Wikipedia:How to write Simple English pages

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This page describes how to write Simple English articles.

Think about your readers

First, think about your readers. Many readers of Simple English are people whose first language is not English. Other readers may be young (they may be children who don't have much knowledge of English) or have learning difficulties. The language is simple, but the ideas need not be. If you find anything wrong, please correct it.

Basic English and VOA Special English

Simple English Wikipedia follows some of the rules of Basic English, but is not so strict about using only a certain number of words. Every day, Simple English changes, and does not have only one word list. A good starting point to writing in Simple English is to learn to write using Basic English words. This helps you to write with a limited vocabulary.

Start with Basic English (BE) 850. Let us say that your readers know the BE 850 words. If your writing sounds strange, or is not clear, use a less common word. The less common word may be in BE 1500 or Voice Of America (VOA) Special English.

Example

The example below shows why we do not insist on using only Basic English words. The full English sentence is from Winston Churchill:

Full English: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."

Basic English [BE 850]: "... blood, hard work, drops from eyes, and body water."

  • "Blood" is a BE 850 word.
  • "Hard work" is good for those who understand English as their mother language. But a learner could understand the word "hard" as "solid" or "difficult to understand". Perhaps "much work" is better.
  • "Drops from eyes" sounds strange to people whose mother language is English. "Tears" is a BE 1500 word, and you can use it.
  • "Body water" also sounds strange to a person whose mother language is English. "Sweat" and "perspiration" both sound better. "Sweat" is a more common word, and you can use it by linking to the article on sweat. Often, for difficult words that are from Latin (such as "perspiration") there will also be a native (Old English or Anglo-Saxon) word such as "sweat" meaning the same thing that is much more common and basic, but this is not always the case.

Another way is to write the more difficult words, but explain what they mean in parentheses, "(" and ")", if they cannot be linked. For example, write "blood, toil (hard work), tears, and sweat".

Method

  1. Write your words normally, as you would in speaking to ordinary people.
  2. Look for your words in the word lists. Try to use the simplest word list:
    1. In Basic English BE 850 (pictures)
    2. In Basic English BE 1500.
    3. In VOA Special English Word Book.
    4. If a word is a name, idiomatic (the meaning of the words is not clear from the roots), or jargon (special words used by experts), then it should be described in more detail. Linking to an article about the word can also help.
      Stephen Hawking is a cosmologist—someone who studies the structure of the universe (stars and space).
    5. Not all words can have a good encyclopedia article written about them. To link to the dictionary definition of a word rather than an encyclopedic article, link to the Simple English Wiktionary using a link like [[wikt:this|]] (put your word in place of "this"). For a more complex definition, you may also link to the English Wiktionary like this: [[:en:wikt:this|]].
  3. Change to active voice. Example: change from "The bird was eaten by the cat." to "The cat ate the bird."
  4. Look for a Basic English verb in past, present or future only.
  5. For writing special to science or trade, do as asked by the process of AECMA Simplified English (see Other websites below for International Aerospace Maintenance Language).
  6. After finishing the article, check to have at least one link (to another article in Simple English Wikipedia) and one Interwiki link (to a version of Wikipedia in another language). The first is so the article is not a dead-end article, and the second is so that robots can fill in all the missing links to other language versions.

Simple sentence structure

Simple sentences are easier to understand than complex ones. The simplest sentence structure in English is subject-verb-object-period, subject-verb-object-period and so on. Try to use the simplest sentences that make sense.

You should begin by writing simple sentences naturally when you add something to Simple Wikipedia. In your mind, do not phrase your sentence obscurely and then try to convert it to something simpler. Get in the habit of thinking in clear, direct English, without unnecessary words. But never be afraid to add a few words to make a sentence clearer. Simple English is not shorter English, although it frequently has shorter sentences.

In many cases, simple English needs more words than ordinary English. In part this is because of "filler words" (extra words), where the words act as a mental pause, allowing the reader to catch up with your thought. When converting something from the English Wikipedia, it is not uncommon to find that your Simple English article takes up 25% to 50% more words than in standard English. In cases where the original English is poorly structured (usually in an attempt to seem smart to others), you may use much more space.

Remember that this guideline, like all Wikipedia rules, is meant to be used with common sense. It is more important to follow the spirit of simple sentence structure than reduce every possible sentence to its simplest form.

Guidelines

1. Always start by using simple sentences. For example:

  • John Smith walked his dog.
Subject: John Smith
Verb: walked
Direct object: his dog

and

  • John Smith walked his dog to the supermarket.
Subject: John Smith
Verb: walked
Direct object: his dog
Indirect object (also prepositional phrase): to the supermarket

but, if possible, not

  • John Smith walked to the supermarket with his dog.
Subject: John Smith
Verb: walked
Two indirect objects referring to the subject: to the supermarket and with his dog


2. Try to avoid compound sentences – those with embedded conjunctions (and, or, but, however, etc.) – when possible. Write this:

  • Good: John Smith walked his dog. Later, he was tired.

instead of

  • Less good: John Smith walked his dog but later he was tired.

But this is not a guideline in favor of short sentences. For example:

  • Good: John Smith walked his big, hairy dog, Bluto, to the supermarket on Main Street. Later, he was so tired that he collapsed onto his bed exhausted.


3. If you must use complex sentences – those with both independent clauses (which express a complete thought) and at least one subordinate clause (starting with a word like although, because, who, which, etc.) – try to have only one subordinate clause, like this:

  • John Smith walked his dog to the supermarket because he was hungry.
Subject: John Smith
Verb: walked
Direct object: his dog
Indirect object (also prepositional phrase): to the supermarket
Dependent clause: because he was hungry

For example:

  • Bad: John Smith, who was very tired, walked his dog to the supermarket because he was hungry but he returned to his home still hungry and even more tired because the market was closed.
  • Clauses: who was very tired; because he was hungry; but he returned to his home; and even more tired and because the market was closed
  • Better: John Smith was very tired. Nevertheless, he walked his dog to the supermarket because he was hungry. But the market was closed. So he returned to his home still hungry and even more tired.

4. Try not to use compound-complex sentences, with multiple independent and dependent clauses.

  • Bad: John Smith walked his dog to the supermarket where he thought he might buy some apples, but Mary Jones, who considered herself superior to John (although many people believed that she didn't have any reason to feel that way), arrived first and spitefully bought the remaining three apples and so John, who was mad as hell at Mary by this time, had to go home hungry anyway.
  • Better: John Smith walked his dog to the supermarket, thinking he might buy some apples. However, Mary Jones arrived first, and bought the last three. She did this just for spite. She considered herself superior to John, though many thought she had no reason to feel that way. By this time, John was mad as hell at Mary, but he had to go home hungry anyway.


To sum up, the preferred sentence forms are:

  1. Subject-Verb-DirectObject.
  2. Subject-Verb-IndirectObject.
  3. Subject-Verb-DirectObject-IndirectObject.
  4. Subject-Verb-DirectObject-SubordinateClause.
  5. Subject-Verb-DirectObject-IndirectObject-SubordinateClause.

Rewriting existing sentences

Here are some suggestions about how to change complex sentence structures into simpler ones. They can be applied over and over again to the same sentence until you feel the sentence is simple enough for this Wikipedia. Although listed in order of complexity, the ideas can be applied in any order.

Suggestions

1. When you see and, or, but, for, so, yet and other conjunctions that link two independent thoughts in the same sentence:
    1. Remove the conjunction.
    2. Add a period at the end of the word that preceded the conjunction.
    3. Capitalize the first word that followed the conjunction.
    4. You may have to add new punctuation, usually in the second sentence.
Example: John Smith walked his dog but later he was tired becomes John Smith walked his dog. Later, he was tired.

2. When the subject is missing from the second thought, add the appropriate pronoun.
Example: John Smith walked his dog and later petted Mary's cat becomes John Smith walked his dog. Later, he petted Mary's cat.

3. You can always split a sentence at a semicolon.
Example: John Smith liked to walk his dog; but today, the dog was sick becomes John Smith liked to walk his dog. Today, however, the dog was sick.

4a. When the conjunction expresses significant meaning (usually how or why the subject arrived at the current state), you might consider leaving the conjunction in place as the start of the second sentence.
Example: John Smith walked his dog but he didn't like it becomes John Smith walked his dog. But he did not like it.
4b. You might also want to change the order of the sentences, and change the conjunction if necessary.
Example: John Smith walked his dog even though he was very tired becomes John Smith was very tired. Even so, he walked his dog.

5. If you see more than one subordinate or dependent clause in a sentence, you can usually isolate all but one by:
    1. Changing the order of the sentences so that the most important information comes first.
    2. Starting all but the first sentence with the filler words: this or this is or this was due to and so forth.
Example: John Smith walked his dog, which made him angry because the dog always cut into on-coming traffic, which, in turn, made the drivers angry at John, not the dog. This becomes John Smith was angry while walking his dog. This was because the dog would always cut into on-coming traffic. This, in turn, made the drivers irritated at John, not the dog.

6. When you see a dependent clause occurring in the middle of a sentence (normally separated by commas or parentheses), you can usually detach it and make it a separate sentence, again with the appropriate pronoun.
Example: John Smith, who was very tired, walked his dog... becomes John Smith was very tired. He walked his dog....

A real-world example

Before changing, these two paragraphs were in the Wikipedia article on the Sun:

Earth's fate is still a bit of a mystery. Previous calculations show that, due to the solar wind (which drops 30% of the sun's mass), Earth could escape to a higher orbit. But a newer study shows that, due to the tidal forces, Earth would possibly vanish itself while the sun continues to get bigger, although the sun will lose mass.
Anyway, Earth's ocean and air would long have worn out, even if the sun is still in its main sequence stage. After the Sun reaches a point where it can no longer get bigger, the Sun will literally explode, but not like a supernova, but rather, it will expand rapidly and lose its layers, forming a planetary nebula. Eventually the sun will shrink into a white dwarf, and over several hundred billion, even trillion years (100,000,000,000 to 1,000,000,000,000 years), fade to a black dwarf

After changing, these paragraphs looked like this:

Earth's fate is still a bit of a mystery. Previous calculations show that Earth could escape to a higher orbit. This is due to the solar wind, which drops 30% of the sun's mass. But a recent study shows that Earth would possibly vanish itself. This would happen while the sun continues to get bigger due to the tidal forces. However, the sun will lose mass.
Anyway, Earth's ocean and air would have long since worn out. This is even though the sun is still in its main sequence stage. After the Sun reaches a point where it can no longer get bigger, it will literally explode. But not like a supernova. Rather it will expand rapidly and lose its layers, forming a planetary nebula. Eventually the sun will shrink into a white dwarf. Then, over several hundred billion or even a trillion years, the sun would fade into a black dwarf.

These changes were simply a matter of grammar. The words in those paragraphs, such as orbit, solar winds and the sun's mass, could have just as readily been replaced by apples, oranges and strawberries. However, another approach would be to see if the ideas in the paragraphs could be explained better some other way. To do that would need subject-matter understanding.

What not to do

Do not...

  • use poor grammar or incorrect spelling.
  • use bad English: This is Simple English, not Bad English.
  • use contractions (such as I've, can't, hasn't). Instead, do use long forms as this allows learners to recognize familiar grammatical patterns.
  • use complex sentences.
  • use idioms (one or more words that together mean something other than what they say).
  • use words you are not sure about without using a dictionary.
  • write articles so short that they offer no useful information.
  • write in the second person. Good encyclopedia articles are never addressed to "you". Do not make statements about "you".
  • put links in titles (or other elements that structure the article). Try to keep the navigation and the structure of an article separate.
  • just copy a whole article from the normal English Wikipedia and leave it like that without simplifying it. If you do not simplify it, it will be difficult to understand, and is likely to be immediately deleted. See Help:Translate English into Simple English

Related pages

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