So you’ve decided to become a Wikipedia editor…

  • January 6, 2017

By John Lubbock

The learning curve when you start editing Wikipedia and its sister projects can be steep. To help you get started, we’ve compiled some advice that will help you navigate the complexity of the Wikimedia projects.

Check out the Getting Started page for general advice and information about how Wikipedia works before you start editing. There are a lot of written and visual tutorials as well as links to policies and guidelines used on the site. A quick look at the main editorial policies of Wikipedia, known as the Five Pillars, is also worthwhile.

1) Identify a subject area you know about

Usually people have a particular area that they know about or are interested in. Wikipedia has project pages where people with similar interests go to discuss writing. They’re a great place to see what subjects you can contribute to – they often have advice on what work needs to be done in their area: Directory of Wikiprojects.

For example, if you’re interested in increasing the number of articles about women on Wikipedia, look at the Women in Red project page.

2) Fight the desire to create a new article straight away

There are lots of ways to contribute to Wikipedia, and creating a new article is a big step when you’re starting out. Instead, you could try:

  1. Making copyedits (correcting mistakes).
  2. Improving stubs (enlarging small articles) Here’s a Twitter bot that lists stubs for you.
  3. Contributing to red link lists (a red link is a page that does not exist on WP yet).

3) Start with a reference

Wikipedia is the best available version of the evidence about any subject, so if you have factual books at home, find a good fact and insert a reference on a page about that topic. Be careful, however; some subjects have higher referencing criteria, especially the medical pages, so if you’re not a specialist in a complex area like medicine, start with a simpler subject area.

Finding reliable sources can be difficult, so here is a page with tips on how to identify these. You can also check out the Wikipedia list of Open Access journals and the Directory of Open Access Journals with reliable research that can you can reference.

4) Upload some photos to Commons

As well as Wikipedia, one of the most important Wikimedia projects is Wikimedia Commons. If you’re more of a visual content creator than a writer, your photos might be useful to illustrate articles on Wikipedia.

Uploading to Commons means you agree that others can use your content for free without asking you as long as they give you credit as the author of the work. This agreement is called an Open License or a Creative Commons license, which go by odd names like CC BY-SA 4.0.

There are monthly photo competitions: current challenges are on drone photography, rail transport and home appliances.

You can also use the WikiShootMe tool to see what Wikipedia articles and Wikidata items are geolocated near your present location. Why not take images of some of the places listed and add the photos to their pages and data items?

5) Try to identify content gaps

The English Wikipedia now has around 5.3 million articles, but the type of content skews towards the interests of the groups of people who are more likely to edit it. There’s lots of articles on Pokemon and WWE wrestling, but less about ethnic minorities, important women, non-European history and culture, and many other topics.

There is a tool that you can use to search for content gaps by comparing one Wikipedia to another to see which articles exist in, for example, Spanish, but not in English. You can try it out here.

6) Talk to other people in the community for advice

Wikipedia has a help section with advice on how to get started, including a message board for asking questions and a help chatroom. There are also Facebook groups and IRC channels if you’re that cool.

If you’re one of those kinds of people who enjoys interacting with actual human beings in real life as well as online, there are social meetups for the Wikimedia community every month in London, Oxford and Cambridge, and periodically in Manchester and Edinburgh. There are also lots of events you can come to about specific subjects, many of which are hosted by our Wikimedians-in-Residence.

A lot of people use Wikipedia but never edit it, and consequently never think about how much effort goes into creating it. Participating in the creation of knowledge yourself is a really instructive way to discover how knowledge is created and structured, and the issues we face in producing accurate and impartial knowledge.

If you speak another language, you can practice by translating articles from English into a target language, and at the same time help people to educate themselves for free in another part of the world.

The world can feel disempowering sometimes, but if you help to create a good article or upload a good photograph, it could be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, and you could make a difference to someone’s education, or government policy, or the visibility of minority cultures.

So if you’ve decided to become more involved in Wikipedia or its sister projects this year, thank you! Wikimedia UK is here to support you, so don’t hesitate to get in touch and ask for advice. Wikipedia has always been, and will continue to be a work in progress, and we think that provides exciting opportunities to help create a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

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