(Note to biographers: Some of the following requirements are numbered. You can use the numbers as a checklist, to make sure you have not overlooked any important details.)
Each biography should be informative, accurate, and entertaining. It should be evaluative but objective. (1) Avoid puffery.
The biographies should be 1,500 words or more in length. Shorter bios may be accepted if adequate information cannot be found.
The suggested maximum length is 4,000 words. This is not a hard cap, but the length must be justifiable. Exceptions will be granted by the Chief Editor.
Biographies should cover the subject's full life, including (2) pre- and (3) post-baseball life and career(s), parents' (4) names, (5) heritage and (6) occupations, subject's (7) education, (8) marriage(s), (9) children, (10) number of siblings (and something about them if significant)—whatever helps give a full picture of the subject. Include in the text the subject's (11) birth and death dates and places, and, for players—if you find these significant—(12) height and playing weight, and (13) batting and throwing arm.
Format: The title will give the subject's name as commonly used (e.g. Ted Williams). The opening paragraph(s) should identify the subject, provide (14) the full name (e.g. Theodore Samuel Williams), and describe his/her baseball role/significance (and non-baseball significance if it rivals or overshadows the baseball role—e.g. Billy Sunday, Frank Olin).
Focusing on a single moment in the opening is typically not encouraged unless it is truly exceptional. An overarching view is preferable.
The remainder of the biography should trace the subject's life chronologically, with evaluative commentary, telling quotes, and anecdotes/incidents that display the character, personality and significance of the subject.
Document (15) the source of every direct quote, (16) the source of uncommon information, and (17) every interpretation drawn from others. The authorities for the subject's vital statistics and major league stats are Retrosheet.org and/or Baseball-reference.com. If your research leads you to differ from these authorities, (18) explain why in a note accompanying your bio.
It is not necessary to give the player's statistics for each year of his career. Work from the knowledge that in most cases (except for Negro Leaguers, for example), the player’s full statistical line is available elsewhere. (19) There is generally no need to say that the player hit 26 home runs unless that total was interesting in some way (led his team, was a career high, etc.), in which case state the significance.
(20) Avoid plagiarism, which includes not only unattributed quotation but also extended paraphrase.
(21) Use endnotes to document your sources, inserted by means of the Microsoft Word reference tool. This will turn into a hyperlink when the biography is posted on the website.
For sources that are not covered in the endnotes, a list incorporating standard bibliographical data should follow the text. The list should include all books, dissertations, theses, chapters and major articles about the subject, and all other books, articles, Internet resources, etc. which include important treatment of the subject.
Your writing should conform to standard American English diction and usage, and to the SABR Style Guide.
Briefly stated, plagiarism is (a) using someone else's words, ideas, and visual representations (like graphs, charts, diagrams and maps) without giving adequate credit to the source and (b) following too closely someone else's pattern of expression or visual representation.
Some plagiarism is illegal — an infringement of copyright; ALL plagiarism violates scholarly ethics and, of course, violates SABR's standards for its authors. As you doubtless know from your many years of schooling, plagiarism is the most serious of literary offenses. In many colleges, students who plagiarize are expelled; at all reputable newspapers, writers who plagiarize are fired.
Experience shows that much plagiarism is unintentional, the result either of carelessness or of an inadequate understanding of what plagiarism encompasses. Here are the three main "don'ts"):
- Do not copy another writer's (or speaker's) words without putting them in quotation marks and acknowledging the author. Anything beyond three or four ordinary words taken from another source require acknowledgement, as does usually every "significant" word. (Exception: well-known phrases from literature do not ordinarily require either quotation marks or acknowledgement. In the opening line to the Oakland A's history in Total Baseball (first edition, 1989), author Fred Ivor-Campbell didn't need to credit Charles Dickens for his literary borrowing; it was simply a turn on Dickens's familiar opening to A Tale of Two Cities: "The history of the Athletics is a tale of three cities—a story of the best of teams and of the worst of teams." But attempts at this kind of clever borrowing from literature are best used only rarely, if at all; very often it is only the writer who appreciates their cleverness.)
- Do not express another person's significant ideas without acknowledging the source. The key here to the need for acknowledgement is the word "significant." If an important idea or concept or way of thinking is original with someone else, give the originator credit. If you do not know the originator, then probably the idea has already entered into general knowledge, and it will be enough if you make it clear that it did not originate with you.
Note: You do not need to credit the source of "common knowledge": that is, information available in at least two reliable, reputable sources. Some examples: the winner of the 1933 World Series, and Duffy Lewis's lifetime major league home runs, information you may not know off-hand, but could certainly find in a number of sources. The source of information that can be found only in one or two specialized sources, though — like Duffy Lewis's lifetime MINOR league home runs — should be acknowledged, either in the text of the biography and/or in your list of sources that accompanies it.
- Do not simply change the original author's words while following his/her general pattern of expression. This is close paraphrasing, which may be the most common problem of unintended plagiarism. It is caused when you try to rewrite someone else's work instead of writing your own original work. In writing biographies for the BioProject, you should use your sources to gain information and insight and understanding, but you must avoid using them as patterns for your own writing.
Original: Here is the opening paragraph of Ivor-Campbell's history of the Phillies in the first edition of Total Baseball:
It took the Phillies thirty-two years to win their first pennant, and ninety-seven to win their first world championship. They have finished last in their league or division twenty-seven times — more than one season in four. In the nine years from 1975 through 1983, though, they were one of the most formidable teams in baseball.
Here are some acceptable and unacceptable uses of this paragraph:
UNACCEPTABLE: From 1975-1983 the Phillies were among the most formidable teams in baseball. (There are six words in succession taken directly from the original, including one "significant" word ["formidable"], and the whole phrasing follows the original too closely.)
ACCEPTABLE: Frederick Ivor-Campbell points out in Total Baseball (first edition, 1989) that from 1975 through 1983 the Phillies "were one of the most formidable teams in baseball."
ACCEPTABLE: Frederick Ivor-Campbell points out in Total Baseball (first edition, 1989) that the 1975-1983 Phillies were among baseball's "most formidable" teams.
ACCEPTABLE: Frederick Ivor-Campbell points out in Total Baseball (first edition, 1989) that the 1975-1983 Phillies were among baseball's greatest teams.
UNACCEPTABLE: The Phillies needed 32 years to win their first pennant, and 97 years to win their first World Series. (While the information here doesn't "belong" to the original author — anyone could have calculated these figures for him/herself — the writer follows the original author's pattern of expression too closely, copying the original word-for-word for more than ten words in a row. If you got your information from this passage, you might as well credit the author; if you uncovered the information on your own, you could write it something like this to avoid plagiarism: It was thirty-two years after their founding before the Phillies won their first pennant, and ninety-seven years before they won their first World Series.
ON THE VERGE OF UNACCEPTABLE: As Frederick Ivor-Campbell has pointed out (in Total Baseball, first edition, 1989), the Phillies needed 32 years to win their first pennant, and 97 years to win their first World Series, while finishing at the bottom of their league or division, on average, more than once in every four years. But for nine years — 1975-1983 — they were among baseball's greatest teams. (There is no unacceptable borrowing of words here, and the author has given acceptable credit to the original source. But the writer has merely adopted the original author's pattern of thought and expression rather than process the information through his own mind, and, as a result, has written nothing but a close paraphrase of the original. As it stands, the passage may be marginally acceptable because of its brevity, but if the author were to continue to paraphrase additional paragraphs of the original, it would become clearly unacceptable.)
Originally codified by Fred Ivor-Campbell, 25 July 2002
revised August, October 2002.
Additional revisions by Rory Costello, February 2019.
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