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By theleekycauldron
This article was originally published at User:Theleekycauldron/Essays/Assessing DYK hooks

Summary
  • The best hooks are the ones that leave the reader wanting to know more, leading them to click on the bolded article to learn more. Making your hooks concise and punchy is a fantastic aid in this.
  • The DYK statistics pages can tell you what our readers like to see, though this ranges between a useful tool and something to be taken with a grain of salt. Reading through past reviews can help you understand DYK's attitudes towards certain hooks.
  • The outcomes of some hooks are determined by their topic, rather than their substances – it is sometimes helpful to put that aside when reviewing and writing a hook. Avoid relying solely on an eye-catching topic to craft a hook.

Hi there, I'm theleekycauldron! I often frequent Did you know (DYK), the section of the Main Page that publishes "hooks" designed to reel readers into clicking on newly created and expanded content. I've worked with over 2,500 DYK nominations as builder of the sets of nominations for the Main Page, I maintain monthly statistics pages for DYK hooks, and I have some 50 hooks of my own. So, I thought I'd share some insight about how I approach writing hooks and assessing whether they're ripe for the Main Page; I hope it serves helpful in your own adventures of hook writing, reviewing, promoting, and – if you're an admin – promoting again.

DYK has always had a rather fraught and subjective relationship with how it accomplishes its goals: it wants its hooks to be interesting, and catchy, and likely to draw in readers, but it also wants to make space for editors who create content all of kinds (regardless of whether some part of it can be boiled down to 200 characters). Those tensions influence exactly where the project draws the line on what "interesting" means. Its current guideline is codified at part 3a of the main ruleset, which states that the hook should be "likely to be perceived as unusual or intriguing by readers with no special knowledge or interest". Despite a 2022 request for comment clarifying and strengthening the wording of this guideline, what actually counts as "interesting" remains a perennial flash point at DYK, with lots of people weighing in through different lenses.

In this essay, the top-level headings are sorted in descending order of importance, as are each of the sub-level headings within them. Also, this essay contains several examples of hooks to emulate (in green), hooks to avoid (in a pinkish red), and hooks to consider with caution (in yellow). To avoid embarrassment to our hardworking nominators, reviewers, promoters, and promoting admins, all of these hooks and their boldlinked articles are my own work.[a] If you would like to submit a hook of yours that you believes makes for a better example, do leave it on the talk page! Bonus points and credit if you submit a hook of yours that you believe makes for a good example of a hook to avoid.

Literary quality

The bare bones of a good hook

raise questions ...

... that Demi Lovato started an Internet feud with a frozen yogurt shop—and lost?

... instead of neat facts

... that a resolution introduced into the Nebraska Legislature by Joni Albrecht praised Julie Schmit-Albin as "never one to let a public official waffle on pro-life legislation"?

and don't be boring

... that "leek rust", caused by Puccinia allii, has also caused significant losses for garlic farmers?

What I consider most important to evaluating a DYK hook is assessing it in terms of its quality as a kind of very-short-form literary work. DYK is a part of Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, but DYK doesn't look to inform comprehensively the way an encyclopedic article does; it looks to be "hooky" via being informative.[b] That's best thought of as narrative storytelling, rather than strictly MOS-compliant article prose.

Like any good story, hooks are successful when they create a tension in the mind of the reader, a tension that keeps them reading until it is resolved in a satisfying manner. What's different about DYK is that the hook is what's meant to create that literary tension, and clicking through to read the bolded article is what's meant to resolve that tension. The hook leaves our reader wanting; the article gives them what they're looking for, and along the way, we've tricked them into learning about something new and exciting. When I look at any hook, I always try to ask myself these three questions:

  1. Which aspects of this hook create tension, sparking a question in the mind of the reader?[c]
  2. Why should the reader want to know more about this story, rather than going about their day as normal?[d]
  3. When the reader clicks through to read the bolded article, what are they looking for?[e]

These questions can be pretty hard to tease apart sometimes, so you can answer them in one fell swoop if that works for you. However, when I can't come up with a convincing answer to at least one of these three questions, I try – at the very least – to ask the hook writer what it is they're trying to convey. Maybe the hook can be workshopped into something presentable, maybe a different angle can be found, or maybe that line of thought just needs to be scrapped entirely. These three questions are the only hard lines I draw when it comes to hook interestingness: every hook needs to come up with some answer to them. Otherwise, we're not airing a hook, we're just publishing a fact – and that's no good.

Wording and formatting

be concise ...

... that Wikipedia editors wrote over 40,000 words arguing over a single letter?

... not wordy

... that in 2013, editors of the English Wikipedia had an argument on whether to capitalize the 'i' in Star Trek Into Darkness?

and avoid jargon

... that Wikipedia editors wrote over 40,000 words arguing over a single letter on a talk page before reaching a consensus?

Once I have my answer to question 1, I find it a lot easier to give a hook a solid copyedit (rather than just looking for rote formatting errors), since knowing what's important about a hook lets you focus on making that part stand out.[f] Prep set builders often have a lot more leeway than reviewers to modify hooks unilaterally (subject to review and reversion at DYK's noticeboard, of course), so it's important for them to have a strong understanding of how hooks should read on the Main Page and copyedit accordingly. Getting that understanding just takes practice: trust your gut, do it over and over again, and you'll eventually develop a good style.

In general, if it takes me a couple read-throughs to figure out what's going on in a hook, that's a sign that it might be too complex or have more details than necessary. As a reviewer or promoter, I'm spending a lot more time reading and rereading the hook than DYK is going to get out of the average reader who likely merely stumbles upon a hook while glancing at Wikipedia's Main Page. If we've got their attention for one readthrough, we need to make it clear pretty quickly why they might want to stick around. If they get confused, or lost, they're gonna flit elsewhere.

As part J11 of DYK's supplementary guidelines state, nominators often feel that they have to give a lot more context than they do to get the point across. When copyediting a hook, I try to think about how to narrow down a hook to its essentials when I find it to be bloated. Similarly, if jargon or other unclear terms can be rephrased in a way that make the hook easier to read, doing so probably increases reader retention. If you read a hook out loud to yourself, and you find yourself unnecessarily tripping over the words, that might be a good sign that it could use a copyedit. One place to start might be cutting down on the number of pauses and commas in a hook by figuring out how to smooth out the language, or remove unnecessary details.

Precedent

Pageview precedent

I think it's worthwhile to study the performance of past hooks. Since 2015, we've had the ability to peer into the collective minds of our readers and find out what they respond to and what they don't. More recently, automation tools have made the data widely accessible to anyone looking to analyze and draw conclusions from the mountains of data we've collected.[g] Pageviews are a potent way for DYK regulars to come together and reassess the best way to get readers to pay attention to the fantastic new content our editors are producing every day. If you're a data junkie, like I am, I highly recommend going through the stats pages and taking notes about what kinds of hooks stand out to you, for better or for worse.[h]

Pageview stats come with a huge asterisk attached, though – not every hook that performs well should be emulated, and not every hook that performs poorly should be trashed. How well a hook does on the Main Page isn't just about the hook's quality of writing; it's also about its topic, prior fame, placement in a set, time of day, and so on. Any analysis of a hook should to be performed holistically, and not just numerically; pageviews are only one of the lenses in the toolbox, and, while they are an important one, consistently prioritizing pageviews over sound editorial judgement leads us to a bad place. Exercise caution before using pageviews as an argument for or against running a hook, and remember to consider other factors.

That being said, our goal is to showcase new content, and we can't do that if our readers aren't interested. It's a balancing act.

Reviewer precedent

I personally believe that our readers come first, and that we write and rewrite this section of the Main Page primarily for their education and edification, rather than our own. But when I find that I can't get behind the judgement of past reviewers, that's definitely a cause for me to step back and reassess. Sometimes, I come out of that reassessment without having changed my mind, but at least I thought about it. Reviewing why I might approach a hook the way I do, why others approach it differently, and whether I think it's time for a paradigm shift are all good ways to examine my own biases against DYK's consensus and all this makes for useful criteria when I'm thinking about whether to object to a hook.

One reason for pushing against the current meta might be that reviewers have grown too accustomed to an old format that is familiar, rather than quality; another might be that the majority of reviewers don't necessarily want to put their weight behind what might be a tense discussion about whether a hook is interesting. Telling someone that their hook isn't working is never fun, especially when they're pushing back against a nominator that doesn't agree. One reason to simply not comment or go with the flow might be that the disagreement you're holding isn't worth challenging what might be a long-accepted notion, which is just getting yourself an uphill battle that might be for naught. Such are the things to consider when you add your review, promotion, or queue move to the piles of precedents that shape DYK's future hooks.

Topic bias and noteworthiness

sexier topics sell ...

... that it's pronounced "gif", not "gif"?

... sometimes without great hooks

... that Darth Vader's anal shield has a "pronounced bell shape"?[i]

and non-obvious topics can be worth the drop

... that Julie Schmit-Albin was awarded the title of Admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska for her work as a pro-life activist?

Unfortunately, even the best-worded and hookiest hooks sometimes fall prey to the demographic and cultural biases of Wikipedia's reader base. Our readers are more likely to click on hooks that address sex, violence, high-profile American politics, internet culture silliness, wars, spats, cute animals, oppression, and vulgarity – things you might find in a tabloid, a true crime drama, or "Ripley's Believe It or Not!". They're less likely to enjoy the meat and potatoes of DYK, which often amount to obscure people, places, and things that might have good stories, but often don't immediately relate to experiences and cultures the reader is familiar with through mass media.[j] That's one of the biases that affects a DYK hook's pageview counts, and dealing with it appropriately can be quite the challenge.

When I'm at this step, it's likely that I think the hook passes the big three questions that define how intriguing a hook is for me – so instead, I think about what the reader might walk away with, and whether that's information that's worth imparting to the thousands of people who will see the article that day. So, if I'm looking at a hook that I think is well-worded and well-structured, but lacks the familiarity a reader might want, I usually try to push it through anyway. It's good to broaden our readers' horizons, even if they have to work a little harder to understand the story. Inversely, if I'm looking at a hook that I'm sure will perform well with our readership, but I also doubt that reading the context of the hook or even reading the article in full will be worthwhile, I often object to the hook being aired on the Main Page. Like I said earlier, I'm a fervent believer in the idea that DYK should act as a curator, and not simply be a megaphone. That is, of course, a subjective judgement; I try to consider about how the article might deepen their understanding of the world around them, even if it's in a small way. Usually, there's something worth saying.

Notes

  1. ^ Well, almost. The article on Puccinia porri is also the work of Esculenta, and their work is definitely fantastic – I wrote the boring hook, though, that's on me.
  2. ^ Unless you've got a truly absurd "quirky", in which case it's just being hooky, and possibly part of our April Fools' roundup. Usually, though, it's informative.
  3. ^ This is what you'll use to hone in on the punchier parts of the hook, should it become too long or unwieldy.
  4. ^ There are lots of literary devices that might help a hook clear this hurdle. A hook might leave a part of the story untold, a gap the reader wants filled; it might raise two seemingly contradictory points, a discrepancy the reader wants resolved; it might just promise a fun read. It might do many of these, or more, at the same time!
  5. ^ It goes without saying – at least, in the main text of this essay – that an article should deliver the goods if it's promised them in the hook.
  6. ^ The granular details of a hook are, admittedly, what stick out first when I'm reading it, but that's just a symptom of my reading style and not what's most important about a hook.
  7. ^ GalliumBot's vandyke protocol, which updates the stats pages, was developed by yours truly :)
  8. ^ Since not all hooks appear on the Main Page for the same amount of time, I'd recommend that you assess hooks by the number of views they receive adjusted for runtime (the stats pages use views per hour on the Main Page, or vph), rather than in total. It's also worth keeping in mind that DYK has increased in popularity over time, so a score of 175 vph is worth much more in 2016 than it is today.
  9. ^ Admittedly, I am kinda cheating by using an April Fools' hook, but it's empty all the same.
  10. ^ I'll note that, contrary to popular belief, pop music singles often fall in the latter category, not the former.




Tips and Tricks is a general editing advice column written by experienced editors. If you have suggestions for a topic, or want to submit your own advice, follow these links and let us know (or comment below)!

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