Wikipedia:Assessing articles

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A highly important butterfly

This page discusses the criteria and purpose of article assessments, recorded in talk page templates such as {{WikiProject Solar System}}.

Assessments are useful if done right, but must not be done wrong. A number of articles are given lower quality or importance ratings than they merit based on the criteria. The assessment of short articles as Stub or Start-class even when there is nothing more to be said about the subject, and longer articles as B (or higher) class even when there is much more to be said, has been seen before.

An unjustified "Stub-class" assessment with no explanation may cause a potentially productive newbie to give up. However, an author may be blind to defects that a reviewer sees at once. Reviewers are therefore encouraged to give notes on the article talk page that state what they feel needs improvement, preferably relating the notes to the project's assessment criteria, and authors should feel free to ask reviewers for more detailed feedback on what needs improvement.

There may be more leverage in bringing many articles up to the C-Class article C class, where they meet the needs of most casual readers, than in bringing a few up to the very demanding standards of a Featured article featured article.

By and for project members[edit]

The quality assessment scale for WikiProjects was made for project members, not for casual readers. Most Wikipedia readers never see ratings, but some may click on the Talk tab by accident and see the articles they were reading have a C-class rating. That seems like a rather mediocre grade for articles that gave them all they wanted to know. They shrug and move on. They will not click on the quality scale to find out what C class means. Assessments should ideally be done only by project members, or at least should be reviewed by project members.

To assess an article properly all reviewers should understand where an article fits in the spectrum of importance for the project, what information should be included in this type of article and what casual readers would be looking for. Reviewers must understand what could make a butterfly or physicist very important to the project, as opposed to a mundane butterfly or physicist. They must also understand the standard information to be recorded about butterflies and physicists, and know something about the more important subjects, so the presence or absence of the information tells them how complete an article is. The length of the article is irrelevant.

Quality ratings: an awkward compromise[edit]

Quality ratings try to give a combined assessment of six quite different aspects of any article:

  1. Referencing and citation: Is the article suitably referenced with inline citations?
  2. Coverage and accuracy: Does the article reasonably cover the topic without obvious omissions or inaccuracies?
  3. Structure: Does the article have a defined structure?
  4. Grammar and style: Is the article reasonably well-written?
  5. Supporting materials: Does the article contain supporting materials where appropriate?
  6. Accessibility: Does the article present its information in an appropriately understandable way?

These six aspects are very important to consider in quality ratings, especially when it comes to assessing C-Class article C-class articles against the B-Class article B class. A very accessible article may be a hoax about a non-existent subject. A perfect article in terms of referencing, coverage, accessibility, and structure may be written in bad grammar and have too many supporting materials (photos, navboxes, infoboxes, diagrams, etc.) for its overall length. A male professor may write the definitive article on a subject, but his English is very poor and he sees no need to add citations to his own work.

The table below summarizes, in short, the criteria for the classes for prose articles, which have been given at Wikipedia:Content assessment.

Classes used in the evaluation of the quality of Wikipedia articles
Class Criteria Reader's experience Editing suggestions Example
Featured article FA  The article has obtained featured article status. Professional, outstanding, and thorough; a perfect source for information. To be kept up to date; to be expanded in the event that new information becomes available. Priyanka Chopra
A-Class article A  The article has not obtained featured article status, but its quality is comparable. Useful to all readers; most non-experts in the subject would find nothing wanting. To make minor fixes and then make it a featured article candidate. Army of the Tennessee
 GA  The article has obtained good article status. Useful to nearly all readers; approaching the quality of a featured article. To include more information and correct the points that can be improved, and then to make it a featured article candidate. Forestry in the United Kingdom
B-Class article B  The article is mostly complete and without major problems. Casual readers are not left wanting, but the article's quality may not be enough for a serious student or researcher. To be checked and proofread before becoming a good article nominee or featured article candidate. Battle of Acapulco
C-Class article C  The article is substantially complete, but still contains major gaps and/or irrelevant content. Somewhat useful to a casual reader, but the article's quality may not be enough for a moderately-detailed study. To be clarified and expanded, and for quality references to be added and grammar to be checked. UEFA Euro 2016 riots
Start-Class article Start  The article is under development, but still quite incomplete. Most readers may need more despite the use of some meaningful content. To develop and improve it, and correct any problems within. Darwinian puzzle
Stub-Class article Stub  The article is of very bad quality, and may be little more than a dictionary definition. Many readers will see it as meaningless, and a number of aspects will be very underdeveloped. To develop, organize and add useful wikilinks. Jimmy Nah

The 'referencing and citation' criterion is the first thing that needs to be assessed against in assessing C-class articles against the criteria for the B class, but truly awful structuring or severe accessibility issues can drag a rating down to Stub. With B and GA/A/FA (B-Class article/Good article/A-Class article/Featured article), where coverage is mostly or essentially complete, quality of prose and technical style are more important. One approach is to take the lowest rating of the six aspects. If the referencing, coverage, structure, grammar, use of supporting materials, and accessibility of an article meet none of the Start-Class criteria, the article is Stub-Class. If it is not a Stub, but these six aspects are comparable to those of a C-Class article, the article is C-Class. And so on. However, this may work poorly with B-Class, which could describe a well-written article that just needs a bit more information to meet the good article criteria.

According to WP:NOT, information "should not be included in this encyclopedia solely because it is true or useful. A Wikipedia article should not be a complete exposition of all possible details, but a summary of accepted knowledge regarding its subject." However, the guideline Wikipedia:Content assessment says of the FA grade, "it neglects no major facts or details ... a definitive source for encyclopedic information." Google's list of synonyms of "encyclopedic" includes "comprehensive, complete, thorough, thoroughgoing, full, exhaustive, in-depth, wide-ranging, broad-ranging, broad-based, all-inclusive, all-embracing, all-encompassing ...".

There is room for debate over what constitutes "complete" coverage, but three assertions seem uncontroversial:

  1. A Start-Class article Start-Class article does not meet the needs of the typical casual reader, Wikipedia's primary audience, but a C-Class article C-Class article does, even though it may be quite incomplete. ("Casual readers" are curious enough to have clicked on a link to the article or searched for the title. They may not be average Joes, but they are not experts on the subject area.)
  2. If an article gives all that has been published about the subject, it must be considered 'complete', but sometimes, many questions remain unanswered.
  3. A long article may still be incomplete if omits significant available information, so falls short of what is possible, even if it meets the needs of almost all readers.

Importance ratings: a variety of definitions[edit]

An image of the Earth. What would you say about the planet's importance to casual readers? The usual answer could be that it is a 'truly important' planet.

The importance scale, also called the priority scale, is specific to a project. An article may be highly important to one project, less important to another. There is no "official" scale, and projects are encouraged to define their own, specialized scales. Different projects may consider different factors to evaluate importance. A project's importance scale typically answers the question, "How important is it to Wikipedia's coverage of this project's subject area that there should be an article for this topic". It could end up being assigned incorrectly. Thus an article on a minor but notable artist, river, or movie may seem to be of low importance since the subject is not particularly significant, but could be of medium importance for casual readers since deleting the article would leave a gap in Wikipedia's coverage of the project's subject area.

A number of projects refer to the scale documented at {{Importance scheme}}, while another number of projects will refer to the definitions in the Wikipedia:Version 1.0 Editorial Team/Release Version Criteria. Other projects have customized scales which may consider factors such as notability of article topics, relationship to a "main" article for the project, centrality to understanding the project's subject area, reader interest and expectations and so on. The WikiProject Video games Importance scale takes the interesting approach of breaking the project scope into sub-areas such as video games and series, in-game elements, companies, hardware and so on, and giving different Top/High/Mid importance criteria for each sub-area. {{WikiProject Visual arts}} does not assess importance at all due to the difficulty in comparing such things as 19th century English history paintings, traditional Chinese porcelain and pre-Columbian architecture.

The default scale documented at {{Importance scheme}} is based on the subject's notability within the field of knowledge covered by the project (an estimate of how many sources discuss the subject in some depth) combined with an estimate of whether there is worldwide interest compared to purely local interest:

Importance ratings are used by the Wikipedia:Version 1.0 Editorial Team to decide which articles to include in an offline edition of Wikipedia. The editorial team's article selection bot also looks at factors such as the number of page hits, links from other pages, and a score of how broad the project is. The definitions in the Wikipedia:Version 1.0 Editorial Team/Release Version Criteria are based on how central the subject is to the field, which may roughly correlate with notability, but ignores geographical distribution of interest in the subject:

Need The article is of priority or importance, regardless of its quality
Top Subject is a must-have for a print encyclopedia
High Subject contributes a depth of knowledge
Mid Subject fills in more minor details
Low Subject is mainly of specialist interest.
Bottom (Optional) Subject has no real significance to the project.
No (Optional) Subject is a disambiguation or redirect page, residing in article space.

These two scales are somewhat inconsistent, and a given project may have its own scale. The common factor is that an article is assigned importance based on an informed view of how important the article is to the project's subject area, and may be used to prioritise work by project members. Ideally importance is assigned or reviewed by a project member. It should not be assigned based on a vague idea of how important the subject is in the wider scheme of things, or how important it is to readers. In the second quarter of 2017 Darth Vader consistently got more pageviews than United States and World War II combined. This factoid should not affect the importance ratings of these three articles.

Article life cycle[edit]

An article life cycle

WP:ASSESSMENT describes a smooth progression as the article on atoms moves step by step from Stub to Featured Article. For other articles, it can be different. One of the life cycles you may have seen on articles is "create as Stub or Start, then stagnate". The life cycle of articles such as the one on a Beyonce song may be described as "create as C, stagnate, upgrade to GA or FA, stagnate." (Articles on controversial subjects have a complex life cycle which is unrelated to quality assessments so not discussed here.)

  • Most articles on uncontroversial subjects are created with a series of edits, sometimes spread over several days.
  • Soon after a bot has put the new article onto project lists, a new article watcher rates it if the creator has not yet done so. Stub and Start are much the most common quality ratings, and "Low" the most common importance rating.
  • The creator may continue to improve the article after the initial rapid assessment, but it is rarely re-assessed.
  • An article may enter a stagnant phase, especially featured articles, where various editors tweak spelling, punctuation, categories, links and so on, but add little real content unless updates are necessary. Editors working on related articles may add a sentence or two of more substantial content, but will usually leave the assessment unchanged.
  • A Stub may be nominated for deletion, prompting a rescue job and an upgrade to C-Class. This is not what the deletion process is for, but it happens sometimes.
  • An editor may take on the challenge of moving a C or B-Class article up to GA or FA status. There is an outbreak of activity as editors add substantial content and make many copy edits, followed by approval of the upgrade. The article may then become stagnant again, unless it has enough 'luck' for continued real content additions, as in a 2017 revision of the Wikipedia article on Shakira.
  • With very large WikiProjects, certain articles within their scopes are upgraded to the A class, but some WikiProjects do not use it at all, as they lack an A-class assessment team within them.

Ratings are used by bottom- and top-feeding editors.

  • Bottom-feeding editors work through sets of Stub articles making the same enhancements to all of them, such as adding an infobox and basic data from a standard source.
  • Top-feeding editors browse among the B or C class articles, bringing them up to GA status, or try to bring GA articles to FA status.

One may question the value of developing an article to GA or FA status in an attempt to satisfy the serious student or researcher.

Would any serious student or researcher use Wikipedia? Here's the answer: it's more likely with GA-, A-, and FA-class articles Perhaps getting more articles up to the C class, meeting the needs of most readers, gives greater payback. But a number of articles stay as Stub-Class for ever, or get deleted as a Start-Class one. A Start-Class article "... is quite incomplete ... might or might not cite adequate reliable sources ... is weak in many areas. Quality of the prose may be distinctly unencyclopedic, and MoS compliance non-existent ... needs substantial improvement in content and organisation. Also improve the grammar, spelling, writing style and improve the jargon use." Editors may fix up these errors if they have free time.

Statistical analysis[edit]

Statistics for the English Wikipedia derived from Wikipedia:Version 1.0 Editorial Team/Statistics as of 2017-05-17 follow. Where an article has been rated for quality and/or importance by more than one project, the highest quality and importance ratings are used. Thus an article counts as high importance if it is of high importance for a religious teacher even if it is of medium importance for a biologist.

The following lists the counts of articles as of 2017-05-17 by quality rating and by importance:

Quality rating Count
FA 10,837
A 2,296
GA 44,953
B 183,764
C 356,458
Start 1,910,101
Stub 3,265,699
Not assessed 552,983
Importance Count
Top 47,938
High 169,008
Mid 654,866
Low 2,850,796
Not assessed 173,301

Notes[edit]