Frequently Asked Questions for expert contributors

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This page answers some questions that have come up in our work involving scientists and scholars in the Wikimedia projects

How does Wikipedia decide what's true?

A common question is, “How does Wikipedia determine what is or isn’t true?” In fact, Wikipedia itself does not try to determine truth, but depends on the existing institutions of science and scholarship. Like any encyclopedia, Wikipedia is tertiary literature. It does not publish raw data or original research. If you try and add information based on Original Research you will be asked to cite an independent source supporting the information and if there is none then the information will be deleted. It's content aims to be factual rather than promotional, and has to be verifiable in reliable published sources (for academic topics, this usually means peer-reviewed journals). It is an original work, not in the knowledge it imparts, but in how it makes that knowledge accessible to the widest possible audience.

Are my contributions credited?

Although the authors of a Wikipedia article are not credited directly on the page, clicking on “View history” reveals a list of all edits, however minor, with links to each relevant author’s profile. This allows what is called microattribution: individual sentences and even words can be credited to specific authors. Each user has a public record of contributions, so it is easy to demonstrate the improvements you have made across Wikipedia or to specific articles.

Will my contributions be deleted?

As with any other publisher, expert contributions might be reworded and copy-edited. If a Wikipedia article is well-referenced, complete and neutral, removing content without good reason is considered vandalism. It is a good idea, but not essential, to monitor the article and respond to queries from other editors on its Discussion page.

Can I write about my own research/ my own employer?

There have been high-profile cases of individuals or corporations trying to "game" Wikipedia for self-promotion. This often backfires, creating negative publicity. As a result, the site's regular contributors are wary of newcomers who edit in a promotional or self-serving way. It is possible to edit an article about your employing institution, but this needs to be done with great care. Transparency is central to how the Wikimedia projects work. If you could be interpreted as having a conflict of interest, declare so on the relevant discussion page. It is useful, but not necessary, to have an established Wikipedian mentor: they can both smooth over relations with other users and advise whether your activities might conflict with the site's policies. Wikimedia UK can help you find a mentor.

Can I maintain privacy?

Some researchers in controversial areas, such as animal research, have asked if editing a Wikimedia project will reveal any personal information. Unlike many other social web sites, the Wikimedia projects require only an email address when creating an account: it is left up to the user whether or not to share any further details such as real name or location. A user profile can list qualifications, publications and areas of interest but equally it could be left blank. It is usually possible to be open about potential conflicts of interest (see above) by naming your employer and general area of expertise, without sharing details that would identify you as an individual.

It is possible to contribute without logging in, but it is preferable for a number of reasons to register an account. Without an account, your edits will be logged with your computer's internet address, which can be traced to a physical location. Making all your edits under a named account is also a way to build up a record of constructive edits, and hence a positive reputation with other contributors. It also makes it much easier to interact with other users, including asking them for help.