Wikipedia Editing

Prepared by Brian Geyer and Brandon Locke

Why edit Wikipedia?

The map above shows the geographic distribution of geotagged Wikipedia articles. Information Geographies at the Oxford Internet Institute.

As the map of geotagged Wikipedia articles illustrates, the vast majority of Wikipedia articles cover Europe and the United States. Information Geographies at the Oxford Internet Institute.

It is an uneasy reality that the first stop for people in the United States for factual content about a particular subject is Wikipedia. The merits of such an approach is currently under wide debate, but such debate is unlikely to change this current reality for some time. It would therefore be in our best interest to address some of the more serious criticisms of the Wikipedia-first approach to public knowledge, through engagement with Wikipedia itself. Of particular concern is the drastic under-representation of women and of people of color in the editor community, which has led to a persistent Eurocentric, white-masculine bias in article content and often does not represent women and people of color in the same way.

The best way to correct these imbalances in the short-term is to increase the number of editors contributing to Wikipedia with either broader backgrounds, or a broader interest in topics that fall outside of mainstream Wikipedia. That’s where you come in! More likely than not, you represent a set of backgrounds – and hold a number of interests – that are quite different from those that prevail in the editor community of Wikipedia. Therefore, your contribution to the Wikipedia community could be enormously beneficial.

Setting up an account

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 4.23.17 PMCreating an account with Wikipedia is rather straightforward. To begin, go to the Wikipedia sign-up page and fill out the basic form with your desired username (which can be anything that hasn’t already been chosen by another editor), a password, your email address, and a Captcha-style human verification box. After creating this account, make sure to go to your email and confirm your account – it may be in a spam folder.

Once you’ve filled out the username creation info and confirmed your address, you are ready to begin contributing to the Wikipedia community with page comments, edits, and creations.

Selecting a page to edit or create

Once you have your account created, you are ready to begin contributing to Wikipedia. The next step is to pick a page or a topic to contribute to. Wikipedia has a listing of nearly two million ‘Stubs,’ or short articles that need more information. Selecting what subject to contribute (or contribute to) becomes a balancing act between one’s own expertise and biases and the absence of a needed subject, or the inadequacy of its current treatment. For a good article that introduces the basics of topic choice, the Wikipedia Help section has an online book titled Wikipedia: The Missing Manual with a specific chapter on page creation.

Making your contributions last

Selecting what to edit or create ties directly into making sure they last because your own interests, conflicts of interest, and biases should contribute to that selection process. Make sure that the topic is something you feel comfortable writing about and for which there are sufficient sources to use. Wikipedia has a very influential policy that states “verifiability” as the standard for contributions. There is an influential essay, filed under the topic of “Wikipedia,” that explains the common-held guiding principle of “Verifiability, not truth” that informs much of the management process for Wikipedia (this is not to say, however, that “verifiability, not truth” is a formal policy or guideline, but merely a convention.)

As an aside, “Essays” in Wikipedia are a way for editors to post original content to the site as a means of formally discussing potential policies or guidelines. They do not in themselves represent accepted policies or guidelines, but do serve a powerful function in shaping editorial attitudes. Unlike pages, essays are explicitly identified as the opinions of editors.

New edits, and especially new pages, are often subject to review and revision by other editors and editing bots. A significant portion of new edits are reversed or changed in short time. We strongly suggest you read this post from HASTAC, and this post from Postcolonial Digital Humanities, which discuss how to contribute to Wikipedia in ways that won’t be immediately deleted or reverted.