Accepting the Challenge “Wikipedia”

Finding a Topic

I decided to expand an existing article which was a biography of a German musician, named Rolf Zuckowski. He had a two-line entry in the English Wikipedia. The article falls under the category Biography of Living Persons and was rated as “stub-class” on the project’s quality scale (in March 2012) and of low importance for the English speaking world. An article that is rated as stub-class is a

very basic description of the topic [because] it is either a very short article or a rough collection of information that will need much work to become a meaningful article.”1

Accepting the Challenge

Now I found myself at the point where I asked myself the following questions:

“How can you improve an article that is apparently unimportant for the English speaking world? And is the article at risk to be deleted right away because it isn’t important enough?”

Apparently, Rolf Zuckowski’s life, songs and awards are only relevant for locals (us Germans). One of the editing suggestions was that the “best solution for a Stub-class Article to step up to Start-class Article is to add in referenced reason of why the topic is significant.”2 For me, the reasons why the article is significant for the English speaking world were clear: Rolf Zuckowski is a famous musician who influenced my childhood. His songs are also translated into the English language and must, hence, also influence the childhood of other people. For that reason, I believed that this “influential” musician deserved an adequate English Wikipedia entry.

Taking the Hurdles

The next hurdle on my way towards a perfect Wikipedia article included the evaluation of useful sources. However, I soon realized that the number of German published sources was limited. Despite that, my goal was to use the existing sources to create an informative, well-structured and interesting article because the English Wikipedia article shouldn’t be a simple translation of the German article. Moreover, the article should be relevant for people outside of Germany. A lot of investigations had to be done at this point and I came across Rolf Zuckowski’s official website, which I studied carefully. The website provides a German and an English biography. Similar to the German and English Wikipedia entries, the German biography is very long, whereas the English article consists only of a few lines.

The article had to be written with “the greatest care and attention to verifiability, neutrality, and avoidance of original research.”3 This, literally, required a high degree of sensitivity: All the information that I wanted to add had to be published by a reliable source and were to be presented subjectively.

Another hurdle that had to be taken on the way towards a “perfect” Wikipedia article was the language that is used during the creation of a Wikipedia article. That is HTML, the “HyperText Markup Language“. At first, I was a little overwhelmed by all the tags and references:

[[File:Rolf Zuckowski.jpg|thumb|Rolf Zuckowski in Baden-Baden, 17 November 2006]] ”’Rolf Zuckowski”’ (born 12 May 1947 in [[Hamburg]]) is a [[Germany|German]] [[singer]], composer and [[Liedermacher]]. He has written and composed music especially for children <ref>[http://www.abendblatt.de/hamburg/article492610/Goldene-Stimmgabel-fuer-Zuckowski-und-Cicero.html Hamburger Abendblatt:Goldene Stimmgabel for Zuckowski and Cicero (German)]</ref>  but his songs are very popular among adults, too. His compositions involve children in music throughout their childhood and accompany their daily life. Meanwhile, many of his songs have attained the status of [[folk songs]].<ref>[http://www.sikorski.de/13/en/about_sikorski.html%20 About Skikorski: Skikorski Musical Producers]</ref>4 

It turned out to be more complex and time-consuming to format the text and to integrate all references correctly. I was surprised that this clutter of tags, references and brackets later turned into a Wikipedia article with a nice layout, structure, footnotes, words in bold, etc. In order to draw a line between the abundance of information that I had and the relevant information I would use, I put myself in the position of an English reader: What would I want to know about a German musician? That is why I tried to provide a mixture of biographical facts and a variety of other useful information. I also took the Wikipedia Core Principles into consideration – when it comes to writing a biography of Living Persons, Wikipedia has a very detailed set of Guidelines:

“Material about living persons added to any Wikipedia page must be written with the greatest care and attention to verifiability, neutrality, and avoidance of original research.”5

Bring About Change!

I changed the following sections: Early life, Career, Awards, External links and References. I had to cut a line between seemingly relevant information and rather unimportant stages of Rolf Zuckowski’s life. Then, I added three pictures which show Rolf Zuckowski as well as the Swiss music group Peter, Sue & Marc performing a song composed by Rolf Zuckowski at the Eurovision Song Contest.

  

The number of pictures available on Wikimedia Commons was quite limited. After I submitted the article, I permanently checked the “View History” because I wanted to see if any changes would be made to my article. I was afraid that somebody would delete the article arguing that the topic wasn’t relevant enough for the English speaking world. Only a day after I submitted my article, minor changes were made by two users, Sfan00 IMG and BG19bot. Luckily, these changes only included general fixes and reparation of punctuations: One Interwiki link was written as an external link. In two other cases, I put a punctuation mark after the reference. I consider the changes that were made as extremely helpful for further Wikipedia entries because now I know the two following formalities:

“Punctuation goes before a reference”

“Interwiki links should not be written as external links”

The Learning Experience

Over all, I learned a lot from the experience. The contribution and time-investment were worth the effort: the seminar helped us to understand how knowledge is constructed and reproduced by people. Now that I know Wikipedia from the “inside,” I will be more skeptical and attentive when reading Wikipedia articles. However, when you have doubts, you can always express them on the platform or check the sources and external links because they are transparent. Moreover, the changes that are made by other users are easily comprehensible in the article’s history.

The seminar “Constructing Knowledge in the Digital Age: Wikipedia’s Contribution to the Humanities” was very informative and helped me to understand how Wikipedia works. I learned a lot about the Wikipedia core principles and about how I can help to develop Wikipedia. I enjoyed participating in this virtual community as an “author”. Moreover, the seminar helped me to appreciate all the contributions that Wikipedia users make all the time. It takes only a few minutes to read a Wikipedia article but it can, literally, take hours to write or edit an article. This changed my view and behavior and I learned that Wikipedia is not a collection of random information but the product of our contributions and our reproductions of facts.

With respect to term papers, I have always compared the information that I found in Wikipedia with reliable sources, such as books which I found in the library. In many cases, these sources provided different views and I appreciate that Wikipedia doesn’t present a single view but gives an overview of different opinions and views, more like a summary. However, Wikipedia shouldn’t be the only source that students use during their academic education because many teachers and lecturers don’t accept Wikipedia as a source. Thus, Wikipedia can provide a helpful overview of certain topics but nothing replaces literature found in libraries.

The assignments that we did in class were usually very time-consuming. I personally think that we should have been given more time to discuss in class. This would of course mean that we would have had to work on our blogposts and Wikipedia articles at home. However, my suggestion is that students should be expected to work on their writing assignments at home and bring their drafts to class the following week. This way, we could have spent more time discussing about open questions.

  1. WikiProject article quality grading scheme []
  2. WikiProject article quality grading scheme []
  3. Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons []
  4. Editing Rolf Zuckowski []
  5. Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons []

Nicole Stirm

Student of English literature and linguistics at Stuttgart University. Will receive a bachelor of arts degree next year.

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