Your first Wikipedia articleLet’s say you’ve identified a topic that isn’t covered by an existing Wikipedia article, and should be. What do you do now?

Start an article, of course!

In this blog post, I’ll offer some tips for getting a new article off the ground. I’ll steer you clear of a couple common mistakes, and show you how to invite some healthy collaboration from fellow editors.

If you’ve already attempted some editing, or engaged in any “talk page” discussions, you might know that there are lots and lots of policies and guidelines for Wikipedia editing, and just as many annoying acronyms pointing to them. In this post, I’m only going to focus on one, which is the “Be bold” policy (a.k.a. WP:BOLD.) In a nutshell, it says “don’t bother reading ALL the rules ahead of time…if you want to improve the encyclopedia, just go to it!” You read right, “Be bold” is an official policy. Sure, it might turn out that you’ve run afoul of another rule somewhere, but that’s no big deal; mistakes are easy to correct, and we try not to judge newcomers, or anybody else, too harshly for them. Honest!

Don’t know how to make a link? That’s fine! Don’t know how to format a citation? That’s fine! Don’t know how to make a section heading? That’s fine too! The beauty of a wiki is, somebody else will come along to work on stuff like that. If you want to learn, one great way is to watch what others do to the article you started; or if you can’t be bothered to learn, that’s fine too! Some Wikipedians focus on writing lots of content, while others focus on straightening up around the edges. That’s just the way it works, and if you ask me, it works pretty darned well!

So, read on for a few tips for getting started, but keep in mind this is just one guy’s suggestion…feel free to approach your writing or editing in any way that feels right to you.

Make an account

Do you have a Wikipedia account yet? Why not? Make one here; you’ll need to have an account to create a new article. You don’t have to give up any personal information to do it (though some of us prefer to be totally transparent, and use our real names). You can even keep your email address to yourself if you like (though there are good reasons for entering it, and it won’t get shared with the world at large).

Gut-check

As promised, I’m not going to deal with rules and regs much here. But there are important considerations about things like conflict of interest, and keeping a neutral tone. Read up on them if you like, but better yet, just pick a topic you’re not too closely connected with for your first article.

You’ll have a lot to learn as it is, so picking a topic that might get you all fired up might not be the best bet. Even if you ultimately want to write an article on your brother’s world record for tricycle building, consider working on something from, say, this list first, to get acclimated.

Look at “Featured articles” on similar topics

Were you aware that Wikipedia has a well-established peer review system, which identifies the very best articles on the site, according to community standards? Such articles are called “Featured articles” (FAs), and only about 2,000 of the 2.5 million articles on the English Wikipedia have earned this status. You can find a list of FAs here, nicely presented by topic area.

So if you’re thinking of writing an article on, say, the Portland State University football team, you might want to take a look at a Featured-class article on a sports team first, to see what kind of information it includes, how it’s structured, etc. Of course there’s no need to write a FA-class article, or anything close to it; but having a sense of where you’d like to see the article go can be helpful.

What makes a good stub?

Okay, so you’re about ready to start writing. But wait — one important warning first!

The first thing you’ll want to avoid is getting your article “speedily deleted” while you’re still trying to get it fleshed out. This is a common problem, and something you can easily avoid with just a little planning. If you’re going to build your article piece by piece, be sure that the first version you publish is a good enough “stub.” When you hit that “save” button the first time, if the article’s just one sentence, a little vague, and doesn’t cite any sources, it will almost certainly be deleted before you can improve it.

Click on the image above for an example of a good stub, or read a more detailed analysis if you like. But basically, a stub that is “good enough” to avoid speedy deletion will clearly assert why the article’s subject is notable, and include a citation or two (in any old format…this can be refined later) to independent, reliable sources. It doesn’t hurt to add a category or two if you know how, and you should add the text {{stub}} at the bottom of the article (or a more specific one, like {{Oregon-stub}}, if you happen to know it).

Note that some of this will depend on the article’s subject. If you’re writing about a former Umpqua County Commissioner, maybe her notability rests on a collection of things she did in business, in government, and in the arts. It might take a couple paragraphs to properly present her notability. Use your judgment.

Compose offline

So, do your very earliest composition outside of “article space.” Kind of counterintuitive advice for the “encyclopedia anyone can edit,” eh? Don’t worry — you’ll get it published soon enough!

The obvious approach is to use a word processor, and just cut-and-paste into Wikipedia when you’re ready. That’s a fine way to do it. But if you have any interest in guidance from Wikipedia editors you’ve come to know, or if you want to play with some wiki features you don’t yet fully understand (like adding images or linking to other articles), there’s a better way. You can create a “sub-page” within your “user space.” This page will be hosted by Wikipedia, but since it’s not in the main “article space,” others will be much more lenient about its content, and probably won’t even notice its existence unless you invite them.

To create a sub-page, go to your “User page” (that is, make sure you’re logged in, and click your name in the top of the Wikipedia window). Click the “edit” tab, and then put the cursor anywhere you want in the page (like the bottom). Now enter the following text: [[User:YOUR-USER-NAME/Page for drafts]]. (The square brackets make this a link, and the slash makes it a sub-page of your user page.) Now click “save” and you should see a new red link called “Page for drafts” on your user page. (Here’s an example of a page I’m working on…very slowly!)

Click that new red link, and you’ll be editing your new page! Because the draft in your space, you get to make the rules; if you want to tell people not to mess with it, that’s fine, or if you’re open to the input of certain people, but not the general editing community, that’s fine too.

As you’re writing, you’ll likely come up with questions not answered here. A good resource for this sort of thing is a relevant “WikiProject,” an informal group of editors who share an interest in a subject area. If your article is related to Oregon, go ask your questions at the WikiProject Oregon talk page; be sure to include a link to your draft (like [[User:YOUR-USER-NAME/Page for drafts]]) if you want people to comment on it specifically. (Or to find other WikiProjects — many of which are based on a concept, rather than a state — look here.)

Still reading?

Well, get to writing, slacker! Unless you’d like more guidance, of course. Please ask questions below, or check out this list of attributes of that elusive “perfect article.”

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