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Design/Archive/Wikimedia Foundation Design/Writing style

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This is a conversation started in an email thread April 11, 2012 by Jon Robson

Have we got a copy text writer in the team/community or any copy text guidelines? Currently on the mobile site in beta mode we have the text 'Type your search here...' on the search box before you click on it. This created (IMO) an interesting discussion.

Personally I think we have a chance to be more inspiring with the words we use. It would be good to think more about this sort of thing across mobile to strengthen the MediaWiki/Wikipedia brand. Little things like copy text can make all the difference. 'I'm feeling lucky' on Google for instance rather than 'Go to the top search result' is fun and meaningful. Likewise we could imagine our 'Random' button in the main menu saying 'Inspire me' or 'Surprise me'. Facebook 'What's on your mind?' in the update status box is much more interesting than 'type your status here'.

Copy text has always been something that interests me so I'd be interested if others have an expertise here...

Jon Robson


Do it. Get community members involved BUT keep in mind this *has* to get translated and a long text string in english will be exceptionally long in other languages. Thus keep it short. Also, were on mobile devices here ... anything moderately long even if a word or two longer is bad. Thus .. keep it short x2. Make those expectations clear if your going to involve more people.

Tomasz Finc


I agree with this!

I think this is an entry point of an important (but relatively easy to implement) aspect of the experience of Wikipedia.

This is a fabulous opportunity to give thought and heart to the message you send to everyone who uses Wikipedia. There is a habit when we've seen something a bunch of times, to think that it's the “way it's done”. This is sometimes true, especially in contexts with a long history. I don't think this is the case here. I believe there is room to put some more human personality in Wikipedia.

Of course WP is not a corporation that is trying to coerce or gather people. And the difference here is that you don't have to convince people, you have a huge built-in audience that might not even notice robotic language. But I bet they would notice something out-of-the-ordinary.

I have no idea if it pertains to the gender gap, but tone of language makes a tremendous difference to me, personally; regarding how I feel about a site, how long I want to stay and whether I want to contribute.

I would love to spend some time and consider/discuss this issue.

Heather Walls


Generally agree, but strongly emphasize that our EN users statistically are unlikely to be native speakers. Colloquial is not useful. Contractions may confuse. Simplicity is king.

I also try to channel the voice of our projects: outside of a talk page, would Wikipedia 'say' that? As Tomasz says - community input is critical. They can't just edit this text away as if it were on a wiki :)

Jay Walsh


I echo all of Heather's comments.

Although I understand that copy text will have to take into account non-English speakers it still doesn't need to be robotic. I would never say 'Type your search here' and to follow Jay's advice I can't imagine Wikipedia saying 'Type your search here' . I think of Wikipedia as my favourite, most inspiring teacher who taught me Chemistry in high school, not the strict unfriendly one I had for English :)!

As Heather says language does make a huge difference to some people. The goal is to 'imagine a world which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge'. I don't want to disrupt non-English speakers but I'd like to think Wikipedia just by using a different tone could encourage more people to learn and explore.

What would be the best way to move forward with this. Are there any copy text experts we could bring in/discuss this with? Are there any existing wiki pages that discuss copy text that we could possibly direct this conversation too? It would be great at the very least to have a set of clear guidelines we can refer to when writing copy text in future.

Jon Robson


Interjecting, I think it's a great idea to try to find the most friendly, effective language to draw people in that we can get. Wish I had expertise myself to help out, but, alas, writing short has never been my strong point. The idea of bringing in community feedback on mobile language is an interesting one. :) We have all kinds of expertise out there, although finding it can be hard. Obviously, we'd just have to be clear that we're bringing in advice from multiple streams, so that people aren't disappointed if the ideas they propose prove unworkable for some reason, such as if they are not accessible to ESL users.

I've been trying to think of any discussions that could be useful already on Wiki for this kind of thing, but it's such a different skillset, writing this succinctly.

In terms of copy-text experts, there must be somebody out there who teaches people this stuff. Not sure how easy they are to find, though, or if they'd be in budget.

Maggie Dennis

This is cute. Have you considered writing concrete and specific details and rules as might be created for any publication, but specific to your product? (And btw: the title says Wikimedia, but the discussion is exclusively Wikipedia. Which is it?)

Some possibly useful examples:

Amgine (talk) 14:53, 13 August 2012 (UTC)