November 29, 2019

From Gerald R. Lucas

Wikipedia Article Improvement

In my series about Wikipedia.

I just had a student post to my talk page about his Wikipedia project: “I need some assistance with the final article. To be quite honest I don’t even know where to begin.”

Oh, no. My first reaction to this is “OK, there are two weeks left in the semester — why are you asking me this now?” I think this should be obvious, but improving Wikipedia articles may not be obvious to everyone. I think I need a guide — maybe a step-by-step summary up top leading to a more detailed how-to. This should be required reading and introduced early in the semester. Wikipedia has already done much of the work for me.

Start with a primer from Wikipedia, like the straightforward “A Primer for Newcomers.” This introduction explains all of the basics about Wikipedia, like its philosophy, its guidelines, and key concepts. This is a great place to start. Next, check out “Writing Better Articles.” This article gives an overview on the components of solid Wikipedia articles and what’s expected in new ones. Reading these articles and maybe a couple more like them should give newcomers a firm foundation for becoming a contributor.

Any article development should begin with research. That way, two important aspects can be established: 1. notability and 2. critical sources (working bibliography). I had a couple of students unable to find sources for their project — mostly short stories in my sf survey. If the first step was to establish notability, this problem could be avoided. This is tricky, however. Most students would rather lose a foot than spend time researching. Perhaps I could ask for five solid sources via Galileo or other scholarly databases as a minimum for notability.

Once notability has been confirmed, a layout should be established. The best way to go about this would be to find a model article that is closely related to the one you’re writing or improving. For example, if the article is about a novel, you should use the book infobox and the recommended structure for a novel.[1] If you are improving an existing article, it may already have these components. If not, consider those that are missing as guides for what you should add.

An easy way to improve existing articles is to copy edit and revise what’s already there. Copy editing involves proofreading to fix everything from typos to grammar. A major part of copy editing is checking that the article conforms to the Wikipedia manual of style; see “Basic Copyediting” for a more concise guide. . . .

Begin content editing, or filling in the missing details of the article, keeping in mind Wikipedia’s core content policies. Since one of these policies is “no original research” (NOR), everything that is added must be supported with evidence, usually from reliable secondary sources like books and articles published by scholarly journals. In other words, you should use a verifiable source for any information you add. Remember to use a neutral point of view (NPOV) when you write. . . .


  1. Also see model article template if you are beginning a new article.