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Media Analyses





How and Why to Edit Wikipedia


"I couldn’t see how it could be represented as an encyclopedia .... It’s like nothing so much as a great game. It’s the encyclopedia game, played online"
— Robert McHenry, former editor-in-chief of Encyclopdia Britannica

 

Wikipedia, one of the most popular and influential websites on the internet, describes itself as the "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit."

And everyone, it seems, does edit Wikipedia. This means that while many editors are concerned with building objective and accurate entries, many others are not. As a result, some articles — especially about controversial subjects such as the Arab-Israeli conflict — are skewed. Referring to this aspect of Wikipedia, a competing online encyclopedia, Citizendium, noted: "In some fields and some topics, there are groups who ‘squat’ on articles and insist on making them reflect their own specific biases. There is no credible mechanism to approve versions of articles."

And predictably, many who try to re-establish objectivity in Wikipedia articles are accused of bias by the very editors who made an article skewed in the first place, and thus find it difficult or impossible to improve the encyclopedia. To again quote Citizendium, "Many academics and other highly knowledgeable people have gone out of their way to try to edit Wikipedia, only essentially to be beaten back by the community."

These Citizendium quotes are not meant as an endorsement of that encyclopedia’s accuracy and objectivity, which should be examined separately. But the newer Citizendium, which was established by a Wikipedia co-founder, does seem to have a clear and coherent view of Wikipedia’s shortcomings.

A central shortcoming described by Citizendium is that "[Wikipedia] is part anarchy, part mob rule. The people with the most influence in the community are the ones who have the most time on their hands—not necessarily the most knowledgeable—and who manipulate Wikipedia's eminently gameable system."

To make matters worse, Wikipedia seems to be regarded by many as an authoritative source of information. Some readers might be thrown off by the fact that many articles are accurate, fair and well-written. Robert McHenry, a former editor-in-chief of Encyclopdia Britannica, acknowledges this, but quickly adds that, on the other hand, "there’s also some very, very bad stuff, and there’s no way to tell the difference."

In short, Wikipedia, though a fascinating experiment, is broken. And it isn’t clear how, or even whether, it can be fixed.

Nor is it clear whether newer rivals to Wikipedia — such as Scholarpedia or Citizendium — will, once built up, be more accurate than, and as popular as, Wikipedia.

One hope is that if more fair-minded people participate in the Wikipedia experiment, the problems can be minimized. The encyclopedia does have a series of policies and guidelines in place that, if consistently and fairly enforced, would likely yield solid articles. The problem is, these rules are not consistently and fairly enforced. In fact, many of the administrators — who can be thought of as "editors with friends" since they are elected by other editors to a position of more power and authority — selectively use these policies to promote their own biases. And unlike the mainstream news media, where careers and reputations are staked on adherence to professional codes defining ethical journalism, pseudonymous Wikipedia editors are likely to feel comfortable ignoring the rules. Nevertheless, more editors following the policies could potentially lead to more accuracy and fairness on Wikipedia.

To that end, we encourage fair-minded editors to work toward improving Wikipedia. Here is how:

 

HOW TO SET UP AN ACCOUNT

1) Go to www.wikipedia.org or to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page. On the top right of the page, click the link that says "Log in / Create Account."

2) Click the link in the sentence: "Don't have an account? Create one."

3) Pick a username and password. Per Wikipedia's advice, "you are recommended to choose a username that is not connected to you."

4) If you're not at a shared computer, you might want to put a check mark in the box next to "Remember me."

5) Click "Create Account," and you're ready to go. 

HOW TO FIND PAGES

According to the Wikipedia's Contents page: 

There are two ways to look things up in Wikipedia: by searching or by browsing.

If you know the name of an article you are looking for, simply type it into Wikipedia's search box [on the menu column to the far left of the screen] and press Go, or you can search for information on a topic by typing it in the box and selecting Search.

If you would like to look around the encyclopedia to see what's on it, use Wikipedia's Contents pages. Lists and indices are examples of contents for a published work, and Wikipedia has many of each.  Links to all of Wikipedia's main contents pages are presented below, and they in turn link to the more specific pages.

HOW TO EDIT PAGES

As Wikipedia notes, "Don't be afraid to editanyone can edit almost any page, and we encourage you to be bold!" That means you. When making changes to Wikipedia article pages, it is very often helpful to also comment on the changes on the specific discussion page associated with that article. This section discusses the technical aspects of how to edit both the article page and its associated discussion page.

Editing Article Pages

   BASICS

You will find at the top of every Wikipedia article the following 5 tabs: "article"; "discussion"; "edit this page"; "history"; and "watch."

All you need to do to make changes to a page is to click on the "edit this page" tab. (Don't forget to first make sure you are signed in to Wikipedia.) After clicking this tab, a page with an editable text box will appear. Most of this box will be filled with plain text that corresponds directly with the text of the article. 

You will sometimes find more complex code at the top of the text box. This code might be used, for example, to render a graphic on the article page. (For example, the large table to the right of Wikipedia's Israel article is made with more complex code.)  But if you scroll past that code, you will find the mostly straightforward plain text. I say "mostly" because, even in the plain text portions of the box there will be some simple code that renders footnotes, links and headings. An explanation of this simple code can be found below.

Make useful changes, additions or subtractions in the text box, click the "Save page" button underneath the box, and you've officially edited a Wikipedia article.

Before clicking "Save page," though, it is useful to very briefly describe the changes you made in the "Edit summary" box immediately above the Save icon. You can also click "Show preview" before saving, to see what your changes look like. If you do so, don't forget that what you will see on the preview page has not yet been saved. If you like the changes you see on the preview page, you must then scroll down past the preview, past the editable text box, and click "Save page."

After clicking "Save page," you will automatically be moved from the "edit" page to the main article page, which now shows your changes.

In certain rare situations in which an article is marked by excessive, disruptive editing, a page will be locked by a Wikipedia administrator.

   EDITING INDIVIDUAL SECTIONS

Most Wikipedia articles are comprised of different sections, which are listed in a table of contents at the top of an article. In the body of an article, these sections by bolded, large-font headings. If you want to make changes to only one of these sections, you can do so by clicking "edit this page" and then finding the section; or you can simply click on the blue [edit] icon to the right of that section. This will open up a text box as described above, but the contents of that text box will be limited to the text of that specific section. Once again, follow the instructions noted above (in the BASICS section) to make changes. 

   ADDING NEW SECTIONS

If you feel that an article could use an additional section, you can add one. To do so, follow the instructions above for editing pages. Find the location in the article where you want to insert a new heading and section. 

To add the section, type the title of the desired section in between two pairs of equal signs. Underneath this, enter the text that you would like to see under that section heading. Here is the format:

==This Is Where You Put the Title to the New Section==

This is where you enter the text that relates to the title of the new section.

As noted above, add an "Edit summary," if desired click "Show preview," and then click "Save page."

The new heading should automatically appear in the table of contents as well as in the article.

   ADDING FOOTNOTED CITATIONS

You will almost always want to use citations when you add new material to Wikipedia articles. (This will be addressed further in the Conceptual section of this page, below.) Adding footnotes to a sentence requires, at its most basic, a minimal amount of simple code. Basically, you will type <ref>  , followed by your citation, followed by </ref>. For example:

Here is a sentence that you added to the article.<ref>Here is your citation</ref>

An actual example from a Wikipedia article: 

Lord Caradon also maintains, ''We didn't say there should be a withdrawal to the '67 line; we did not put the 'the' in, we did not say all the territories, deliberately.. We all knew - that the boundaries of '67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers, they were a cease-fire line of a couple of decades earlier... We did not say that the '67 boundaries must be forever''.<ref>MacNeil/Lehrer Report, March 30, 1978</ref>

Following this procedure will cause Wikipedia to automatically insert a footnote at the end of the sentence. Clicking on that footnote will lead the reader to the bottom of the article, where the citation will be found. There are more complex ways to put in footnotes, but it is not necessary to understand all of the code used in Wikipedia articles before editing these articles. 

   CITING A WEB PAGE USING LINKS

If you want to cite a web page, it is useful to put a link into your citation. Again, this requires a small amount of simple code. You can add a link by enclosing between brackets the web address, followed by a space, followed by the text from which the link will be active. Here's a sample sentence with a link from the phrase "codes of ethics" to a web page on the American Society of Newspaper Editors site:

Responsible journalists strive to adhere to ethical guidelines that are communicated in various [http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?id=387 codes of ethics].

This sentence will appear as follows, with a link from the final three words:

Responsible journalists strive to adhere to ethical guidelines that are communicated in various codes of ethics.
You now hopefully know everything you need for basic editing of Wikipedia article pages. If you like, you can teach yourself more basic coding by clicking here, more complex editing by clicking here, or by examining how the code on various "edit this page" pages translates on the actual article page. You can also hone these techniques on a Wikipedia page meant for practicing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Sandbox. Feel free to experiment, edit, preview, and save on the sandbox however you like. For the convenience of other users, please erase the page when your done practicing (by clicking "edit this page," erasing everything in the text box, and saving -- but you already know that.)

Editing Discussion Pages

Although the article pages are what most casual visitors to Wikipedia will see, you very well might be spending more time editing an article's discussion pages than the actual article. It is on the discussion pages that, at least in theory, disputes over content are resolved through civil discussion and attempts to find consensus over language.

When making any significant changes to an article, you will also want to comment on your changes on the article's discussion page. Clicking on the "discussion" tab at the top of an article page will bring you to a behind the scenes area which acts as a sort of virtual town hall meeting. Here is where you will find other well-intentioned editors and, in the case of Mideast articles, some anti-Israel partisans who care all about anti-Israel advocacy and little about Wikipedia guidelines. Dealing with, and even reading comments by, the latter group can be frustrating. It's helpful to engage with anyone commenting on your changes (or someone else's changes that you are interested in discussing); but for effectiveness and personal sanity, remain cool, detached, and as mentioned above, focused on Wikipedia guidelines when dealing with hostile editors. When encountering these editors, it's also helpful to try to bring reasonable people into the discussion.
NOTE: The "edit this page" tab will take you to one of two possible pages, depending on what page you are on when you click it. From an article page, clicking "edit this page" will take you to the page on which you edit an article. From a discussion page, clicking that same tab will take you to the page on which you join a discussion.

After clicking on the discussion tab, you will be able to read the comments that have already been made regarding an article. It is not always necessary to read everything on the discussion page. If you are interested in making a particular change to an article, though, it is useful to scan the discussion page or its table of contents to see what has already been argued on this topic.

To join the discussion, you must click the "edit this page" tab, which will bring up a text box just like the one used to edit article pages. 

Editing a discussion page follows the same principles as editing an article page. 

Some things to keep in mind when editing a discussion page. If you are starting a discussion on a new topic, you will want to follow the instructions described above under ADDING NEW SECTIONS. You will want to sign your pseudonym and time of edit after every comment you add. Wikipedia does this automatically when you add four tildes (~~~~) after your comment. The tilde can be found at the top left of your keyboard. 



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