarks all over it and making people cry. Which was really the best part, if we're to be honest.

Anyway, the reason I popped by was to ask for your help in trying to improve the standard of submissions at the Peer Review stage. I'm not trying to wheedle out of having to do a bit of work; and I'm all in favour of doing whatever one can to help a Researcher who needs it. But there is a lot of stuff that may be brilliant in concept, but is sloppy and 'orrible in execution. What I mean is sometimes a thing is outrageously funny or eerily insightful. But when you have to turn it into English, it looks like sick and sawdust; and then the poor Researcher gets upset because his or her work has been edited into something he or she hardly recognizes. If, on the other hand, we could encourage the author of these cryptic submissions to solve some of the more mind-numbing deficiencies, they would then have the satisfaction of having written more of the finished product themselves, and everyone would be happier... except the hamsters.smiley - smiley

JTG


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 2

Martin Harper

The problem comes in those case where the original author has either left the guide - or just isn't terribly enthusiastic about getting the fine detail perfect - and there's very little that can be done in such circumstances. Sure, we can move it to the writing workshop and hope that some kind soul fixes it up - but that doesn't happen terribly often in practice - so it always feels like throwing away potentially good material... smiley - blue


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 3

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

That's fair enough. If the authors aren't around, they're not likely to be put out by a rewrite. And if they don't care enough to take your suggestions seriously, then they shouldn't complain about the finished product. But some of the stuff that comes along to be edited is really pretty questionable.

No doubt there are a lot of difficulties and practical problems the Scouts have to deal with that wouldn't occur to someone who isn't put in the position of having to go out and find material for the Guide. I don't mean to seem to criticize; it's just a nuissance having to make sense of something that we wouldn't have looked twice at in the pre Peer Review days, especially if the author is around and simply hasn't made the effort to bring the material up to pace.

Anyway, I hope I haven't offended anyone with my little rant.smiley - winkeye

JTG


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 4

Martin Harper

No offence by me... smiley - winkeye

Have you tried asking the researcher involved directly? At the very least, a warning that large changes will be made should reduce the backlash after the event. Similarly, you could simply tell them that their entry into the guide is going to be slowed down somewhat by the need to rewrite, but if they make some changes themselves then it'll be a lot faster...

The big practical problem I find is trying to suggest changes without putting people off writing for the guide... tis a fine line - and difficult to draw, I find.


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 5

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

Aye 'tis that... arrrh.smiley - winkeye

As you said, it's not always easy to get hold of the Researcher in question in time to do any good. The problem for the Subs, as I see it, is that if you spend a lot of time chasing down information and deciphering iffy Entries, the longer everyone has to wait to see their work on the front page. It's not really a question of whether something can be made of an entry - something almost always can - as much as is the investment in time worth it.

Maybe I just overestimate the amount of good stuff there is out there to be collected. It's just a shame when someone who has obviously invested the time to do a good job has to wait in line with someone else who obviously hasn't.

At the very start of the Peer Review process, someone has to make the decision to pick something up and recommend it or turn away holding their nose. Would it be possible to simply raise the bar a bit higher at that point? Or is it difficult to find enough quality material to meet the demand?

JTG


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 6

Martin Harper

You can't, as a sub-ed, rearrange your queue at all then? I thought it'd be possible to leave such an entry on the backburner for a while to concentrate on the next one...?

There really ought to be some way to give lower priority to entries where the author hasn't put the work in - at the moment I can suggest people do GuideML and spellchecking and such to "make the sub-eds lives easier"... but people are rarely swayed by such altruistic arguments - a "fast-track" for well-written entries might change that... hmm.


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 7

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

I think , if we did that, we would get into the problem of having all sorts of more or less unofficial grades of submissions, which would mean different things to different people. And at some point you'd still be faced with the problem of turning away from one pile to address another. Breaking up batches would probably cause a lot of administrative problems for Anna an Co. too.

GuideML isn't really a problem. The markup is checked as a matter of routine anyway. The type of thing that really should be given more attention is obscure references and structural deficiencies.

When one reads through a submission, there is a tendency to guess at the meaning of certain things and unconsciously fill in the blanks. I think that this is something all human brains tend to do. The problem is that, when it comes to editing, you have to go over the thing word by word and make sure that the slippery bits do, in fact, make sense.

What would really be helpful is to take a more detached view of submissions and ask oneself whether this, that, or the other thing really makes sense as it stands, or whether more explanation is needed. A joke might be hilarious to someone who understands what is being referred to but meaningless to someone who doesn't. What we have to do is try to make sure that everyone gets it... as near as.smiley - winkeye

One of the main things that distinguishes a good Entry from something sneezed into existence is structure. I don't mean the layout, which can be experimented with. But is the thing well thought out and solidly put together? This is the area where we earn our keep. Occasionally, however, something comes along that is more tangled than a plate of spaghetti, repeats itself, or includes a lot of chaff. Usually this can be remedied. But sometimes, when a submission is unravelled and laid bare, you find that there is next to nothing left. Then one is faced with the problem of having to find something of interest with which to bind the skeletal remains back together again.

It would be really helpful if the authors could be helped to solve some of these structural problems. And, in cases where the author has disappeared, more of an emphasis placed on whether or not the core concept is valuable enough to justify having to restructure something in editing.smiley - smiley


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 8

Mikey the Humming Mouse - A3938628 Learn More About the Edited Guide!

Let me just put in a few points as someone who is both scout and sub-ed.

1) Lucinda (and other scouts) -- The reason I became a scout was that I was unhappy with the quality of entries I had been receiving as a sub-ed since Peer Review started. 75% of the entries I receive are great! But about a tenth to a quarter need about 20-40 hours worth of work to make it presentable -- which quite frankly, isn't always worth it. And no, we have no control over the queue or what order to the entries in -- we get a batch of 2 or 4 entries, and then have either 2 or 4 weeks, respectively, to get the whole batch turned in. I've talked to Anna about this, and it sounds like (for technical and pragmatic reasons) that this will be the status quo for awhile yet.

2) John (and other sub-eds) -- When entries are scouted by a scout, they aren't automatically recommended and sent to a sub-ed -- they're reviewed by someone on the editorial staff first. These are the people who are, in effect, enforcing the standards of scouting. And, quite often, they will tell the scout that such and such an entry isn't going to be recommended -- maybe because the scope is too narrow, maybe because it isn't researched well enough, etc. I've also noticed that there is a great variation among scouts as to their criteria for evaluating and picking an entry -- there are scouts who judge based on the content alone, and there are scouts who have very high bars of "quality" (style, grammar, organization, etc). Unfortunately, in Peer Review I often see people commenting to an author -- "well, this and that section really need a lot of work, as the writing is unclear and the grammar is bad, but don't worry -- the sub-editor will take care of all of that." Which makes me cringe, because I may very well end up being that sub-editor. Of course, I've also seen instances where the author in question has a learning disability or simply does not have the skills to improve the writing. In those cases I'm always more willing to do the extra work (as I know the author wasn't just being lazy), but I'm never *happy* to spend 15+ hours on a single entry.

3) The problem with disappearing authors. Personally, as a scout, I don't recommend entries from disappeared authors if they aren't up to the same standard as the others I pick. I do, however, recommend to those who've been commenting in the peer review thread that it would be a good idea if someone would take this on as a project. Given the internal copyright rules at h2g2, there is nothing to prevent a "current" researcher from copying the text of the entry, creating a new entry of their own, and then doing the necessary work to bring it up to par. They would just need to make sure that both they AND the disappeared author are listed as contributors (which the italics can handle if there's a little note placed at the top or bottom of the entry).

Just my 2 cents.

Mikey


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 9

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

Thanks Mikey for your take on things.smiley - smiley

As mentioned already, I think we're all willing to go a little bit further for someone who is trying but needs a little bit of extra help. But Peer Review shouldn't be considered a repository for raw material and half baked ideas. I agree with you that the notion that we're here to fix up the mess when flaws have been pointed out is wrong and should be discouraged. This is something we can work together to achieve, is it not?smiley - smiley

JTG


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 10

Mikey the Humming Mouse - A3938628 Learn More About the Edited Guide!

JTG -- I agree. Actually, I would strongly encourage all sub-ed's to hang out and make suggestions in Peer Review as often as possible. If a sub-ed is saying, "you know, this is a good idea but still needs considerable work", usually the scouts will hold off on recommending it until the entry has been improved.

smiley - smiley
Mikey


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 11

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

A very good suggestion.smiley - smiley

What I hoped to achieve by starting this discussion was to point out some of the deficiencies that we often see in recommended material, so that there would be more of an understanding about the sort of thing that should be addressed by anyone who comments on the value of a submission, be they Sub, Scout,or Salamander.

Once again, I'd like to stress that I'm not pointing the finger or criticizing anyone's performance, merely offering my ideas in the spirit of friendly co-operation.smiley - smiley

JTG


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 12

Martin Harper

What's your view on entries which aren't in GuideML, from that perspective? How much work does that take?


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 13

Mikey the Humming Mouse - A3938628 Learn More About the Edited Guide!

Relatively little (i.e., never more than 20-30 minutes from my perspective). The main reason I, as a scout, like entries that have been done up in approved GuideML is that it is visual evidence that the author is really making an effort to get the entry ready for the edited guide. Entries that are done in GuideML tend to be (although this obviously is a generality rather than an absolute) better self-edited as well.

smiley - smiley
Mikey


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 14

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

I agree with Mikey. GuideML takes no time at all to get sorted. In fact I'd go so far as to say that I prefer plain text to submissions that have all sorts of exotic markup to unravel, which may not be permissible in edited entries.smiley - smiley

JTG


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 15

Martin Harper

Is it any better now? smiley - erm

Maybe it'd be worth passing on your concern to the Scout in question for individual entries - at the moment we don't get any feedback as scouts on which entries were nasty to sub-ed, so we're a bit stuffed. This doesn't need to be pointing fingers stuff - and besides, Scouts don't get a tenth of the agro that sub-eds get, so I think we can take the heat... smiley - smiley


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 16

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

I don't know how I would go about contacting a particular Sub. Asking Peta or Anna to pass on a comment might seem like snitching to the teacher.smiley - winkeye Articles reach the Subs without any reference to the Scout who selected them or even the author's name, although the latter is easy to find out, of course.

My last batch of four were each quite good... interesting, well written, and so on. One had the GuideML all in lower case, which was a bit unfortunate, because it really didn't need any editing otherwise.

To get back to the question of feedback, if something could be sorted out in the way of a direct communication route between the Sub and Scout over the work they have in common, I think it would be beneficial to both aspects of the operation.smiley - smiley

JTG




Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 17

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

... if the Scout's name coulld be attached to the relevant Entry,for instance.smiley - smiley

JTG


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 18

Martin Harper

Well, we *ought* to have our names at the end of the relevant Peer Review thread...?


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 19

Jimi X

S'true.

The Scout who picks an entry is instructed to 'close the thread' before the official congratulations posting from Mark when the thread is moved out of Peer Review and onto the relevant entry's page.

So if the Scout is doing his/her/its job properly, you should be able to contact him/her/it via that route.


Silk purses and pigs ears

Post 20

John the gardener says, "Free Tibet!"

Of course! Zounds![punches palm Batman fashion]

I'll make checking a part of the routine from here on [drat this keybooard], and pass on anything that strikes me as being useful to share.smiley - smiley

JTG


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