|This guidance essay contains comments and advice of one or more Wikipedia contributors. It is not a Wikipedia policy or guideline, though it may be consulted for assistance. A potential measure of how the community views this essay may be gained by consulting the history and talk pages, and checking What links here.|
|This page in a nutshell: If you give someone an assignment to do on Wikipedia, you are responsible for their actions.|
Wikipedia has traditionally been built through the efforts of intrinsically motivated volunteer editors. We assume editors come here in good faith to build an encyclopaedia, we welcome them and are encouraged to help them with early mistakes. Our behavioural policies are designed to handle such individual editors, with a hierarchy of dispute forums where issues can be dealt with.
When editors are encouraged or compelled (to some degree) to perform an assignment on Wikipedia, the relationship changes. The assignment may have goals that are unrelated to improving encyclopaedic content. For example, students earnings points on a course, or an academic experimenting with online collaborative editing environments. Where these goals get in the way of improving Wikipedia, there is conflict. The form of writing used for such assignments (promotional or academic essay, for example) may be inappropriate for the encyclopaedia.
The people directing the assignment are responsible for the edits made as part of that assignment. They should ensure they have the time, degree of competence on-wiki and subject-knowledge in order to review and correct such edits -- or employ others to help with these tasks. They are responsible for training their assignees to the level where they are competent to carry out the assignment. They will be held to account if the assignment itself is misguided, or if assignees cause problems that are not resolved. When the person directing the assignee is doing so as part of their employment, then the employing company or institution may also be held responsible.
Those directing an assignment for others should register accounts on Wikipedia and be responsive to issues raised on their talk pages. Directors are strongly encouraged to gain significant experience editing Wikipedia articles before asking others to do the same. Directors may recruit delegates to help with some of these wiki and supervision tasks (for example, teaching assistants).
The responsibility for detecting and removing plagiarism lies with those directing an assignment. Overall the assignment should not make Wikipedia worse and have no particularly significant problem areas. Assignments that do not significantly improve Wikipedia should not be repeated.
Directors should create a page (either in user space or some other project space such as those for formal educational assignments) where the assignment is described and a list of assignee accounts posted. This is necessary because our policy on linking editors to real-life or off-wiki discussions can lead to difficulties when reviewing or discussing the assignment. A full on-wiki description of the assignment and proposed work allows other editors to help ensure the assignment is most beneficial. Linking editors to the assignment and the accounts of those in charge ensures editors have a clear central point to raise issues and offer advice.
Degree of responsibility
It is not expected that those directing an assigment fix every mistake, remove every bad edit, detect and reword all plagiarism, add or fix every citation, balance every POV or polish the writing. (See Wikipedia:Avoiding common mistakes.) But the output of an assignment on Wikipedia is published for all to see, not sheets of paper in a drawer or content on an intranet. The behaviour of assignees has consequences for the rest of the editing community. Even actions that are good-faith may overwhelm other editors. The level of responsibility expected here is similar to that of a teacher and his class or a boss and her employees. Wikipedia expects these responsibilities to be taken seriously.
The assignee should create an account if they don't have one already. This should be linked to the assignment page created by the assigner. If the assignee has a personal wikipedia account, this need not be publicly linked to the assignee account, provided the activities of each are kept distinct. See Wikipedia:Sock puppetry.
Assignee accounts tend to differ from normal user accounts in several ways. The editor may have little attachment to the account. The account may be active for a very short period and then discarded. The account may edit a very small set of articles and avoid general interaction with the community (for example, joining a WikiProject). The editor is very often a newbie when the account is created, and has a short time to learn the ropes in order to perform the assignment by some deadline. For these reasons, the typical responses to editor problems are less effective. Therefore the role of the director is vital in order to handle issues and resolve them.
The assignee should respond to issues raised on their talk page or the talk pages of articles they have edited as part of the assignment. It is not acceptable to make edits on Wikipedia as part of an assignment, and then fail to handle issues that arise. For this reason, assignees are encouraged to monitor their watchlist for a period after the assignment has completed.
The purpose of the assignment must be to improve Wikipedia as an encyclopaedia. Any other purposes are secondary and should not conflict with this primary goal. While user-space edits (such as sandboxes) and talk-page comments are useful for new editors to gain skills, the end-goal of the assignment must be article content. It is not acceptable to use Wikipedia merely as an online editing environment.
There is a tendency to keep the assignment as a self-contained piece of work. For example, a new article or a new section in an article or just some additional sentences. This approach is often unhelpful and leads to duplication of material and content added to inappropriate places. It fails to appreciate the existing content and build upon it. Wikipedia may be improved by adding material to several articles, or expanding an existing section, or by improving the text or sourcing in existing content, or by removing poor content.
Wikipedia is more than just free encyclopaedic content that anyone can edit. It is also a community of editors. Assignments should be designed to work with the community and not to overwhelm them.
Academic assignments, such as student essays, are designed to help the student learn and to enable their learning achievement and new abilities to be assessed. In academia, this may often involve demonstrating familiarity with the primary literature, seminal papers, and the latest research. It may also involve developing an original argument. This conflicts with Wikipedia's policies on original research, use of primary sources and encourages a bias towards recent tentative discoveries and new concepts yet to be established. Academics should ensure that assignments fit Wikipedia policy and culture and understand the differing requirements.
Unlike a typical student essay, an article on Wikipedia may be viewed thousands of times every day. The most important thing to Wikipedia is that those articles are worth reading, not what grade the student gets.