Kill two birds with one stone with Wikipedia

**Detta blogginlägg är också tillgängligt på svenska**

This blog post is not about Wikipedia as a source. Rather, I will focus on Wikipedia as a channel for research communication.

Studies indicate that Wikipedia can be an effective tool for research dissemination. For example, Wikipedia is a source frequently consulted by physicians and medical students.[1] Wikipedia is a universal encyclopedia, and its open source software allows everyone to contribute content.  Researchers can contribute by writing about research results in an accessible way and by providing references to their publications. For researchers, Wikipedia offers a venue for popularizing science and scholarship, and at the same time making their own research more visible, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

The structure of a Wikipedia article

There are a few elements common to all Wikipedia articles. Here is an example:

– The title of the article [1].

– The body text [2] has its first words written in bold. In this example, there are many references to other Wikipedia articles. These headwords are only hyperlinked the first time they occur in the text.

– External links (for example, to a publisher’s website) are listed under this heading [3].

– Under [4], references that occur in the text are listed.

– An often-forgotten feature is the categorization of articles [5]. This is a way to contextualize the article, which is of value to both readers and contributors.

– At the bottom of the page, the applicable Creative Commons license is given (CC BY-SA). Content on Wikipedia can be redistributed freely, if the source is referenced and the CC license is retained. (The CC BY-SA license has also been given to this blog post, as indicated at the bottom of the text.)

– At [7], you can edit the article.

– If you want to have a look “behind the scenes”, you can go to “View history” [8]. Here you can view earlier versions of the article, and when and by whom the article has been edited. In some cases, this can prove interesting reading indeed!

– At [9], it is indicated if you have logged in to Wikipedia or not.

The varying quality of Wikipedia articles

Some articles on Wikipedia are not very good. Others, on the other hand, are of high quality and well substantiated. By viewing the history of the article and its talk page (see Thomas Piketty) you will get a good indication if the subject matter is controversial or neglected (Paternopoli=not updated for a long time). This is one way of assessing the quality of the article. Other parameters to look at: does the article have references (Irpinia – good) or footnotes (even better)? Are referenced sources scholarly (Hofstede’s cultural dimensions)?

Wikipedia as a tool for research dissemination

As a researcher, you have a unique opportunity to help make Wikipedia better, and at the same time make your own research more visible. Before we go into how to do this in a smart way, remember to:

1. Never create an article about yourself. If you are important enough to have an article on Wikipedia, someone else will write one.

2. Never create a whole new article about your research. This is especially important if you are not a seasoned contributor on Wikipedia.

3. Never look at Wikipedia as a channel for marketing your own research. Try instead to enrich and nuance existing articles. If you approach Wikipedia in a humble way, it is more likely your contributions will last.

Instead, start with enriching an existing article

Locate an article related to your research field, add a few sentences with relevant information and reference an already published academic source. If you have published research on the subject, you have the opportunity to reference that. If you have written a press release, a popular account or a leaflet about your research this will help you write your Wikipedia article. Make sure to reference your own research publication!

If you get hooked and go on to create new articles, there are a few other things to keep in mind. Make sure to link the article to other articles in Wikipedia. Don’t create an “orphan” article, they are more likely not to survive. Put some extra effort in adding categories to your article – look at how similar articles have been categorized.


Learn to write in a new genre

Different audiences mean different uses of language. The style on Wikipedia is very different from that of a scholarly article. The best way to learn is by reading other Wikipedia articles, and begin practicing on a small scale. If you follow the advice above and start by enriching existing articles, you will likely not run into any problems. You will automatically fall into the style of existing content.

The technical aspect of editing will not present many difficulties. Edit the article in the text editing mode [7].

If you become a frequent contributor to Wikipedia, I recommend that you create your own account. If you only make a few edits a year, there is no need to have an account.  If you have an account, you can interact with other Wikipedians through your own user page and you get your own sand box to develop your articles. You can also create your own watchlist with articles that you are especially engaged with.

You are not the one in control!

If you think of Wikipedia as an endless project that is constantly being revised, it is easy to imagine that you own edits might not survive. Don’t lose faith if your contributions are deleted. Ask yourself why this happened, and try to learn from experience the next time you edit an article on Wikipedia.

Learn more

Which LiU researchers are Wikipedia editors? Swedish Wikipedia has 128 articles that have been edited by LiU researchers, the English version 42 (11 November, 2019)

Help: Wikipedia editing for researchers, scholars, and academics

Is your research already referred to at Wikipedia? Altmetrics holds the answer. The colour black on your ”Altmetric donut” indicate that your publication has been cited on Wikipedia. The easiest way to check this is through your DiVA publication list (create it here).

Want to learn more? We will gladly come to your department to hold talks or workshops!

By Johanna Nählinder, senior coordinator of reseach support, Linköping University Library, under CC BY-SA. Translated by Peter Igelström.


[1] Metcalfe, D. & J. Powell (2011) Should doctors spurn Wikipedia J R Soc Med 104(12): 488-489.

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