Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Editing, creating, and maintaining articles/Creating a new article
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Wikipedia needs more articles. Yet of the thousands of articles that are created every day, about half end up being deleted or otherwise removed. Most of the deletions happen within a day of the article's creation. If you're thinking about adding an article to Wikipedia, this chapter will help you avoid having that article become instant roadkill. (This chapter also discusses when it's better not to write the article at all, or write it for another wiki or other website besides Wikipedia).
Even if you're not thinking about creating a new article, this chapter can be useful. You'll get a much better sense of what articles in Wikipedia should be like, which will help you when you want to improve existing articles. You'll also have some criteria to use when you come upon an existing article that you suspect might not belong in Wikipedia at all. (Chapter 19: Deleting existing articles discusses the process for getting an article deleted.)
What makes a good article
If you're not a registered user (see Chapter 3: Setting up your account and personal workspace), you can't create new articles. Instead, you have to submit a proposed new article for review by other editors, using the Articles for Creation wizard (Figure 4-1). That wizard is a five-step online interview that questions you about three things: the proposed article's motivation, notability, and sources. This section discusses all three issues, one by one. They're important for all new articles, no matter who creates them.
The right motivation
The ideal starting point for creating an article is when you're surprised that Wikipedia doesn't already have an article on a particular subject. If you believe that the subject is suitable for inclusion in an encyclopedia (what Wikipedia calls notability, as described in the section about notability), and that newspaper stories, magazine articles, publications in scientific journals, or public sources of information specifically focus on this topic, you have every reason to be surprised that no one's already written an article on the topic.
By contrast, if you're thinking about writing an article for one of the following reasons, then your chances of having your article deleted are high:
- You've developed a new or unusual concept, idea, or invention; or you know something that disproves conventional wisdom on a topic; or you have an unusual theory about the way the world works, or should work. Don't use Wikipedia to announce these things.
- You have intense feelings about something or someone. For example, you may have a strong dislike of something (airplane travel, wiretapping, animal abuse), or a very favorable impression of a Web site, a local band, or a cult YouTube video. Whether it's good or bad, if you have a strong feeling or opinion about something, you probably think that Wikipedia doesn't adequately cover it and could use another article or two about it. But other editors may not agree, and in any case it's going to be very hard for you to write with the required neutral point of view.
- You see Wikipedia as a marketing opportunity for your company, Web site, band, or product. Or worse, for a company, Web site, band, or product that you're being paid to promote. Even if the marketing or promotion is just to help a friend or relative—no money or direct involvement—it's still promotion and has no place in an encyclopedia.
It's possible, of course, that even if you have the wrong motivation, there's a legitimate need in Wikipedia for the new article you're thinking about. But if your motivation falls into one of the previous three categories, think twice. If you ignore Wikipedia's rules and write articles that are only going to get deleted, you're wasting your time and that of the editors who have to delete them.
Folks new to Wikipedia frequently see it as a place for information on everything. After all (so this mistaken impression goes), Wikipedia's the first place most people turn to for information on any possible topic, so logically it should have complete coverage of all new and interesting topics. If a topic isn't yet covered, then that's an open invitation to write a new article.
In fact, Wikipedia is by design not a publisher of initial reports. As the main notability guideline says: "A topic is presumed to be notable if it has received significant coverage in reliable secondary sources that are independent of the subject." If that sentence sounds familiar, it's because you read about No original research in Chapter 2: Documenting your sources (see the section about content guidelines).
You can find specialized Wikipedia guidelines for a number of areas, including books, music, and organizations and companies, at the main Notability guideline page (shortcut: WP:N). For example, a musical band would qualify as notable if it met any of a dozen different criteria, including, "Has had a record certified gold or higher in at least one country." Or, for example, a film is notable if it's been widely distributed and received full-length reviews by two or more nationally known critics.
If you write an article that doesn't state, at the very beginning, why something is notable, you've significantly increased its roadkill potential. And if you also fail to provide any good sources (see the section about reliable sources), then you've backed other editors into a corner. They'll use an external search engine to do a quick search of the subject, but it's a matter of luck whether they'll find acceptable sources, such as newspaper articles, that indicate that a subject is important. If they don't, your article is probably toast.
Despite very specific guidelines for notability, many editors think notability is subjective—who's to say what's notable? Experienced editors focus on the presence or absence of reliable sources (discussed in the next section). Still, the concept of notability, as defined by Wikipedia's guidelines, helps ensure that articles are relevant and interesting to a wide audience of readers.
Just as you must cite reliable sources when you add text to an article, as discussed in depth in Chapter 2: Documenting your sources (and at WP:RS), you must fully document new articles you write. For new articles, here are the general guidelines:
- Try to cite at least a couple of independent, reliable sources in your article, regardless of the article's length. If you don't, it's just your claim, as the author, that the subject is notable. While you may be the most honest and trustworthy person on the planet, other editors don't know that, and they may delete your article because they can't easily find reliable sources for it.
- Include any relevant links to Web sites created or owned by the subject of the article. For example, articles about musicians usually contain links to their own Web sites. However, although these "official" links help other editors examining the article, they don't count as independent sources.
It may seem counterintuitive, but good sources are more important than the words in your article. Yes, you want to write an article that has all the right parts (see the section about the parts of an article) and reads well. But if you include reliable sources in your new article, particularly online sources (in English), other editors will find it credible, no matter how poorly written. By contrast, if you write an article that doesn't cite independent sources, it doesn't matter that what you've written is elegant, thoughtful, and interesting. If other editors judge your article to be original research or about a non-notable subject, they'll just delete it.
Ideally, when you write a new Wikipedia article, you footnote every sentence (or paragraph, if the entire paragraph is from one source). It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, if you're looking for sources for an article you've already written. A better approach is to start by finding reliable sources for the article you want to write, and then write the article from those sources.
What articles don't belong on Wikipedia
So far, this chapter has shown you what a Wikipedia article needs: appropriate intentions on your part, notability of the subject, and reliable sources. Even with all these factors in place, your article idea may not be right for Wikipedia. As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is a compendium of useful information, but not all useful information. Some kinds of information just don't fit in.
What Wikipedia isn't
To judge whether an article belongs in Wikipedia, take a look at what kinds of articles don't belong there. Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not (shortcut: WP:NOT) is the definitive policy on this. Much of that policy you've already heard about: "Wikipedia is not a publisher of original thought," "Wikipedia is not a soapbox," for example. But there are several more guidelines worth noting:
- Wikipedia isn't a dictionary. The Wikimedia Foundation does have a sister project, Wiktionary, for definitions, and there are others on the Web (for example, Urban Dictionary) that welcome your submittals.
- Wikipedia isn't a directory. Articles shouldn't consist of loosely associated topics such as aphorisms, people, books, unusual crimes, or geographical trivia, no matter how well referenced. Quotations belong in another sister project, Wikiquote. Similarly, radio or television station schedules, or lists of government offices and current office-holders for local governments, aren't acceptable. Product price guides don't belong on Wikipedia, either.
- Wikipedia isn't a manual, guidebook, or textbook. Wikipedia articles should not include instructions, advice or suggestions (legal, medical, or otherwise); how-to guides, tutorials, instruction manuals, game guides, or recipes. You can find (and submit) user-written textbooks at Wikibooks (a sister project), travel guides at Wikivoyage (another sister project), and step-by-step guides at wikiHow (not related to Wikipedia).
- Wikipedia isn't an indiscriminate collection of information. Articles should not be constructed from, or contain, lists of frequently asked questions, lengthy plot summaries, lengthy lyrics (even when unprotected by copyright), or long and sprawling lists of statistics.
- Wikipedia isn't a news ticker. The fact that someone or something is newsworthy doesn't automatically justify an encyclopedia article. Newspapers and television stations report constantly on people who have been badly harmed, barely escaped disaster, done something horrible, or otherwise are unusual enough to justify 15 minutes of fame. Such stories don't make people and incidents into encyclopedic subjects. Wikipedia articles should not be voyeuristic or ongoing violations of a reasonable right to privacy.
Don't repeat someone else's words at length
Suppose you've found a topic that isn't covered in Wikipedia—say a nonprofit group called the International Development and Improvement Organization for Theoretical Scientificality. The organization's Web site has a number of detailed pages about the history, goals, mission, and executive leadership of the organization—perfect for a detailed article. Add links to a few reliable sources, and, presto!—instant article.
This, of course, is a massive copyright violation. Even if you're the head of that organization (a conflict of interest, but that's another matter), you can't somehow waive normal copyright requirements just for Wikipedia. If the article isn't instantly deleted, it's highly likely to go into copyright lockdown (with a huge banner across the top of the page, telling editors to leave it alone until it's been fully reviewed).
With that in mind, you can copy, more or less verbatim, from a few places. You probably don't want to copy lots of text from these sources, because it's likely to be inconsistent in tone from the rest of the article, or too detailed, or quite possibly just boring. Still, if you really want to, you can copy:
- Information from U.S. government publications and Web sites, which are in the public domain, unless otherwise stated. (Publications of state and local governments in the U.S., on the other hand, usually are copyrighted.) You can find a list of resources in the public domain at Wikipedia:Public domain resources (shortcut: WP:PDR).
- Text copyrighted with the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). That's the same type of license as Wikipedia uses (but see the Note in section xx). You can find research resources that use this license at Wikipedia:GNU Free Documentation License resources (shortcut: WP:FDLR).
- Older material whose copyrights have expired. In the U.S., any work published before January 1, 1923, anywhere in the world, is in the public domain. (For more details, see shortcut WP:PD.)
Preventing copyright violations, and fixing them as quickly as possible, are major concerns at Wikipedia. And you as an individual editor are liable, not Wikipedia, as long as the violation gets removed as soon as an editor detects it.
Tutorial: Creating a new article
In this tutorial, you'll see a new article created from scratch. If you want to practice creating your own new article as you follow along with the tutorial, you can do one of two things:
- Find a real topic (for example, using the information in the section about ideas for new articles, concerning articles that are needed or requested).
- Write a pretend article, and don't do the very last few steps, which involve moving the article into mainspace, where real Wikipedia articles exist.
- Before you start the tutorial, you might want to review Chapter 1: Editing for the first time through Chapter 3: Setting up your account and personal workspace, or take a look at Wikipedia:Your first article (shortcut: WP:YFA) to reinforce what you need to know about choosing new articles to write, and working in Wikipedia's edit window.
1. Choose a name for the article.
- In general, use the topic's most commonly used name. Using a search engine to compare the total number of hits for each version of the name is a good way to determine which name is the most popular. Once you have a couple of ideas, check the rules: Wikipedia has lots and lots of details about proper naming of articles. You'll find these at Wikipedia:Naming conventions (shortcut: WP:NC).
- In this tutorial, the new article is a biography, Sam Wyly. A search engine check shows that this is much more common than "Samuel Wyly."
2. Do a search (or several) to find out what Wikipedia already has on the topic.
- You can read about search techniques in the box in the section about searching. Don't search for "Sam Wyly"; that Wikipedia article was already created as an example for this book. Rather, search for the name of the real article that you want to create, or use one of the topics identified as missing in Wikipedia (see the section about ideas for new articles).
3. If you find an existing Wikipedia article that contains a mention of the topic you searched for, do two things:
- Change that mention into an internal link (wikilink), if it's not already, by editing the page and adding two square brackets on each side: "[[Sam Wyly]]". After you save your edits to that article (by hitting the big, blue 'Publish changes' button), you see that the link you created is a red link, since it points to an article that doesn't yet exist. Adding such wikilinks is called, in Wikipedia, building the web.
- Copy the name of the page, and possibly useful details about the topic that are on the page, to a temporary place (for example, Windows Notepad). Figure 4-3 lists the Wikipedia articles that mentioned Sam Wyly before the Sam Wyly article was created.
4. As shown in the steps in the section about creating a personal sandbox, create a user subpage for the article.
- Typically, you give this user subpage the same name that the article will have. In this tutorial, though, the subpage is just called "New article."
5. Find independent, reliable sources. Add them to the subpage.
- Figure 4-4 shows the results of searching for sources for "Sam Wyly." If you use a search engine, a lot of results are going to be links to bloggers, forums, or other unacceptable sources. Don't ignore these—they may have a link to a reliable source or ideas for keywords you can use to search for good sources.
6. Create a first draft of the article, with section headings and footnotes for every sentence (or, at minimum, every paragraph, if everything in the paragraph came from a single source).
- Whatever writing approach works for you, use it. Regardless of how you create the article, keep three points in mind:
- Work from the sources to the article, rather than writing the text of the article and then looking for sources.
- Don't copy and paste large chunks of text; that's a copyright violation.
- When you add text to the article, add the source of that information, right then, as a footnote.
- You can work offline, if you want to, writing a rough draft in your favorite word processor, with notes about where each sentence or paragraph came from. You can also do your work iteratively within Wikipedia: Edit the article draft in your user subpage, preview, edit some more, preview, and so on.
- Figure 4-5 shows the wikitext for one section of the Sam Wyly article, partway through the process of creating a final draft. The article-building method illustrated here first starts out with less-detailed sources (typically, short articles) to construct a set of points that you or other editors can fill out later with more general sources and additional sources. Ideally, editors will replace the initial footnotes with others that better support lengthier information in each part of this section. Your approach can be different, but remember that your goal is to footnote every sentence (or, at the very least, every paragraph).
7. Do your final edits to the lead section.
- It's okay to do a draft of the lead section early on, but it's best to wait to finalize it until the article is pretty close to done. The lead section, after all, is supposed to be a relatively brief summary that just touches on the highlights of why the topic is notable, and the article needs to be close to done before you can properly summarize it.
8. Build the web: Go through the article and create internal links (wikilinks) that point to other articles (this is part of what is called wikification).
- Now's the time to review the list of articles you put together earlier—the ones that'll link to the new article (see Figure 4-3). You want your new article to contain internal (wiki)links pointing back to those articles, whenever mentioning the topics of those articles in your new article makes sense.
- Don't limit yourself, however, to this list. Almost certainly your new article should link to more than just the articles you found earlier. Add more wikilinks and check their validity (but don't overlink; see the box about when to link).
9. Save the subpage one last time by pressing the blue 'Publish changes' button. Now it's time for you to move the article from your personal user space (as a subpage) to Wikipedia mainspace (where the real articles are):
- At the top of the article, click the "move" tab. (If you can't see the tab, you're not in normal/reading mode.) You'll see something like Figure 4-6.
- In the "To new title" box, change the old name of the page (in this case, "User:Your username goes here/New article") to the new name of the page (in this case, "Sam Wyly"); enter a reason (typically, "Creating new article"); and click the "Watch this page" box (see the section about your watchlist).
- Click the "Move page" button.
10. You should now see a page that says the move was successful (Figure 4-7).
- Moving a page always leaves a redirect in place—that way, anyone clicking on a link to the old location of the page will end up at the new location. (Redirects are covered in detail in Chapter 16.) Now you just have to check for, and fix, any double redirects—where one redirect sends the reader to a second redirect rather than to a final destination. You'll check for these in the final step.
11. Click the bolded link that says "check" (it's in the second sentence in Figure 4-7) to see if there are any double redirects.
- Double redirects for new articles are exceedingly rare. Still, you want to get into the habit of checking whenever you move a page. When you click "check", the result is Figure 4-8, which shows all the pages that link to the article.
- Congratulations! You now know how to create new articles, and how to do it right.
Ideas for new articles
If you're not sure whether Wikipedia would welcome an idea you have for a new article, consider asking for early feedback, before you spend a lot of time. You can do that at Wikipedia:Drawing board (shortcut: WP:DRAW). Be sure to read all the instructions at the top, particularly this sentence:
If you post here, you should explain (briefly) why you think an article is merited (that is, why a subject is notable), and you should provide at least a couple of links (to demonstrate that there are reliable sources for such an article).
If you're looking for a topic for a new article, you'll find lists of needed topics in a number of places:
- Wikipedia:Most wanted articles (shortcut: WP:MWA)
- Wikipedia:WikiProject Missing encyclopedic articles (shortcut: WP:MEA)
- Wikipedia:Requested articles (shortcut: WP:RA)
- Category:Redirects with possibilities (shortcut: CAT:RWP)
Resources for writing articles
It's amazing what resources are available online today, from your home computer. In addition to regular search engines, you have Google Scholar and Google Book Search. The New York Times has made its entire archives available online for free, and more and more newspapers are deciding that advertising is now more profitable than trying to collect a fee every time someone wants to read an old article.
If that's not enough, almost every town has the perfect resource for researching Wikipedia articles. That's right—a public library. That library card languishing in your wallet may even let you go online, from your home computer, and do research via the library's connections to various databases with indexes and often full-text sources. Research librarians are also happy to help you find whatever the library has to help you write a really good new article (or improve an existing one).
You'll find that the "Research" section of Wikipedia:Article development (shortcut: WP:IA) has some useful information on researching in general, including online databases to which your library might give you access. Wikipedia also has a number of pages with links to research resources. In addition to the pages for public domain and GFDL resources mentioned in the section about copyright, these include:
- Wikipedia:Current science and technology sources (shortcut: WP:CSTS)
- Wikipedia:News sources (shortcut: WP:NWSRC)
- Wikipedia:List of bibliographies (shortcut: WP:LOB)
Wikipedia also has a central place where you can get help from other editors: Wikipedia:WikiProject Resource Exchange (shortcut: WP:WRE). That page includes a number of resources offered by other editors ("Shared Resources") and a section to ask for help getting copies of difficult-to-find things ("Resource Request"), as well as a section ("Free Online Resources") that overlaps with some of the already mentioned pages.