SourceWatch:How to build a good Congresspedia page

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SourceWatch:How to build a good Congresspedia page is a guideline page used on SourceWatch and its projects, including Congresspedia and TobaccoWiki. Guidelines are determined by the SourceWatch staff editors in consultation with volunteer "sysop"-level editors and are meant to help users learn best practices and write quality articles—they are not necessarily strict or mandatory.

Congresspedia help

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Research and referencing

This article contains tips for starting, organizing and expanding Congresspedia pages. The types of articles described here include:

  1. Profiles of members of Congress;
  2. Articles on general issues, areas of legislation or specific pieces of legislation; and
  3. Other articles that span multiple members of Congress or issues.

For tips on how to find information to post on the wiki, see the Congresspedia research guide.


General rules of the road

The main rules of the road for Congresspedia (and SourceWatch as a whole) can be summed up as:

  1. Be collaborative and constructive, not combative and destructive;
  2. Link to a source for everything;
  3. Don't engage in rhetoric – stick to the documented facts.

For more guidance, see:

What every good article should have

Every good article on Congresspedia should have a few key components:

  • Introductory paragraph: Everything you type above the first section heading will appear at the top of the article, above the table of contents. This section should briefly summarize the information in the article to inform the reader of the topics and highlights. As long as the summary only reflects fully sourced information that is further down in the body text, no sources need be provided. Many editors like to start the summary with a lead (or "lede") sentence that incorporates the title of the article in bold to immediately alert the leader to how the title relates to the subject matter. (Example: "Hillary Clinton is the junior Democratic Senator from New York.") For more tips on what should go in the summary section, see the different tips for specific article types below.
  • Section headings: Section headings help break up an article and aid navigation through the handy, automatically generated table of contents that they generate. See the editing help page for tips on how to use section headings.
  • "Articles and resources" section: Every Congresspedia article has an "Articles and resources" section near the bottom that contains sources used in the article as well as links to other relevant Congresspedia/SourceWatch pages and external sites. Many Congresspedia articles will only contain basic information, so this is a good place to show readers where to learn more as well as to link to resources that someone (maybe you!) should revisit for later integration into the article. See the SourceWatch referencing guide for more help on citing sources.

Tips for building specific types of articles

Profiles of members of Congress

Congresspedia has profile articles on each member of Congress and all the non-member delegates. These profiles are not intended to serve as general biographies, but instead focus on members' actions and statements as public officials. Things that are good to add to profiles include votes on specific measures, "flip-flops" on positions, controversies and particularly high profile leadership (or obstructionism) on a piece of legislation. As long as editors stay intellectually honest (no selective editing of quotes, etc.), it's all valuable information.

Formats for articles on members of Congress

The member of Congress profiles generally follow this format. Try to build out within the main sections by using sub-section headings (help on using section headings). You may also use the Template:Main Congresspedia article to spin off sub-articles. See Sourcewatch:Contributing/Splitting Articles for further guidance.

  1. Introductory section: A lead sentence stating the members' name, party, state, congressional district (if applicable), chamber of Congress and first year in Congress. One goal for Congresspedia is to expand this introductory section to reflect the general guidelines for introductory sections – to summarize and highlight the content that exists in the body of the article. Ideally this would result in a introduction that covers a member's major controversies, notable money-in-politics aspects and general voting profile.
  2. Record and controversies: This is where most of the narrative information on a member should go. It should include any controversies, notable leadership or obstructionism on a bill, voting record, etc.
    • The first section in "Record and controversies" should be Voting record and contain a link to the {{Congresspedia voting record}} template.
  3. Bio: This section should include any biographical information that is not related to the member's actions or statements as a public official. This should primarily be a pre-Congress biography.
  4. Money in politics: This section includes links to and feeds from campaign finance, lobbying and other databases. If the member has had any money in politics scandals, these should be briefly noted in the section with a link up to the "Record and controversies" section, where the details should be documented.
  5. Committees and affiliations: The committee and caucus memberships of the member as well as other relevant outside affilliations.
  6. More background data: Links to other general information about the member's official acts.
  7. Contact: Contact information for the member's district and Washington, DC offices.
  8. Articles and resources: Sources for the article, links to relevant SourceWatch/Congresspedia articles, and links to other news articles and online resources that provide information on the member. This is also a good place to put links that have information you don't have time to expand into original Congresspedia content, allowing you or other users to come back later and expand it later.

Articles on legislation or issues

Here are some tips for creating articles on pieces of legislation or an issue before Congress, but remember – they're only suggestions:

  • Remember the basics: an introduction, section headings and an "Articles and resources" section: In the case of articles on pieces of legislation, the introductory section (the text above the first section heading) should contain the basic information on what the piece(s) of legislation do, what their status is, and what problems or situations the legislation is seeking to address. Good section headings might include the names of specific pieces of legislation (if the article covers more than one), background on the law the legislation is seeing to change and, if dealing with legislation covering multiple sessions of congress, a section specifically dealing with developments in the current congressional session.
  • Add the kinds of information that can be useful to other readers: This includes the current status of the bill, who sponsored it, what the bill would actually do, links to news articles and other resources that help shed light on a bill, etc. For places to look see the research guide: "How to research U.S. legislation".
  • Try creating an article on a legislative area before creating one on a specific piece of legislation: Say you want to create an article on the "Banana Slug Preservation Act." First check the list of legislation articles to see if there's any articles on related legislation or on the overarching category of slug protection legislation. If not, consider creating a new page on "Slug protection legislation" of which the "Banana Slug Preservation Act" will be one section. This use of broader categories will help readers who don't know which piece of specific legislation they are interested in. It will also help other editors who want to do their own writing on other pieces of, say, slug protection legislation link up with your articles.
  • For a new article on legislation that already has a more overarching legislative area page, summarize and link to your new article from the main article: You want readers who are reading about similar legislation or are reading about that area of legislation generally to find your article. However, sometimes the main legislative area page is already too long to insert a long section on a new piece of legislation (or maybe you want to dramatically expand a section on a particular piece of legislation). In that case, go ahead and create a new page (how to start a page), but once you've put a bit of information in it, go back to the main legislative area page and insert a short paragraph of text that summarizes your article. Then use the handy "Congresspedia main article" template to insert an eye-catching link to your article.
  • For articles on current or recent legislation, put the most recent information first: Think about what your audience wants – if it is a contemporary piece of legislation they are most likely looking for recent developments. If you've written a good introductory section giving them the background and the basic concept of the legislation (see above), it may be good to immediately leap into developments in the legislation. For example, your first section may be labeled "Slug preservation legislation in the 110th Congress." You can then give the backstory on similar pieces of legislation introduced in previous congresses and give a more detailed background on the law/problem/situation the legislation is addressing and the concept of the legislation.
  • For articles on past pieces of legislation, it's OK to work chronologically: If you wanted to write an article on, say, the first minimum wage bill, your readers are probably seeking more of a history, so it's fine to walk through the story of how the legislation was passed and what it did.
  • Use the Congresspedia record vote templates to help readers find out how their members of Congress votes: Using the House and Senate record vote templates will help highlight for readers that there was a vote on a measure and allows them to see how their own representatives voted.

Other types of articles