The purpose of this article
In this article we intend to deal with the subject of h2g2's hard-working volunteer Scouts. Besides a general look at the Peer Review system, will also look at the tools that they use, the support that they get, and how things are developing over time, and also how the process appears to a Peer Review hopeful.
Who's this 'we' that you refer to?
U177581 is an Ace, Sub-Editor, Guru and Scout who has been around in his current form since a month or two after the BBC takeover. He has been an Ace for a while, and likes to think that he's good at it. Originally from Warwickshire is a student in Oxfordshire, England. His favourite smiley is
U132240 is one of the most experienced, and probably the most active and efficient Scouts at the present time. Bossel lives in Munich, and is a member of the A431911. Bossel wrote A584246 on the subject of the Scouts earlier in 2001. This is useful reading regarding the history of Scouting, as we will discover...
U176920 is an author who does not form part of an official h2g2 volunteer scheme. She is a member of the Musicians' Guild and writes mainly on the subject of music. Previous Edited Entries written by Catwoman include 'How to Fail as a Pop Group' and 'Furball - The Band'. She is a teacher in Devon, England. Her favourite smiley is, understandably,
An insider's view
What the job entails
Scouts do two distinct jobs on h2g2:
- Every few weeks, a Scout must pick three entries from Peer Review, and Recommend them for the Edited Guide, to be sent on for the Sub-Editors to deal with and return.
- Cleaning Peer Review. Over time, the amount of posts in Peer Review increases. The Scouts suggest threads that need to be moved out, due to unsuitability for the Forum or the Edited Guide, or due to a decision over the Editing of the Entry. The actual move itself is dealt with at the Towers, but it's committed Scouts like Bossel that keep Peer Review ship-shape. There is more information available at the Scouts' page.
How much work is required
Three picks doesn't seem much, but a good Scout will take a fair deal of time in choosing. Each Entry that the Scout considers will need to be read, and a basic check for plagiarism undertaken by running key phrases through a standard search engine, such as Google UK. Following this, the Peer Review thread must be read, and the Scout considers the suggestions made by the Peer Review thread contributors, as it helps to look at the Entry with these suggestions and comments in the mind. After all this, the Scout may make a shortlist of Entries that are ripe for submission, mentally or on paper, and select three of the best. A good Scout usually tries to look for well-written, precise entries, although those which may present more work to the Sub-Editor may be Recommended if they're especially interesting or amusing. GuideML is not a requirement, but in the vast majority of cases, the author has, at least, had a stab at a bit of code. Once a decision has been taken, the entry is submitted to the Towers - and hopefully is accepted.
Why do it?
Scouting is a great way to get involved in the workings of h2g2, but it's not for the new and inexperienced. The Scouts are a largely down-to-work set of people, and they don't hang around as much as Aces might. There's a fair deal to get right, and mistakes can stick, but it's a way to feel really useful. Oh, and you get to read loads of really good material before it hits the Front Page.
The Tools of the Trade
Until Versions-Ripley-1-5, the Scout system ran solely via the email group associated with the scheme - as did the Sub-editors' submissions setup. The system was long-winded and unfriendly to use, with emails for recommendations requiring careful formatting. Now, the system has been automated. The Scouts have a button available on each and every Entry that isn't Edited, with the words 'Recommend Entry' on the front. One click launches a window that has a field for comments, including the Peer Review thread URL, and a simple button to submit the form. It really is that simple now!
The Scout doesn't tend to see many problems as they go about their work - unless they make a mistake. Email still notifies the Scout of accepted or rejected recommendations - and the Peer Review Cleanup system is not yet automated. Beyond that, the Scout system works well for the Scout, and everything continues on as normal.
From the Outside
What outsiders see of the Scouts
It's difficult for an Author posting to Peer Review to know what exactly to make of a Scout - they are part of 'the powers that be', and yield anonymous power over which Entries leave Peer Review behind them and begin their journey into the Edited Guide. Meanwhile, they're also, for the most part, simply fairly ordinary Researchers who hold the position simply by volunteering to do so. There are no outward signs of a Scout being a Scout within Peer Review, unless the Scout discloses the fact as part of his name or in his Posting. Whoami? says:
'When I post to Peer Review with comments, I don't admit to being a scout - when I make a suggestion, it's mine as a writer and as a Researcher, not with a mind to whether or not I pick the Entry. If I'm picking, it's too late to make suggestions.'
Generally, the only time that Researchers get to meet Scouts as Scouts is when they post an Entry or comment to Peer Review, but then, the question arises as to whether they are wearing their 'Scout' hat, or their 'Researcher' hat. Whoami? tries not to wear hats. Supposing a Scout posts a suggestion about an Entry in Peer Review - how seriously should it be taken by an author? Most likely, the Scout thinks 'I'm interested in this Entry, but I have a few suggestions - I'll post them and the author can take them or leave them as they see fit.' Meanwhile, the author is thinking 'Oh, a Scout has suggested this, that and the other. If they're a Scout, they must know what the Scouts are looking for, so what they've suggested must be good. If I make the changes, maybe they'll recommend my Entry.'
Of course, when Scouts post positive comments about an Entry, it does warm the cockles of the author's heart, the thinking being along the lines of 'If they're a Scout, then they must know what they're on about, and if they've praised my Entry, it's obviously ready for the Edited Guide, so I can safely ignore any further suggestions.' This too, does nothing to assist in the evolution of an Entry on its way to becoming Edited Guide-worthy.
Should Scouts, therefore, carry their title around as a suffix to their name, or mention if when posting comments? The badge is clearly something to be worn with pride, but it does alert authors to the power1 they wield in Peer Review. This question rears its ugly head when Scouts post comments to a Peer Review thread. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a peer as 'a person who is equal in ability, standing, rank or value'. In this sense, Scouts and authors are not true peers, as Scouts have the ultimate power over the destiny of an Entry in Peer Review.
Bossel's Handy Peer Review Hints
Bossel has kindly put together some hints for getting seen in Peer Review, and impressing the Scouts and peers. Here they are:
If you're new to the whole business of Peer Review, it's best to first take a look at what it's all about. Just go around and take a look at a random selection of Peer Review threads, both old and new, threads from the Writing Workshop and perhaps from the Flea Market. Don't pay too much attention to what is being said, rather how it is said, and you'll develop an idea of how things are in Peer Review. It's impossible to give any good example threads, as they move around every so often.
Write the Right Entry
For your first entry, you should choose something relatively simple which you know a lot about, and which has clearly visible boundaries. On all accounts stay clear of topics like 'Infinity', 'the Universe' or 'Nuclear Physics' - these subjects are cursed, and several attempts at covering these have shipwrecked and can be found in the Flea Market.
Of course you should check that your chosen subject hasn't already been covered elsewhere. If you come across some Edited entry which could use some fleshing up then the H2G2 Update HQ is the place where you should be heading.
Check Those Guidelines
Your tour through the Workshop and Flea Market should already have told it: the Writing Guidelines really are guidelines. The proverbial entry 'My Holidays on Majorca', written in first person style from top to bottom, will not make it into the Edited Guide, full stop.
Of course, H2G2 wouldn't be the Guide for Everything if it had no suitable places for alternative ('non-guidelined') entries! How about strolling through (or posting to) one of these:
You don't have to follow a suggestion just because it's been made (it is your entry after all), but it is courteous to at least respond to the suggestion politely. Say what you've done and why, or explain why you don't think you want to follow a given suggestion. Also, don't forget to ask for more comments!
Think twice about responding to a comment the moment it appears. An Entry will receive more attention from commenting people if it is at the top of the list. If your thread was last posted to just a few minutes ago, it's up at the top. Why not wait until it begins to fall, say after a few hours, before replying, thus returning it to the top of the list?
What Day is it?
Just as it's important to plan your Entry carefully, it's important to post it to Peer Review at the right time.
- Friday night is party night, remember. There's no-one in Peer Review, and the weekend is pretty quiet, too. If you post to Peer Review on a Friday afternoon, it'll sit there all weekend...
- ...and get buried under the Monday rush. Monday is busy because people have finished their Entries over the weekend.
- The best time to post, therefore, is Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. The peers in Peer Review are active, but there isn't a glut of new postings to steal your limelight - your offer of an Entry, and their demand for something to comment on, come together in a flurry of activity.
Posting to Peer Review and then going on holiday for two weeks isn't going to give the right impression to anyone. This is because it renders you incapable of being responsive, as decribed above.
If all else fails and you aren't getting noticed, post another posting as a reply to your thread - even if it's just an update or a smiley. This puts you back at the top of the list. Magic, eh?
Keep Your Distance!
Your Entry is a part of you, and you have offered it for the criticism of others. Therefore, any comment, positive or otherwise, is aimed at you? Not so. Peer Review isn't about you so much as it's about your Entry - so don't get so worked up about it all. Enjoy the criticism - it's the first step towards the Front Page.
Come to think of it, aren't you a bit egotistic? Ok, it's your baby that is trying to swim on top there, but denying other Researchers your tuppence worth of wisdom doesn't really fit into the idea of a community, does it? The page is called Peer Review, and not Competitors' Race for Attention.
It is a characteristic property of hard-boiled researchers to have grown out of this narrow-minded state and to have developed a more relaxed attitude. What you should be doing is this: gain distance (see above) and grow/develop too. Mind you, the words 'grow', 'develop' and 'boil' indicate that everyone has gone through this process, and you're definitely not the first researcher who panicked when their thread was listed well below page one.
Hard-boiled researchers can easily be identified by their initial posting in a PR thread. Note the difference between
'I'm new to all this, please be kind with me '
'I've done my best at writing this yarn. Now rip it to shreds, fellas '
How To Comment
Don't write full-fleshed critics as if you were selecting stuff for a theatre stageplay!
Be kind. Find something positive and say so! Every bitter pill goes down better with a spoonful of sugar.
A few example review threads
You may as well check out these threads - it's real life experience that you need now. Here they are:
The shortest ever PR thread: quality pays off (A602001)
Even the Italics do it: pop it up (A653807)
Asking too much: drat! (A594579)
Nobody else in sight: splendid isolation (A535321)
Responsive researcher: responsive (A572122)
popping it up and being responsive, but ... things can last (A441389)
Never again should this happen: infamous (entry deleted)
Even the Italics can make mistakes (A664085)
Here's where the fun of PR is: lovely (A560431)
Some discussions about the proceedings on PR and its future:
Some oldie-but-goodie about Feedback on h2g2.
When all else Fails...
So you've done your best to keep your thread at the top of Peer Review and refrained from posting to other threads because this would put them over yours ... and bang, along comes a bunch of Scouts, committed researchers and authors in a similar situation to yours, and put PR all upside down by posting to other threads. Add another day of silence or a single harsh comment from a fellow researcher and your ship is sinking .
Well, things can be like that.
Other Review Forums
According to its assigned purpose, the Writing Workshop is the place for entries which aren't finished and need some more assistance on their way to becoming ready for the guide. Sadly, the Writing Workshop currently fails to comply with its task.
Writing Workshop threads can be sorted into two categories:
- Entries which were moved from PR, for one of the various reasons. At the moment, the WW almost entirely consists of this sort of thread. The owners of those 100+ threads are still active on h2g2 because otherwise the pieces would have been moved to the Flea Market. But they have abandoned their pieces, so it seems.
- Some three to five threads were, at the time of this Report, posted to the Writing Workshop because the Researcher thought they needed some help. It is a common observation that s/he who posts to the Workshop first, *has* read the Writing-Guidelines and taken them to heart. Curiously enough, threads of this type don't stay there for long because typically all that is lacking is the Researcher's confidence in the quality of their own work. It is another common observation that, after being sent to PR, this kind of thread gets recommended within two weeks.
In conclusion, threads of category 1 could use some help but don't get it, whereas those of category 2 don't need help and are posted to the wrong place.
Furthermore, the Writing Workshop is a very, very silent place: as a rough estimate, it receives just one or two postings per day. As things are, checking the first page of Writing Workshop conversations every other day is all that it takes in order to maintain an overview of its proceedings and to send those category 2 threads over to Peer Review. The same goes for most of the other Review Forums.
How well does it all work?
At present, the system performs well, providing the required number of recommendations to keep the Edited Guide expanding healthily. However, people tend to get a bit stressed about it all.
What needs to change?
The Scouts need a way to become more familiar with the authors, and the authors need to understand the Scouts better. The Scouts need to be clear with their comments on Peer Review, and in what way thery're intended. Apart from that, there's not all that much to do - although an automated clean-up system would be a definite advantage in terms of time.