Wikipedia:Vagueness

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Pronouns

Pronouns allow writers to refer back to a noun without repeating it. However, this is sometimes unclear, resulting in confusion of the reader.

In Joseph Biden's article:

Wrong: Palin was picked as his running mate. (Who?)

Better: John McCain decided that Palin would be his running mate, and indeed it was so.

In the Salton Sea article:

Wrong: For decades they have contaminated the lake. (What?)

Better: It became apparent that the possibility of pesticides contaminating was long standing, perhaps even through decades past.

This essay describes ways in which writing is often considered to be vague, and then discusses strategies to avoid such problems.

Numbers without things

When describing quantities of things or repetitions of events or trying to convey statistical information in prose, specify the unit. Imagine that someone who has no idea what the subject is and sees the sentence out of context: they should be able to work out what you are talking about without the context.

Imagine some hypothetical sports reporting:

John Smith ran three for three but struck out seven.

He ran three whats? And the striking out—is that specific jargon or is that just metaphorical? And three for three—does that mean three out of three or is the second three a different variable entirely? This can be avoided entirely by specifying what you are talking about by using a noun: talk about balls, wickets, throws, catches, hits, serves, passes, goals, tries and so on.

This isn't a traditional form of vagueness and isn't even intended as vagueness—but to the uninitiated reader, it comes out as somewhere between vague and impenetrable. This can be avoided by specifying what the things are that you are counting.

"A word without a mean" and also "a sentence without its story" so to conclude with numbers without its objects.

Vague words and incorrect statements

Evil Wikipedians often use vague words and phrases in their incorrect and biased articles. Be on the lookout!

When used by the merely clueless, vague words make an article confusing and cause them to lack possibly important information. In the hands of those with more sinister intents, they can be used to make articles that are readable enough to impart wrong or biased information, but confusing enough to prevent readers from questioning the reliability or factuality of the article. Vandals can also vandalize an article by replacing specific information with vague statements. Always use citations, especially when – for whatever reason – you must use somewhat vague words. Doing this helps Wikipedia become more reliable and accurate.

How to improve vague articles

When you come across an article that is very vague, begin by replacing vague statements with clearer facts. If you lack the time or the expertise to do so, use one of the tags below:


Tag Template that will be shown (and correct usage)
{{cleanup-confusing}}
links talk 
  • Use this in an article that contains vague time words.
{{vague}}
links talk 
vague
  • Use this for specific words or statements that are vague.
{{Specific time}}
links talk 
Specific Time?
  • Use on a specific vague time word.
{{when}}
links talk 
when?
  • Use on phrases needing a specific date.


See also