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Seeking consensus from editorial staff on formatting issues -- PLEASE READ!

I have only recently begun my editorial duties and would love to get some input on an issue I have been considering. I have a professional background in proofreading and copy editing and one of the things that I really wanted to be able to improve on BugGuide was the consistency of formatting and information provided on the site. While there are many issues that I think could use improvement, there are two which I would really like to put some work in on at the moment.

1) I would like to see ALL of the common names standardized to use initial caps. As it currently stands, there seems to be three different approaches being used by various editors -- all initial caps, some initial caps, and no capitalization at all. As a hypothetical example, a user might see a common name such as "Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle" represented in any one of three ways depending on which editor created the page:

Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle
Swamp Milkweed leaf beetle
swamp milkweed leaf beetle

I believe the most correct application for this site would be to always use initial caps.

2) I know there has been some long-standing controversy over whether or not to use alphabetization as a method for organizing taxonomic data. I do not wish to revisit the issue, but I was under the impression that there had been some agreement to at least order species alphabetically within a genus, and also perhaps to order genera alphabetically as well. (For instance, please see step #8 of Robin McLeod's article Page Creation Tips, regarding taxonomic housekeeping.) I have seen MANY instances where this protocol has not been followed and it leaves me wondering if the alphabetization is being contended or if some editors are simply not following through when creating new pages.

My primary goal is to attempt to improve the global consistency of the site, not to stir up trouble. I do not wish to make the mistake that many new editors have in the past of instituting multiple, wide-ranging changes throughout the site without seeking input from the other members of the community. I will not begin making any of the changes I have detailed above without receiving a fair bit of support from others first. Any advice on how I should proceed would be sincerely appreciated. Thank you!

Editorial Issues
Question: I am curious about the spelling of sulphur within the family Pieridae (Insecta/Lepidoptera/Papiliionoidea/Pieridae) and below. Why isn’t the American spelling sulfur used? Bob Mathews (bmathews)

Capitalization
I don't know why this topic floated to the top. Maybe it had spam. Since it's here, though, I'll describe what comes closest to a standard editorial style for common names of organisms (U. of Chicago manual). This assumes that you wanted to hear from editors generally, not only from BugGuide editors.

In running text, only words that would have an initial cap on their own will get one. So:

Clark's nutcracker
California poppy
Virginia creeper
Canada goose
wandering Jew
multicolored Asian lady beetle
grizzly bear
rainbow trout
English ivy
Bermuda grass
Michaelmas daisy
Siberian tiger

The first initial is capped to begin a sentence or, depending on the chosen style for headings, to begin a heading, no matter what the word is.

However, it seems that decisions to do otherwise here were made in 2009. Perhaps I'm trying to resuscitate a dead horse.

Regarding alpha listing, we have had a question
that we have not gotten around to posting and this seems like a good place to add it. As editors have begun making overview entries on various Info pages, they have in many cases linked the overview to pages in the guide for various families or genera, so a visitor can read the overview and jump right to the correct guidepage. When a new family, subfamily, genus, etc, page is created in an insect group that has overviews, that page will not be linked in the overview. Our assumption has been that the overview creators periodically cruise through the insect groups for which they have created overviews and update their overviews with the new information and the new links. We have therefore left any new pages created at the bottom of the list so they will be obvious as new pages to any overview creator. That was just a seat of the pants decision on our part as to what might be most useful to overview creators and it could be completely wrong. It does seem to fit into this discussion, so we finally post it here now.

The real solution, in our minds, would be for overviews to be created by the software itself somehow, just as Browse and Taxonomy are. Then there would be no need for periodically revisiting and updating them, checking to see if images chosen have been deleted or frassed, etc. The software would maintain them just as it does for Taxonomy and Browse. It doesn't hurt to dream!

 
I can't speak for others...
but I don't have time to patrol every overview page I've made to frequently look for new additions. In practice, I go back every once in a long while to check, at which time I systematically compare the list against the taxonomy tree.

Having new entries pile up at the end of the group does me no good whatsoever, and it comes at a high price in confusion and clutter.

 
Updating overviews
I don't patrol the overviews either. But in a couple of cases, Megachilidae for instance, I created pages for the handful of missing genera and included them in the overview, so that it will be a matter of simply adding images when available. This is not a practical solution most of the time for other reasons discussed elsewhere. In summary, I agree with Chuck that it is not a good idea to leave new taxa at the bottom of the alphabetical list.
I also dream with J. and J. about someday having the software for generating overviews automatically.

 
Wonderful solution...
Well, I don't know how others view your approach, but I am 100% in support of handling overviews in this manner. I am not exactly certain why this is not a practical solution in more cases. There are still some historical issues that I am not up-to-speed on yet, perhaps you could refer me to some of the other places where the reasons for this have been discussed? In my mind, the links that you created in the overview give contributors a point of reference for those genera that have not yet been photographed, and the guide pages themselves (though lacking images) do provide useful information to the reader. For more of my thoughts on the subject, see my comment here.

Regarding the reorganization of unalphabetized genera, more and more I am beginning to think that this is a project I should work on, but one that may need to involve my first contacting the individual editors affected to make certain that I would not be inadvertently undermining someone's purposeful intent.

 
Overviews...
Thank you, Chuck, for responding to this -- I had actually forgotten and meant to post my own response several days ago! I agree wholeheartedly that it seems unlikely that an editor would 1) be browsing through all the pages which might effect their overview, and 2) that they would necessarily understand the intended implication of new additions left at the bottom of the list. I understand the desire to alert overview authors to new additions and think it is a great idea, but I think that a brief, friendly e-mail might be considerably more effective.

However, contacting the author regarding updates or possible changes to their overview brings up a secondary issue -- I am not personally aware of who the author is in many cases! Currently, at the bottom of the page there is a list of editors names that have made contributions, but no way to tell specifically who authored the overview. Both from the standpoint of giving the editor due credit for their often exceptional and time-consuming efforts in creating the overview, and also so that others will know whom to contact with any questions or concerns, I think that a byline should be added somewhere in the text. Perhaps I will raise this as a separate forum issue...

 
Sometimes
there may even be multiple contributors to an overview. The "code" is somewhat messy and many editors may not want to just update it on their own. As a programmer I prefer someone asking for an update as opposed to a fix to a bug they created ;-)

I have some ideas for automatic overview generation in BG software, but I can think of as many exceptions as rules so I'm not sure if it is possible without some compromise vs. maximum features.

 
Automating...
I'm not really sure I understand how these automatic overviews would be created (so please correct me if I am wrong!), but I assume the images assigned to described groups would be randomly generated. I am not certain if this would really be at all comparable to the excellent, thoughtful selection of representational images that have been compiled by individual editors. I realize that "something" might be better than "nothing at all" when it comes to the many pages that are still without an overview of any kind, but I still believe the highest quality information will be that which is created via human efforts.

So, John, can I assume from your comment that you would be in support of adding a byline for author(s) to overviews?

 
byline
Slightly against on a byline. Every section would need multiple bylines as all the additions have value in my mind. Is an overview more valuable than someone who gets web links, or print references? I'm just pro "don't break anything, ask for help if you need it".

The auto-overviews (in my head) use something like the "Representative Images" feature to create the overviews, so there is some human work, but the formatting is auto using rep-imgs if available.

 
I understand....
...what you are saying now. I agree that the byline issue might be a bit too complex and perhaps unfairly biased. Perhaps the best course of action for those who are not entirely experienced with the formatting issues (or those who would simply like to keep the number of authors on an overview to a minimum), would be to post a suggested addition or change to the Guide Page Improvements forum. For instance, if J&J were adding a new genus which was currently not covered by the correlating overview, they could post this helpful bit of information and let one of the editors already involved with the overview amend their page at their convenience.

Regarding the auto-overview: Considering that as it now stands every new submission to the guide has the "Representative Image" box checked by default, I fear that particular feature would not be quite as helpful as it was once intended to be.

 
"Representative Image"
Two issues:
1) I didn't mean the images "Representative Image" but go edit an info page and see that they have "Representative Image" in them. It is an over-ride for the random browse images.
2) I wish the "Representative Image" was turned off for every submission unless an editor turned it on, then only the good images would show up in browse, because they would be the only ones turned on, not every "sorry bad image, first for XX data-point".

Alphabetical Or Not
My practice is to respect non-alphabetic order if it seems to be intentionally put that way by someone, but to clean up the order when it's obviously unintentional. The hard part is telling which is which.

Before I resort to indirect methods, I might do a search to look for discussion on the matter. One difficulty is that the beginning post of a forum topic isn't included in BugGuide's search indexes (the comments under them are, though). I get around that by also searching using Google with "site:BugGuide.net" included. Almost always, though, there hasn't been.

Then the detective/archaeological work starts:

First off, I look for evidence that the order makes some kind of sense. If there are other, taxonomically sophisticated sources on the internet that use a similar order, that's a good clue.

Next, I look for evidence of intent: If some of the out-of-alphabetical-order guide pages were added by an expert in the group, that's another clue. And then there's my favorite:

The inadvertent disorder often starts by a taxon being added to the end of the list and not inserted between the existing names where it belongs. After that, no one is sure enough about whether the order is alphabetic to rearrange it, so they, too, leave the new taxa at the end.

If you look at order of taxa combined with their page creation dates, there is a quite distinctive pattern that usually comes from this:

The top of the list is in alphabetic order, and they all date to before the first out-of-order page was created. The rest are in creation-date order.

There are many exceptions (especially if taxa have been moved in from elsewhere rather than created) and there are lots of cases with too few taxa to be sure of a pattern, or that were never alphabetic to start with.

Still, this approach of seeing arrangement as "layers" of page creation can often help spot unintentionally misordered groups that need to be alphabetized.

In the end, though, it's often a judgment call. If I'm not sure enough whether it's supposed to be that way, I take the safe route and leave things alone.

 
Complex issue...
Well, Chuck, I honestly hadn't responded to your comment until now because you gave me a lot to think about. There seems to be much wisdom in what you've said and I fear that the reasons for not alphabetizing within the taxonomic listings may be more obscure and varied than I originally imagined.

I decided to do a "test run" of sorts and went through all of the taxonomy listings for Order Araneae, bookmarking those pages where I saw potential problems as I went. There were a few instances where items were one spot away from where they "should" be and in those cases I think editors just made a mistake in sorting their entry alphabetically. Based on the creation dates of pages, other instances definitely seemed to be cases of one editor choosing not to alphabetize and then every subsequent editor simply following suit. I did find at least one instance where it made perfect sense -- see the taxonomy page for Family Salticidae. In this case, as the genera listed at the end do not belong to any subfamily, their placement seems appropriate. (However, even in this instance there seems to be an existing error as I believe the genus Sitticus should actually be moved under a new listing for Subfamily Sitticinae.)

If I was to try and fix some of these ordering issues, I would attempt to do my best to research all the possible reasons for the original listing, but I fear that my considerable inexperience regarding taxonomy issues might hamper me along the way. Obviously, I will need to continue to consider this matter before making any actual changes. Perhaps these instances will need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis after getting input from the editors whose pages would be affected by the change. (Yeesh, that sounds like a lot of work, though...)

unrelated issue
When I noticed this topic in the forum list it showed "6" in the Replies column, but at the moment there are only 3 replies (not including mine). Are there 3 other replies that I can't see?

 
Weird...
Well, before leaving this comment I'm writing, it showed me that there were "8" responses, when I only counted 4. Don't know what that's about?!

[EDIT: It seems as though it is adding two responses for every one that is actually made. My best guess is that this glitch has something to do with my having moved this post from another forum. Maybe Mike Boone or John VanDyk will know what is up...]

 
Yes
I now see "10" in the Replies column, but there's only 5 replies -- and I suspect there'll be "12" after I finish this comment.

 
See my edit...
...to my last comment.

Changing forums
After re-reading the forum descriptions, I moved this post from "Guide Page Improvements" as the updates I am suggesting would impact the entire site not just a particular guide page.

 
Double counting
When you move a thread from one forum to another, unread posts get double counted by the system.

 
Thanks for offering an explanation
I guess that would be one good reason to be really sure of which forum is most appropriate before posting a topic. I will try not to make that mistake again. I did e-mail John VanDyk to notify him of the problem, but perhaps it is not something that is easily fixable...

Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle
I try to do all first caps unless hyphenated.

 
Good point...
...thanks for making that clarification.

Names which are hyphenated would be the exception to the rule. For example:

"Twelve-spotted Skimmer" or "Lubberly Band-winged Grasshopper"

.

 
I agree
with first letter caps except when hyphenated. This is how bird common names have always been (see AOU checklist).

However, the "official list" of arachnid common names published by the American Arachnological Society uses all lowercase letters (e.g. bold jumper) except when the name includes a person's name or a place name (e.g. McDaniel spider mite; Chilean rose tarantula).

I think this topic came up some time ago but I can't remember what the results were.

 
Bird Caps & Hyphenation
I don’t know if this would come-up with arthropods but I made a quick check of that list and found about 41 examples of groups of birds with hyphens combined with capitalization. Examples include Whistling-Duck, Sage-Grouse, Storm-Petrel, Night-Heron, Screech-Owl and Scrub-Jay. I think that these names are capitalized because they represent and indicate groups that may correspond to subgenus or rarely subfamily and are not specifically descriptive such as Black-bellied, Yellow-crowned, etc. I also think that the Checklist Committee has been strongly urged to discontinue this practice but so far it has not adopted this recommendation. My only point is to be on the lookout for such instances in arthropod systematics (if any) and consider the matter rationally. Its a technical question beyond my knowledge but I seem to be in favor of the capital-hyphen in this regard. It conveys germane information.

 
Hyphenation Article
Just an overview, nothing conclusive and vertebrates but some may find interesting: http://www.aba.org/birding/v42n2p26.pdf.

Scoll down to next heading.

 
A grammatical difference
The first batch are nouns with modifiers in front of them. The second half stand on their own: Duck, Grouse, Heron, Owl and Jay. The second batch sre made up of two adjectival elements, of which the second can't stand on its own: bellied, crowned, etc.

 
There is a related problem of space vs. no space
Example: Honey Bee (preferred by Snodgrass) vs. Honeybee

Snodgrass argued that a space is preferable since honey bees are bees, whereas dragonflies (no space) are not actually flies.

I suppose the AOU would prefer Honey-Bee

Another issue regarding the common name for the honey bee is that the common name "Honey Bee" used by Bugguide applies to all species of Apis so is imprecise. The widely used common name European Honey Bee (EHB) clearly does not apply to the entire species Apis mellifera but instead to multiple European honey beee subspecies and hybrids between these. The "pure" subspecies also have their own applicable common names. An appropriate common name for the entire species Apis mellifera, including African subspecies and hybrids involving these, is Western Honey Bee.

 
Yes,
Ant Lion vs Antlion.

Now you're starting to get into some good stuff with those bees.

 
I like capitalized proper common names
I agree with others that "proper names", even if "common names" should have each word capitalized, except for hyphenation, as mentioned above. I realize that many "official" lists of common names use lower case, but I feel that this is poor usage, as the standard convention in Modern English has the convention that proper, specific names, that refer to a particular individual, organization, or concept, be capitalized. (For instance, Modern English is a specific concept, and so is capitalized. The phrase "modern English" is more generic.)
Other examples, from biology, where the capitalization makes things more clear:
"house fly" versus "House Fly"--the latter indicates more clearly one is referring to Musca domestica.
"green frog" versus "Green Frog" (or "American Green Frog"). The latter refers to Rana clamitans, without the capitalization this is not clear, since many frogs are green.

I realize this is against the grain of some style guides, but really, the point of grammar is clarity, and capitalization of proper names helps with that.

 
Aaah...so well stated!
Thank you Patrick, for putting my thoughts into such eloquent words. Despite the fact that it is contributor-driven and exists solely in the impermanent realm of the world wide web, I still consider BugGuide to be a field guide. (A really amazing, awesome field guide with infinite potential!) To that end, I would like to try to institute some of the formatting standards that would accompany any quality printed publication. I find it hard to believe that there would ever be a printed guide to arthropods that utilized an all lowercase naming convention.

Robin's mention of the AAS's use of all lower case letters is a salient issue as they are the reference source for determining common names which editors are directed to on the edit form for any species page. I think that we could get around this potential problem by simply including some additional text that states that the preferred method at BugGuide is to use initial caps in every case.

I am heartened by the support I have received thus far for instituting this potential global change, but would still love to hear more feedback from other editors before beginning to correct the existing issues.

 
I believe we decided to use the all first caps
on that other discussion. I haven't gone back to verify that, though.

To add to what Patrick said above, many bugs have no common name. In those cases I will add my own descriptive name in lower case letters. It could be something like "black and orange beetle". I find using these made-up descriptive titles helps greatly with searching. In fact sometimes when there are tons of images of a bug that does have a common name I'll leave the descriptive name on mine just for search reasons. I have no idea if this is widely accepted by other editors.

 
Descriptive terms
Sorry, Lynette, I forgot to comment on what you were saying regarding adding "keywords" to the titles of image posts. I haven't done too much of that myself, but I have certainly benefited from others who have. Often when I don't even know where to begin looking I will do an image search on a few descriptive words -- for example, "pink caterpillar". I have been pleasantly surprised on more than one occasion to find just the species(s) I was hoping to find. I assume there might be as many searching drawbacks as there would be benefits to specifically adding a keyword field for posts, but I'd be lying if I said that I hadn't mused about the idea.

 
Archived discussion on capitalization
OK, I managed to locate the previous discussion which occurred on this subject and it was very enlightening. Apparently, Ken Schneider had undertaken some (much needed) attempts to add common names to more of the spider info pages and was debating whether to follow the guidelines set forth by the AAS. Various people expressed their support on both sides of the issue, but the majority seemed to favor using initial caps and Ken went to the trouble of undoing those pages he had already edited. I would hate to have his work (and the past discussion) be in vain, so I think I am going to go ahead and fix the remaining instances of all lower case names. I will also attempt to draft an e-mail to John VanDyk asking if it is possible to have some instruction regarding the preferred style for common names added to the edit page itself.

My sincere thanks to everyone who weighed in on this issue (past and present)!

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