Wikipedia:Weeding Wild Wikipedia

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The most meaningful and important thing anyone can do to contribute to Wikipedia is to write a long, accurate, well-referenced, meaty article.

But it's also very important to do "Wikipedia weeding" and other maintenance tasks--particularly when we have disproportionate influxes of new people who are eagerly, willy-nilly, contributing scads of new entries. We love these people, but some of them need teaching. (Not all of them. Some of them are instantly, enormously useful and start doing some weeding themselves!) Wikipedia weeding consists essentially of checking over work and making small but important edits and, occasionally, adding comments and questions. Here, for your edification, is some advice on how to perform Wikipedia weeding yourself. (Feel free to edit this!)

  • Be familiar with the common mistakes users make.
  • The Recent Changes page. It's most effective to weed based on what comes up on Recent Changes. People are looking to see what other people have done to their articles; this is a prime opportunity to teach by example (and nothing could be more "wiki" than teaching by example). One can also weed by repeatedly following the Random Page link and working on whatever comes up. This can be fun!
  • Look for new names and IP numbers. It sounds like anti-newbieism to say so, and apologies to the new folks, but very often the people who add the most dross to the project are the newest people, who are not signed in. One of the finest services you can perform is follow these people around and clean up after them. But, in explaining your changes (if necessary), we do not want to make them feel unwelcome; please be as gentle as you can with them.
  • Bad titles. Titles can be improperly capitalized (should be lower case unless the word in the title is always capitalized), and they can be ambiguous. It can help to tell people to study naming conventions. If you don't know where a page should be located, you could simply append a small italicized note at the end of the page, or on a talk page. If you do know where the article should be located, make a redirection page.
  • Have Wikipedia:boilerplate text on hand and save yourself typing with useful snippets of standard text
  • Presentation Be aware of the Wikipedia:Manual of Style. For example:
    • The start of articles. Generally, Wikipedia articles begin with the subject of the article in bold, and part of a full sentence. There's a somewhat annoying tendency on the part of some to repeat the subject of an article by itself on its own line (it's already at the top of the page). Others make the first words of the article a partial sentence. So some of us (compulsively) convert such entries to begin with full sentences, with the subject of the article in bold. See G. E. Moore for an example of how this is done.
    • Articles made to look like dictionary definitions. Some people confuse Wikipedia, which is an encyclopedia, with a dictionary. They add entries that have different senses of the title word numbered and briefly defined--as if we were writing a dictionary (which we are not) and we needed to number the senses. As of early 2002, we have had parentheses working, which will help the disambiguation problem. For example, see Sting (Middle-earth). Anyway, an appropriate approach to such entries is to remove the numbers, in most cases simply delete, or move to Wiktionary, non-articles (i.e., mere definitions that will never become encyclopedia articles), properly format the separate articles on the page, and put lines between them.
  • Copyediting. It might be unfair and silly, but Wikipedia is going to be judged based on how well we spell, punctuate, etc. So we should clean articles up that way. Blatant copyediting mistakes are, even if trivial, nevertheless indefensible. (See also Wikipedia:Typo if you like correcting spelling errors.)
  • Fix bad links. Some new contributors, caught up in the excitement (and who can blame them), wikify everything in sight, including plurals, capitalized words that shouldn't be capitalized, ambiguous words and surnames only, etc. So it's a good idea to either fix or remove those bad links.
  • Remove patent nonsense, etc. Sometimes we have the duty of simply deleting entire sentences and even paragraphs. This has to be done carefully, though, of course. Sometimes it's just vandalism, and no excuses need to be made to remove that. Sometimes it's something that seems to have been written by a 14-year-old whose main concern is to express excitement about a hobby, but conveys literally zero information. The possibilities of useless text, indeed, are endless. Another possibility is completely, blatantly biased stuff. Wikipedia weeders should be very familiar with the neutral point of view policy. If we lack the time to correct the bias, and if the bias is extreme, but the content is useful, we move it to a talk page and say "this needs to be de-biased" or something like that. Ax-grinders have no legitimate demands on the time of other contributors; other contributors shouldn't be asked to spend inordinate amounts of time debiasing other people's text.
  • Check for and if necessary remove copyrighted stuff. Dealing with copyright issues is more an art than a science. Basically, if some new person (or a person who hasn't signed in) writes some fantastic prose, we instantly copy a string of four or five words from it and, in quotes, see if Google recognizes it. If so, we check on the source page for a copyright notice. If there is no indication that the text is public domain or released under the GNU FDL, we either remove the text on the spot, giving the URL where we found the text on a talk page, or perhaps (maybe if there's some question) we append a note asking where it came from, or whether it's copyrighted, etc. If we receive no reply, we delete the text. Wikipedia can't afford the liability risk.
  • Light content editing. If, while doing the above, you come across some statement that you can make factually correct, or you can add some essential piece of information or remove some clear error, etc., do it.

When there are large influxes of traffic, it is very important that old hands be engaged in this sort of weeding. It is, again, probably not the most important way one can use one's time on Wikipedia (there are many ways to help, of course)--but it is definitely essential work. If we don't do it, Wikipedia is going to start looking more and more like Everything2, which would surely be a great tragedy.

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