how Wikipedia Works/Chapter 6

Chapter 6: Good Writing and Research edit

This chapter explains how to take part in the main activities on Wikipedia: writing, researching, and improving encyclopedia articles. It covers how to start articles—a simple matter—and how to write them well—a considerably more difficult one. Good writing comes as a result of practice, as well as having a knack with words, and understanding the style, tone, and referencing of encyclopedia articles.

A good writer will always consider a projected article in a wider context. The sheer scale of Wikipedia has an impact on research work. Existing articles and the research that others have already added to Wikipedia will help inform your choice of topics and will likely give you feedback on the research you intend to do. Reviewing the site to find what has already been written in a subject area is a kind of due diligence: You'll avoid duplicating the efforts of others and save time.

Wikipedia has the added complexity of having been developed by tens of thousands of editors. Learning how to work productively in this collaborative environment can mean acquiring some particular skills. In this chapter, we'll discuss how to write a good article using advice accumulated from Wikipedians who have collectively written hundreds of thousands of articles.

Starting New Articles edit

The Wikipedia community greatly values new articles that fill a gap, are well written, and are well referenced. This really is praise from experts! If you have already eased into editing, perhaps by copyediting the work of others, you can certainly consider starting a fresh article.

Anyone with an account can start new articles easily in a couple of seconds. If you don't have a user account, you can still propose articles, as we'll describe in the next section. Before you start typing, though, keep some things in mind. It's as true for Wikipedians as for Boy Scouts: Be prepared! Consider the preliminaries before investing substantial amounts of time in writing. These are the steps involved in writing a new article:

  • Decide on a topic.
  • Check Wikipedia for existing coverage.
  • Find references and research the topic.
  • Choose a title and start the article.
  • Draft the article.
  • Link it to other articles and categorize it.

The more flexible, thorough, and resourceful you are in carrying out these steps, the simpler you'll find it to make good additions to the encyclopedia. Research hard, and then write well, whether you're adding one long article about a detailed topic, a short stub, or a group of related articles. The same techniques also hold true if you're rewriting an article or expanding an existing stub article; for many topics these days, you're far more likely to find a poor-quality article in need of cleanup and expansion than no article at all. The challenge for the writer is the same, however.

Deciding What to Write About edit

Is an encyclopedia of two million articles complete? Not at all. If you don't know what to write about, visiting a good library is an easy way to come up with a notable topic. Or, you can investigate some of the many projects that have been set up to gather topics that need to be written about:

Requested articles (shortcut WP:RA)

This page—really a suite of pages by topic—is where anyone can add a request just by creating a redlink. Note that requested articles pages tend to be rather messy, and just because an article is listed here doesn't mean the topic meets inclusion guidelines. Always double-check to see whether the requested article actually exists in some other form and if it should be written at all.

Articles for creation (shortcut WP:AFC)

This is where new or unregistered users can request an article be created. The page consists of a template form that article requesters fill out; registered users then go through and approve or deny requests. If you're a registered user in good standing, don't use this form for creating new articles; however, you can often find ideas here that deserve to be turned into articles.

Missing encyclopedia articles

This WikiProject is a centralized place to determine what topics might be missing from Wikipedia, based on researching other reference works. The project states that its goal is "to ensure that Wikipedia has a corresponding article for every article in every other general-purpose encyclopedia available."

Category:Wikipedia missing topics is the umbrella category that collects lists of potential missing articles. Likely topic areas for missing articles include politicians from anywhere that isn't the United States or Europe; biographies from before the 20th century (check any public-domain biographical dictionary, particularly ones not in English); scientists in a prominent national academy; and so on. Some individual editors' compilations of missing articles can be found at Category:Red list, which collects so-called redlink lists that editors set up as working pages.

If you understand copyright and what's in the public domain, you can use imported material from older sources to start your article. For instance, much of the text of the now-public-domain 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has been imported into Wikipedia. Other materials from Wikisource, which should be public domain or GFDL, can be reviewed with a view to adapting it. Copy-and-pasting is almost never enough, though; adapting older material requires skilled editorial work to bring both the language and the factual content up to date (for instance, a subpage of the missing encyclopedia articles project works on verifying articles from the 1911 Britannica to ensure these articles are accurate and timely).

Before Starting a New Article edit

Once you've selected a topic, make sure an article about that topic hasn't already been written in Wikipedia. You'll have to search the site thoroughly to avoid creating a duplicate article. This step is important because of the lack of top-down structure on the site: Whereas in a traditional encyclopedia, an editorial committee would assign authors topics, Wikipedia has nothing like this, and authors are responsible for understanding what else exists on their topic and making new articles fit into this structure.

Good Timing

What if your information goes stale? What if it hasn't happened yet at all? As mentioned in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?, future occurrences—a sporting event, a film under production, or construction work in progress—are usually not suitable article topics if they are just speculative. Wikipedia is not a crystal ball. If you have good verifiable sources and a precise future event, then you can write about it in Wikipedia. Material related, for example, to a new road being built can be in articles, but only when appropriately tagged. Blue-bar informative templates exist for this purpose (in Category:Temporal templates). If a topic is time sensitive, you should flag the information correctly. For example, as of 2008, no confirmed sightings of a Yeti have been made. The quick way to indicate that information is valid as of a particular date is to use the {{As of|year}} template, replacing year with the valid year. See Wikipedia:As of (shortcut WP:AO) for how this helps maintain the site.

After you search the site for the topic and working article title you have in mind, you'll find one of the following cases is true:

  • An article on the topic already exists (possibly under a different title than the one you had in mind).
  • More than one article has been written on the topic, all using different titles.
  • Some material on the topic exists, but in a more general article that encompasses several topics.
  • The topic is briefly mentioned in another article, but has not been developed.
  • The article title you want has been used, but the article is about something else.
  • No references to the topic are anywhere on the site.

If an article already exists on the topic (but under a different name), simply make your article title into a redirect to that page, as described in Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web. Working on the existing article to improve it is a good next step; very few articles on Wikipedia are comprehensive. At this point in the English-language Wikipedia's history, this outcome is the most common one for people looking to write about a particular topic, considering the vast number of existing articles.

If more than one article has been written about the topic and they seem to duplicate each other, they may need to be merged; see Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web for directions on merging. You can continue to work on improving the articles in the meantime.

If your topic has been developed in an existing, broader article, you'll probably want to work on that article to improve the existing content. If enough material for a separate article on that specific topic has been written, you'll want to split the content into an article with a new title; see Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web. Be sure to add an appropriate introduction, conclusion, references, and See Also links to the new page.

If a topic is mentioned in other articles but not developed, make sure each mention of the topic is wikilinked to the title of the new article you want to write. This will connect your new article to existing content on Wikipedia. Additionally, checking out these topic mentions could give you research leads. Take note of anything interesting and unexpected and any relevant references you find as you come across them.

If the article title has already been used but the article itself is about a different topic, you'll probably need to move that article to a more precise title, create your article with another precise title, and then create a disambiguation page to direct readers between the articles, as explained in Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web. For example, John Gray is a fairly common name. If you want to write an article on an architect with that name, you may title your article John Gray (architect) instead of simply John Gray. If John Gray already has an article about a physicist, that article could be moved to the title John Gray (physicist), and the main page John Gray could be reformatted as a disambiguation page to refer readers to these different articles.

If you don't find any articles or references to your topic on Wikipedia, you should pause before writing. Why is your topic not mentioned anywhere? Is your topic notable (see "Avoiding Treacherous Topics" below)? Have you looked for all the potential alternate names for the article or topic? Perform a thorough search, using all the title variations you can think of. If you decide your topic is notable (and simply missing), make sure you can place it into the context of already-written articles. Generally, you should add redlinks in existing articles to your new proposed article (either in the text or in the See also section) before you begin writing; then when you do create the article, you won't be creating an orphan.

Avoiding Treacherous Topics edit

If your intended topic hasn't been written about or mentioned, find out why. Revisit the article inclusion guidelines, mentioned in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia? ("Other Guidelines"), especially the notability guidelines (shortcut WP:NOTE) and the sidebar on classic topics not to write about (shortcut WP:DUMB).

New authors can fall for a handful of common traps. Perhaps the most dangerous are so-called vanity articles and wishful thinking about notability. Vanity articles are articles that have been written for promotional purposes (usually by the subject of the article) rather than for their encyclopedic value. If you're considering an article about yourself or your company—please don't. Even with the best of intentions, this can be seen as self-promotion and often leads to the article being deleted. Even if this doesn't happen, writing an article about yourself can be a mixed blessing: You don't control the content once the article is posted, and any relevant negative information will be highlighted just as prominently as the good. (Think of it another way: Encyclopaedia Britannica won't publish your résumé, either.)

Wishful thinking about notability can occur in other areas too. Common topics that are often borderline in terms of notability are articles about local bands, living people, and new movies, books, or albums. As mentioned in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?, Wikipedia has specific notability guidelines for all of these areas. Consider these guidelines and how your article fits in context.

Other treacherous topics are articles that have been deleted in the past. If you begin to write an article on a topic that was been previously created and deleted, you'll get a warning message that reads, Notice: You are re-creating a page that was deleted. In other words, one or more editors decided that the topic was not suitable for Wikipedia. If the article was deleted through the community process, Articles for Deletion (see Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes), a link to the discussion about that article will be included in this warning message. Follow that link and figure out why the page was deleted: Is the topic itself unsuitable for Wikipedia, or was the original article simply flawed in a way that's fixable? If in doubt, an administrator (who can view the deleted version) can probably help.

Starting the Article edit

As a logged-in user, you can choose a title and begin writing. Want to create a new article? Now is the perfect time to choose a Wikipedia username and open an account, as you must be logged in to start a new page. In the meantime, consult Wikipedia:Your first article (shortcut WP:FIRST) for a concise list of things to do.

Click a Redlink edit

The best way to initiate an article is to begin from a redlink on an existing page. Let's say your chosen topic is gingerbread cottage architecture, and you want to write a new article with this title. This term may already be used on some existing Wikipedia page (perhaps the general article about cottage architecture or gingerbread houses), and you can turn it into a redlink. Or, an unsuccessful search could bring up a page with a redlink matching your search term.


The What Links Here link works for redlinks as well (the search page also offers this option when a page does not exist: See all pages within Wikipedia that link to this page). Checking what backlinks exist before starting an article can point you to related existing content and give you an indication of how popular a redlink is by how many pages link to it already.

You can set also set up a redlink to Gingerbread cottage architecture on your user page, thus starting your braglist. Describing your new articles in this way is perfectly acceptable and will undoubtedly be of interest to Wikipedians checking out what articles you've started.

Clicking the redlink will bring up an empty editing window with the heading Editing Gingerbread cottage architecture, as shown in Figure 6.1, “The empty editing window for a new article”. Start typing! Or, if you're more prepared, paste in text that you've already written (see "Drafting the Article" on Section 1.5, “Drafting the Article”).

Preview your work, correct the formatting, punctuation, and typos, and save the new article. Add a short edit summary indicating that this page is the first version. If you've followed these instructions, the new page will not be an orphan (not quite anyway) because at least the page with the once-redlink now has a bluelink to your article. And clicking What Links Here in the sidebar on Gingerbread cottage architecture will reveal those unexpected pages that already link to your article (for example, if this article is on another editor's to-do list).

Figure 6.1. The empty editing window for a new article The empty editing window for a new article

Typos in the title require page moves to correct them because titles are not directly editable. One good reason to start with a redlink is that you are less likely to make a mistake in the title itself.

Two More Ways to Start an Article edit

For maximum user-friendliness, you can visit Help:Starting a new page for further help in creating a page. Enter your article title in the search box at the top. If it does not already exist, you'll be walked through the process of creating the page.

The most basic (but also the most primitive) way to start an article is simply to type the article's name into the browser as a URL. For instance, you can start your article titled Gingerbread cottage architecture by sending your browser to

Once you have sent your browser to a nonexistent Wikipedia page, you'll see some text telling you the page doesn't currently exist, which you should already know, along with a link to start the article, which will work if you're logged in. While starting an article this way is very quick, finding a page where you can first create a wikilink to your topic is the best method since you shouldn't ever create orphan articles. Using the browser method also increases the possibility of accidentally creating duplicate articles or articles with misspelled titles or other typos.

Titles Are Tricky edit

Wikipedia has some title conventions you should respect when starting a new article. When you're searching, these conventions work for you by making it more likely that you can infer the exact title of a topic. This is (naturally) why respect for conventions is more than pedantry; consistent titling is a usability issue. In a given area, the titles of existing articles offer good clues to the conventions in force. The most basic convention is to always use singular forms: Siberian Tiger, not Siberian Tigers. But exceptions are made for plural nouns; the article about stilts is at Stilts (as a single stilt is something you'd probably want to trade for a Pogo stick and, in any case, a Stilt is a bird).

Titling an article about a person can be particularly confusing. Articles about people should generally be in the form of first name last name. This convention can be hard to follow for articles about nobility, ancient Romans, people with multiple surnames, and any other special case. An article about someone called Raymond, Count of Provence might be under Raymond of Provence because nobility titles are often omitted. What if more than one such historical figure existed—for instance, Raymond II of Provence with Roman numerals (not "Raymond the Second")? But how is the name spelled? Raymond, Raymund, Raimund … ? What if of should be the French de? The article is actually located at Ramon Berenguer II, Count of Provence, using the Catalan spelling for Ramon. If redirects have been set up to this article from possible name variations, using Google is probably the quickest method for finding the article by searching for the words Raymond, Count, and Provence. Detailed case studies for naming articles about people are covered in Wikipedia:Naming conventions (people).

Here are more examples. The article about Saint Francis of Assisi is Francis of Assisi, not Saint Francis of Assisi, although the latter is a redirect. You can find specific advice for naming articles about saints on the Saints WikiProject at Wikipedia:WikiProject_Saints, where editors have developed special style guidelines for these particular articles. Even though the most commonly used and recognized name is preferred, the article on Madame Mao is under Jiang Qing, not Madame Mao, though again the latter name is a redirect. Initial articles are not included in page titles: Statue of Liberty, not The Statue of Liberty. Only proper names are capitalized: Pythagorean theorem, not Pythagorean Theorem. If several possible articles could have the same title, Wikipedia has a wide variety of disambiguation schemes depending on the topic. The most common is to add a qualifier in parenthesis to the article name, such as in the previous example of John Gray (architect). General guidelines on how to disambiguate page titles are on the main disambiguation page (shortcut WP:DAB#NAME).

Depending on what area interests you, looking at similar articles may save you time in figuring out a good title. These matters are all documented: For ample detail, see Wikipedia:Naming conventions (shortcut page WP:NAME), which is an official policy and includes information on naming conventions for many specific topic areas. Also see Category:Wikipedia naming conventions.

A few characters are forbidden in page names, including

  1. < > [ ] | { }

and some others that are problematic. Full details can be found at WP:NAME.

As we mentioned in Chapter 5, Basic Editing, the first letter of a title is always capitalized by the MediaWiki software, but otherwise titles are case sensitive: Capital letters in multiword titles, such as names, must be treated with care. Thomas Jefferson is not the same as Thomas jefferson. For titles that really should have a lowercase first letter, like iPod or e (mathematical constant), there is a special workaround: the template . This template displays the title of the article with a lowercase first letter (though the article name is still automatically capitalized in the URL). As for the famous case of E. E. Cummings, the article explains it, so we don't need to.

Drafting the Article edit

Once you've selected a topic and picked out a title, you need to actually write the article. Making several drafts is often needed to produce good writing. Drafting a new article somewhere else first before posting it to the site is often best. Drafting allows you to note ideas, gather sources, and leave unfinished sentences and comments to yourself while you figure out what you want to say—without the risk of adding "bad" content to the encyclopedia.

You can draft articles in three possible places. You can draft in the article itself or in your user space. You can also work offline in a text editor. Drafting in live articles is not recommended for newcomers, as an article may be severely edited or nominated for deletion while you are still working on it. For a quieter experience, work in your user space, where other editors are unlikely to edit what you've written; to start out, draft on your user page, and create subpages for drafts when you become more ambitious.

You can create a subpage in your user space—your user page and any subpages under it (see Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian). For instance, if your username is Ydobon, your user page will be at User:Ydobon, and you can create a subpage in your user space by simply starting a new page with a forward slash in between your user page name and the new page name, such as User:Ydobon/Draft1. Simply create the redlink by typing /Draft1 on your user page and then click it to begin writing. Subpages link back automatically to their main page. Constructing subpages with the forward slash works elsewhere but is not allowed in the article namespace. Subpages are widely used in project space, especially on process pages (described in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes) where every discussion is on a separate page. See Wikipedia:Subpages for more information.

You can also work entirely offline in a word processor, and then paste the content into the article when you are done. This method has some advantages. Printing the draft article to review it can often reveal inconsistencies and awkward phrasing and flow. Working in a word processor also makes it easy to spellcheck and restructure.

The user space method of drafting has the "what you see is what you get" advantage: You'll see the draft formatted exactly as it will appear in the article. Drafting in user space is thus a good method if you want to test out or perfect the wikisyntax formatting. Perhaps the best method is to start writing offline and then copy the work in progress to your user space when adding wikisyntax. User space is a public space to which you can invite other editors for feedback. But by convention no one else should edit a draft there, unless asked to directly.

Once an article is posted in the main article space, you no longer control it. If you are still doing major drafting while working in article space, you may want to add the anti-hassle template Template:Inprogress at the top. This template will fend off almost all intruders, reduce edit conflicts, show you know what you're doing, and probably deflect any early deletion proposals. Leaving the template up for a long time is not okay (and not a way to keep others from editing your work). In the same way, if you add hidden comments as a way of drafting, remove them when you're done.

Don't Forget edit

Articles are not signed. When you create a new article, provide a descriptive edit summary, perhaps summarizing the topic in a few words. Finally, once you click Save, you don't control the content. Perfect strangers—out of the hundreds of millions online—can now edit it.

Further Reading Article requests, sorted by topic Articles found in other encyclopedias but missing from the English-language Wikipedia, sorted by topic Articles that don't exist and have a high number of incoming links Directions on how to start a new page, with a handy search box where you can check to see if a page is really new The Articles for creation process, where unregistered users can request that an article be created Technical restrictions on creating page names Policy on naming articles How to create a subpage, including directions on how to create a user subpage

Writing Well edit

The perfect Wikipedia article probably doesn't exist, though discussions of good writing on Wikipedia have become catalogs of what this article should be. If you truly think the journey is more interesting than the destination, you may be a natural-born Wikipedia editor, because Wikipedia's reality is constant, incremental improvement. Articles evolve over time.

A good article fulfills a need for information—it informs the reader with broad coverage, relevant context, and deliberate, thoughtful prose. At the very least, a good article is understandable and clearly expressed, for both experts and non-experts. It thoroughly explores and explains the subject in appropriate detail. But the article isn't only its content; it's a web page, too. Wikipedians should write with this context in mind and continue to build the web. Good articles contain incoming wikilinks and external links. These external links should take readers to the best sites for following up on the article. Refer to the academic literature, if any applies, by providing references. By doing this, you are building not only Wikipedia but also the Web as a whole. Nodal pages—pages that connect you as well as inform you—carry added value for readers. A Wikipedia article is not trying to replace specialist information available elsewhere, but to give access to this material. Good web pages fill niches: The niche in question is an encyclopedia article, but now in a vastly enlarged Web context.

In this section, we'll discuss eight broad areas to consider when writing an article as well as two tips for accomplishing your task—consulting the Manual of Style and getting reviews. For more advice, Wikipedia:The perfect article (shortcut WP:PERFECT) lists about 20 pointers for producing excellent articles. Again, perfection may not be humanly attainable—we mentioned in Chapter 2, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia that acceptance of imperfection is deeply rooted in wiki culture—so please take our advice as aspirational and complementary to Wikipedia:Guide to writing better articles (shortcut WP:BETTER). 2.1. Consulting the Manual of Style

Much of the advice and many of the links in this section come from the Manual of Style, which is a style guide developed by the Wikipedia community for the purpose of helping editors write articles consistently and well. The Manual of Style is a lengthy document that has been developed over time and represents a tremendous collective body of knowledge about writing encyclopedia articles. Its main page resembles the kind of style guide produced by book publishers and newspaper editors. This conceals other pages that have been developed wiki-style: a complex web of further advisory material on how to write for Wikipedia. These Manual of Style pages provide guidance both for global issues (such as tone and organization) and small grammatical details (such as whether to use a serial comma). The term Manual of Style is usually understood as including Wikipedia:Manual of Style (abbreviations) along with other pages in Category:Wikipedia style guidelines.

The Manual of Style itself, available at Wikipedia:Manual of Style (shortcut page WP:MOS), is a Wikipedia guideline, which gives it an official standing. Together with the specialized pages it links to, the Manual of Style is essential reference material. Authors and editors should refer to it often (of course, they don't need to read it all before starting to write).

Most likely, a handful of manual pages will be most relevant to your particular topic area. For example, Wikipedia:Manual of Style (command-line examples) (shortcut WP:MOSCOMM) is of interest to those (and only those) intending to include examples of computer code in articles they write. Rather than trying to remember where the pages are and what they say, create internal links from your user page to the pages you reference most. For instance, one of the most useful pages is Wikipedia:Summary style (shortcut WP:SS), which explains how to structure lengthy articles and topics too large to handle in a single article.

Acronym Overload

The Manual of Style is often abbreviated MOS or MoS, and guidelines within the Manual are referred to by shortcuts such as MOS:FLAGS. Wikipedia has a list of these shortcuts at Special:Prefixindex/MOS:. Not everyone will know these or other Wikipedia acronyms. Too many acronyms can make a page hard to decipher (just you wait for Chapter 13, Policy and Your Input), a sentiment expressed nicely by the essay Wikipedia:WTF? OMG! TMD TLA. ARG! (shortcut WP:OMG). 2.2. Introduction and Topic Sentence

An article should begin with a clear description of the subject. The first sentence should define the topic of the article, using the title or subject of the article, which should be formatted in bold type. The rest of the introductory paragraph should explain the subject and its significance clearly and accurately, without going into excessive detail. If you're having trouble with the topic sentence, you might want to think further about the article title.

Although the opening of an article should convey why a topic is interesting, an encyclopedia article is not a book review or personal essay, and you are not trying to entice the reader. The article Robinson Crusoe should indicate in its first sentence that this is an English novel. References to Daniel Defoe's journalism and historical discussion about sea voyaging in the early 18th century should be postponed until later. If you are submitting an article adapted from research written for other purposes (such as a dissertation or school paper), your original opening will almost certainly need to be recast.

A lead section may be split into three paragraphs, at most, but it shouldn't be longer than this. The opening section should encapsulate the rest of the article. More advice can be found at Wikipedia:Lead section (shortcut WP:LS).

Some basic insights into the structure of newspaper articles can be useful as a reference point (the article inverted pyramid describes this style). The lead paragraphs of news stories frequently treat several strands of a story simultaneously, before giving the details. This technique is also very useful on Wikipedia, as a way of placing a good summary ahead of the main part of a longer article.

Let's analyze one introduction from Wikipedia [June 2007]:

   Herbert George Wells (September 21, 1866–August 13, 1946), better known as H. G. Wells, was an English writer best known for such science fiction novels as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. He was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and produced works in many different genres, including contemporary novels, history, and social commentary. He was also an outspoken socialist. His later works become increasingly political and didactic, and only his early science fiction novels are widely read today. Wells, along with Hugo Gernsback and Jules Verne, is sometimes referred to as "The Father of Science Fiction."

This introduction has a fairly simple A-B-A structure, with A being "science fiction" and B being "political views." (You may notice some possible issues with Verifiability: Who says his later work is not read much, and who gets to award the title "father of" anything? But these might also be covered better later in the article.) According to the Wikipedia guideline, a lead section should ideally have at most three paragraphs, so it could be a little more complicated than the example. But if an article has three main ideas, A, B, and C, you should introduce only one idea per paragraph. The topic structure could be something like A-BA-BC, with A being the headline and B and C the most significant related points, but that's about as complex as the opening should be.

Who Are We Writing For?

We're writing articles for someone who knows nothing about a topic but needs to get up to speed quickly. You have ten seconds.

   Who, what, where, when, why?
   Summary Lead section, then inverted pyramid.
   Omit needless words.
   The Economist style guide: clarity with precision.
   "Why" is almost more important than "what."

I sometimes picture my reader as a very bright ten- to twelve-year-old. Someone with a good reading age, but who knows nothing yet. Did you used to devour encyclopaedias as a kid? (Adapted from "My personal style guide" from User:David Gerard) 2.3. Comprehensiveness and Appropriate Length

A well-written Wikipedia article acknowledges and explores all aspects of the subject. In other words, it covers every encyclopedic angle. This goal in itself can be a strain on a writer. Cover every angle of William Shakespeare? The Neutral Point of View policy, however, does require comprehensiveness, defined as the inclusion of all significant perspectives. Something should be said about Shakespeare's influence on literature other than English and something about authorship theories.

Clearly, ensuring such an article is an appropriate length is difficult. Using summary style, mentioned in the Manual, is critical. Include sufficient information, depth, and analysis on the subject, but without unnecessary detail. Subarticles developed from the main one, related articles (such as the lengthy Shakespeare authorship question for the Shakespeare example), or in some cases in wiki sister projects can include this extra information. You'll find that material on major topics moves around from article to article until coverage is more balanced. 2.4. Structure

You can't expect your readers to have a clearer view of your article's logic and flow than you do. Divide long sentences, especially if they're loosely linked by conjunctions. Any longer threads of logical argument are somewhat suspect in encyclopedic terms. While avoiding a dense or cryptic style, Wikipedia articles should be tight and concise, rather than verbose. W.S. Gilbert wrote, "Never mind the whys and wherefore" in H.M.S. Pinafore; Wikipedians know that a good "why" can be valuable, but they look out for elaborate wherefores: Long arguments should be summarized and well referenced.

A good article is logically arranged and divided into sections. Collect the history of a concept into one section. Whether this comes immediately after the introductory section or at the end of the article depends on the particular idea.

An article such as Gas mask can place the chemistry before the history, or vice versa. For most readers, separating the two aspects of the topic is most helpful. This issue is typical when dealing with anything technological. The article Piano (as of March 2008) has a section on early history directly following the introductory section. Then the use of subsections for the grand piano, upright piano, and so on is clearly indicated by the subject matter. 2.5. Readability

Everyone on Wikipedia wants to be a good writer. Readability should be your ultimate goal. Readability means your writing is clear and easily understood. Encyclopedia article prose should be as transparent as possible so the writing doesn't get in the way of the content.

Readability doesn't exist in a vacuum, and good writing certainly does not mean insipid, tediously dry, or dull writing. Some of the excellent content already on Wikipedia can provide examples of strong prose (while you can also see some of the pitfalls in examples of poor articles). Other editors can also help provide input on style.

For guidance on making prose more elegant and readable, any writing guide may be valuable. Choose one that answers your questions and is itself readable. A classic American guide to good writing is Strunk and White's The Elements of Style; other classics are Fowler's Modern English Usage and Gowers' The Complete Plain Words. Just as helpful as a good style guide is saturation: Read good writing. Compare similar articles in different encyclopedias—what's similar, what's different? Reading well-written books will make you a better writer. With practice, you can write an encyclopedia article that is factually accurate and fair and also clear, eloquent, and colorful—or, to use a term from the earliest days of the project, written using brilliant prose.

Brilliant Prose

Brilliant Prose was one of the earliest project pages on Wikipedia. Larry Sanger created this project and addressed the subject in one of the very first messages to the Wikipedia-L mailing list. Sanger reported on January 22, 2001, that of the 184 articles then on Wikipedia, 14 were listed on the brilliant prose page, leading him to conclude that "Wikipedia does rock." (From 2.6. Audience

Who is the general reader? Who is your audience? Who Wikipedia's audience is has always been a subject of discussion. The consensus, if not the universal view, on Wikipedia is that articles should be written for a well-educated adult; this choice is also the traditional one made by Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Some specialist topics (such as many mathematics articles) will inevitably contain material that is not understandable to a lay audience. After reading an article, however, you should be able to say you know two things: what the topic is and why it's important. The introduction matters most to a nonspecialist. It should summarize the content of the article and place it in context for a lay reader.

Sometimes readability and accuracy conflict. Especially for highly technical topics, understanding a concept at all may be difficult for general readers. To tackle these expository difficulties, provide an acceptable, generally readable summary in the opening paragraph and then an accurate formal definition in the body of the article.

One person's jargon is another person's correct terminology, of course. It may make sense to put the jargon first. But then you have an obligation to define that jargon with a phrase such as roughly speaking …, in other words …, simply put …, or some other phrase indicating that what follows is the layperson's summary. All readers should know what content to expect.

This introduction from Blood pressure shows the use of both technical and everyday language:

   Blood pressure (strictly speaking: vascular pressure) refers to the force exerted by circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels, and constitutes one of the principal vital signs. The pressure of the circulating blood decreases as blood moves through arteries, arterioles, capillaries, and veins; the term blood pressure generally refers to arterial pressure, i.e., the pressure in the larger arteries, arteries being the blood vessels which take blood away from the heart. Arterial pressure is most commonly measured via a sphygmomanometer, which uses the height of a column of mercury to reflect the circulating pressure (see Non-invasive measurement). Although many modern vascular pressure devices no longer use mercury, vascular pressure values are still universally reported in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

One great advantage of hypertext, as shown here, is indirection. If you provide a wikilink for a technical term, those who follow it for more information will be a self-selected group who really want that information. The link to sphygmomanometer reduces the need for long explanations in the blood pressure article itself. 2.7. Use of Language

Many older encyclopedias err on the side of pomposity, but Wikipedia's tone is direct, crisp, and contemporary. Wikipedia articles are a kind of academic writing, but they do not adopt the formal or specialist tone of a learned journal. They should be interesting—not dry, colorless, or bland. They should not be literary, personal, argumentative, or investigative. In controversial matters articles should aim to be descriptive rather than opinionated. In this, Wikipedic prose is close to the journalism of a newspaper of record, reporting events from above the fray and presenting all notable sides of an issue.

Deaths may be accidental but should not be regrettable or premature or tragic. By the same token, though, euphemisms are misplaced: Don't write passed away for died. A discovery may be called highly significant or just significant. If you think about it, significant can be more impressive. Why? Perhaps because the general reader doesn't want to be bombarded with superlatives but would like to understand the main stages of a development. This point is covered in a general way at Wikipedia:Avoid peacock terms (shortcut WP:APT). Understatement also helps with neutrality. The historian Lord Acton said that "the best way of doing justice is a little reserve in uttering judgments."

Language should not be colloquial and should conform to usage guides. Follow standard writing conventions: Use complete sentences and correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Choppy writing is distracting. To the reader. To put it. Mildly. Abbreviations, however common in a specialist field, should not only be linked to their own article but also generally spelled out for the lay reader's benefit.

Whose English?

American English and Commonwealth English coexist on the English-language Wikipedia. This coexistence is supposed to be peaceful; strife involving Wikipedians with different settings on their spellcheckers is unwelcome. See Wikipedia:Manual of Style#National_varieties_of_English (shortcut WP:ENGVAR) for the Manual of Style section on what is acceptable where. The rule is when either of two styles is acceptable, an editor should not change from one style to another unless he or she has a substantial reason to do so. In other words, if an article is already written in British or American English, stick with that existing style when making additions. This was a hard-fought compromise in the early days of Wikipedia!

One special rule for writing in Wikipedia is to avoid self-references—that is, avoid references within Wikipedia articles to the Wikipedia project. Unlike in talk and community pages, where discussing Wikipedia is natural, in articles it is distracting. It also makes the content less suitable for forking to a new project, one of the goals of Wikipedia's open license. Avoid phrases like "this Wikipedia article discusses" and even "in this encyclopedia." This ban on articles mentioning Wikipedia obviously does not apply in articles about Wikipedia-related topics. For the Manual of Style page on this issue, see Wikipedia:Avoid self-references (shortcut WP:SELF). 2.8. Graphics

A good article includes informative, relevant images—diagrams and graphs, maps, portraits, photographs, and artwork—that add to a reader's interest in or understanding of the topic. Each image should have an explanatory caption. See "Images and Media Files" on Section 1.1, “Finding and Adding Images” for the technical details of how to add images to articles.

Graphics should support the text; the images should not be so numerous or so predominant as to detract or distract from the article itself. Don't include pictures just to make the article pretty. Use graphs, infographics (see infographics), and tables (tabular data) where they are the most appropriate format, not in all circumstances. Remember, any data should be referenced but not analyzed—analyzing data can become original research.

Infoboxes (templates displaying key facts) should not be intrusive and should not be tendentious (all facts should be verifiable). It should be clear to the general reader where to place the article as one of a related series. For example, War of the Austrian Succession includes a box listing the combatants of this 18th-century European war in chronological order (Figure 6.2, “Shown is the elaborate infobox from War of the Austrian Succession. The bottom two sections are additional infoboxes that can be expanded.”). Thetwo boxes at the bottom, whose contents are viewable by clicking the Show link in the box corner, are additional infoboxes that list the major battles of the war (a complete list is also at Category:Battles of the War of the Austrian Succession). Infoboxes are generally only included when Wikipedia has several related articles about a topic.

Figure 6.2. Shown is the elaborate infobox from War of the Austrian Succession. The bottom two sections are additional infoboxes that can be expanded. Shown is the elaborate infobox from War of the Austrian Succession. The bottom two sections are additional infoboxes that can be expanded.

2.9. Applying Basic Content Policies

The reader of an article should, above all, feel that it summarizes the topic responsibly. The way to do this is well understood. An article conforming to content policies is completely unbiased; it has a Neutral Point of View (NPOV), presenting competing views on controversies logically and fairly. Language use is also affected by the basic policies, and we'll give examples here.

Consider the phrase "the notoriously bloodthirsty and keelhauling pirate Blackbeard." To the trained eye of a Wikipedia editor, bloodthirsty is probably opinion, but keelhauling might be factual. Pirate is one of those words that could be used in different ways according to point of view: Was Sir Francis Drake a pirate? You might find a Spanish book that says he was. The response to this particular phrase might be to delete everything except Blackbeard and include a link to the fine Wikipedia article on Blackbeard, also known as Edward Tench. After all, you don't need to introduce someone who already has a dedicated article.

Appositive phrases such as convicted fraudster, quack doctor, disgraced politician, and international terrorist would most likely be purged. Before crying "Censorship!" be clear that this type of editing is considered housekeeping: The editor is applying Wikipedia's policies. Surprisingly often, people confuse cleaning up language into more encyclopedic style with censorship of facts. Wikipedia's Neutral Point of View may not speak for your point of view. This same reasoning may call for taking out renowned or extraordinary in front of a name. You may think a scientist deserves Nobel laureate with each mention of his or her name, but Wikipedia doesn't. Legendary is restricted to things and people in legends.

In any tricky area, be a neutral party. Point out all sides of an argument, without favoring particular viewpoints. Emphasize factual and accepted views. Give minority views a lower prominence, but provide sufficient information and references so readers can learn more about particular views.

Older material often gives clearer examples of editing for neutrality and tone. This extract, imported unchanged from a 1913 encyclopedia, illustrates the problems. It is verbose and slanted. The article is about the French mystic Madame Guyon (from Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon):

   Her strange conduct brought upon her severe censures, in which she could see only manifestations of spite. Evidently, she too often fell short of due reserve and prudence; but after all that can be said in this sense, it must be acknowledged that her morality appears to have given no grounds for serious reproach. Bossuet, who was never indulgent in her regard, could say before the full assembly of the French clergy: "As to the abominations which have been held to be the result of her principles, there was never any question of the horror she testified for them." It is remarkable, too, that her disciples at the Court of Louis XIV were always persons of great piety and of exemplary life.

You could cut this back considerably (and it still needs some work):

   Her conduct brought criticism, but her morality gave no grounds for it. Bossuet, one of the critics, said before the French clergy: "As to the abominations which have been held to be the result of her principles, there was never any question of the horror she testified for them." Her disciples at Versailles were pious people of exemplary life.

The two sentences at the start have been combined, increasing clarity and neutrality. Adjectives used as editorial comment or for unneeded emphasis were removed: strange in "strange conduct," severe in "severe censures," and great in "great piety." This type of editing and tightening should be applied to all writing in draft. The quote, by the way, has to be left as is. Quotes in Wikipedia shouldn't be copyedited. In this instance, you would have to find the original French quote and retranslate it. Although you could probably paraphrase the quote to say, "Bossuet was hard on her but thought her no hypocrite," it sounds like original research, and independently verifying Bossuet's attitude would be a better option.

One hazard of Wikipedia's NPOV policy is that unclear phrasing can seem more neutral, but you can avoid this. See Wikipedia:Avoid weasel words (shortcut WP:WEASEL). Apparently those weasels can also be blamed for wordiness, passive voice constructions, convoluted syntax, implicit endorsement of faulty logic, and monotonous repetition.

In its early days, you could find too much writing on Wikipedia in the form "some say X, while others say Y." This form aims at neutrality but fails. Problems with this phasing include lazy writing, as well as those weasel words:

   The phrase should be verifiable, reading "A, B, and C say X, while D and E say Y," with citations for each claim.
   What about those saying Z ? Aren't they being sidelined unfairly?
   Does the whole comment represent the entire debate fairly, including the main reasons for controversy?

Although one side may have to be wrong because the two perspectives are incompatible, a neutral point of view is still about presenting both sides fairly, no more and no less. The temptation to add weasel words can be particularly strong in articles about controversial subjects; for instance, the phrase nothing was ever proven occurred in the offending article in the Seigenthaler scandal (see Chapter 2, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia). 2.10. Reviews

At any point, you can ask others to look over your work. Review happens naturally on Wikipedia, which is one of the site's strengths. To prompt other people to comment, Wikipedia also has dedicated places to go for help; see Wikipedia:Peer review (shortcut WP:PR). Here you can nominate an article for others to review and leave comments. Going through peer review is a common step for good articles being nominated for featured status, as described in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes. Anyone is welcome to give reviews as well, and reviewing other authors' articles can be a good way to learn to think critically about an article's structure. For less formal reviewing, see Wikipedia:Requests for feedback (shortcut WP:RFF). 2.11. Quality and the Good Stub

A writer contributing to Wikipedia may add new long articles that attempt full coverage of a topic, add good stubs that are clearly needed for the encyclopedia, or work on existing articles to improve quality. The end goal is to ensure that any article is a reliable and comprehensive summary of information about a topic and provides an excellent overview. This goal has always been the traditional objective of encyclopedia compilers.

The only question is how to get there. Writing well takes time, but contributing at a low level of quality is not very satisfying after a while. Wikipedia uses intermediate versions as stepping-stones. This is why stubs matter. To say a stub may be "good" means that even articles that aren't comprehensive have a concept of quality. A good stub article—the ideal stub article described at Wikipedia:Stub—constitutes a quick start to a page. It adds value to the encyclopedia, and other editors will not come after you cursing quietly.

To summarize, article quality is comprised of the following:

   Compliance with Wikipedia's inclusion standards, particularly NPOV and NOR
   References included throughout the text (indicating that individual facts have been checked against or derived from external sources)
   Factual accuracy, as verified by the external sources
   A list of pertinent reliable external links and sources on the subject
   Writing that conforms to a high standard of written English
   Appropriate images or diagrams and formatting that conforms to Wikipedia style guidelines, including logical sections and appropriate internal links
   A complete and clear explanation of the topic, with a logical flow to the article

Further Reading A short checklist of what a perfect article includes Advice on writing better articles The Manual of Style for writing and formatting Wikipedia articles The style guideline for stub articles An essay on how to meet Criterion 1a of the Featured article guidelines—that article prose is "engaging, even brilliant, and of a professional standard"

In starting an article, even if you can't yet give it the completeness and visual pizzazz mentioned in the last two points, you can ensure all the other aspects of quality listed. If you do this, then you've written the ideal stub.

Researching Articles edit

Research is important. If you don't cite references at all … well, we have to break it to you, others may delete parts of the article they don't find credible, and in some cases, the whole article may be deleted. A good article is well documented, with reputable sources cited for all facts. As an article author, you're responsible for referencing your work; at the very least when writing, include a selection of the sources you used to put the article together. If you can't find a source for a fact, it probably doesn't belong in the encyclopedia.

The research for any substantial article should take at least as long—and probably much longer—than the actual writing. This requirement to research puts limits on how prolific anyone can be as a Wikipedia author; after all, Wikipedia is not a touch-typing test. Thus, although wiki editing is quick and spontaneous, writing a good article depends on a great deal of preparation time spent gathering sources and searching for information, and the skilled Wikipedia editor must also be skilled at these research tasks. Although adding things you know "off the top of your head" is easy and tempting, think about how you actually know that fact. Is it something you learned in school or spent time researching? Have you seen it yourself, or is it something you heard? If you can remember how you learned it, you can probably cite a source. You'll still need to research even if you mainly modify existing articles, rather than beginning new ones. Edits and additions to articles are more easily accepted by other editors if they are accompanied by good supporting citations. And if you enjoy doing research, fact-checking existing articles and adding existing citations is also a major cleanup task, as described in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes. Finally, good research skills are useful for evaluating information in an article; if you question a particular point on a talk page, for instance, first do a quick search to see if the information is supported elsewhere or not.

In this section, we'll talk about research techniques and the different citation styles for Wikipedia articles. Research, like writing, is a skill that takes some practice to do well, and this is just a brief introduction to the topic. Other resources include guides to doing research (The Oxford Guide to Library Research by Thomas Mann is one such guide), libraries and librarians (whose job is to help with research questions), and forums such as Wikipedia's own reference desk (at Wikipedia:Reference desk), where you can ask questions about any topic. Ideally research will be interesting and natural, rather than burdensome; collating facts is the primary job of the encyclopedist, and research is the process behind that. 3.1. Good Wikipedia Research

What is meant by good research? On Wikipedia, research makes the site a quality reference work. For an individual editor, doing your research before writing is also thoughtful preparation ahead of exposing your work to criticism and modification in an open forum. Good research can give you confidence in the content you're submitting to Wikipedia, and it fortifies an article against questions from other editors about content—which may be important, because Wikipedia, like online communities in general, can be an argumentative place.

The Verifiability and No Original Research policies are the background to referencing information on Wikipedia. All facts should be verifiable, and theories that are advanced must be based only on what is already published, without novel synthesis. In practice, this means that sources should be cited for facts in accordance with the Reliable Sources guideline. From Wikipedia's point of view, some sources are better than others. What is also true is that, whereas all facts should flow from reliable sources, some facts are more worthy of thorough research before including them in an article than others. Anything contentious, or possibly suspect, should be well documented first. In contentious areas, however, don't expect complete agreement on what a reliable source is. If an article presents two sides of an issue, its editors should find reputable authorities on both sides.

Occasionally information in Wikipedia has turned out to be urban myth, something that comes from a friend of a friend… . Make sure, in cases like this, that what's been said is actually something that's documented somewhere and not just gossip or lazy journalism. Cite a good, reliable, printed source for the information. If verifying a point is harder than you thought, that's all the more reason to record where you found it for the sake of Wikipedia readers. Remember that Wikipedia doesn't pass judgment on what is true, but the site is responsible for reporting on and gathering reliable information about all topics.

The easiest topics to research well have mostly been added to the encyclopedia. More obscure topics may be more difficult to research, but again, part of learning about a subject well enough to write about it for a lay encyclopedia audience is doing good background research. 3.2. Doing Research

Researching is hard work, but like hunting for treasure or solving a crossword puzzle, the act of discovering the unknown through careful steps can be quite satisfying. Regardless of the topic you're interested in, doing research to corroborate information in an article or to find out more about a topic consists of a few basic steps:

   Determine the question you're trying to answer. The question may regard specific facts in an article that you want to cite or may be more general (for instance, "What year did this scientist receive a Nobel Prize?" or "What basic topics did this scientist work on, and did he or she receive recognition for this work?"). With existing articles, if you need a place to begin asking questions, take a second and skeptical look at the factual content. Which salient facts are most likely to be in doubt?
   Figure out what kind of sources are likely to have the information you're looking for and where you can find those sources.
   Use the appropriate type of source. This is a critical (and often overlooked) part of good research: Not all sources are right for all topics. For information on a recent natural disaster, review newspaper or news agency accounts and governmental bulletins; these news stories can be found either through searching web indexes such as Google News, which is free online, or news indexes such as LexisNexis, which many libraries subscribe to. On the other hand, if you're researching a 19th-century writer, accounts of his or her life may be found in literary encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, introductions that appear in his or her work, or (if they were quite famous) dedicated biographies, which may be found in library catalogs. Often specific questions are easiest to answer: For the scientist example, a list of Nobel Prize winners may be found easily on the Nobel Prize committee website. For more in-depth information, however, you will need to turn to biographies.
   Search for appropriate sources. This requires turning your search question into keywords that can be used in a web search engine, library catalog, article database, or similar system. If you can't find anything using one term, try another similar term or name variation. It is at this stage and the previous one that asking for help from people knowledgeable about the topic and librarians can be very helpful.
   Read and evaluate potential sources. This is the time-consuming part of doing research. Do the sources answer your questions? Where did they get their information? Do they seem trustworthy? What trustworthy means can vary depending on what you're looking for; although a scholarly biography published by an academic publisher is usually a reliable source for investigating a scientist's life, an essay about that scientist that was written by a student and posted online on a personal website probably isn't. The Reliable Sources guideline, discussed starting on Section 3.3, “Reliable Sources”, talks a good deal about what a reliable source is for most topics on Wikipedia. The point is, however, that statements of fact should be based on the best information available.
   Document your sources. Once you've found a good, reliable source that answers your question, cite it, either with the inline style described in "Referencing Styles" on Section 3.4, “Referencing Styles” (for specific facts) or in a separate References section (for more general sources).

Congratulations, you're done! (For that article, anyway.) Note

File away URLs. If you find likely web pages by searching online, save the URLs, even if you remember exactly how you found a key reference. Searches are not always repeatable experiments because search engines and inbound links update themselves.

A few particular research resources are worth mentioning:

For academic articles

Google Scholar, available at, indexes citations to research articles in all fields. Note that the articles themselves may not be freely available online, but often the abstract will be. This source is good for finding recent scientific literature, though search results are almost always something of random assortment of potentially relevant material. Google Scholar is general; the article Academic databases and search engines covers other databases, which are often available through libraries, for finding articles in many specific fields.

Recent Research and NPOV

Use cautious language regarding announcements of contemporary scientific discoveries. Be careful not to overstate the importance of any particular research you find simply because it's easily available online. For scientific research especially, new findings must be vetted by others; it sometimes takes many years before it becomes clear whether or not new research is truly notable. Additionally, remember that part of NPOV is balance: You are seeking to provide an accurate and broad overview of a topic for a general reader, not catalog all the research that has been done or the most recent discoveries in a subject. Rumors, preprints, and scientific research reported in the news are not reliable sources.

For websites

In addition to using search engines (a long list of which can be found at List of search engines), try a directory such as the Librarians Internet Index, at This site, like other web directory building projects, collects websites by topic, but each site is reviewed by librarians to make sure the content seems reasonable before it is posted. Another well-known, volunteer-edited web directory is; other directories can be found at List of web directories.

For books

WorldCat, at, is a combined catalog for libraries all over the world and is now free online. If you have a particular book in mind, this catalog can point you to libraries nearby that have that book, and books are searchable by subject. Three good sources for online books are Google Books, at, which scans books held in libraries around the United States and makes their full text searchable (though if the work is under copyright, only a snippet of the book will be viewable); the Internet Archive's Texts project, at, which scans public domain and freely licensed books and makes them available along with other online collections; and Project Gutenberg,, which has the full text of 20,000 public domain books available.

For reference works

Category:Wikipedia sources lists some common sources used in articles, whereas Category:Reference works in the public domain lists reference works in the public domain, which are often available online and can be reused freely for articles (though often require some cleanup).

Other good sources for finding books and articles are general textbooks or overview sources about a topic, which almost always include a bibliography of core sources that you can then turn to. And as with any research project, local libraries and librarians can also help suggest and locate possible sources.

ISBNs and Book Sources

An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 10- or 13-digit number that is used to uniquely identify books by publishers and libraries worldwide. You may notice on Wikipedia that linked ISBNs are often listed after references to books. Clicking one of these linked ISBNs takes you to a special page, Wikipedia:Book sources, which is a long list of library catalogs from all over the world. If you arrive at this page by clicking an ISBN, clicking any of the library catalog links will search for that book in that catalog automatically. If you have access to one or more of these libraries, this can be a great timesaver. Some online book retailers are also listed. If you have a book's ISBN, you can also search it directly at Special:BookSources. To insert an ISBN into a reference, simply type ISBN and the number, without punctuation. The number will automatically be linked to the Book Sources page. 3.3. Reliable Sources

Some sources are better than others for verifying information. Always use the best possible sources you can find. In addition, Wikipedia has a few general preferences for sources:

   Given Wikipedia's global availability as a research tool and the possibility that collaborating researchers will have access only to publicly available sources, try to use sources that are freely available to everyone online (usually in addition to printed or subscription-based sources). Beware, however, that many resources accessible through universities or libraries, such as online magazines, are paid for by subscription and not available to the general public.
   Up-to-date sources are preferable, though deeper coverage of a topic may depend on older scholarly sources. New sources can always be added in as they are published.
   Use a mixture of sources whenever possible: A combination of external links to websites, references to standard textbooks, and specific references to academic books and journals is ideal.
   Don't rely on blogs or any other sources that are led more by opinion than factual reporting; editorials may be good sources for discussing viewpoints about a controversial subject, but they are generally not the best sources for factual information. When researching a very controversial subject, be extremely careful to double-check the origins of sources and present both sides of the story.
   For any source, ask about the expertise of the author writing. The idea of who an expert is will clearly vary in context; an expert in current popular musical culture might be a music journalist, not an academic professor. Regardless, be clear on where information is originating from.
   Don't randomly cut well-referenced information or reasonable sources. If you find a better source than the one listed, by all means add it, but in most cases, don't remove the old source. If the sources disagree, note this in the article or on the talk page.

Debates are ongoing on Wikipedia about what a reliable source is and what claims need to be sourced within an article. Scholarly sources are, for the most part, going to carry more conviction than (say) what a columnist once wrote. But you should also be reasonable about sources: Reliability is not the same as infallibility. Note

Don't self reference by using other Wikipedia articles as sources. This kind of self referencing defeats the point of getting information from outside reliable sources. Links to other articles should go in the See also section.

For a detailed discussion, see Wikipedia:Reliable sources (shortcut WP:RS). This guideline on reliable sources and the concurrent debate around it (unfortunately but maybe inevitably) has been dominated by extreme cases, which are not helpful for most articles. The guidelines for sources tend to deal with areas where it makes the most sense to take a tough line on reliability, such as religion, politics, or biographies of living people.

A related guideline deals with sources for biographies. The following is from Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons (shortcut WP:BLP), which is official policy (accessed October 3, 2007):

   Material from self-published books, zines, websites, and blogs should never be used as a source about a living person, unless written or published by the subject of the article.
   Editors should avoid repeating gossip. Ask yourself whether the source is reliable; whether the material is being presented as true; and whether, even if true, it is relevant to an encyclopedia article about the subject. When less-than-reliable publications print material they suspect is untrue, they often include weasel phrases. Look out for these. If the original publication doesn't believe its own story, why should we?

3.4. Referencing Styles

Once you have the perfect source in hand, you then need to actually add a citation to it in the article. A variety of referencing styles have been adopted and ultimately rejected over the years on Wikipedia—not to mention the half-dozen styles commonly used in academia being added to the mix and technological solutions such as templates being introduced. What all these referencing styles have in common, however, is they attempt to make it clear where information in an article comes from and what sources were used. Getting the specific style of the reference right is much less important than making sure the reference is present in the first place; other editors can always come along and edit it stylistically.

That said, we recommend the inline referencing style, where specific references are noted in the main body of the text using numbered superscript links to footnotes. These footnotes appear at the end of the article (usually grouped in a section called References or Notes) and contain the specific references used for each piece of information that has a footnote. This style is gradually becoming the most common on Wikipedia today, and it has several advantages. In-text links to footnotes means a reader can easily click to the source for any particular piece of information and that you can make very specific citations—each sentence in an article could conceivably have a footnote to a different specific source. The citations for each fact can appear directly next to that fact. This style also means that an article can easily acquire more sources over time; if an editor finds a perfect source for documenting a single fact in an article, he or she can easily insert a footnote to that source, and the list of footnotes and their numbers will automatically update. Additionally, if a footnote is deleted through text being edited or moved, the footnote numbers will automatically update. This makes it a good style for collaborative referencing work.

How Much Should You Reference?

Several long-running debates have occurred over the years on whether everything in an article (including common knowledge) needs to be cited to a source or just the key points. Questions have also been raised over whether having a large number of footnotes in an article detracts from its readability and even its usefulness to the reader, who does not have to query every fact to learn the material. These arguments aside, having a specific source immediately accessible is useful, and footnotes make this possible.

Along with footnotes that only contain a reference, they can also comment on or include asides to the main text, though these are less common in articles. For a comprehensively referenced article, the footnote section (which in this case would be called Notes) can also be combined with a separate References or Further reading section, where works can be listed as general references for the whole article. Figure 6.3, “The References, Further reading, and External links sections of the article Phineas Gage” shows this style used for the end sections of the article Phineas Gage (about a 19th-century man famed for surviving a large iron rod puncturing his skull and brain).

Figure 6.3. The References, Further reading, and External links sections of the article Phineas Gage The References, Further reading, and External links sections of the article Phineas Gage

Wikipedia has no default style for the citations themselves; several different variations on academic styles are common (see Wikipedia:Citations for more information). How a work is cited will depend on what it is; a typical Wikipedia article includes sources from web pages, books, and perhaps periodicals and learned journals. Here is some advice for styling citations on Wikipedia:

   Remain consistent. If one referencing method or style is already used in the article, stick to that style.
   Inverting names is not necessary. Although many academic styles call for putting the last name of an author first in a reference listing, this style is unhelpful for readers who may be searching the site for a specific author.
   Wikilinks can be used judiciously; many famous authors and well-known sources have their own articles, and in these cases, names within the citation can be linked for the curious reader.
   Include a URL if you can, but make sure the URL is stable and accessible to everyone (not just subscribers to a magazine, for instance). Include the date that you accessed the URL.
   Spell it out. Cryptic abbreviations often used in scholarly journals are unhelpful for a reader who may be new to a field of study. Give as much information about the source as you can (the full name of the author, journal name, or ISBN for a book, for instance). Readers from all over the world may ultimately try to find the source.

Reference Sections

There are several standardized sections for references at the end of a typical article: See also, for links to other Wikipedia articles; References, which includes all sources used for the article; and External links, which contains links to external websites. The sections should appear in that order. Occasionally, References will be split into a Notes section (for footnotes), References (for any non-footnoted references), and Further reading (for extra relevant sources not directly cited). 3.4.1. Using Footnotes

The workhorse of the inline style is the <ref> tag. Notes and citations are placed in between a pair of <ref> tags in the text itself, where you want the footnote to appear. For example,

According to scientists, the Sun is pretty big[1], however the moon is not so big.[2].

This example cites two sources: a work by E. Miller published by Academic Press and a work by R. Smith published in Scientific American. The references will only display in the text as a numbered link to a footnote, which appears directly where you have placed the first <ref> tag. These numbers automatically update whenever a new footnote is added.

For a reader to actually see the references cited, you must add a second piece—the <references/> tag, which is inserted at the bottom of the article in a section called References or Notes. The text of all footnotes will appear wherever you place this tag (though placing <references/> before <ref> doesn't work). For instance, for the previous example, you would create a section that looks like this:

Notes edit

  1. Miller, E: "The Sun", page 23. Academic Press, 2005
  2. Smith, R: "Size of the Moon", Scientific American, 46(78):46

Don't add anything to the <references/> tag; the linked references from the text will automatically display here:

Notes edit

  1. ^ Miller, E: "The Sun", page 23. Academic Press, 2005
  2. ^ Smith, R: "Size of the Moon", Scientific American, 46(78):46

Each footnote starts with a caret (^), which is automatically linked back to the text where the reference was placed. To edit the reference, you change it directly in the article text rather than in the References section.

Though you don't need to add anything to the <references/> tag, you can list other, non-footnoted references in this section as well. Creating two sections, one called Notes (for footnotes) and one called References (for all other references) is better, however. This form also enables you to use short references in the footnotes (such as "Smith, p. 47"), as long as you spell out the full reference in the References section.

You can use the same footnote (that is, the same citation), and hence the same footnote number, more than once. To do this, insert the name variable in the <ref> tag, like this:

According to scientists, the Sun is pretty big[1], however the moon is not so big.[2].

To refer to each of these citations at a later point, you only need to refer to the abbreviated form of the reference with ref name:

The sun is also very hot [1]. The moon, however, is cold [2].

Be sure to add that last ending slash, or all the text after the reference won't display when you save the page!

These two references then use the same footnote numbers as the first reference using that name. In the footnotes section, links to each instance of the reference will appear next to the footnote that is used multiple times, labeled alphabetically: a, b, c, and so on.

Using ref name is the best way to cite a source multiple times within the text. The old academic convention of ibid. (short for ibidem, meaning this is the same book as mentioned in the previous note, but on a different page) is not robust enough. Someone could later add a footnote between your successive notes, and the second note wouldn't make sense. The inline system works because if text is edited or moved, the numbers follow automatically. Unfortunately, one limitation of the current footnoting system is that if you want to change any part of the cited reference (such as to cite a different page number) ref name doesn't work; you have to type out the entire reference again. If this becomes time consuming in a long article, consider using the short reference style in a Notes section with the full references in a separate References section. 3.4.2. Referencing Templates

Many templates have been developed for formatting citations. You can use templates to ensure that cited references for different types of sources (such as newspapers, books, etc.) are clearly displayed in a standardized way. You can also use citation templates both for formatting citations in footnotes or citations listed separately in a References section.

In a citation template, the editor fills in the template parameters with the source information (such as the author, title of the work, and so on) and the template automatically arranges the citation appropriately, according to the type of source. For instance, here is the wikitext of the citation for an online newspaper story using the Template:News template:

Plunkett, John (2005-10-27). [ story/0,14173,1601858,00.html "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying"]. The Guardian. story/0,14173,1601858,00.html. Retrieved 2005-10-27. 

When you save the page, the reader sees the following citation:

Plunkett, John. "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying", The Guardian, October 27, 2005. Retrieved on October 27, 2005.

with the title of the article linked to the given URL. Templates do the work of making sure citations are correctly formatted. They also help ensure that references include all the necessary information—not just a URL for a website but also a date—so articles can be accessed from an archive if the URL no longer works.

Some templates have been created for specific sources that are commonly cited. In this case, the main source information is already encoded in the template, so the editor only has to add variable information such as author name or article title. The full source citation will appear when the page is saved. For instance, the template Template:Fishbase species is for adding a link to FishBase, a scholarly online database of information about fish. In the Guppy article, the following citation appears:

Link Rot

Link rot is what happens when websites go offline or restructure their content, and therefore the URLs that refer to them on other pages fail. This is obviously a problem for Wikipedia, which references hundreds of thousands of other websites. A few practical measures can be taken. All website references should also include the title of the site, the author or publisher (if known), and the date the site was accessed, so that if the site later dies, web archives such as the Wayback Machine ( ) can be used. For what to do if a link in a reference goes dead, see WP:DEADREF.

Template:FishBase species

The editor only fills in the genus and species information and the date that the site was accessed. The saved page renders this as the following citation:

"Poecilia reticulata". FishBase. Ed. Ranier Froese and Daniel Pauly. April 2004 version. N.p.: FishBase, 2004.

The title of the database, the editors, and the formatting of the citation are all encoded in the template. This is clearly useful if you're citing the same source multiple times. A list of specific source templates can be found at Category:Specific source templates.

One problem with templates is that they are inflexible; for instance, if you want to wikilink the author name in the news example given, you'll have trouble because the author first and last names are in different fields. There are two solutions for this particular problem: Either don't use the template and write the citation out by hand, or add an extra field that has been developed just for this called authorlink, which can be filled out like |authorlink=John Plunket (for joint authors, you can use authorlink1= and authorlink2=).

As you can see, templates can get complicated. They can also make the wiki markup denser and harder to read, especially if they are used for in-text citations, and they may not add that much to the presentation of references. Templates are certainly optional. They can also be added gradually: Existing references can be converted to templates over time. More information about citation templates can be found at Wikipedia:Citation_templates.

Further Reading The style guideline about references in articles The guideline about using footnotes in text and footnote style Information about citation templates

4. Editing Alongside Others

On Wikipedia, no article stands alone, and no editor works alone. Always consider your own work both in the context of working with others on the site and taking their perspectives into account and fitting new content into existing structures. If you create an article with wikilinks, are you going to be satisfied with all the pages you find when you click the bluelinks? The site has many articles that need to be improved, so you'll likely also fix up and expand deficient articles to support your own articles; you will also most likely come to work edit-by-edit in a piecemeal way. And as an editor you'll find yourself one of a crowd. In the collaborative environment of Wikipedia, taking into account the input of others is critical. One of the first questions that newcomers often ask is "What happens when two people disagree?" The answer is the editors involved try to work toward consensus, which is one of the cornerstones of how Wikipedia works. In Chapter 14, Disputes, Blocks, and Bans, we'll cover the general idea of getting consensus and resolving disputes in depth; here we'll give some specific advice on how to work with others productively when editing articles. 4.1. Changing What Others Write

Edit in logical steps rather than in single large edits. If a lot of work needs to be done on an article, many editing tasks will suggest themselves; if this is the case, you need a plan of action. For instance, restructuring the logical flow of an article is more fundamental than rewording and should take priority. Usually, you determine to change certain things about an article but probably not everything, nor all at once. This is the best way. Making changes in discrete logical steps, using good edit summaries (and sometimes a note on the talk page) can help others figure out, and accept, what you're doing to the article. Set yourself limited and reasonable goals, for instance, choosing a single section to improve content and wording.

Sometimes, a total rewrite of a page is definitely called for. You then are effectively pasting a new article on top, and the diff may show just a few words like and and the that were kept. This does pose potential problems. You should aim to keep anything of value that was already in the article, and the best approach is for the article to demonstrate a steady improvement, stepwise and sectionwise. Otherwise, you risk coming under suspicion that you are adopting a high-handed approach. If you hate some format or other minor convention being used, add a note to the talk page before going in and switching it all around. Making wholesale formatting changes across many articles without asking for input from others is likely to cause controversy. 4.2. Will Your Own Edits Be Kept?

Added text is not always kept on Wikipedia. Pages can always be rewritten or reverted back to how they were before. Whole articles are subject to deletion if other editors think they fail to meet basic site policies (though decently written, well-researched pieces are much less likely to be deleted). Articles you write will be changed by others, and at some point someone will redo or undo a major change that you have made. While this is a natural part of working on Wikipedia, adding material that is routinely taken out at some later point ultimately becomes fooling around. Will this wholesale rejection happen to you? If you spend any serious amount of time writing for Wikipedia, you'll feel you've wasted it if your edits or articles are not incorporated on the site in some fashion.

Be clear about a few things. The question "Does the encyclopedia need this article?" is quite distinct from the question "Does this addition or change to the article benefit the encyclopedia?" Articles are subject to deletion, but individual edits are also subject to reversion or rewriting. New additions to articles are subject to the same content and style policies as articles overall, but individual edits are discussed in a different way. Articles that have some deficiencies are given the benefit of the doubt and are in time worked on and cleaned up. Only articles that demonstrate a scanty grasp of basic policies should be dealt with harshly. Individual edits, though, may just be reverted as substandard. Try to understand why the edit was undone. Are you simply wrong about a point or inserting opinion as fact? Did you cite a reference?

Suppose your general edits to articles are often rejected by other editors. What can you do? If Wikipedia policies rewarded stubbornness, the site would have overloaded years ago. There are good approaches to editing that are not merely defensive and obstinate. First, you should watch and monitor articles you're interested in, as explained in Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian. Second, consider your choice of topics: Don't always head into controversy, and don't be a stormy petrel, bringing trouble with you. Some topics are certainly more contentious than others; as a new editor, you may want to start working on articles dealing with less controversial topics (starting with articles about politics or historical disputes is never a good idea). Third, be broadminded. Appreciate where other editors are coming from. They may be at least as reasonable and well informed as you, and they probably have a different perspective on the matter. Recognize that others might have a good reason for disagreeing with you: This is a core tenet of assuming good faith, which is fundamental for interacting on Wikipedia, as will be described in Chapter 12, Community and Communication. Finally, if you can't honestly be neutral on a topic, don't blame the encyclopedia—work on topics you're less invested in.

The best way to make sure your edits are kept is to submit good content in the first place; watch your writing style and incorporate our guide on writing well and other style tips. If you write on Wikipedia in a hurried way, then you can expect your edits to be transformed, if they are kept at all. Use careful, concise English, and place everything in context. This book contains more than enough advice to ensure that a reader who follows it will be a Wikipedian who adds welcome material.

If your submitted articles are deleted, you need to understand the article deletion process and how to contest deletions appropriately (see Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes). You should also make your pieces conform more obviously to content policies. Many newly submitted articles are deleted every day on Wikipedia: approximately one every minute. The reason for deletion is usually self-evident. The articles very clearly don't meet the site's guidelines, which means they often qualify for speedy deletion, or deletion without review.

Finally, seek satisfaction in the work you do on Wikipedia. In the end you should find an area where contributing is not too stressful socially and benefits writing and researching or maintaining the site in other ways. Wikihappiness is finding the work that best suits you, without preconceptions. 4.3. Edit Summaries

We'll now cover edit summaries in more depth; we introduced them briefly in Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article. An edit summary is simply a line of text that you supply when editing and saving a page. Edit summaries document the work of upgrading articles. Other editors will use them to check and assess your work and approach, which is only fair since you'll learn to do the same in return. Good edit summaries are a confidence-building measure and are particularly recommended if you're editing in a contentious area. Getting into the habit of adding summaries will help your reputation as an editor and will help others on the site.

Before you save a page, write a summary of what you're doing to the article in the Edit summary box underneath the Edit window. This edit summary is then carried along with your edit (or diff) and is displayed in the page history and in lists of changes to articles, such as Recent Changes and watchlists. Edit summaries have a 200-character limit, but you can say a lot in 200 characters. A good edit summary briefly describes the changes you made, and if those changes are not self-evident, why you've made them. Edit summaries are not searched or indexed, so all important information should be added to the discussion page as well.

Standard abbreviations and jargon are commonly used (but are not required). You will notice this right away. Some types of summaries are characteristic of automated (bot) edits or other semi-automated tools, and recognizing these edits is useful. For articles you are interested in, you also want to watch for any summaries relating to deletion processes. A list of edit summary jargon is in Appendix C, Edit Summaries Jargon.

Although no one can make you use edit summaries, they matter a great deal in social terms. Edit summaries make Wikipedia work more smoothly. Some standard situations pretty much demand a summary:

   Deleting the work of others
   Calling attention to talk page threads when a long, detailed explanation is required
   Revamping an article in a major way, saving each block of changes with a separate description
   Informing others when not everyone will have the background and knowledge about a topic you have, even if the change seems minor
   Tagging and untagging and site maintenance
   Splitting content out to form a new page, where edit summaries are required in two places to provide an audit trail, so anyone can see where the "new" content came from and where the "old" content went (under the GFDL license requirements, the original authorship should be accessible from the new page's history)
   Nominating a page to be deleted

Wikipedia adds an automatic prefix to summaries when you edit a section; in all such cases, you should supplement that with an explanation of what you did.

Edit summaries should answer the question, "Why was this edit made?"—particularly when corrections have been made to an article. For example, in correcting a date for a historical event, consider combining three things: adding an explicit reference in the article itself, writing an edit summary saying "date corrected according to scholarly consensus, see talk page for details," and supplying more backup in a talk page note. Give details at reasonable length. A more detailed explanation (up to a point) is generally better than a vague one: "Rewrote history section for clarity" is better than "rewriting." However, for minor edits, simply noting "spelling" or "typo" is fine. 4.4. No Ownership

Remember one thing: However much time you put in to writing or polishing an article, others will still be entitled to edit it. An article is never yours alone. The bottom line for authors is that the culture of Wikipedia is can do, including can edit, meaning that anyone is welcome to edit any page. Don't growl, be territorial, or kick up a fuss over this; obstinacy ("You cannot be serious about cutting my work") is not the wiki way.

Never seek to control an article on Wikipedia. Once posted, Wikipedia pages are not only released under an open license, but also they are released into the open and collaborative editing environment, where anyone is both free and encouraged to work on the page. If you disagree with someone's changes to an article you started, work to resolve this dispute on the talk page and come to consensus as you would on any other page. See Wikipedia:Ownership of articles (shortcut WP:OWN) for a fundamental policy on editorial behavior. And remember the positive benefits of working with others: They will bring a different perspective to the article, may fix mistakes that you never saw, and will add content to the page.

Further Reading The fundamental policy on getting consensus and advice on how to get there All about using edit summaries to communicate The policy on not assuming "ownership" of what you write

Summary edit

Much of what is needed to become a good contributor to Wikipedia derives from skills that are more generally useful, such as researching and organizing material, writing clearly and logically for a broad audience, and supporting claims with detailed references. Any logged-in user with a registered account can start a new article easily; the best way to begin an article is to start with a redlink on another page. Wikipedia has several style conventions for article titles and how they should be put together. The Manual of Style, a collection of style guidelines, provides guidance on how best to style an article. Both good writing and good research skills are critical to producing an excellent article.

A skilled Wikipedia editor must also be patient and consider the work and input of others as he or she edits. Editing is collective, so an editor should comprehend and use the spaces and forums to interact and should treat other editors as colleagues.

  1. a b Miller, E: "The Sun", page 23. Academic Press, 2005
  2. a b Smith, R: "Size of the Moon", Scientific American, 46(78):46