How to be a Wikipedia Author

When I found out that I was supposed to write my own Wikipedia article in class, I was surprised and a little worried. I had heard from every professor that Wikipedia was not a reliable source for writing a research paper. However, who does not use it to get a first overview on any topic? I expected it to be quite complicated to write an article myself that would actually get published.

How to find a topic
The first challenge was to find a topic to  write about. Isn’t there already an article about anything worth writing about? Since I had already compared the articles about gestures in English and German in this class, I decided to improve the English version in which some of Wikipedia’s core content policies are violated. The second challenge was how to start working on an article that already exists without offending the original author or other editors. I left a question on the talk page of the Wikipedia article, asking for input and help from the other editors. A week later, I still had not gotten any responses. During this week, I had done more research on gestures and had read articles on Wikipedia concerning gestures. I found out that an important part of gesture research, the so-called enactment effect, was not mentioned on any Wikipedia page. Since I did not get any response from anyone on the gesture article, I decided to write my own one on the enactment effect. I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis about gestures and I had many sources and information ready to go.

What to do before starting to write
First off, I read through Wikipedia’s notability guidelines. I had to make sure that an article about the enactment effect is notable for Wikipedia. I knew that numerous researchers studied the enactment effect and that research is still going on about how to use it in different contexts. Consequently, there is “verifiable, objective evidence that the subject has received significant attention from independent sources to support a claim of notability”1. Also, the enactment effect is not a stand alone phenomena but exists in close context with gesture research. It does not violate Wikipedia’s statement to not be “an indiscriminate collection of information”2.
In order to prepare, I used the Wikipedia page on how to write an article and went through the suggested steps. By using the search function, I made sure that the article does not exist yet. I went through all my information on the enactment effect, figuring out which parts to use for the Wikipedia article. I wrote a short explanation of the term first, including many references. Then I decided to write three subparts, giving more information on the enactment effect, how it could have been shown in studies so far, how it can be used in second language acquisition, and how neurolinguisitical research gives explanations of the effect. It was important to me to only include information that I had several secondary sources on to make sure I do not violate Wikipedia’s core content principles which state that no original research is allowed in an article, and any given information has to be verifiable.

Writing the article
Once I had decided over my topic and the structure of my article, writing the content was not that difficult anymore. However, writing it in the correct format in the Wikipedia interface was challenging for me. In class, we got in introduction on how to properly write an article which was very helpful. It still took me some time to figure out how to use the correct headers, how to cite references, or how to make a table of contents. What I found very helpful was the tutorial that is provided on Wikipedia, explaining every step in short videos.
I found out that in the German version, one can write an article in the user space and work on it over time before publishing it. This feature also exists for the English Wikipedia and is very helpful since changes can be made before publishing an article.
Publishing it in the end was only one mouse click. I had expected that someone would have to read and correct it before I can upload it online. It was interesting to see that anyone can publish an article anytime.

Revision History
After publishing the article, I was worried that someone might delete it again, considering it not relevant or good enough. However, concerning the content, nobody has made any changes to the article so far. One typo has been corrected by a user. Also, some formal mistakes were corrected such as putting a reference before the punctuation. One user added a template stating that the article was missing categories. I changed that myself by adding the categories “Gestures” and “Language Acquisition” and the template got removed. Other than that, the page has not been changed.

What I learned
It was interesting and exciting for me to write my own article and publish it. I do think it is a great way of learning about how Wikipedia works, and it was definitely worth the time and effort to get to know the policies and principles of Wikipedia. I realized that while anyone can write an article, the pages do get corrected and checked frequently. There are many policies and guidelines on how to contribute to Wikipedia.
However, I am still careful with using information that I find on Wikipedia. It is possible that an article on a very specialized topic, such as the one that I wrote, might not get reviewed that quickly. In my case, the syntax and format was corrected but  no one commented on the content. I do not know if that is because there is no need to change anything, or because nobody who is familiar with the enactment effect has actually read it.
Another important aspect that I had not been aware of before this class is that articles on Wikipedia are never completely finished. They get edited, changed, and improved constantly. My article is not done yet either. Different theories exist on how to explain the enactment effect. I would still like to add these to my article in the future.

Before this class, I had already not used Wikipedia as a source for academic purposes because I knew that the articles do not necessarily have to be written by specialists in their field. After this class, I am much more aware of the fact that anyone can be an author and editor. I will still use Wikipedia to get an overview on topics, knowing that other sources such as academic journals and books are necessary in order to be sure that the information is reliable and correct.

  1. “Notability.” Wikipedia. n.d. (accessed March 1, 2015). []
  2. “Wikipedia: Discriminate vs. indiscriminate information.” Wikipedia. n.d. (accessed March 1, 2015). []

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