A few weeks ago I wrote my very first Wikipedia article. Today I checked and saw that the article was published.
Well, okay, it’s not an actual article. Technically it is a stub.
Shortly after Canadian author Farly Mowat passed away last month I found myself (as I often do on Wikipedia) wandering around from article to article, this time exploring the entries for various classic Canadian authors and books. In my poking around, I noticed a glaring absence – there was no article for the Canadian novel Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell. There is a Wikipedia entry on Mitchell, but nothing about his best known novel. So, I created one.
If you are not Canadian, you might not know this book. But for many Canadian kids (of my generation at least), it was required middle school reading. A coming of age novel set on the Canadian prairies during the 1930’s depression.
That’s pretty well the extent of the article I wrote. It’s basic, but it is there. Maybe some intrepid middle school teacher who teaches this book can make it an assignment for their students to flesh out the plot of the book as it has been many years since I actually read it and the details of the plot are too fuzzy for me to do any justice to the entry.
Over the years I have edited many Wikipedia articles, but never authored one from scratch. If you have edited an article before and are used to Wikipedia’s interface and writing standards, creating a new article isn’t that difficult. For this, being that it was my first article, I decided to use the Wikipedia tutorial and follow along with it t write the article, er, stub.
I saw that Wikipedia has an article wizard, so I thought I’d give that a shot to see how easy it might be for someone who has never used Wikipedia before to create an article. I was (pleasantly) surprised to see that Wikipedia has an option to live chat to another volunteer as you go through the process of creating your article. I never used the feature, but love that they have this to make it even easier for people to contribute content to the platform.
Wikipedia has broken the process down into 6 basic steps, represented by the tabs along the top: Introduction (which includes the very pragmatic tip: before you create an article, try editing a few first), Subject, Notability, Sources, Content and End.
Subject prompts the author with a Wikipedia search box and asks the author to search Wikipedia to make sure the topic isn’t already covered elsewhere. Once you are sure the topic isn’t in Wikipedia, you are taken to the Notability screen where you are given a brief overview of the criteria Wikipedia uses to decide whether an entry makes it into Wikipedia. Basically, Wikipedia says at this point that you should not submit articles that are about:
This is the bit I wanted to make sure I covered in detail to make sure the article would be accepted. I was a bit worried because. Who Has Seen The Wind is an important regional book in Canada, and I wanted to be sure that I could make the argument to whatever Wikipedian would be reviewing this article that this was, indeed, a notable book worthy of a Wikipedia article. If a Wikipedian in Japan was reviewing, I wanted them to be able to see, with references, that this was a notable book. Indeed, Wikipedia makes this point directly.
Be sure that by the time the reader finishes reading your article, they will understand why the subject is notable.
Here is how Wikipedia defines notable articles:
A topic is notable if it has been the subject of multiple, non-trivial published works from sources that are reliable and independent of the subject itself and of each other. All topics must meet a minimum threshold of notability in order for an article on that topic to be included in Wikipedia. This requirement ensures that there exists enough source material to write a verifiable, encyclopedic article about the topic.
This is the spot that took the most time. Even thought the article is a stub, I needed to do some research to find information that would support that this was a notable entry. So, I gathered some references (including the IMDB entry about the 1977 movie version of the book which starred Gordon Pinsent. Hey, if they make a movie of it, it has to be somewhat notable, right?) In the end, I found a few references that supported the notion that this book was, indeed, notable.
Wikipedia also uses this page to remind authors of the neutral point of view policy, and has a warning not to engage in “puffery”
Puffery is when an article attempts to exaggerate the notability of its subject. Puffery only serves to reduce the neutrality of the article and so it should be avoided. The most common type of puffery is the use of peacock terms.
Finally, you write the article and submit it. At which point, I got a surprising message.
People: Wikipedia needs you.
As it turns out, I don’t think the wait was that long. I started writing the article on May 7 and it looks like it was reviewed and published a week later on the 14th. Not bad at all. I wonder if that was because it was a stub and, therefore, fairly easy to review? Low hanging fruit for some Wikipedian?
I love the fact that the day it was published someone went in and used the info I added about it being adapted into a film to add it to a Wikipedia list on Canadian novels that have been adapted into films.
All in all, it wasn’t that difficult to do. In about an hour I had written and submitted the article. But that was probably because I have spent the past 5 or so years editing the occasional article so I am comfortable with the interface and with how Wikipedia works. But following the wizard, I think it is a doable project for those with fairly basic Wikipedia skills. And you get the nice feeling that you have contributed something to the world of open learning.
Photo: by Susanne Neilson used under CC-BY-SA