Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Building a stronger encyclopedia/Better articles: A systematic approach

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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (Discuss)

Most of the first 17 chapters of this book offered you an assortment of how-to advice on improving Wikipedia articles. Now it's time to tie all that advice together, and to fill in some of the gaps.

If you're a less experienced editor, this chapter can serve as a detailed checklist. When you're looking at an article you want to improve, you have a step-by-step process for going from the top to the bottom of that article. For experienced editors, the section headings in this chapter can serve as a reminder of everything that goes into making a good Wikipedia article.

This chapter is particularly intended for articles that are short and/or relatively unsourced. It also contains a lot of advice about minimizing disagreements with other editors—a good idea even if you're working on an article where other editors are scarce to non-existent. Consider the advice about disagreements as safety insurance, in case a cranky fellow editor comes out of the woodwork.

Finding articles to improve[edit]

If you want to improve articles on Wikipedia, but don't have any particular article in mind, where do you start? There are many places you can look to find articles in need of improvement.

  • Articles listed by WikiProjects and collaborations (Chapter 9: WikiProjects and other group efforts). You can find WikiProjects you might be interested in at Wikipedia:WikiProject Council/Directory (shortcut WP:PROJDIR). You don't have to join (list your name) in order to participate. One nice thing about such projects is you have backup if you run into problems.
  • Category:Stub categories has stub articles neatly sorted by category. Find something you're interested in—your state or province, a hobby, an area of science, whatever—and jump to that spot in the index. But be selective—many stubs don't have the potential to ever be really good articles.
  • A list with more promising articles than the one for stubs (but less well-sorted) is Category:All articles to be expanded. Consider using the category intersection tool, at the page Wikipedia:CatScan, to find articles that need expanding, in a topical category that interests you.
  • Other lists of articles that need work can be found under Category:Wikipedia cleanup (shortcut: CAT:CLN) and Category:Wikipedia maintenance (shortcut: CAT:M). These are organised into a hierarchy by the type of work that is needed, and often sub-categorised by month as well. Again, the category intersection tool can be used with any of these lists to find articles that need improvement in a category that interests you.
  • At Special:NewPages you can watch Wikipedia grow, and see if anything brand-new looks interesting to you. It's best to pick something not highlighted in yellow. Those articles are new and not yet reviewed—marked as patrolled—by an editor. If you stick to the non-highlighted articles, you can pick an article that at least one other editor thought was worth keeping. The list also includes a number of articles marked for speedy deletion, as discussed in Chapter 20: Customizing with preferences—don't work on those, of course. And double- and triple-check to make sure the article you work on doesn't already exist under another name.
  • Ask User:SuggestBot to suggest some articles for you to work on.
  • Click "Random article" in the left side bar to go to a random article. Most articles need improvement of some sort, so you should find you can work on after just a few clicks on this link. This technique is described by the page Wikipedia:Random page patrol (shortcut: WP:RANPP).

Avoid surprises[edit]

You don't want to spend time researching and editing an article, and then discover (or be told about) something that sharply reduces the value of much or all of what you've done. Here's a list of questions to ask yourself, to avoid unpleasant surprises:

  • Has the article been vandalized? Check for both recent edits and for edits in the past that removed a large chunk of good information. If the vandalism is recent, revert it, or use the good information to improve the article.
Chapter 5: Who did what: Page histories and reverting discussed how to use the article history page to analyze what's happened recently. You can check for the second issue—missing material—by looking at whether the size of the article has decreased (a sharp drop in byte count). Vandals and POVers do remove good content and don't always get caught. If you're planning to spend a couple of hours on an article, take a minute or two to glance at older versions of the article. If it's been stable or showing accumulating information, with no signs of vandalism, go right ahead and continue working on it.
  • Is the article a massive copyright infringement? If so, revert to a version without the copyright problem, or, if it started out life that way, nominate it for speedy deletion (under criterion G12, as discussed in the section about speedy deletion).
If the article links only to the one company or product or Web site most closely associated with the topic, then click that link to see if that's where most of the text was taken from. Warning signs of copyright infringements include: The article was created relatively recently; it has a concentrated number of edits from an editor who has done little else beside this article; it reads like something taken from a company or organization marketing Web page. If any of these apply, go to the page history, find a large chunk of added text, and then do a Web search for that text. Most results will probably be Wikipedia mirror sites, but you may get lucky and find the real Web site with the text on it. Bingo—copyright infringement. (For more information, see the page Wikipedia:Spotting possible copyright violations—shortcut WP:SPCV.)
  • Does the article have an unsolvable problem with sourcing? Does it have no sources, or only bad sources (blogs, Web sites that can't be considered reliable sources, and so on), or a mixture of bad and incorrectly used sources? (For example, it cites a newspaper article which mentions the Wikipedia topic only very briefly, because the article is really about something else.) If the article has no sources or poor ones, and you can't find any reliable ones, the topic may not be notable enough for Wikipedia.
Even if you think the topic is notable, if the article is essentially lacking any reliable source, search the Web. If you can't find anything, you need to dig deeper, or turn to Chapter 19: Deleting existing articles on deleting articles.
Tip:
Also remember WP:NOT, that Wikipedia isn't a dictionary. Dictionary definitions, no matter how well cited, are still dictionary definitions. Consider moving the definition to Wiktionary (see the section about alternatives to deletion).
  • Does the article already exist under another name? The longer an article has been around, the less likely that it's a duplicate, but if it's less than a couple months old, use your favorite search engine to do a quick domain-restricted search, such as this:
blue-footed booby site:en.wikipedia.org

Such a search helps you figure out whether it's a duplicate or whether there are other Wikipedia articles that should link to the one you're working on. If so, add the wikilinks.

If you do find another article that largely duplicates the one you're planning to work on, then you need to read the page Wikipedia:Merging (shortcut: WP:MERGE) and do, or propose, a merger. And if you're bold and actually do the merger, wait a couple of days before starting to edit the merged article, to see if other editors show up to oppose what you've done. (For more on merging, see the section about merging.)
  • Is the article the center of disagreements? If you decide to work on a controversial article, you may spend more time negotiating with other editors than editing the article. The article history (lots of reverts, full protection because of an edit dispute, and so on) and the article talk page should make clear how controversial an article is. Also check the history of the article talk page, for any active discussions.
The fact that an article's contents are being vigorously disputed isn't necessarily a reason to work on something else. It just means that you must be extra careful with your edits, and be willing to spend as much time as necessary discussing changes with editors who may have ownership issues; see the guideline Wikipedia:Ownership of articles (shortcut WP:OWN). If you have doubts, consider working on something else. (There's plenty—see the next box about finding noncontroversial articles.)
Finding noncontroversial articles

With over 4,000,000 articles to choose from, you don't have to get stuck working on one that comes with contentious editors. Although Wikipedia needs editors who are willing to work on such articles, constructively working with editors who may not be as open to change as they should be, sometimes you just don't need the stress. You can work on non-controversial articles, avoid frustration and burnout, and still make a valuable contribution to Wikipedia.

There are many relatively dispute-free zones with plenty of articles that need work. Just look back to the previous section on Finding articles to improve, and pick another article to work on.

Don't suppress or separate controversy[edit]

People have different ideas about what they believe is true. That's a good thing. Discussing controversial issues makes articles—and life—more interesting. It's not your job as a Wikipedia editor to decide the truth about a subject: What's fair, what happened, who's responsible, who's to blame, or whatever. It's your job, however, to let the reader know that a point has been publicly debated, if the debate itself was newsworthy.

The issue of reliable sources is more relevant than ever when controversies are involved. You should ignore, for example, a self-published book attacking the theory of gravity. It isn't citable in and of itself, though you might include it in the biographical article of its author, if the author was notable. On the other hand, if there are a number of major newspaper articles about the book, then the controversy (as reported in the newspapers) is worth mentioning. (See Wikipedia:Fringe theories—shortcut WP:FRINGE—for details.)

When citing controversy or criticism, integrate it into the article. Suppose a politician had a major role in getting a particular controversial policy implemented. If you describe that policy in one section of the article ("Accomplishments") and put criticisms of the policy together with other criticisms of that politician in a separate section, you harm the narrative of the article. It's easy to throw all the negative stuff into one section of an article, or even spin it off as a separate article (see the next box on 'Criticism of' articles), but it's a disservice to the reader.

Separate "Criticism of" articles

Wikipedia has about 60 articles whose titles begin "Criticism of." The governing guideline for such articles is Wikipedia:Content forking (shortcut: WP:POVFORK), which states "There is no consensus whether a 'Criticism of...' article is always a POV fork. At least the 'Criticism of...' article should contain rebuttals if available, and the original article should contain a summary of the 'Criticism of...' article."

The existence of these articles shouldn't be taken as justifying a separate "Criticism of" section in an article. Rather, it shows the relatively few times where criticisms have been numerous and varied, and editors have chosen not to include these in the main articles.

Reorganize and edit existing content[edit]

Chapter 10: Resolving content disputes was entirely about content disagreements among editors—how to minimize them and how to resolve them. When there are other editors very interested in an article, any major change might be met with skepticism, if not outright opposition. If you're working on a really bad article that needs a major overhauling, you have three choices:

  • Make series of incremental changes to the article.
  • Make specific proposals on the article talk page.
  • Rewrite the article in your user space, or a subpage of the article talk page, and discuss that rewrite on the article talk page.

This section discusses the first approach, which is generally quicker to implement, and well-suited for articles without active editors who may oppose a major overhauling. It has the advantage of being easier for other editors (who may just be checking the changes to make sure they're not vandalism) to follow what you're doing, and thus to maintain the assumption of good faith (shortcut: WP:AGF) that you're not trying to slip something by other editors.

Warning:
Don't reorganize a major, established article (one that has lots of edits in the article history, lots of comments on the talk page, lots of interested editors, and so on) by simply starting to edit it. The organization of such an article represents a consensus, albeit an informal one. You should post advance notice on the talk (discussion) page about anything you'd like to do that's more major than shuffling a few subsections around.

Reorganize[edit]

The first step in overhauling an article is to move information around so it's better organized. In this step, don't add or delete any text except headings. If that means a section ends up being lengthy because of a lot of redundant information, that's okay at this stage of changing the article. Some specifics:

  • The goal here is to create a better structure for the article. By not deleting any information, other editors can focus on whether or not the organization is better, rather than arguing about additions or deletions. Your goal at this point isn't to get sections to read smoothly; just to cut and paste information to get it into the right section or subsection.
  • Don't put or keep controversies and criticisms in a separate section. Instead, integrate them into the article.
  • Don't forget the lead section. It should be a short introduction and summary, not long and filled with content not found in the rest of the article. Either move excess information out of the summary, or, if you think editors may be particularly attached to the lead section as is, copy all excess information to where it should be, and deal with cleaning up the lead section later in the process.
  • Use headings and subheadings to indicate the direction you think the article should go. Short sections are fine, but you need at least a paragraph to justify a heading. Don't add headings if there's no content for a section, and don't add content in order to justify a heading.
  • In your edit summary, explain what you did. It's very important to clearly state that you were reorganizing the article, and that nothing was added or deleted.
  • You have missing sections or subsections after you finish your edit, as well as missing citations and added content. That's okay—this is an incremental process. Each step adds value, but the article isn't finished until all the steps are complete.
On consensus and ownership

Among the worst defenders of the status quo are those who believe that consensus needs to be established before any change to an article. That's a total misreading of Wikipedia rules, especially Be bold (shortcut: WP:BB), which encourages editors to make changes whenever there seems to be a good reason to do so.

In one clear case, changing an article without discussion is inappropriate: when the specific change in question has been fought over previously, and there was either no consensus, or rough consensus against the change. In that case, the edit is either out of ignorance (hence the advice in the section about avoiding surprises to read the talk page of an article before starting to overhaul it) or it's disruptive editing.

If you reorganize an article and another editor then reverts the change because consensus was not established, revert it back (just once) with See talk/discussion page in the edit summary. Then, on the talk/discussion page, restate what you were doing and that you didn't add or delete any text. Point out that the page Help:Reverting says, "Do not revert good faith edits", and that you were editing in good faith. Also invite editors who have any specific problems with your reorganization to state them, so that a consensus on the organization of the article can be reached. Then wait a day or two, and, if no one speaks up with anything major, proceed to the next step—rewriting (see the next section). (If anyone raises objections, see Chapter 10: Resolving content disputes, which discusses content disputes.)

Rewrite[edit]

Once you've got a good organization for an article, even if it's incomplete, you want to switch to editing section by section. Section-by-section editing assuages suspicions by letting other others clearly see what you're doing. Moreover, if someone objects to an edit of one section, that objection doesn't impact the improvements you're making to other sections.

The goal in this second step is to make the best of the text that already exists, and to do so in as non-controversial a manner as possible. Fix one section, save the edit, go on to another section, save the edit, and so on—don't do multiple sections in a single edit. Here are some rewriting tips:

  • Remove duplicate information. You often find the same sentence, or variants of it, in multiple places in the article. You don't need to say something twice, so remove one of them.
Note:
Don't remove citations at this point. If you end up with two (or more) citations for the same sentence, so be it.
  • Don't add information. Add bridging or transitional text where needed ("Back in India," or "For example,"), but don't add anything that needs a source, since you're not adding citations at this step. Moreover, since you're deleting information (see the next point), other editors are less likely to object if it's clear that your goal isn't to replace their text with yours.
  • Put the remaining information into a logical sequence, and copyedit for encyclopedic tone. That may require removing entire unverifiable sentences (for example, "Smith was admired and respected by all his friends and neighbors."). Just don't delete any information that seems plausible, though unsourced. Someone might still find a verifiable source.
Removing an unverifiable sentence could mean removing an unacceptable source for that sentence, such as a blog. That's fine—the problem and its problem source are really one and the same.
  • Make sure your edit summary explains what you're doing. When you rewrite a section, your edit summary should explain what you did and, ideally, provide a pointer to policy; for example, Cleanup per [[WP:NPOV]] and [[WP:V]]; no new content was added.

After you do rewrites as outlined in this section, you can expect that the only challenges to your edits—other than other editors tinkering with them a bit—is perhaps a complaint or two about removed information. If you were careful to remove only unverifiable, unsourced information, complaints are unlikely. But if other editors object, refer them to WP:V and ask them to explain how the information you removed is consistent with those policies, or just ask them for a good source so you can put the information back.

Note:
Some Wikipedia articles include text, images, or links that many people find objectionable. If these are relevant to the content of the article, then they belong in the article. Nor does Wikipedia use disclaimers. There is no child-safe version of Wikipedia; editors who support such a concept should to try to get a change made to the policy WP:NOT, which includes a section called "Wikipedia is not censored".

Don't take article scope as a given[edit]

You've picked an article, started in on it, and discovered that it's getting too long, or one part of it is getting too long. Or, alternatively, you don't believe can build it up into something reasonably good. If so, rethink the article's scope. You don't have to accept what you found, when you started on the article, as the definitive boundaries of the article's scope.

Too much content: Spinoffs[edit]

The section about creating daughter articles in Chapter 13 explains how to spin off a section of an article into a new article. That's the way to go when a section becomes too long and is about a subject notable enough for an article of its own. Keep this concept in mind as you work on any article: If a section becomes so long that it unbalances an article, if it's truly notable and not a collection of minor facts—spin it off.

Overlapping content: Merging[edit]

Say that you've starting working on the article Thingabobbery, and you notice that another article, Thingabboberists (about the professionals who do thingabobbery for a living), has a lot of overlap in content. Moreover, there aren't a lot of articles about one that don't discuss the other.

Wikipedia has a standard solution for overlapping articles—merge them. Merging is a normal editing action, something any editor can do. You're not required to propose it to other editors, and you don't have to ask an administrator to help you do it. If you think merging something improves Wikipedia, you can be bold and just do it. Still, if you think the merger is going to be controversial, then you should propose it (see the section about proposing mergers) rather than risk starting a fight (and wasting your time) by just going ahead.

Doing a merge[edit]

Merging is straightforward:

1. Pick one of the two articles to be the survivor.

In general, choose the better known of the two words or phrases. Using a search engine to see the number of results is a good way to find out.

2. Cut and paste material from the doomed article to the surviving article. In the edit summary, put Moving content from [[Name of other article]], in preparation for merger.

Only add content that isn't already in the surviving article. Don't worry much about getting the wording right—just bring any new material across. When in doubt, copy more rather than less.

3. Now that you've copied what you need, delete all text from the article that isn't going to survive, and change it to a redirect. Save it with an edit summary like Changing to a redirect; article merged into [[Name of surviving article]].

See the section about creating a redirect for full instructions on doing redirects.

4. Check the talk (discussion) page of the article that's now a redirect. If any sections have active discussions (say, ones with a posting in the past week), copy those sections to the talk page of the surviving article.

Include a note at the top of each section, just below the heading, mentioning the merger and the name of the page from which the section was copied.
Note:
While you could make the talk (discussion) page of the non-surviving article into a redirect, there's no harm in leaving it as is. Any editor thinking about posting there is going to notice that the related article page is a redirect.

After the merger's done, clean up the surviving article. See "Reorganize and edit existing content" earlier in this chapter for tips.

Proposing a merger[edit]

If you don't want to merge two or more articles yourself, propose a merger by placing a merger template at the top of each article. There are different templates depending on whether you propose to:

The page Wikipedia:Merging (shortcut: WP:MERGE) has details.

Any merge templates you add must link to a section of a single article talk page, where you'll start a discussion of the proposed merger. Before you post the templates, start that new section on that talk page, explaining your reasons for suggesting a merger. Also add a listing to the page Wikipedia:Proposed mergers (shortcut: WP:PM).

After that, you wait. If you want to speed up the process, you can post a note on the user talk pages of the major or recent contributors to the articles, noting that a merger has been proposed to an article they've contributed to, with a link to the article talk page where you posted your reasons.

If there's clear agreement with the proposal by consensus or silence, then you can proceed with the merger. Consensus means that no one, or a small minority, has opposed the merger; silence means you've waited a week and no one has responded. If you get a limited response, with no clear consensus, then consider following the process for content disagreements as laid out in Chapter 10: Resolving content disputes.

Too little content: Merging[edit]

Sometimes there just might not be much information about a topic, or a topic is only mentioned in the context of a larger grouping. One example would be an article about a small island that's part of a large, notable chain of islands. If you can find only a couple of newsworthy paragraphs about the small island, or isolated incidents that you really can't tie together, then consider merging the information about this small island into the article on the chain. Moreover, look at any articles about other small islands in the chain, and consider those for merging as well. And where a small island in the chain doesn't have an article, consider creating a redirect for it so that editors, in the future, go to the article on the chain.

Of course, in the future there may be a large, newsworthy resort on the small island, and content about it may be spun off from the article about the chain, into a separate article. In the meantime, however, it does readers no good to have a bunch of short articles scattered throughout Wikipedia, when collecting them together could make a reasonable article. Go where available sources of information lead you—don't create or keep an article just because, sometime in the future, someone may write a book about it and provide content to make it larger.

Improve the citation of sources[edit]

Chapter 2: Documenting your sources, starting at the section about citing sources, discusses how to properly cite sources, as well as what sources are acceptable. For each existing source in the article, go through a three-step process to determine if it's salvageable and, if so, improve it. This section goes through the three options in detail:

  • If there's a bad URL, try to fix it.
  • Determine whether the source is verifiable and reliable (see WP:V and WP:RS). If not, determine if it can be easily replaced. If not, delete it.
  • If the source is reliable but not formatted properly, convert it into a correctly formatted footnote with full information.
Note:
While your goal is to convert all embedded links (the ones that look like this: "[1]") to footnotes, you might want to avoid the temptation of starting by putting <ref> tags around them to immediately convert them to footnotes. It's easier to work with sources section by section, and if you create footnotes, the URLs go down to the bottom of the page, where you can't see them when previewing a section.

Fixing bad URLs[edit]

Links go bad: A link that worked on the day it was added to an article may not work a month or a year later. That's why full citations are so critical: If the URL stops working, the citation—to a magazine, newspaper, or other source available offline—is still acceptable, because it's still verifiable.

Unfortunately, you're often looking at a source that consists only of a URL. So your challenge is to find where the content moved to, or to get a copy. Here's a step-by-step process:

  • If the URL were working, would the source be acceptable? For example, if the link is to a page at BloggersOnFire.com or at ExtremistRant.net, you can probably use it only if the article is about the Web site or the organization behind it, or a notable author of posts at the site. Most of the time, you have to discard it.
As discussed in the next section, a link to an unacceptable source can sometimes lead you to an acceptable source. But here, if the source is unacceptable, you're facing a double problem: First you've got to figure out a fix for the bad URL, and then you've got to get lucky and have that lead you to another, acceptable source. In such a case, you're justified in only doing a few, not particularly time-consuming things to try to fix the URL. You need not invest a lot of time in something that probably has no payoff.
  • Can I find a substitute source? For example, Reuters stories are removed from the Web after 30 days, but if the subject was a national story, you're likely to find it at the New York Times, which provides full access to the last 20 years of its archives at no cost. Select some key words from the sentence just before the URL, and do a Web search, if the facts involve recent events. Or just head for NYTimes.com for a replacement URL and a full citation.
  • Does the bad link go to a newspaper site? If that's the case, it typically gets redirected to the front page. The story of interest has probably been archived and now simply has a different URL. Search the archives, even if you know you have to pay to see the full story. Your goal is to get a URL that's the free abstract or free initial paragraph of the news story, to replace the old URL and create a full citation.
  • Does the bad link go to an existing Web site? If the site doesn't hide its old content behind an internal search engine, as many newspaper sites do, then the content you're looking for may still exist at a different URL, and you can find it using a search engine. For example, if you're working on an article about "Joe Bfystlat" and the site is NukesForPeace.org, try a domain-restricted search like "Joe Bfystlat" site: NukesForPeace.org to turn up any existing pages.
  • Does the bad link go to a now-defunct Web site? If so, or if it's to a missing page on a Web site that still exists, try the Internet Archive (also known as the Wayback Machine), at www.archive.org.
  • If entering the full URL doesn't yield any results, try trimming it. (For example, trim www.example.org/Level1/Level2/detail.htm to be www.example.org/Level1/Level2/; if that doesn't work, try www.example/.com/Level1/.) If you do find a copy, see the page Wikipedia:Using the Wayback Machine (shortcut: WP:WBM) on how to cite the page.

Replacing or deleting unacceptable sources[edit]

You're improving citations to make sure all remaining ones are acceptable per WP:V and WP:RS. So you need to replace each bad source with a good one. If you can't find a good one, you should still delete the bad source. Here are three approaches to finding a replacement:

  • If you've got a functioning URL to a source that isn't acceptable (a blog, forum, or personal Web page, for example), see if that Web page has a link to an acceptable source. For example, a blog often has a link to the news story the blogger's writing about, a link you can follow. Then simply replace the unacceptable URL with the better one, and finish fixing the citation.
  • Blogs often quote part of a news story or document without providing a link. If that story or document is what you're looking for, then search the Web for part of the quoted text. Pick a group of five or six consecutive words that's a bit unusual in some way, and search that, putting quotation marks around the words so the search engine looks for them in exactly that sequence.
  • Finally, as mentioned previously, if the unacceptable source is discussing a news story that got national coverage, look up the story on the New York Times or search Google News (http://news.google.com), and then use that as a replacement.
Note:
Remember, an acceptable source doesn't have to be online. If you have easy access to a microfiche copy of old newspapers in your home town, for example, you can use that information for a citation. Wikipedia prefers online sources when available, but there's no exclusionary rule.

If you've made a good faith effort to find a replacement for an unacceptable source, and weren't successful, then delete the source, with a brief explanation in the edit summary about what you tried.

Converting embedded links to footnotes[edit]

Once you have an acceptable source, change whatever was in the article (typically just a URL) to a fully formatted citation—a footnote. Chapter 2: Documenting your sources discusses citations in depth, with instructions on formatting footnotes in the section about creating footnotes.

Tip:
If you cite a source more than once in an article, or if the source looks like a promising place to get information for the article later, then make the footnote for that source into a named footnote. As the leading tag, use, for example, <ref name="AJJones">, where the author is A. J. Jones, rather than just <ref>.

Build the web[edit]

Since Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia, articles don't exist in isolation. By building links into and out of the article you're working on, you not only do a service for readers, but you also increase the chances that other editors will come across the article you're working on, and add their contributions. Wikipedia editors call adding wikilinks building the web.

Here are specific ways for you to build the web:

  • Link words in the article to other articles. For example, link jargon and technical terms to articles that explain them. Link words that lead to related articles, especially about organizations, people, and places. Link common words used in a technical or uncommon way. But don't overlink, as discussed in the box about when to link.
When you add links, check to make sure they don't end up at disambiguation pages (the section about disambiguation pages). While someone will eventually fix them, they defeat most of the purpose of linking in the first place. (You can also link to just a single section of an article, as described in the section about section links.)
  • Red links are an opportunity, not a problem. If you think there should be an article about something, but there isn't, create the wikilink anyway. If the wikilink turns red, showing that such an article doesn't exist, then check the spelling (a Google search is good) and recheck the capitalization (except for the very first letter, it matters in Wikipedia page names).
If you find there's a relevant article in Wikipedia but under a different name, click the red link so you can create a redirect (the section about creating a redirect page), and then change the wikilink in your article so it points directly to the new article.
Note:
Don't delete red links if you can't find an existing Wikipedia article for the wikilink. A red link is an invitation for an editor to create the article. The page Wikipedia:Most wanted articles (shortcut WP:MWA) lists nonexistent pages with more than 20 wikilinks pointing to them.
  • Check incoming links. You find these by going to the toolbox at the left side of the screen, and clicking the "What links here" link. Treat this list as possible outgoing wikilinks to add to your article, although you're not required to do so. These articles are also places to check for good sources that you might use in the article you're working on.
  • Consider linking to this article by editing other articles. If the article you're working on has an outgoing wikilink to another article, and that other article doesn't link back (as shown in the list of incoming links), then perhaps it should. You may be able to expand that other article slightly, with a sentence or so, and an additional wikilink. (You can link the article to WikiProjects by editing the article talk page; see the box about linking to WikiProjects.)
  • Add categories. Categories tie articles together in a way that readers find useful. See the section about adding category links for details.
  • Create or add to the "See also" section. Per the guideline Wikipedia:Layout (shortcut: WP:GTL), the "See also" section "provides an additional list of internal links to other articles in Wikipedia that are related to this one as a navigational aid." The "See also" section shouldn't duplicate links already in the article. It's for linking to subjects closely related to the article.
Linking to WikiProjects

One of the purposes of building the web is to increase the chances that other editors will come across the article you're working on, and add their contributions. You can also further increase such chances if you make sure that the article talk page has templates that mark the article as of interest to the relevant WikiProjects.

If you find one or more WikiProject templates already on the talk page, no problem—look to see if you can add another. If you see none at all, then go to the page Wikipedia:WikiProject Council/Directory (shortcut: WP:PROJDIR), find one or more relevant projects (often both a geographical WikiProject and non-geographical one), and add their templates to the article talk page.

Look for guidance and examples[edit]

Before you start adding sourced content, look for roadmaps to help you decide where to put citations and format text. There are several possibilities:

  • Check the Manual of Style (shortcut: WP:MOS) for topical guidelines. For example, the guideline Wikipedia:Manual of Style (Japan-related articles) might apply to your article.
  • Check the relevant WikiProjects (see the Directory of WikiProjects, shortcut: WP:PROJDIR). Sometimes they have guidelines for articles.
  • Look for a featured article (FA) on a similar topic. You might find a Featured Article or a Good Article close to your topic listed at the WikiProjects you've checked for guidelines. Or select one of the two dozen grouping of FAs at the page Wikipedia:Featured articles (WP:FA), and see if it includes a useful article. (If nothing else, you'll probably get an appropriate listbox template to use.)

Add sourced content[edit]

If an article doesn't have sources, it's pointless to spend a lot of time working on the organization or writing. The article may get deleted for lack of reliable sources, so you may be just rearranging junk in a garage so it looks aesthetically pleasing. Instead, devote your time to finding sources. If an article has little content, you need sources that provide more content. If an article has lots of unsourced statements, you need to find sources to do one of three things:

  • Support those statements, so you can keep them in.
  • Contradict those statements, so you have justification to delete them (by adding cited information that says the opposite).
  • Provide enough new content to supplant those statements, so you can move them to the article talk page, and invite others to add them back when they find sources.

Chapter 2: Documenting your sources discussed how to add content, and listed a number of places on Wikipedia that can help you find it. Here are some additional considerations to think about as you look for and add content:

  • Don't just use a search engine. There are lots of places to find sources. Chapter 4, on new articles, has a comprehensive list (see the section about resources for writing articles). Most good articles aren't built just by using a search engine like Google. Among the most valuable sources are online databases of articles available through schools and libraries.
  • Edit one section at a time, not the entire article, if you anticipate objections. If there's any possibility that other editors who have worked on the article in the past few months may have concerns about your edits, you'll make their lives much easier if you edit section by section. They'll also be less inclined to object if they see what you're doing, which means taking an organized, methodical approach. It's also easier if editors can discuss objections in the context of a section, not the whole article.
Alternatively, you can copy the information in one section to another place (a subpage of yours, or totally off Wikipedia), edit it there, and then bring it in as a new chunk of information.
Note:
For articles with lots of editing ongoing by other editors, working on a copy of a section usually isn't a good approach. When you plop down your new version of that section, you overwrite anything that happened since you made your copy. So restrict this approach to articles that are relatively orphaned, where you're not competing with other editors who are constantly changing information.
  • Stay on topic. The most readable articles contain no irrelevant or only loosely relevant information. While writing an article, you might find yourself digressing into a side subject. If you find yourself wandering off-topic, consider placing the additional information into a different article, where it fits more closely with the topic. If you provide a link to the other article, readers who are interested in the side topic have the option of digging into it, but readers who are not interested won't be distracted by it.
  • Don't use a huge percentage of material from a single source as content for an article. For example, don't add more than five to 15 percent of the information in a single source (like a newspaper article) to a Wikipedia article. Don't have 90 percent of the information in a Wikipedia article come from a single book.
If you find yourself struggling with this issue, reconsider how notable the subject is, and whether a really long article is appropriate. For some subjects, you can say everything important in less than 10 or 15 paragraphs. Or you may decide that you're going to have to dig deeper into the resources available to you—ask your local library to order for you some books not in its collection, or go online at the library to get to specialized collections.
  • Keep length and balance in mind. If a section gets too long, split it into subsections. If it becomes clear from the sources you're using that a particular aspect of the article is notable in its own right (because you keep finding good content), spin that off as its own article (see "Don't take article scope as a given" earlier in this chapter), rather than bulking out a section or pruning it back severely to fit with the rest of the article.
  • If you're an expert, avoid temptations. You know this stuff cold, so you don't really need sources, right? Wrong. Yes, it's tedious to look up things you learned 20 years ago, but things may have changed since then. In any case, remember that the goal of Wikipedia isn't to contain all human knowledge—it's to provide a starting point for readers, to get them interested enough in the topic that they'll consider reading the cited sources as well. They can't go get more information if you don't tell them where they can do so. And, as a bonus, if you cite your sources, other editors don't have to rely on your word that you're an expert.
A second temptation is to cite your published writings as a source. That's considered by many editors to be a violation of Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline (see WP:COI for details). It puts you into the awkward position of having to judge whether your own work is a reliable source. (Is the publication peer-reviewed? Is that small publisher really anything other than a vanity press?)

If a section, when you're done with it, is clearly superior in terms of the amount of information and the number of sources cited, you're much less likely to run into opposition. Well-documented information is the nirvana of Wikipedia. It's also wonderful point-of-view-repellent when other editors have strong opinions about a subject.

Remove cruft and duplication[edit]

Once you've added a bunch of good stuff—content and sources—then you're in a much better position to remove content that doesn't add materially to the article. Some editors call such useless information cruft, and most readers hate it. Furthermore, per WP:NPOV, giving undue space to any particular aspect of a topic is a violation of the neutral point of view. It may be worth mentioning that someone has eight honorary degrees, but a list of them all is pure cruft.

  • Remove trivia. Trivia, by definition, is not encyclopedic. Editors frequently remove trivia sections, sometimes pasting the content to the article talk page. If a trivia section happens to contain any important facts, you can work them into the rest of the article. Sometimes trivia sections masquerade under the names "Other facts", "Miscellaneous", and "In popular culture." For details, see the guideline Wikipedia:Trivia sections (shortcut WP:TRIVIA).
  • Remove unnecessary links in the "See also" section. As mentioned in the section about the bottom of an article, this section should ideally not repeat links already present in the article. At a minimum, make sure it has no links to articles that are only vaguely related to the topic, or articles that don't exist yet.
  • Remove unnecessary duplication among sections that list sources. A "Further reading" section, if there is one, shouldn't contain any sources used as citations—those are already in the "References" section. Nor should it include anything also in the "External links" section, or the body of the article (for example, books written by the article's subject).
There should be minimal duplication between the "External links" section and the "References" section. In general, if something is cited as a source, it shouldn't also be listed in "External links". (The reader can figure out, if there's a blue link in a footnote with an icon indicating it's not a wikilink, that it's an external link.) The exception to the "no duplication" rule is Web sites identified with the subject of the article—an organization's Web site, a politician's campaign Web site, a celebrity's official publicity page, and so on. Readers expect to find these things at the top of the "External links" section, so they don't have to search through footnotes for them. Other than that, however, duplication is not only pointless, but gives undue weight to links listed twice over those only listed once.

Get the wording right[edit]

Wikipedia has a very large number of rules about wording, including spelling. Here's the quick summary:

  • All the standard rules about good writing apply. If you didn't do well in English classes, don't worry, since other editors will edit (and, generally, improve) what you write. You can consider working on parts of Wikipedia that put less emphasis on writing skills. Good writing—smoothly flowing, interesting, and informative—is one of Wikipedia's goals, so it's always appreciated. So is good copyediting (see WP:COPYEDIT).
  • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a soapbox. Opinions—even yours—come from knowing the facts, so the best thing you can do is let readers see those facts, and decide for themselves. If making a particular statement is really important to you, find an acceptable source that says it (as a fact), rather than saying it yourself (as a point of view). Neutral point of view WP:NPOV is a core content policy because Wikipedia is impossible without it. Content decisions can only be resolved by looking at documented facts, not by evaluating the rightness and wrongness of an editor's point of view.
  • Avoid words that subtly push a point of view. Wikipedia frowns upon using certain words to slant an article towards a particular point of view. If you're unfamiliar with them, read the guidelines on peacock terms, words like "immensely" and "legendary" (WP:PEA); weasel words, phrases like "some people say" and "many would argue that" (WP:AWW); words to avoid, such as the verb "reveal" and the adjective "so-called" (WP:WTA); and rhetoric, wording intended to be persuasive rather than factual (WP:RHT).
  • Avoid jargon and other reader-unfriendly terms. As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia has a bias against words that are reader-unfriendly: jargon (WP:MOSDEF), neologisms (WP:NEO), statements that will soon sound dated (WP:DATED), uncommon abbreviations and references in articles that assume the article is being read at Wikipedia, online (WP:SELF).
  • Don't trust your spell checker implicitly. Words aren't always spelled the same in all English-speaking countries. (See the box about correcting spellings for details.)

Make the article look appealing[edit]

Looks count. They don't count nearly as much as good text, but readers do notice when an article looks boring or has odd formatting. Here are some suggestions for making an article look better, keeping in mind that looks are no more important than the content issues discussed in the rest of this chapter.

Figure 18-1. Here's the top of the infobox for the Andrew Browne Cunningham article, which was the Featured Article on the Main Page on November 28, 2007. The Infobox Military Person template created this infobox and others like it. Infoboxes normally appear in the upper-right corner of an article. The right-alignment is built into the template, so you don't need to specify it.
Getting help: Article reviews

When you've spent time improving an article, and aren't sure what to focus on next, one option is to submit the article for review by other editors. Chapter 12: Lending other editors a hand has an entire section, "Reviewing articles", which lists places at Wikipedia where you can do so. Read the instructions to see what articles are appropriate for submission. Don't start, for example, by asking for it to be considered for a Featured Article designation. And don't submit an article to more than one place simultaneously, which causes more work for other editors. Fix the problems identified by one set of reviewers before you ask others to look at it.

If you're comfortable with JavaScript (see Chapter 21), then you have another option—an automated review of an article you've worked on. The page User:AndyZ/peerreviewer provides the details of how to install the user script that generates such a review.