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This is a stab at creating an example section to help distinguish neutral vs non-neutral writing. I created it because the actual "Neutral Point of View" page now has an awful lot of commentary on it and it is getting difficult to get much guidance. I have tried to glean my examples on the basis of the majority opinion on that page. Feel free to dissent.

I (MB) am cutting the debate off this page and moving it here. Links have been provided where necessary.


Facts vs Opinion

In general, facts are items that can be validated on demand in such a way that a reasonable person would accept the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

Easy ones - The following statements are legitimate statements of fact (or would be if I hadn't made them up):

  • The population of Springfield is 250 000 (1999 census)
  • Dogs have the scientific name Canis whatever.
  • In 1571, Galileo reported in his journal Canonicus ex post facto that "it really does taste like butter".
  • The earth goes around the sun. (Hey this one is true... and no flat-earth discussions now, please)

More difficult examples:

  • Abortion is wrong - opinion, not a fact.
  • The pro-life movement holds that abortion is wrong - fact, not an opinion.
  • God/spiritual energy/ (insert your pet concept here) exists. - opinion, not a fact.
  • Nietzsche spent much of his life arguing (among other things) that God does not exist - fact, not an opinion.

Even more difficult example:

  • Scientologists hold the belief that living cells have a memory. This is based on an erroneous interpretation of the work of Crick and Watson in 1955. - opinion, not a fact.
  • Scientologists hold the belief that living cells have a memory. This is based on an interpretation of the work of Crick and Watson in 1955. This interpretation has, however, been heavily criticised by notable cell-biologists such as (whoever) ... - fact, not an opinion.

(Oh, and I have no idea if the thing about Scientologists and Crick and Watson is true or not, just go with it for now).

  • Anti-Americanism exists in the world. This is due to a number of serious errors in American foreign policy, particularly with regard to Palestine. - obviously biased, but try this next one...
  • Anti-Americanism exists in the world. This is due to a number of perceived serious errors in American foreign policy... - this is STILL biased. Rephrase it as "The Society of Pole Sitters attributes this to..." or list all of the other major possible cause(s).

If you're stuck: Go with more detail than less. Do not present any viewpoint as "right". Your indecisiveness will be sorted out by the other editors, have no concerns about that.

What to do if you believe something is "ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, dammit!" You'll be pleased to know there is a forum for your profound insights and wisdom.

Test how you are doing...

  • Darwin's theory of natural selection is the best available explanation of the diversity of life we see today. - acceptable or not? (For discussion, see Examples debate Topic 1)
  • Darwin's theory of natural selection is the most widely accepted scientific explanation of the diversity of life we see today. - acceptable or not? (For discussion, see Examples debate Topic 2)

Geographical bias

Location: You are writing a universal encyclopedia to an international audience, so any assumpsion over location or "common sense" familiarty with geography should not be taken. For example:

"Herbert George Wells (September 21, 1866 - August 13, 1946) Writer, The son of a professional cricketer, Wells was born in Bromley, Kent. In his youth he was ..."
Now wait a minute.. What nationality was he? It may look obvious for Britons that "Kent" refers to a county in south-east England (and more obvious that Wells was English!), but not for the rest of the world. See also Kent (disambiguation) for other places named "Kent".

Cultural: Avoid cultural assumptions. A previous version of the article on thanksgiving didn't explain what thanksgiving actually is: it assumed the reader was familiar with the term.

Measurements: Various cultures use differing standards of measurement. See Wikipedia:Manual of Style (dates and numbers), Wikipedia:Measurements Debate

Symbols: The $ symbol is used by over 60 countries in the world. Generally $ means the United States dollar, but to always assume that irritates those people who feel equally entitled to use the symbol. Try to use US$, or USD (the ISO 4217 code). Although much less confusing, the same goes for the £ symbol: use GB£ or GBP (or UK£ or ... you get the idea).

Dates: Wherever possible, use the long date format with Wiki-links (September 11, 2001). If you need to use a shorter data format, do not use the 10/4/01 format. To a British person, this means April 10, to an American this means October 4, to others it means April 1, 2010. Use the medium format (Oct 4 or Apr 10)

Seasons:. "The summer of 1994-1995" makes perfect sense to residents of New Zealand but will confuse Americans. Try to use month names wherever possible. Some people argue that if an article is about a specific region then this should not be necessary. However I tested this on some people and frankly, "summer" has a specific meaning for most people. To many it means "Christmas." Try to say June to August, and in the worst case, say "Northern summer". Also Americans use the term "fall" to describe the season between summer and winter, most of the English-speaking world calls this season "autumn".

Try to avoid using expressions which are unique to your country, region, hemisphere.

An example: Australians use the symbol A$ all the time. To a non-Australian this could mean "Armenia", "Aruba"... use Aus$ (a clearer abbreviation for Australia) or, even better, AUD (the ISO 4217 code). Same goes for any other country. In the worst case, if you are going to use an easily mistaken symbol regularly but don't want to annotate it every time, put a footnote: "Please note: $ refers to the Zimbabwean dollar unless otherwise indicated." See also the section about Symbols above.

Expressions: "Joe lucked out". To one person, this means Joe had some bad luck. To others it means Joe had some good luck. 'Nuff said.

See also : Neutral point of view



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