Wikipedia:Improving referencing efforts/2007

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Why references are important[edit]

References are vital for the quality and usefulness of Wikipedia articles. If you don't believe me, don't take my word for it; At the Wikimania conference 2006, Jimmy Wales himself said he believed Wikipedia should focus more on the accuracy of our existing material instead of creating material now we've passed our 1.5 millionth article.

We tell people to not rely on Wikipedia as their sole source of information but rather use it as a starting point for further research. For this to work, articles not only need external links to guide readers to further information, but also a list of sources we used to write the Wikipedia article so the reader can go and check our material against that of the sources to check our accuracy.

In other words, we need to make a joined effort to clean up the references in Wikipedia. Of course referencing has its own set of problems which I will mention later on in this proposal.

Current situation[edit]

There are lots of articles that have unsourced, questionable statements or have been left totally unreferenced. This has reached a point that subcategories of Category:Articles lacking sources can have 900 articles list in just one month and the numbers don't appear to decrease. We could simply delete all such unreferenced articles and statements but that would leave a huge hole in Wikipedia's coverage and not account for the fact that a lot of unsourced statements aren't necessarily untrue.

There is a Wikipedia:WikiProject Fact and Reference Check, but it is not scaling. At the time of this writing the project had just 75 members (not counting who's still active) and unlike stubs and deletion this project doesn't make full use of the fact we have a large group of active WikiProjects filled with editors who are interested in specific subjects or topics in a certain language area. After all, people who are interested in chemistry are more likely to know where to find sources for chemistry-related articles and judge how reliable the article currently is.

To get the optimal effect, fact-checking efforts should make use of wikiprojects, categorization and other technical features to attract the enthusiasts and experts who can do the job.


Barnstar incentive[edit]

A simple yet effective way to encourage people to embark on a quest to fact-check articles is to reward them for their efforts. I still get an addictive warm, fuzzy feeling when I receive a barnstar and editors have shown to go through great lengths to get noticed or appreciated. Just look at the amount of people who go through WP:FAC and T:TDYK to get their work featured on the main page. I could be mistaken, but on my perusal of Wikipedia:WikiProject Fact and Reference Check and Wikipedia:Barnstars, I was unable to find any barnstars that rewarded people for fact-checking or referencing articles that lack sources. A reward scheme would encourage people to do the job.

Educate editors[edit]

If new editors are educated about the need to cite their sources when creating an article and reward them for doing so, we will lower the amount of unreferenced articles coming in so we can deal with the existing ones. We can do this by adding a lesson to the Virtual classroom or, for example, update the tutorial with a new section.

Press release[edit]

Many hands make light work. If we were to make a press release that said "Wikipedia undertakes massive spring time cleanup" or something to that effect, we can attract new editors who are interested in working on the verification of articles. (See User:Naconkantari/cleanup for one proposal for a "spring cleanup".)

Bots and scripts tagging new pages[edit]

To ensure a page is checked by at least one set of eyes (preferably more) it's important to not let newly created pages slide by undetected. With the amount of pages that involves, it's important to use automated tools to our advantage. AlexNewArtBot (talk · contribs) goes through Special:Newpages and evaluates entries to see if they are suitable for inclusion in the main page did you know section. We can develop a bot that sorts articles based on their content and/or categories and leaves a list of articles to check on relevant wikiproject subpages.

Ais523 (talk · contribs) has created a script that allows editors to watch new entries in categories. If this script can be combined with the CatScan tool, it would be a breeze to find new articles that need citation in a certain category without the need for bots to post long lists to Project pages.

New computer programs[edit]

It is a fact that Wikipedians are more likely to do a task if it's easier. Over the years, a variety of tools have been created to make for example vandal- and newpage patrolling. If a tool was developed that would making tracking down sources and adding them to articles easier, more people would engage in the task. An ideal referencing tool would combine the search capabilities of NPWatcher (NewPageWatcher) with citation programs like Magnus Manske's reference generator and Wikicite and the editing capabilities of AutoWikiBrowser.

Stable versions[edit]

The stable versions feature is not yet finished, but if implemented it will help a lot in lowering the influx of new articles that lack any sort of sources.


Once the problem is no longer the lack of sources in articles, we need to go a step further and start checking references on a regular basis to make sure they still point in the right direction. When the lack of sources no longer allows vandals to include untrue content in Wikipedia, they will adapt to provide fake or unreliable sources and we need to start thinking about how to handle that too.


Q: Why not simply delete all unreferenced statements?
A: Unreferenced doesn't necessarily equal untrue, so an effort should be made to find sources before material is deleted in cases where the questioned material is not libellous or otherwise harmful to people who are willing to check the accuracy of the article. (In other words, defamation can still be removed.)
Q: Why not increase the bar of notability so we get a lower more manageable number of biographies?
A: Apart from the fact this proposal is not just about biographies, changing the bar of notability would lead to the removal of thousands of articles when the ones that get removed aren't necessarily the ones with the problematic statements.