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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual by John Broughton

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Chapter 4. Creating a New Article

Wikipedia needs more articles. Yet of the thousands of articles that are created every day, about half end up being deleted or otherwise removed. Most of the deletions happen within a day of the article’s creation. If you’re thinking about adding an article to Wikipedia, this chapter will help you avoid having that article become instant roadkill. (This chapter also discusses when it’s better not to write the article at all, or write it for another wiki or other Web site besides Wikipedia).

Even if you’re not thinking about creating a new article, this chapter can be useful. You’ll get a much better sense of what articles in Wikipedia should be like, which will help you when you want to improve existing articles. You’ll also have some criteria to use when you come upon an existing article that you suspect might not belong in Wikipedia at all. (Chapter 19 discusses the process for getting an article deleted.)

What Makes a Good Article

If you’re not a registered user (see Chapter 3), you can’t create new articles. (A proposal to allow non-registered users to make new articles, in November 2007, didn’t gain consensus.) Instead, you have to submit a proposed new article for review by other editors, using the Articles for Creation wizard (Figure 4-1). That wizard is a five-step online interview that questions you about three things: the proposed article’s motivation, notability, and sources. This section discusses all three issues, one by one. They’re important for all new articles, no matter who creates them.

The Articles for Creation wizard asks a series of questions to determine if your idea for an article is a good one. Registered users normally don’t use this wizard to create articles, but it’s still a good learning tool. To get there, go to the Wikipedia:Articles for Creation page (shortcut: WP:AFC), scroll down until you see the large “Start Here,” and then click that link. Then click “I would like to submit an article without registration”.

Figure 4-1. The Articles for Creation wizard asks a series of questions to determine if your idea for an article is a good one. Registered users normally don’t use this wizard to create articles, but it’s still a good learning tool. To get there, go to the Wikipedia:Articles for Creation page (shortcut: WP:AFC), scroll down until you see the large “Start Here,” and then click that link. Then click “I would like to submit an article without registration”.

Tip

Even as a registered user, it’s worth your time to use the wizard to see if you can get to the final step (being allowed to submit an article) while telling the truth (starting at step 2). If you can’t get all the way through the wizard by responding honestly, then your article will probably be deleted.

The Right Motivation

The ideal starting point for creating an article is when you’re surprised that Wikipedia doesn’t already have an article on a particular subject. If you believe that the subject is suitable for inclusion in an encyclopedia (what Wikipedia calls notability, as described on Notability), and that newspaper stories, magazine articles, publications in scientific journals, or public sources of information specifically focus on this topic, you have every reason to be surprised that no one’s already written an article on the topic.

By contrast, if you’re thinking about writing an article for one of the following reasons, then your chances of having your article deleted are high:

  • You’ve developed a new or unusual concept, idea, or invention; or you know something that disproves conventional wisdom on a topic; or you have an unusual theory about the way the world works, or should work. Don’t use Wikipedia to announce these things.

  • You have intense feelings about something or someone. For example, you may have a strong dislike of something (airplane travel, wiretapping, animal abuse), or a very favorable impression of a Web site, a local band, or a cult YouTube video. Whether it’s good or bad, if you have a strong feeling or opinion about something, you probably think that Wikipedia doesn’t adequately cover it and could use another article or two about it. But other editors may not agree, and in any case it’s going to be very hard for you to write with the required neutral point of view.

  • You see Wikipedia as a marketing opportunity for your company, Web site, band, or product. Or worse, for a company, Web site, band, or product that you’re being paid to promote. Even if the marketing or promotion is just to help a friend or relative—no money or direct involvement—it’s still promotion and has no place in an encyclopedia.

It’s possible, of course, that even if you have the wrong motivation, there’s a legitimate need in Wikipedia for the new article you’re thinking about. But if your motivation falls into one of the previous three categories, think twice. If you ignore Wikipedia’s rules and write articles that are only going to get deleted, you’re wasting your time and that of the editors who have to delete them.

Notability

Folks new to Wikipedia frequently see it as a place for information on everything. After all (so this mistaken impression goes), Wikipedia’s the first place most people turn to for information on any possible topic, so logically it should have complete coverage of all new and interesting topics. If a topic isn’t yet covered, then that’s an open invitation to write a new article.

In fact, Wikipedia is by design not a publisher of initial reports. As the main notability guideline says: “A topic is presumed to be notable if it has received significant coverage in reliable secondary sources that are independent of the subject.” If that sentence sounds familiar, it’s because you read about reliable sources in Chapter 2 (Not All Sources Are Created Equal).

You can find specialized Wikipedia guidelines for a number of areas, including books, music, and organizations and companies, at the main Notability guideline page (shortcut: WP:N). For example, a musical band would qualify as notable if it met any of a dozen different criteria, including, “Has had a record certified gold or higher in at least one country.” Or, for example, a film is notable if it’s been widely distributed and received full-length reviews by two or more nationally known critics.

If you write an article that doesn’t state, at the very beginning, why something is notable, you’ve significantly increased its roadkill potential. And if you also fail to provide any good sources, then you’ve backed other editors into a corner. They’ll use an external search engine to do a quick search of the subject, but it’s a matter of luck whether they’ll find acceptable sources, such as newspaper articles, that indicate that a subject is important. If they don’t, your article is probably toast.

Despite very specific guidelines for notability, many editors think notability is subjective—who’s to say what’s notable? Experienced editors focus on the presence or absence of reliable sources (discussed in the next section). Still, the concept of notability, as defined by Wikipedia’s guidelines, helps ensure that articles are relevant and interesting to a wide audience of readers.

Reliable Sources

Just as you must cite reliable sources when you add text to an article, as discussed in depth in Chapter 2 (and at WP:RS), you must fully document new articles you write. For new articles, here are the general guidelines:

  • Try to cite at least couple of independent, reliable sources in your article, regardless of the article’s length. If you don’t, it’s just your claim, as the author, that the subject is notable. While you may be the most honest and trustworthy person on the planet, other editors don’t know that, and they may delete your article because they can’t easily find reliable sources for it.

  • Include any relevant links to Web sites created or owned by the subject of the article. For example, articles about musicians usually contain links to their own Web sites. However, although these “official” links help other editors examining the article, they don’t count as independent sources.

It may seem counterintuitive, but good sources are more important than the words in your article. Yes, you want to write an article that has all the right parts (see 6) and reads well. But if you include reliable sources in your new article, particularly online sources (in English), other editors will find it credible, no matter how poorly written. By contrast, if you write an article that doesn’t cite independent sources, it doesn’t matter that what you’ve written is elegant, thoughtful, and interesting. If other editors judge your article to be original research or about a non-notable subject, they’ll just delete it.

Ideally, when you write a new Wikipedia article, you footnote every sentence (or paragraph, if the entire paragraph is from one source). It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, if you’re looking for sources for an article you’ve already written. A better approach: Start by finding reliable sources for the article you want to write, and then write the article from those sources.

When an article is a stub, it says so, as shown at the very bottom of this example. Stubs usually have just a sentence or two about their subject, and sometimes links to related, longer articles. Wikipedia’s administrators are quick to delete stubs, so work on articles in your user space until they’re long enough for prime time.

Figure 4-2. When an article is a stub, it says so, as shown at the very bottom of this example. Stubs usually have just a sentence or two about their subject, and sometimes links to related, longer articles. Wikipedia’s administrators are quick to delete stubs, so work on articles in your user space until they’re long enough for prime time.

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