A Zero-Context Example is an example that fails to do the most important thing an example should do: explain how and why it fits the trope. All examples must explain how they apply, as this wiki isn't just for the editors to post whatever makes sense to them and other fans of their pet work, but for an audience looking for information on how tropes work in practice. Zero-Context Examples can appear on any page, but work and trope pages are the most common places to see such examples, with work pages being particularly prone to Fan Myopia.
All tropes require context, even if they may seem self-explanatory. It is never wrong to explain even the most basic information, even if it's in the trope title. Redundancy is always preferable to leaving behind a list of Zero-Context Examples, and a trope title isn't context. No trope is self-explanatory, and any trope that seems like it may be is more often than not meaningless patterns, more commonly known here as People Sit on Chairs. Remember: tropes aren't just patterns, they're patterns with meaning, and a "self-explanatory" trope conveys no meaning.
But how do these problems occur in practice? Well, let's take a look using theoretical examples of Corrupt Politician:
- Corrupt Politician
This literally tells the reader nothing about the work or the trope. If you don't already know what Corrupt Politician is about AND how the trope appears in the work, this is completely worthless.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice, full stop.
This is marginally better than the above in that it at least tells us who the trope applies to, but still useless to anyone who isn't intimately familiar with the work. If you don't already know what makes Alice a Corrupt Politician, this example only tells you that the work contains a character named Alice. And if the example is on Alice's character sheet, it's redundant to specify that the trope applies to her, so this goes back to being completely worthless. Similar phrases to avoid are "period", "natch", and "X. Just... X."
- Corrupt Politician: Alice is one.
This is bad for the same reasons as the above example. All it tells us is that Alice is a character in the work.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice is an example.
Okay, but how is she an example? This is similar to the above example.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice. The trope title says it all.
It does not. Do not rely on the trope name. Imagine it's obscured or renamed. The example still has to explain how Alice is an example of the trope.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice, who says the trope word-for-word.
Similar to the above example, the trope name is not context. Such an entry also tends to be misuse, since you are documenting an instance something was said rather than a narrative pattern.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice is a subversion.
A common problem is using Playing with a Trope labels in place of context. How is the trope set up to be subverted? How is the subversion shown to the audience?
- Corrupt Politician: Alice, from the episode "Mayor of Troperville", is this.
This still doesn't tell us how Alice is a Corrupt Politician.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice, as shown in this clip.
Yes, the link leads to a 404 page on purpose. Even if it did lead to a valid video, you're forcing the viewer to go elsewhere to see what makes Alice an example. See Weblinks Are Not Examples for why this doesn't work.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice: See Rich Bitch below.
Examples should not point to other examples for context. They should stand on their own. In this case, since there is no Rich Bitch example on this page, you have no idea why Alice is an example. Even if there were, it could be changed or deleted, leaving this example unexplained.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice combines this with Rich Bitch.
Similar to the "see also" example, this one claims Alice is two tropes, but fails to explain either.
- Corrupt Politician: Bob once met Alice, who is an example of this trope, when he temporarily became the mayor of Troperville. She returns in the episode "President Charlie", but only for a brief cameo where she complains that Bob should not be a campaign manager.
This example, despite its length, never actually explains how Alice is corrupt or a politician.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice is a skilled and famous member of the Troper City Senate, winning election after election.
This seems okay at first glance, but on further inspection, only mentions that Alice is a politician, not how she is corrupt. note
- Corrupt Politician: Alice is secretive, corrupt, and is a member of the city senate.
This makes the claim that Alice is an example, but doesn't offer any evidence. What secretive and corrupt things does she do? What kind of work does she do in office? If we don't already know who Alice is, this tells us very little.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice, clearly a satire of conservative politicians, has her moments, but that's all we can say about it.
While we expect editors to abide by rules such as No Lewdness, No Prudishness and the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement, this still fails to explain the example. Either write it in an appropriate way or delete the example.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice rivals Secretary Douglas in this department.
No matter how famous another work might be, or how perfect an example it might be of the trope, to assume everyone knows what you're talking about with a reference like this is Fan Myopia. More likely than not, a reader has no idea who the other character is, and you have two zero-context examples for the price of one.
- Corrupt Politician:
Citizen: How are you voting?Alice: Who's paying me?Quotes are rarely acceptable as examples on their own, though they can support an existing example. As quotes can be taken out-of-context, be mis-remembered or even mis-interpreted, they aren't always reliable. In general, they fail to give necessary context for any non-dialogue trope, being just a single moment of the work and lacking in details.
Another way to tell if an example lacks context is when the example would still make sense when the trope is replaced with another. Let's say we replace Corrupt Politician on the last point with...
- Only in It for the Money:
Citizen: How are you voting?Alice: Who's paying me?
After all this, you might be wondering what a good example might look like. Here are a few ways it could be written:
- Corrupt Politician: Alice is the richest member of the Troper City Senate, and uses her enormous wealth to buy not only her seat but also the opinions of her fellow delegates. She spends an equally large amount of money to cover up her various scandals and silence her victims, who occasionally disappear altogether. Her policies aren't any better, as she pushes ideas that benefit herself and her benefactors, even if it hurts innocent people.
With an example like that, anyone can understand why Alice is a Corrupt Politician, regardless of whether they've read the trope's article or even know who the character Alice is.
- Corrupt Politician: Alice is the richest and most powerful member of the Troper City Senate. In Episode 28, she offers to use her influence to force a vote through in exchange for millions of dollars in payouts for herself and her friends.
Another good approach is to describe a specific instance when Alice does something corrupt. This shows her actually doing what the example claims about her.
If you see a Zero-Context Example and can't personally expand it, the common protocol is to hide it using double-percentage markup (%% at the start of a line). This allows someone else who knows the work better to add context while keeping it invisible for the reader's sake. It is not recommended to delete these, since this has been known to lead to Edit Wars.
If doing so, you should add this note commented-out at the top. It can be edited as necessary to fit the page:
%% Administrivia/ZeroContextExample entries are not allowed on wiki pages. All such entries have been commented out. Add context to the entries before uncommenting them.
- Pages Needing Example Context: A page with a high concentration of Zero-Context Examples can be put on this page and tagged to let future editors know to not add even more non-context examples, and to encourage them to expand said examples if possible.
- Fixing zero-context examples thread: A forum thread for help or advice with cleaning up Zero-Context Examples.
- Clear, Concise, Witty: Describing an instance of a trope accurately and fully takes precedence over needlessly long or humorous examples that do not explain the trope.
- Fan Myopia: Your favorite work is so amazing and popular that surely everyone will immediately recognize how this trope applies! There's no need for context, right? Wrong. No matter how popular a work is, there will always be people who aren't familiar with it. Write out the context for their sake.
- How to Write an Example: Contains further editing guidelines.
- Just a Face and a Caption: The picture equivalent of a Zero-Context Example; namely, a page image which does not illustrate the trope, relying on Fan Myopia or the caption to connect the image to the trope.
- Not Self-Explanatory: No matter how obvious a trope name seems, it is not exempt from needing context. Even if you think it's obvious how it applies, write it out anyway; if it's really that obvious, it shouldn't take much effort.
- People Sit on Chairs: If a trope cannot be given useful, consistent context beyond "this happens", it is probably too meaningless to trope.
- Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Language: We write about how things are, not how they should be. This issue can create context problems if someone changes or removes valid information due to their own distaste at what occurs in the work, including if it's replaced with something non-indicative, like "And That's Terrible" or "And this is all we'll say about it."
- Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment: For some tropes, there is such a thing as too much context. Examples should be as unbiased as possible, and should not go into too much detail about risqué; or controversial subjects.
- Show, Don't Tell: One of the governing principles of example context, you should always try to show the reader what's happening, not merely tell them.
- Type Labels Are Not Examples: Some tropes may have Internal Subtropes listed as "Type A" or "Type B", or something similar. These labels, on their own, do not explain the trope.
- Weblinks Are Not Examples: Another form of Zero-Context Example involving linking to another page to give context.
- Word Cruft: Cruft is bad enough when it's in an example entry that does have full context, but when an entry is nothing but cruft, it can make what's essentially a Zero-Context Example hard to spot.