Original Guidelines | Update 01 | Update 02
This is a modified copy of the h2g2 Writing Guidelines, intended purely to document suggested amendments from this Conversation. It is not supposed to in any way be used as an alternative to the real Guidelines, nor is it intended to be a definitive revision of any kind. It is simply one possibility that is collated from the postings in the Conversation. It is not guaranteed to be accurate and is not intended to express the personal opinion of any contributing party, or the Italics. The contributors listed on this page contributed to the Conversation mentioned above, correct down to post 106.
This document has been superceded by Update 02.
Deciding What to Write for the Edited Guide
One of the coolest things that can happen to you on h2g2 is to get one of your Guide Entries picked for inclusion in the Edited Guide (see the Peer Review page for more information). But what is it that makes a good Edited Entry, and what can you do to increase your chances of us finding your prose irresistible enough to put on the front page of h2g2?
There's plenty you can do! If you're an aspiring Researcher who wants to learn how to write, or you're an experienced journalist who simply wants to know what we're looking for in the Edited Guide, read on to find out what you ought to be aiming for....
What to Write About
Write About Reality
h2g2 is a guide to life on Earth, not a work of fiction. Feel free to write fiction, but please don't ask us to edit it. We probably won't, especially if it mentions small, furry creatures from Alpha Centauri... or makes gratuitous reference to Douglas Adams and his books. There are groups of Researchers who work with fiction - you can find one such group at the U187783 page.
One hurdle that you need to overcome is to find something that isn't already included in the Edited Guide or in the process of becoming Edited. It's easy enough to do this, and this is what you need to check:
Is the topic covered in the Edited Guide?
Use the search engine to see if there is already an entry on your pet topic. If there's already an Edited Entry that covers the subject, don't write a new entry and ask us to edit it, because we probably won't. Duplication is best left to genetic scientists, not writers.
Is the topic already in the process of becoming Edited?
Use the search engine again, only this time, search for Recommended Entries. If there is one, and you have significant additions to make, you ought to contact the Sub-editor of the Entry concerned.
Is the topic covered by a University Project?
Visit the h2g2 University to see if there someone is putting together a Project that should cover your topic. If there is one, then check if an appropriate Entry is included in the Project. If there isn't, suggest that one is written, or offer to write it. If you write it for the Project, don't submit it to Peer Review.
Is the Entry in Peer Review?
The Peer Review system doesn't usually take kindly to someone submitting an Entry to try and beat one that's being discussed already into the Edited Guide. You should also check the other review forums connected to the Edited Guide - the Writing Workshop and the Flea Market.
Fill in the Gaps
Finding a topic to write about in the first place is even more difficult, precisely because there's a lot left to be written about. A good source of inspiration is the Categorisation system, laid out on the Front Page. If you work your way through a few branches of the system, you'll soon find an obvious gap to fill.
How to Write Your Entry
Be Instructive, Informative and Factual
A potential Edited Entry will essentially be instructive, informative and factual. This is important. If these three factors form the base of your entry then you are definitely heading in the right direction. It would be fair to say we are often astounded by the quality and detail of some of the entries. Hats off to the Researchers of these great entries:
Write About What You Know
It's also important to write about what you know. Word-producing luminaries such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Samual Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Rupert Brooke and Bob Dylan all took this advice to heart and look where it got them... immortality in the literary canon, that's where. OK, we know this advice can be frustrating: we can't all be Leo Tolstoy in the enviable position of being an aristocrat with a social conscience, and thus able to produce the likes of Anna Karenina, but you will end up with a thoroughly worthy piece, much admired by your peers. You'll see canny observation and personal perspective among the following entries, each written by people like you, so tell us about your pet topics:
- Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus
- McMurdo Station, Antarctica
- Sadako and the Peace Crane
- The Storage of Eggs
Research Your Entry Thoroughly
The starting point for many entries is a deep-rooted passion, a sense of nostalgia, or a drive borne from curiosity. Of course entries such as these should not be short on facts or detail, and it's often clear when Researchers' entries are true labours of love:
Try to be Well-balanced
h2g2 is a great place to have opinions and get things off your chest, but for the Edited Guide we're looking for well-balanced entries rather than subjective rants. We're looking for entries that show both sides of the argument, especially on potentially contentious topics. Here are some examples:
Write in the Third Person
Because h2g2 is a collaborative guide, we may add in comments and material from other Researchers, and we'll credit them. Having an entry in the first person wouldn't make sense with a number of authors credited, so please write in the third person.
Your Writing Style
Don't Try too Hard to be Funny
Especially if your entries comprise one-line jokes. We've heard them all before, and until we set up a humour section, we won't use any one-line jokes in the Edited Guide. Especially the ones about your mother-in-law.
Lots of our early Researchers thought that because the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books were funny, they should make sure all their Guide Entries were packed with side-splitting jokes, little realising that 90% of people who think they're funny simply aren't, and just end up sounding like a surrealist on tranquilisers. There's nothing worse than a joke falling flat1, so please don't try to write like Douglas Adams...
Write in Your Own Style
...but do try to write like yourself, which is a lot more satisfying: if you happen to be funny accidentally, that's great. Just don't try to force it. Each of the following entries has a completely different style, making the Guide a varied and fascinating place to be.
- Tango to San Telmo
- The Agony of Being a Chicago Cubs Fan
- The Hanger Lane Gyratory System
- Alaskan Fish Plants
How Much To Write
We are not necessarily looking for long entries, just well-researched, well-balanced, well-written ones. We've also found that Researchers are much more likely to read entries and comment on them if it's possible to read them in one sitting. Entries can be both factual and succinct, like these:
- RobiComb - the Coolest Reason to Have Lice
- Dunluce Castle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
- Murray Walker - Commentator Extraordinaire
As a general guide, it's usually difficult to adequately cover a topic in less than 250 words, and there are few circumstances where an Entry should be longer than a couple of thousand words. If your Entry is getting a bit lengthy, consider splitting it into smaller subtopics. If your subject is quite wide, you might need to consider a University Project - if you do this, you won't need to put all of the Entries through Peer Review, either.
Plan Your Entry
Plan your entry, and think carefully about its structure. If your entry is planned with care, you'll probably find that it will flow well and will fall naturally into sections, as with the following entries...
If your Entry doesn't split neatly as suggested above, then you should keep it as one Entry, but indicate convenient splitting points in the Entry. This is so that the Entry can be picked as one Entry and then split into parts at h2g2. This applies to Entries that exceed a couple of thousand words. You can certainly write 20,000 words in one entry if you like - that would be brilliant - as long as you indicate places to split the Entry. To do this, you can use a row of dashes in a text entry, or, if you're using GuideML, a <HR/> tag or two could be used.
Technical and Legal Issues
It Almost Goes Without Saying, But...
... we're going to say it anyway. Please always try use correct spelling and grammar, and make sure your GuideML works if you're using it. You can find a bunch of useful tips in our entry on English Usage in the Edited Guide.
Do Not Copy From Other Sources
When you sign up to h2g2 you agree to the BBC Terms and Conditions, which include a whole section on not infringing other people's copyright. In other words, please do not copy chunks of text from other Internet sites or from anywhere else. Not only does plagiarising other people's work break our terms and conditions, it is also illegal in most countries. If it is discovered that you have been copying, the entry will be removed from the site and you could be barred, so please don't do it. After all, you wouldn't want someone to steal your work and pretend it's their own, would you?
You can find more information about what this means in the entry on DNA and Intellectual Property Law, which can be found on the DNA Hub.
Other Useful Information
The following entries might also be of interest:
- Learning to Write on h2g2
- English Usage in the Edited Guide
- Using Approved GuideML in the Edited Guide
- What Happens after your Entry has been Recommended?
- Peer Review
- The Collaborative Writing Workshop
- The h2g2 Writing Workshop
Thanks again for all your hard work - and remember, even if your entry is not edited, it will still be a part of the Guide and will show up in the search engine. One of our guiding principles is that we never throw anything away - you never know when it might come in handy!