Wikipedia customs and best practices
July 5, 2011 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend who has asked me for help editing a Wikipedia entry. Well... not so much editing as a complete re-write. He is probably the foremost expert on the topic, which is fairly obscure. It's been years since I participated in Wikipedia, and I am not sure of the current culture and best practices.

Someone else has written an entry on the topic, and is the only user to have contributed to it. The entry is rather short (but more than a "stub") and includes some factual errors. My friend left some info on the talk page pointing these things out, but never got any feedback/response. He's now written an in depth entry for the topic from scratch, including sources. Should he just overwrite the existing entry? Or should he make an effort to incorporate some of the original language? Any Wiki editors in the house?
posted by kimdog to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It might be fun to just go wild and experiment.
posted by krilli at 10:24 AM on July 5, 2011

Be bold:
Wikipedia:Be bold (WP:BOLD) is best summed up in three words: "Just do it!" The Wikipedia community encourages users to be bold when updating the encyclopedia.
If someone doesn't like what you do, it's easy to revert the changes, or for them to reincorporate previous stuff.
posted by grouse at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, be bold! If it's like most entries the old writing is garbage. He should change it, especially if there is no 'defender' to respect in the talk pages.
posted by michaelh at 10:27 AM on July 5, 2011

The only thing I would be careful about is that he needs to include cites for every thing he's adding, even if he is an expert on the topic, because wikipedians tend to look askance at editors claiming expertise.
posted by empath at 10:29 AM on July 5, 2011

@empath: that was the first thing I asked him. But he tells me has cites beyond anything he has written on the topic.

Thanks everyone! We will go forth and edit!
posted by kimdog at 10:32 AM on July 5, 2011

It'd be better if he included cites for everything. But really, just post what you have already to start with, and let other people help you identify the parts that need cites. People won't be shy about tagging a [citation needed] when you lack one and there needs to be one.

The sooner your improved version is up there, the better.
posted by grouse at 10:32 AM on July 5, 2011

It's usually better to incorporate the existing article and gradually replace it piece by piece with improved material, especially if your friend isn't super-familiar with Wikipedia practices - it's easy to accidentally overwrite some arcane syntax that provides useful formatting, infoboxes, links, categories, etc. With each edit along the way, explain the changes in the "edit summary", so that another editor looking at the page history can get a sense of what's going on and feel reassured that the new editor isn't just unilaterally replacing reasonable material with wacky material, but is instead a thoughtful editor who has good reasons for the changes they are making. Of course this stuff is less important for super-obscure/uncontroversial topics or super-crappy existing articles, but generally it's good practice on Wikipedia to try to incorporate the reasonable parts of other editors' work instead of just replacing everything.
posted by dreamyshade at 10:53 AM on July 5, 2011

Have him read the page on expert editors to get a feel for the culture.
posted by zsazsa at 11:15 AM on July 5, 2011

Be prepared for it all to be deleted on a whim. Whether that means be ready to fight for it or to just walk away is up to you.
posted by BeerFilter at 11:25 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

If only one editor has written on the topic, and not replied on the talk page, its likely that he is no longer active on the wiki. Generally, I would make improvements piece by piece but in this case you are very much encouraged to be bold in making drastic changes as there has been plenty of time for other editors to respond on the talk page.

The simplified ruleset should cover 98% of questions about content or etiquette for a new user.

Having experts with good subject knowledge participate in wikipedia is a great thing that most sensible wikipedians want to see more of it (unfortunately, it is undeniable that wikipedia does attract a far higher number of non-sensible people than some other sites and these can be tiresome, though they tend to populate controversial pages, not obscure academic topics).

If he would like wikihelp or technical assistance then memail me and I will drop them a line on-wiki. Its also worth noting that once he's completed his revisions it sounds like that article might become a good candidate for pushing towards "good article" or "featured article" status, which is how we review and highlight high quality articles on the encylopedia, a good way to get an idea of what that might look like is to take a look at some other featured articles
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:05 PM on July 5, 2011

Many suggestions above are good. I also suggest he look for a WikiProject about the general topic that entry fits into, and join it -- editors who care about related things will be able to give your friend tips, help protect good edits against misguided reversions, and so on.
posted by brainwane at 4:13 PM on July 5, 2011

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