A Leap in the Dark – My First Wikipedia Article

Last semester break, when I had a look at the course catalogue I was hooked immediately: in the fall semester a seminar about Digital Humanities, involving Wikipedia, was going to take place! I had always been curious about Wikipedia but never had had enough courage and incentive to get involved. Therefore, the seminar was supposed to be the push I needed in order to become a Wikipedia author.

My Writing Experience

For my first Wikipedia article I decided to write about Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The yellow Wallpaper,“ which is the author’s most famous work and which is frequently discussed in university classes. Last year, I had participated in a seminar that dealt with the story and I had had to write a term paper about it, so I was familiar with the story as well as with some secondary literature. A quite extensive article about the short story already existed in the English Wikipedia, but the version that had existed in the German Wikipedia („Die gelbe Tapete“) had been deleted because it had consisted of only two sentences. So I decided to write a good German version and was in the fortunate position to be able to build the article completely from scratch.

While thinking about the topic and structure of my article I tried to keep the Wikipedia principles in mind, so the first question I asked myself was: “Is your topic relevant?“ Fortunately, I was able to answer that question with a resounding yes after doing some research in the German Wikipedia. Despite the fact that the story was written by an English author and secondary literature is available almost solely in English a biography about Charlotte Perkins Gilman exists in the German Wikipedia and it explicitly mentions “The Yellow Wallpaper“ as Gilman’s most famous and important short story, so I figured the article I wanted to write was relevant.

Having overcome the first and biggest hurdle, I focused on the structure of my article. In order to decide which structure to use and which references and information to include in my article (again having the Wikipedia principles relevance/notability, neutral point of view and reliability in mind), I had a look at many other German Wikipedia articles that described short stories. Some of them were rated good articles, so I found out which structure and content was deemed fitting for an article about a short story in the German Wikipedia. Due to the fact that the already existing article about “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the English Wikipedia was quite extensive I also had a look at that article – especially its structure and the information it featured. When I had observed and compared those articles my goal was set: I wanted to write an informative, well-structured article that was concise and provided an overview about the existing academic discourse. With this goal in mind it was relatively easy to decide what should feature in the article and which information should best be left out.

However, I noticed quite soon that I would need to make an even greater effort than I had anticipated. In order to provide an overview about the academic discourse while using only reliable and published sources I needed to read significantly more papers than I thought I would need to read. In order to avoid writing down half-truths or things I only remembered from my seminar and therefore could not provide references for I had to read and re-read the papers with the same diligence and attention to possible quotes and references I usually employ while writing a term paper for my university classes.

The only real difficulty I encountered while writing the article were the Wikipedia help pages. Handling the Wikipedia source codes – for example implementing references, using headlines and inserting links to other articles– was no big deal since the codes are related to HTML and they felt quite intuitive; however, getting the information about the right layout of a Wikipedia article proved to be quite challenging. There are hundreds of Wikipedia help pages: for newcomers, for people who write their first article, layout help pages, pages that help you organize links or your user page and so on. I had the feeling I needed to read all of them in order to write an article that satisfies everything the Wikipedia community expects from me as an author. These help pages are all somehow linked with each other, so I soon got used to having open numerous browser tabs with Wikipedia help pages while simultaneously dealing with other online sources and the article itself.</p>

The Reception of My Article

Eventually, when I published my article I only got some minor responses. A nice user named Schnabeltassentier posted a welcome text on my user page and added categories to my article. The categories were missing because I did not know that I should add them and how to add them. Another user repaired a damaged link and a third user corrected a typo. Additionally, another ISBN number of a book and a link to a wiki source page with the original short story were added.

I also had the opportunity to experience how easily Wikipedia articles can be vandalized: a person I had given the article to proof read thought it funny to add the comment {Belege fehlen} to my article in order to annoy me. When I told him I did not appreciate his humour he removed it, the removal was approved by another user on the same day (January, 30th). Since then, there have been no further changes to my article.

My Future Use of Wikipedia

Previously, I was very cautious to use anything from Wikipedia for my term papers, I sometimes even did not dare to use it as a tertiary source. We had always been told by our teachers and lecturers that Wikipedia essentially is the root of all evil and using it as a source leads to plagiarism and the reciting of false facts. Now that I have written a Wikipedia article myself, I think I will use Wikipedia as a tertiary source in the future. In this class, we got to know the Wikipedia principles and we also learned to distinguish good articles from bad articles. In the future I will read an article, have a look at the references and when I think that the article is well written and the references are appropriate I will not hesitate to use the secondary sources named in the Wikipedia article for my term papers.

In general I think Wikipedia is a great project and the idea behind it is remarkable. Even if there are some articles which are not really well written or researched or if some of them are victims of manipulation or vandalism: most of the articles are well guarded by their authors and provide an amazing overview about a topic. Wikipedia articles are not a suitable source for term papers or other academic papers, but Wikipedia is simply great if you require a simple overview about a topic and/or need hints for suitable secondary sources.

The only thing I would really like an improvement for are the help pages, which I think should be organized in a manner that is more intuitive and so that they are easier to access. Sometimes it is really hard to get to a certain help pages, even if you know that it exists because you need to know its exact name to access it. I also do not like the fact that article discussions take place on user pages; maybe it would be better to have these discussions on a separate “article discussion page“


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