[Part 2 of a Series: See: Introduction. See: Links to other posts in this series.]
The subject line of this post is a bit misleading. There is no one wiki entry that will teach you every thing you need to know about research content. Fortunately, you can pick almost any entry on a well organized and managed encyclopedia-model wiki to learn what I’m about to explain. Typically, I’d use a page from SmallBusiness.com, as many of my theories about research content have come while spending hundreds of evening and weekend hours structuring it and learning what works and doesn’t by serving as “head-helper” to people who’d like to add content to it — or who can’t find something they’re looking for.
However, I’ve decided to use the Wikipedia entry Metal umlaut as the example for today’s “lesson.” If you’re curious why, it’s because many years ago, Jon Udell used this entry’s history to demonstrate what a screencast is. Also, after the first draft, I felt this post needed more cowbell.
So here’s what you can learn from a well-done wiki entry about the elements needed in great “research” content:
A precise title: The name of the article is not clever, nor written in any way to compete for busy readers by using tricks that blog writers are constantly trying, say: “10 ways to lose weight you can learn from metal umlauts.” Nope, it’s just “Metal umlauts” — and that’s even been shortened from “Heavy metal umlauts” at some point in the entry’s history.
The beginning of the article starts with a precise definition of what the title is: Unilke a news report that is structured around rules and metaphors people learn first while working on the high school paper — inverted pyramids and 5-W’s and an H (or is it 4-H’s and a W?) — research content is structured around rules learned by those who volunteered to work in the high school library. So, the first thing you should note (if you worked on the high school paper instead of the library), there is no “lede” — the strangely spelled word that American journalists use for the opening paragraph. In the UK, journalists use the easier-to-comprehend term “intro,” which is, come to think of it, a good description of what the opening of good research content should be: a precise introductory definition of the topic about to be explained.
Here’s the beginning of the Metal umlaut entry:
A metal umlaut (also known as röck döts) is an umlaut mark that is sometimes used gratuitously or decoratively over letters in the names of heavy metal bands, for example those of Mötley Crüe and Motörhead.”
You should note that the opening sentence also displays something about good research content that most people don’t know: it can contain wit, as in the way a contributor threw in the term röck döts using metal umlauts
Overview: After the opening, a well-organized Wikipedia entry has a few sentences of overview — typically filled with words and terms related to the topic, thus, if someone is searching for the topic and doesn’t quite enter into Google the correct word or terms for the subject, they might still find the article.
Table of contents: On the majority of articles appearing on Wikipedia, each section and sub-section title of the article is automatically gathered into a Table of Contents that appears in a box at the top of the page. Let me repeat that: Every article has a table of contents that is automatically created from the subject lines of sections and subsections of the article. Those of us who manage sites built on the MediaWiki platform (the open source software Wikipedia uses) know how to override the default settings of Wikipedia to move — or remove — the “TOC.” However, the default setting automatically creates a TOC, giving the reader (and Google) a precise understanding of all the types of information that can be found on the page — and an article-level navigational tool.
Intra-site links: Just look at all those links on the page that go to other pages on Wikipedia. Not only is this good for the researcher who wants to dig deeper into a new term or concept, it is another human-crafted hint to Google for helping to understand the relevancy of words appearing in the article with content found on other pages of the site. Great online research content is packed with inline links to other pages on the site that provide more understanding of the linked word or term.
Citations: One of the ways Wikipedians have tried to minimize the complaints about fuzzy facts appearing on the site is to require citations that appear as footnotes. If you know about the role journal citations played in the origins of Google, you might think about the possible role such citations might play in the current Google algorithm. For researchers, these citations may be the most valuable content appearing on a Wikipedia entry.
“See also” links: These are links to other pages or related categories on the wiki. Unlike inline links that go to articles related to individual words appearing on the page, these links are related to the topic of the entire article appearing on the page. (Sidenote: On a blog post, I believe inline “external links” are good etiquette and the best practice. However, on a research-oriented site, I believe the only inline links should be to pages on that site, and external links should appear as citations or appear in the “eternal links” section of the page.)
External links: As I have advised my children and anyone who reads this blog, Wikipedia is not “truth,” but it can serve as a gateway to truth. One of the most challenging aspects of managing a quality wiki is policing the external links — they are magnets for link spammers. (They are the reason we have a somewhat high barrier to editing an entry on SmallBusiness.com.) Some of the most hotly debated aspects of collaboration on a wiki entry can be what external links to add. Unlike a directory or search engine, a wiki entry is not a place where you collect all the links on that topic (or worse, links that have no possible relationship to the topic), but rather, where you list the definitive or most useful links related to that topic.
Categories: If you’ve read this far, you’re in luck: Here is the true magic of Wikipedia and the MediaWiki platform. I’ve waited until the end, because it is so incredible that I consider it a trade secret. The taxonomy of a wiki is primarily managed through Categories. Across the bottom of each entry, you’ll see a list of Categories to which that article belongs. Great research content is organized with such structure. The term given to the science and art of categorization is “taxonomy.” In some ways, the use of Categories on a wiki is like “tagging” content, but in a more formal and structured way. And to completely bury the most important thing you can learn in this post (again, I don’t like giving secrets away): Categories turn each page of a wiki into the equivalent of a “site map” for the topic of the article. For the reader — and Google — Categories organize every bit of content on the site on every page, making each entry a micro-site about one topic.
Next post in the series: Two types of content that may not win awards, but that we can’t do without
(Note: A version of this post appeared on RexBlog.com)