Wikisource:WikiProject DNB/Style Manual

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Wikisource:WikiProject DNB Style Manual

One goal of this project is to capture (within reason) the look and feel of the original text, namely the 1885-1900 edition.[1] To the extent possible, the idea is to convert it to wiki format. The use of transclusion from the Page: namespace means that constructing volumes out of pages and constructing free-standing articles can go hand-in-hand. Note that the original volumes have two columns per page: at present no effort is made to imitate that format.

This Style Manual applies to the various parts of the project:

  • proof-read text of biographical articles in the Page: namespace;
  • running heads and the initial text page of each volume;
  • front matter in each volume;
  • index in each volume.

These are part of the effort to mimic the DNB on this wiki. Also:

Here the format and other decisions are not concerned with imitating the old work, but with making the new work accessible to the reader of this website. The distinction means this Style Manual falls naturally into two parts.

Part A: Representing the DNB on this wiki[edit]

The bulk of the work is proof-reading the text of the biographical articles.

Style in biographical articles[edit]

A biographical article must preserve the content and should preserve the look of the original as much as possible. Fundamentally, it is not acceptable in any way to modify or otherwise "improve" the wording or spelling of the original. Paragraph lengths are retained, even if they seem long to the modern reader.

The following are acceptable alterations:

  • Curved single quotes may be replaced by straight single quotes (apostrophes: <'>.) Many OCR conversions of the original text perform this change .
  • When the original article crosses a page boundary, this is not indicated in the running text of our articles: the running text will not show a line break, and any word that is hyphenated at the page break follows the same rules as a word that is hyphenated at the end of a line. To achieve this effect in articles the DNB pages must use special syntax, since the pages do in fact need to retain the hyphen in this case.
  • When a hyphen is used to break a word across a line boundary, the hyphen is removed and the word is re-joined. Where that word is a compound word normally written with a hyphen, the hyphen should be retained. In cases of uncertainty about this it is safer to retain the hyphen.
  • The last paragraph of most articles is a list of "authorities" and is in smaller font enclosed in brackets in the original. We retain the brackets, and the smaller font.
  • When the original uses italics, an accented character, or a ligature, we use the identical italics, accented character, or ligature.
  • Small capitals must be retained: you may use the {{sc}} template for this. Thus {{sc|John Smith}} will give John Smith.
  • The main name of the subject is the first word in the article in page space, and was printed in the original in as all capital letters in Bold text. This is not always obvious in the scanned images, but is strikingly obvious when perusing a paper copy of a DNB volume. We use Bold text in page space for this:
'''ABBOT''', {{sc|Sir}} MAURICE or MORRIS (1565–1642) yields:
ABBOT, Sir MAURICE or MORRIS (1565–1642).

Author templates[edit]

The final line of each article in the source ends with the right-justified initials of the author of the article. We retain these initials with the use of the appropriate author footer template. For example, if the source article is signed "G.C.B" then our article should end in {{DNB GCB}} which yields:

G. C. B.

Our software forces these initials to be on a line by themselves rather than being on the same line with the last words of the article end: we reluctantly accept this breach of the "faithful reproduction" rule, at least until we can find a way to fix the problem.

as of 2011-12-10, we think we have created all author templates. If you create an article for an author for which we do not yet have an author template, then please use your best guess at a template (such as {{DNB XYZ}}), and/or seek help at Talk:Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/List of Contributors page.

There are a few technical issues to mention about these templates.

  • Of the 700 or so distinct author footer initials, about 40 are ambiguous. If you create an article with an ambiguous footer template (e.g., {{DNB MB}}) the template will generate instructions on how to create the correct template. Please preview your edit to check for this prompt. The prompt messages take the form of the information that in certain volumes this author is meant by these initials, and in certain other volumes, another author is meant. This will always resolve the ambiguity.
  • Please note that the author abbreviation depends often on the volume, anyway. Reference to the volume author listing in the front matter may reveal that an apparently missing author is there all the time, but that you need to create a fresh template according to the abbreviation used that time. (Don't redirect because that would give the wrong abbreviation on the page, but copy the other template as far as possible. Examples {{DNB SL}} and {{DNB SLL}}.)
  • Hyphenation convention. Rather awkwardly, there are templates such as {{DNB RB-l}} for Richard Bagwell, where the DNB idea is to use the first and last letters of the surname to disambiguate the initials RB. It can be very hard to see these on the djvu because the typographic convention was "small caps", and l in R. B.-l. is not that different from L; you really have to be alert to this possibility. Our convention is to use the hyphen in the template and the lower-case final letter. Since there is possible confusion, best practice is to create a redirect from {{DNB RB-L}}, rather than assume everybody will always appreciate what is going on. (The current stock of templates may not follow this yet.) NB that independently of all this, there are also templates that are hyphenated because of double-barrelled names: in this case, the original DNB text uses an uppercase letter after the hyphen, and our template uses an uppercase letter after the hyphen. If by some horrible mischance you find two abbreviations that differ only in the case of the letter following the hyphen, then place a notice on the talk page of this manual: we will treat this as we do other ambiguous templates.


This is hyperlinking in the broad sense of adding internal links to other articles, WMF sister projects, or even truly external links to outside sites. Links may be made providing that the text seen remains unchanged from the original except for the changed colour. In practical terms this means a hyperlink will always be by via a piped link in text: the displayed text remains unchanged.

There are several classes of "obvious" hyperlinks for the DNB. Some are simple: the original DNB clearly indicates that a name in the text refers to another article in the DNB. Such indicia include the "[q. v.]" syntax and the "[See...]" syntax. These should all be linked to the appropriate DNB article in article space. In addition, many DNB subjects are also authors in their own right. Many of these have "Author" pages at wikisource. When an author page exists at Wikisource for the subject, we link the initial name in the article to that author page. See À Beckett, Gilbert Abbott (DNB00) as an example.

There is a template, {{DNB lkpl}}, that is used to make the links between articles. See the documentation of the template on how to use it.

Part B: Wikisource concerns[edit]


The appropriate header is {{DNB00}} for all the single biography articles taken from the first edition (1885-1900); any articles from the 1901 Supplement need {{DNB01}}. Use of the template {{subst:DNBset}} (see {{DNBset}}) combines transclusion data with a rendered form of {{DNB00}} after substitution.

Use the "contributor" to add the author name. use the name without the "Author:" prefix (e.g. Sidney Lee, not Author:Sidney Lee). Links to author pages have in the past been placed in the "extra_notes" field of the header, as explicit wikilinks to Author pages. This is now deprecated. If you find one of these, fix it.

The "wikipedia" field of the header is where to place the title of the corresponding enWP article. If there is no matching Wikipedia article this should be left blank, and the article will automatically be placed in Category:DNB No WP.

Main page[edit]

The "main page" article is in the main namespace at Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, and includes a link to each of the 63 volume articles. It also should include links to any front matter or end matter articles that related to the DNB as a whole. The "table of contents" portion of this main article is a Wikisource navigational construct: it is not intended to exactly duplicate any actual content from the original source, but instead to help the reader find a way through this massive publication. This approximately reflects the experience of a reader who finds the 63-volume DNB on the shelf at a library: the reader starts by examining the names on the spines of the bound volumes to select a particular volume.

Volume articles[edit]

Each volume article includes a "table of contents" containing links to each biographical article from that volume. This table of content is a Wikisource navigational construct: it is not intended to exactly reproduce any actual content from the original source. It provides links to each Wikisource biographical article that was in the associated original DNB volume.

Note that so far we have not settled which parts of the DNB text will constitute articles. There being some that are frankly short redirects (of different types, though), the Wikiproject has not concluded what to do with those redirects (are they to be placed systematically in the main namespace in their own right? and are they to be put in the "previous" and "next" fields of article headers?)

The table of contents is in four columns (the division into four is not part of the organization of the original DNB volume), providing the Wikisource volume ToC. Eventually, the project should add exact reproductions of the indexes from the original sources, but the volume ToCs are not intended to fulfil this function. They provide access to the individual biography articles.

The format of the volume ToCs has settled down as

  • bulleted lists;
  • piped links hiding the (DNB00) only, using the {{DNB lkpl}} template.

Any required date disambiguator should be visible. (See #Disambiguation below.)


While the cross-referencing/redirecting function of the text in the Page: namespace is going to be implemented by some wikilinking, it has not been settled how, if at all, it will be implemented in the volume ToCs. Obviously it might help the readers just as much to create actual redirect pages.

Place the category Category:DNB needs qv on any article not having hyperlinks for the [q. v.] names it contains. Where in the text there is

Name [q. v.]

either Name or [q. v.] is turned into a piped wikilink, by current practice (logically, perhaps, it should be the latter). But there are other cross-references such as

[see Name]

and there is no accepted house style so far applying to hyperlinking.


The DNB project created a unique name for each DNB article in article space. This is harder than is at first appears. This section describes how we did it. Our approach evolved as the project progressed. It is documented here in the hopes that other projects may benefit from our experience.

In about 20% of cases, two or more persons with articles in the Dictionary of National Biography have the same name. This requires a "disambiguation" process to distinguish the articles from each other (and from any other person that may appear in other works yet to be included in Wikisource).

We have chosen to use birth and death years for disambiguation.[2] It is conceivable that two persons with the same name will also have the same birth and death years: there is a case where the death dates only are given and coincide (two people named John Hall).

As an example, the original DNB included three persons named John Holt, and we distinguish them as follows:

  1. Holt, John (d.1418) (DNB00)
  2. Holt, John (1642-1710) (DNB00)
  3. Holt, John (1743-1801) (DNB00)

Please note:

  • The disambiguator which distinguishes persons of the same name precedes the disambiguator which distinguishes articles about the same person in different works. At this point we do not need to be too concerned about the latter since for our purposes the only other ones we need to define are (DNB01) for the first (1901) supplement and (DNB12) for the second (1912) supplement. Later supplements have unresolved copyright issues.
  • There is a space between the two disambiguators. Such a detail may seem like a trivial point, but it is essential to insuring that links work.
  • There is a space between the name and the disambiguator.
  • The dates used should be exactly the ones used in parentheses after the name in the DNB, even if the further text suggests something different. The style with a query should be retained. In the light of current knowledge a date may be wrong, but this is a disclaimer matter.
  • Where both birth and death dates are available they are separated by an ordinary hyphen and no spaces.
  • If we only know one of the dates, or the general dates when the person was active the "d." or "fl." includes the period and is not followed by a space. If these terms are italicized in the source article text they should be italicized in our Wiksource article text, but they should not be italicized in the article title.

To create a link to an article, use {{DNB lkpl}}. You cannot use the "short pipe" shortcut to hide the (DNB00) disambiguation when there is also a date disambiguation, because the "short pipe" creates the display text by trimming from the first parenthesis.

Titling issues in general[edit]

There are other points on titling, and these are not fully settled.

Standard modern names of "John Smith" type[edit]

In general for names that are forenames+surname, the title should be surname, forenames; all forenames should be included. It is better to make all strings unique rather than the initial part of another: the pair Smith, John and Smith, John Arthur share the initial string "Smith, John" and so dates should be added to the former, rather than the "tacit" disambiguation relying on the "Arthur" in the latter.[3] For an article starting "Smyth or Smythe, John", make it Smyth, John; in general where there are name variants we should go with the first version only, and aliases should not be mentioned in the article title.

Otherwise names that are forenames+surname should be kept minimal: remove titles of nobility, "Sir" or "Lady", post-nominal initials, and styles, even if the DNB includes them. (We will reproduce independently the DNB's index pages, but our volume listings are not meant to mimic those.)

Other types of names[edit]

Our fundamental requirement was to create unambiguous names for each article. We used the following guidelines to do this, but if the guidelines resulted in two articles with the same "correct" name, we may have made an arbitrary choice.

There are numerous cases of names other than forenames+surname. These require some further detailed guidelines, and the discussion has to be a bit more technical. It may not be possible to cover absolutely all cases by rules. Medieval names can include:

  • locative elements, such as in "Adam of Evesham", and the particle may be "of", "de" or something else on occasion;
  • nicknames, such as in "Adam Anglicus" or "Adam the Carthusian";
  • title of nobility erected on territories.

The DNB article:

Albini, William de (d.1176) (DNB00)

starts in the DNB as

ALBINI (Pincerna), WILLIAM de, Earl of Arundel (d. 1176)

showing all three, since Pincerna was a nickname, and "Earl of Arundel" is a title erected on a territory. This is inverted because the DNB inverts it; the placing of the locative element should just follow the DNB's usage. Those who consult the ODNB will see that the ODNB is more consistent in treating the locative element as a surname; the DNB seems to flip in the middle of the Middle Ages, from Christian name first to locative first (Albini is from volume 1, and the conventions hadn't settled down then).

For all names, we omit titles of nobility erected on territories from the peerages of England, Scotland or Ireland, and also titles Sir and Lady. (Locative elements are quite common with standard modern names in Scotland and Wales up to about 1800, and we omit those too.) We do not necessarily omit other titles of nobility (those of continental Europe, or Jacobite titles which are simply anomalous).

The aim is have a sensible name, including the upper case text (but omitting variants), and to select from the small caps text as well, to get a compact name. Nicknames were medieval disambiguation, when most people only had a baptismal name, and we needn't shun them completely.

  • Monarchs such as Henry VIII require no more than that as title, but there are ambiguities, for example James I of Scotland.
  • Queens consort are allowed a locative element such as Anne of Denmark. Mary Queen of Scots is anomalous.
  • In James Francis Edward Stuart (the Old Pretender), a Jacobite prince, Stuart is not a surname and the title needs no comma.
  • We may not yet have consistency in treating women with a noble title in their own right, or by marriage (the "Countess" issue).
  • Religious titles should omit honorifics. There are many saints, but "Saint" should not appear in the title. There is one pope Adrian IV (DNB00).
  • Nicknames to disambiguate may be included with a simple personal name only, where the DNB has the nickname in small caps, but without the connecting "called" if that appears in the DNB.

Currently the usage of nicknames to disambiguate is not consistent, but it does appear useful in dealing with the numerous lists. For example check out all the Ralphs in volume 47.

Author page listings[edit]

Except for about 1% unsigned articles, each single biography should be linked from an Author page. All have been created by now (total number of authors is around 700.) These author pages carry {{DNB contributor}}, which fills with the abbreviation(s) used to sign articles.

Some 250 authors each contributed just one article. At the other end of the scale, there are around 100 authors responsible for more than 50 articles. Therefore different treatment of listings is warranted. For more than 50 articles a subpage /DNB is being set up, that will give a systematic tabulated complete listing including page numbers for quick access. Reasons of efficiency suggest copying names into such tables from the volume ToCs, rather than re-typing; so the development of these listings will lag the ToCs. (Page numbers are in the reference book by Gillian Fenwick.)

At the other end of the scale, the template {{DNB contributor complete}} indicates that all DNB articles by the author (according to Fenwick's book) have been listed on the Author page. Such listings are often as piped links; this has the drawback that the suffix showing the edition (DNB00, DNB01) is then not visible. In time the edition should be shown explicitly as a subsection heading, for the Supplement articles or later versions.

The "needs qv" category[edit]

Any single biography that needs hyperlinks for the [q. v.] cross-references should carry Category:DNB needs qv, by a long-standing convention. This convention may need some further consideration, since the resulting maintenance category is large and not specially useful right now. It is also not so clear whether we should be privileging [q. v.] hyperlinks (and we apparently have no standard on whether you link the [q. v.] or the name); whether text like "[see Smith, John]" counts as a q.v. or something else; and so on, with no set of conventions having so far emerged. While it is still best practice to add Category:DNB needs qv where any [q. v.] cross-references have not been wikified, this area of the work is still being done freehand.


The {{DNB errata}} allows for transclusion of the applicable section(s) of the DNB Errata published in 1904. As an example see Udall, Nicholas. For further guidance on this topic [See Errors and errata.]

Part C Redirects[edit]

Article titles as outlined are mainly "tokens" to identify articles, neither as informative as they might be, nor easy to guess from general background. It is therefore usually suggested that the systematic creation of redirects, and the construction of disambiguation pages, could help with the navigation. (There are about three dozen John Smiths, for example). Ideas on how to do this are not set.


  1. Some care is needed in talking about the "old" DNB since there were later editions. In 1911 the entire Dictionary was reprinted with the original volumes combined in groups of three for a total of 21 volumes. The three original volumes of the 1901 first supplement became volume 22. The content remained substantively the same, except that the page numbers were changed, and the modifications in the 1904 errata volume [1], were applied.
  2. The original does not provide a clear title. What we are choosing to do is to retain the surname, forenames start of the article, plus the vital dates that follow in case disambiguation is required. For comments on how the DNB orders people of the same name, see Wikisource:WikiProject DNB/Pagefinding.
  3. There has been a suggestion that we should always include the dates with the name in the title: this has not been seriously discussed, the decision to disambiguate only when forced to having been taken early on. See "Redirects".