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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual by John Broughton

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What Articles Don’t Belong on Wikipedia

So far, this chapter has shown you what a Wikipedia article needs: appropriate intentions on your part, notability of the subject, and reliable sources. Even with all these factors in place, your article idea may not be right for Wikipedia. As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is a compendium of useful information, but not all useful information. Some kinds of information just don’t fit in.

What Wikipedia Isn’t

To judge whether an article belongs in Wikipedia, take a look at what kinds of articles don’t belong there. Wikipedia:Not (shortcut: WP:NOT) is the definitive policy on this. Much of that policy you’ve already heard about: “Wikipedia is not a publisher of original thought,” “Wikipedia is not a soapbox,” for example. But there are several more guidelines worth noting:

  • Wikipedia isn’t a dictionary. The Wikimedia Foundation does have a sister project, Wiktionary, for definitions, and there are others on the Web (for example, Urban Dictionary) that welcome your submittals.

  • Wikipedia isn’t a directory. Articles shouldn’t consist of loosely associated topics such as aphorisms, people, books, unusual crimes, or geographical trivia, no matter how well referenced. Quotations belong in another sister project, Wikiquote. Similarly, radio or television station schedules, or lists of government offices and current office-holders for local governments, aren’t acceptable. Product price guides don’t belong on Wikipedia, either.

  • Wikipedia isn’t a manual, guidebook, or textbook. Wikipedia articles should not include instructions, advice or suggestions (legal, medical, or otherwise); how-to guides, tutorials, instruction manuals, game guides, or recipes. You can find (and submit) user-written textbooks at Wikibooks (a sister project), travel guides at Wikitravel (not related to the Wikimedia Foundation), and step-by-step guides at wikiHow (again, not related to Wikipedia).

  • Wikipedia isn’t an indiscriminate collection of information. Articles should not be constructed from, or contain, lists of frequently asked questions, lengthy plot summaries, lengthy lyrics (even when unprotected by copyright), or long and sprawling lists of statistics.

  • Wikipedia isn’t a news ticker. The fact that someone or something is newsworthy doesn’t automatically justify an encyclopedia article. Newspapers and television stations report constantly on people who have been badly harmed, barely escaped disaster, done something horrible, or otherwise are unusual enough to justify 15 minutes of fame. Such stories don’t make people and incidents into encyclopedic subjects. Wikipedia articles should not be voyeuristic or ongoing violations of a reasonable right to privacy.

Don’t Repeat Someone Else’s Words at Length

Suppose you’ve found a topic that isn’t covered in Wikipedia—say a nonprofit group called the International Development and Improvement Organization for Theoretical Scientificality. The organization’s Web site has a number of detailed pages about the history, goals, mission, and executive leadership of the organization—perfect for a detailed article. Add links to a few reliable sources, and, presto!—instant article.

This, of course, is a massive copyright violation. Even if you’re the head of that organization (a conflict of interest, but that’s another matter), you can’t somehow waive normal copyright requirements just for Wikipedia. If the article isn’t instantly deleted, it’s highly likely to go into copyright lockdown (with a huge banner across the top of the page, telling editors to leave it alone until it’s been fully reviewed).

With that in mind, you can copy, more or less verbatim, from a few places. You probably don’t want to copy lots of text from these sources, because it’s likely to be inconsistent in tone from the rest of the article, or too detailed, or quite possibly just boring. Still, if you really want to, you can copy:

  • Information from U.S. government publications and Web sites, which are in the public domain, unless otherwise stated. (Publications of state and local governments in the U.S., on the other hand, usually are copyrighted.) You can find a list of resources in the public domain at Wikipedia:Public domain resources (shortcut: WP:PDR).

  • Text copyrighted with the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). That’s the same type of copyright as Wikipedia uses (but see the Note on ???). You can find research resources that use this license at Wikipedia:GNU Free Documentation License resources (shortcut: WP:FDLR).

  • Older material whose copyrights have expired. In the U.S., any work published before January 1, 1923, anywhere in the world, is in the public domain. (For more details, see shortcut WP:PD.)

Preventing copyright violations, and fixing them as quickly as possible, are major concerns at Wikipedia. And you as an individual editor are liable, not Wikipedia, as long as the violation gets removed quickly once someone complains about it.

Note

Whether or not information is from a copyrighted source, you should always cite where you got it. That’s absolutely critical if the text is a direct quotation or if the text is saying something critical of anyone or anything, particularly a living person.

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