Why is editing a Wikipedia article so important?
First of all, Wikipedia is the modern equivalent of an encyclopedia; it is the first stop in finding an answer. With over 5.6 million articles in the English language, it is one of the most comprehensive collections of knowledge available. Currently, there are very few female Wikipedia editors and a very small percentage of female-related articles. Art+Feminism is looking to change that by training new Wikipedia editors (it could be you or me or anyone). They are not the only ones either. Wikipedia has its own group of Wikiprojects dedicated to providing female-related articles.
Editing an Article
While I had not formally edited a Wikipedia article before, I was vaguely familiar with their style and guidelines, so I thought I would try my hand in becoming a Wikipedia editor and share my experiences with SoundGirls. I had some knowledge of formatting and citing in the Wikipedia style, but I also made sure to keep several tabs open of Wikipedia’s helpful tutorials.
Wikipedia requires strict standards in sources, citations, and sentence structure. There is a lot to keep in mind when writing an article, and so Wikipedia has tutorials and templates to copy from. Self-promotion is not permitted when creating an article. Therefore, sources cannot be a personal website or an IMDB page. Bias is also frowned upon, which means many controversial articles are locked from the fledgling editor.
Often new editors are guided to almost complete topics, ones that only need cleanup in citations or a couple of extra facts. Many niche articles are plagued with improper citation and writing flags. From there, an editor can build up their chops before turning to a completely new article. Focusing on pre-existing articles also helps with the moderating backlog that is a constant problem for Wikipedia.
Creating an Article
Even knowing all of this, I still decided to create a completely new article. I wrote about Karen Lam, a female film director, and producer, known for her horror short films and for promoting other women in film. While I did meet her briefly, I have no professional association with her, and therefore I had no conflict of interest with which to color the tone of my article. She had been interviewed several times in local and national magazines, and her films had won several awards. This meant that she was relevant and documented enough to have an article based off of her. I, the lowly blog writer, still early in my career, do not have the right credentials to have a Wikipedia article, and so it goes. As an added bonus, a film directed by Karen had its own article already and therefore referenced my subject. An article that is not referenced by anything else is an orphan, which often suggests the irrelevance of the topic.
Not including the time it took to research her, I was able to write my article and submit it for the first time during the Art+Feminism event, and within minutes I received my first error flag. I had cited IMDB for awards won by my subject, and so I updated the article, took out a few awards that were only listed on IMDB, and put a new award mentioned in a reputable press release. I did not hear back for a month an a half. My article was then finally approved.
- When first delving into the land of editing, start with a pre-existing article or your “personal sandbox.”
- Take your time, and learn the ropes of syntax and citation.
- If you do desire to write a new topic, then find several print sources as well as reliable internet sources.
- An image is nice, but not necessary.
- Conflicting facts between reliable interviews do happen, if you are unsure of a fact, then do not include it.
- Avoid topics that you are connected to, either with heavy emotional bias or professionally.
- Know that errors get noticed quickly, but positive responses are slow.
- Errors are not permanent but instead are a learning experience.
- Finally, your article is always open to change and grow, so if you want to update anything, give it a shot.
Wikipedia was made to be edited by the public, and it can be another tool to grow the influence of women in media and to break the glass fader.
Where to Start
In my prior article on Wikipedia editing, I focused on the basics of choosing a Wikipedia article topic and the reason for writing them. Through this article, my goal is to give you a few definitions and resources in other ways to make women more present in the online encyclopedia. For further tips and ideas, you can view my Wikipedia profile (Lyrelyrebird), which I formatted as a hub for SoundGirls looking to start their Wikipedia journey.
Green Articles and Red Articles
When a Wikipedia article already exists, any link to the article is blue in color while any link to a non-existent article is red.
It is tempting to search for these “red” articles and start a page from scratch, and many people do, but Wikipedia is littered with pages that have only the bare minimum of word count and are lacking in proper sources. Internally, Wikipedia rates articles based on their quality with green designating a “good” article. It takes time and effort to turn an article “green.” New articles and major edits must be approved by veteran editors, and any mistakes or errors are flagged for fixing. Once everything is finally up to snuff, then the article is slated for a final review and approval before the green designation is assigned. Even then, if the article is about a living person, the article might need babysitting for updates as time passes.
Green articles are great examples for templates and guides in editing articles needing TLC. One cannot feasibly memorize every code trick that Wikipedia has available, so use others’ insight to your advantage. For example, when working on an article about a sound designer, find a page of a more well-known designer or even a cinematographer and see how that article formatted things like filmography and career highlights. I use copy and paste frequently, and Wikipedia encourages it. Consistency is part of why Wikipedia is a respected first stop in researching any topic.
This is also a good approach when working on a “stub” article (one that is too short or needs more verified information) or working on a poorly written articles.
What will you see on a pre-existing article?
Once you are logged in, the top of every Wikipedia article will show several tabs such as “Edit” (where the magic happens), “View History” (an edit log), and on the other side is “Talk.”
The talk page is a mini-forum where collaborating editors can communicate page plans and goals. This is also where error flags are discussed in more detail. More established articles often have many notes on edit histories and unverified content. If one is not respectful of the talk page, then an edit war may occur. An edit war happens when a segment of an article is repeatedly changed by two or more editors. If changes to the article are malicious, the article gets locked. Many of the most popular articles in Wikipedia are locked to prevent these occurrences. The best way out of an edit war is to step back from the article and reevaluate it again through the talk page at a later date, but there are ways to request dispute resolutions if one of the feuding editors is acting in bad faith.
Articles are grouped by way of Categories. A page is assigned to categories and you’ll see an article’s assigned categories at the bottom of it’s page.
Categories with enough articles have subsections called Subcategories:
An article will reside in an appropriate subcategory whenever possible before populating the main Category. As with articles, it is better to start with existing Categories before creating new ones. Parent Categories (more general groupings) with too many children can make a topic more confusing than it has to be, and articles can be overloaded with related topics. In my opinion, because adding Categories is a simple task, it is better to save it for future edits when the main Category becomes too unwieldy.
Lists can be confused for Categories, but they have one large difference. Categories apply to every article they can be used for, but Lists are reserved for the best examples of a subject matter. Another difference is that Lists are a type of article (it can be edited like a page), while a Category is not an article.
I would also caution that due to their formating, Lists inherently cannot be “good” articles, and should be deemed as a lower priority. I have mentioned both Lists and Categories in my user page as edit ideas, but please prioritize the existing ones before making new ones, and use my talk page if you have any questions or ideas.
A user page is your personal page, similar to a profile page (but functions like an article where you have to build it yourself). Not every user page look the same, and some users ignore their pages altogether. There are a few rules on what should and should not go on a user page:
- Do write your interests and possible affiliations (if you have them)
- Don’t self-promote, antagonize, or copy copyrighted/wiki article content.
If you are unsure about having a user page, then ignore it, you are not required to edit it.
After you create your Wikipedia account, you get space for both a user page and a sandbox page. Like a sandbox in real life, the sandbox is where you can play/practice using Wikipedia and get familiar with how it works. Wikipedia encourages you to create and test your new article ideas in the sandbox before adding it to the main encyclopedia.
A note on languages
While I and the majority of the rest of Wikipedia editors are English speakers, Wikipedia is an international encyclopedia. Nearly every language is represented, and many popular articles are written in all languages. That means there are editors for those languages, and resources for those editors to follow language-specific styles. If you are comfortable in a language and want to edit in that language, go for it. Be aware that some articles may not exist in English, and your sources should be in the language you are editing in.
WikiProjects are groups of like-minded editors who have a passion for a particular subject matter. The more broad a subject matter, the more editors working together and the more resources the project has to work on specific articles. Often the WikiProject pages are full of templates and tips for turning articles green and are great places to frequent as a new editor. My favorite resource is their list of high priority articles, or articles that are either close to completion or are of more prominent subjects. I suggest Women in Red and Women in Green but have links to other WikiProjects on my user page.