Wikipedia:WikiProject Women in Red/Essays/Primer for creating women's biographies

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Primer for Creating Women's Biographies

So you want to write a biographical article about a woman, but can't make sense of all the "rules", "guidelines" and "policies"? In a nutshell, here's how to do it.


Developing a strong statement of notability is one of the most important things you can do. The lead is a summary and is the introduction to your article. The statement of notability tells reviewers or other readers why the topic is unique, relevant, or worthy of an encyclopedia article. Note that the inclusion of a person's name on a Women in Red Redlist is not a guarantee of notability, but rather an invitation to the user to consider whether the person is notable enough to support an article. Since notability is not derived from an association with someone or something else, your statement should reflect why that person is notable without referencing other people. It should also be written neutrally and not attempt to promote the person.

If you are unable to make a statement as to why your topic deserves its own entry, consider adding the information to an existing article, an often-overlooked area of improvement. Studies have shown that women's biographies often mention family members and life events (marriage, divorce, child-rearing), while men's biographies do not. In part, this is because men's careers have not traditionally been interrupted by children, nor have their names changed if their relationships change. These events cannot be peripheral to a discussion of women's lives because they explain gaps in work history, as well as names needed to complete a biography. Adding women back into men's biographies, organizations they participated in, or other women's lives is another means of restoring the historical contributions of women. There may not be sufficient sourcing available now to meet Wikipedia notability standards, but as information becomes available, adequate information may come to light for a stand-alone entry.[1]

Poorly written notability statements include examples such as:

  • X was the sister (daughter, wife, partner, mother) of Y
  • X is a British "insert profession" (Lots of people are engaged in various professions, simply being a teacher, artist, athlete, etc. does not make one notable)
  • X is the most important member of Y (Promotional: Qualifiers for knowledge, quality, size and success violate neutrality)

Proper lead notability statements include examples such as:

  • X was a Mexican teacher and the founder of the Women's Seminary, one of the first schools for women in her state.
  • X was a Russian astronomer who discovered Y and was recognized as an Honored Scientist of the Russian Federation in XXXX.


If you are able to make a statement of independent notability, the next step is to develop sourcing. Sources must be independent of the subject and must be reliable secondary sources, preferably over a period of time, with significant enough coverage to give a detailed profile of the subject. You can combine sources to satisfy the need for ample coverage; however, trivial statements, such as "X attended a meeting", "X said something about a topic", are not generally acceptable. Single sentences with weight, "she was president of the country", may be used, but require additional sourcing to confirm notability. On average a minimum of 3-5 reliable sources is needed to substantiate a woman's biography. More sources may be needed as academic research has shown that the media disproportionately focus on male subjects.[2] Biographical dictionaries, books, encyclopedias, journals and newspapers are typically acceptable and reliable secondary sources, because editorial control traditionally ensures that the content is factual and accurate. Basically, if there is no one evaluating the content other than the writer, it may be questionable whether the facts are accurate or neutral.

Sources which should be avoided include:

  • Personal, fan-based, or employer websites
  • Blogs (unless there are citations to reliable source materials stated in the article or the blog is from a reputable source such as a museum, university, or national broadcaster)
  • YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn (see Wikipedia:External links/Perennial websites)
  • Self-generated or promotional material (see WP:SELFPUB)

Writing about living people presents particular difficulties. Besides neutrality, articles should avoid promotionalism, attacks, and adhere to the policies for Biographies of Living Persons. A living subject who is not a public figure may ask for birth dates or other personal details to be removed from an article, even if the statements are sourced. A best practice would be to comply with the request, especially if the information is not widely available on the internet. Keep in mind that Wikipedia is not the news, so ensuring that notability has not diminished over time is imperative. The requirement that notability has been established over time, means that some people have not developed sufficient notability for inclusion in the encyclopedia as stand-alone entries.

Confirming that there is adequate information to meet the significant coverage requirement of the General Notability Guidelines, typically means that you have sufficient sources to write a comprehensive encyclopedic article for your subject without doing original research. Using Who, What, Where, When, Why and How will help you do that. Who and What define the scope, who are you talking about and what they did. When and Where determine the time and place and put the scope into its historical context. Why and How define the context, in other words, why was it significant and what steps or other people were involved. Overall, your biography should fully cover the person and what they did, telling why they were noted at the time that their life happened.[3] Length of the article, the same holds true for sourcing, is less important than the depth or weight of the material, as trivial detail does not help in assessing the evidence confirming significance.[4]

When searching for sourcing it is important to recognize that standardized spellings are fairly recent. Historical name variants were common, especially in times when few people were literate and people wrote what they thought they heard.[5] Foreign names are often transcribed in different ways or Anglicized,[6] or simply indexed incorrectly. For example, in names of Spanish speaking countries which use the father's last name preceding the mother's last name, the actual surname is the paternal name. In other words, in the name Emma Catalina Encinas Aguayo, the surname is Encinas. But, when she married and appended her husband's name, using Emma Encinas de Gutiérrez Suárez, American sources indexed her name under Suarez, instead of her actual surname Gutiérrez.[7]

Check sources which give surname customs for various countries, like this guide. If your subject has a hyphenated name, look for both parts of the name individually, as well as in its double-form. Just as there is no particular rule of the order of the combined names (unless they are hereditary nobility), some are "party 1-party 2" and others "party 2-party 1", there is no particular rule for indexing hyphenated names.[8][9] Search under your subject's birth and married name, as well as variants of them, i.e. Catherine, Cathy, Katherine, Kathryn, Kate, Parrot, Parott, Parret, Parrette, Barott, Barrett, etc. If either the first name or last name is unusual, try searching for just the surname or just the first name.[10] You can also "back in" to a woman's history by looking for the other people in her life, try searching for histories on her male relatives or employers with her name included in the search.[11]

Other search tips include employing various quotes in your search. When looking for a maiden name, try adding "née". If you are searching for works about a writer, rather than articles written by an academic, author, scientist or journalist, try "Jane Doe was", "Jane Doe wrote", "Jane Doe had" or other variations in the search query, making sure to include the quotation marks. Search for your subject in quotations, followed by the name of a father, husband, partner, employer, association, and so forth. In periods before the 1970s, try searching for married names without using her first name, for example "Mrs. John Doe".

Choosing a title[edit]

Dealing with women's names presents special problems. Articles should be titled in the name which most reference materials call the subject; however, there may well be discrepancies between historical sources and current sources due to custom. For example, in the 19th century in numerous countries, it was common for a woman to be known as the wife of her husband and identified by his initials, for example Mrs. C. C. Stumm,[12] or to camouflage her identity as a woman to protect her reputation.[13][14] Current practices tend to reflect the given name followed by the birth surname and then the married surname or using the birth name as the professional identity and the married name for one's private life,[15] though it is still common in many countries for women to adopt their husband's surname.[16]

In general, the article should be titled as sources dictate for the adult person, except in the rare instances that notability was earned as a child.[17] However, excluding the birth surname, effectively has written women out of history,[18] and should be avoided. The easiest rule is to follow the sourcing (of the time of the event, not later revisions). If records indicate that Jane Doe was the daughter of X & Y, that is the name that should be used in the sentences describing that event, even if she later became notable as Jane Roe. Likewise, if she adopted a stage name or pseudonym, the legal name should be noted prior to the adoption of the fictitious identity. Failure to include other names which women were known by, can not only obscure the biographical history, but also their professional history.[19][20][21][22]

If the most common name is already taken, either use an occupational identifier, like [[ARTICLE NAME (occupation)]], or insert a middle initial or maiden name. Then create hatnotes or disambiguation page entries as noted below.

Make redirects (see below) from all other plausible versions of the name, so that readers can find the article through any of them.

Creating the article[edit]

Illustration for how to create an article in your Userspace after clicking on a Redlink.
The top lines of the Article Wizard.

Having determined that she is notable, that there are adequate sources to create an encyclopedic article, and what the article should be titled, creating the article is the next step. If you want writing guidance, look at the essay Wikipedia:Writing about women. To create an article, either choose a Redlink from one of Women in Red's lists, from an article, or search for a name, writing it in the "Search Wikipedia" box. If there is no article on your subject, it will appear as a Redlink at the top of the "Search results" page.

Clicking on the Redlink will take you to a blank page. The 5th bullet point down says Special:Mypage/file name. Click on the link. It will load the page again. Remove the top two lines and and write your lead sentence(s). It should contain the name, birth/death information, nationality or documented ethnicity, and a statement of why the person is notable. (The lead sentences should not be cited unless there are quoted passages, as the lead is a summary of information cited in the text. You may find it should be rewritten if after you have completed the article to include relevant information, but you should always start with a statement of notability.) Divide the article into logical sections—a fairly standard concept is "Early life", "Career", "Death and legacy". Read your sources and summarize the material. Do not copy and paste material from your sources into the article, as these are copyright violations and create legal problems. Place an in-line citation at the end of each statement. An easy way to cite your sources is to look at the toolbar above your editing screen and press the Cite key. A selection drop down will appear with template boxes, which you can complete. (On the book template, if you input the ISBN and hit the magnifying glass, it will usually input the majority of the information, though you may have to do a bit of clean-up).

If a claim cannot be documented by a reliable source, it should not be included in a biography as original research is not allowed on Wikipedia. When you have completed your additions, save the article. Make sure you have included links to other appropriate articles to incorporate your article into the encyclopedia. This is done by placing square brackets around an article name, such as [[Washington, DC]]. At the bottom of your article, add {{Authority control}} and {{DEFAULTSORT:last name, first name}}, being careful not to include any diacritical marks. Below that, add appropriate categories, such as [[Category:1850 births]], [[Category:1890 deaths]], and save again.

The article is basically complete and you can move it to main space or ask an editor you trust to review it and move it to main space. It is not recommended that you submit drafts to Wikipedia:Articles for creation. If you do not have the ability to move an article, or have no relationship with an editor you trust, post a review request on the Women in Red Talk Page.

Finishing the article[edit]

On the left-hand-side tool bar, click on the link what links here and make sure your article is tied to either a list or another article in main space. It can be tied to more than one, but without any, it will be scrutinized as an orphan and possibly deemed not appropriate for incorporation into the encyclopedia. You can add an {{infobox person}} by pressing on the link and copying the blank template information at the very top of your file. Then just complete the key details.

Create a talk page[edit]

Add at a minimum {{WikiProject Biography}}; and either {{WikiProject Women}} if born after 1950 OR {{WikiProject Women's History}} if born before 1950. Also add the Editathon banner. {{WIR-00-2024}} is an on-going campaign, if the article subject is not within the scope of the current months' editathon.

Create a hatnote or disambiguation page entry for disambiguated names[edit]

If your article has a title with a bracketed "disambiguation" (eg "Jane Smith (artist)"), then you need to provide access for a reader searching on the "Base name" (eg "Jane Smith").

If there is already a disambiguation page (either at Jane Smith or at Jane Smith (disambiguation)), add your entry (see WP:MOSDAB for guidelines, or just follow the existing style).

If there is an article at the Base name and no disambiguation page exists, add a "hatnote". In most cases adding {{for|the artist|Jane Smith (artist)}} at the very top of the "Jane Smith" (Base name) page will suffice; for more complicated situations see WP:HAT. Don't add a hatnote in the reverse direction: it is assumed that someone reaching "Jane Smith (artist)" has found the right page.

Add name to appropriate surname page[edit]

Often there is either a surname disambiguation page to which you can add the person's name (e.g. "Dunbar (surname)"), or a separate list of notable people with the surname (e.g. "List of people with the surname Smith". By adding the person to such a page, you can help out a searcher who can only remember the person's surname but not the first name.

Create redirects for alternate names[edit]

Create redirects for name variants, including common misspellings that turn up in sources. The process is simple. Make an inquiry for a variant, click on the Redlink and on the edit page that opens up type #REDIRECT [[your article name]], so for example on Emma G. Suarez: #REDIRECT [[Emma Catalina Encinas Aguayo]] was typed and saved. That way either name variant will take you to the same page.

Make redirects from any pen-name or commonly-used nickname, and from longer or shorter forms of the name (eg with or without second forename), perhaps birth name or married name, especially any form found in any of your sources. If there is already a disambiguation page at that variant, add an entry; if there is an article, consider adding a hatnote or creating a disambiguation page (see WP:MOSDAB).

Create a wikidata entry[edit]

If you are willing to add the entry to Wikidata, a simple interface can be installed following these instructions. To start using the gadget, place at Special:mypage/common.js this line, follow instructions at the top of page about reloading page:

mediaWiki.loader.load( '//' );

Go to your biography and you should now have a set of tools in your left-hand toolbar. Click on the one which says WEF:Person and complete as much information as you can. At the very least, type female in the gender category and save it, as it will update our article count. (You will only have to load the gadget the first time you create an article. After it is installed the tools are always on your left.) To complete the birth name you must put a language code in the left-hand-side box first so for example, on Emma Catalina Encinas Aguayo, search the left hand box for "es" and then put the full birth name in the right-hand box. If you do not put in a language code before the birth name, nothing will save.

See also Wikidata FAQ.


If you want to add a photograph, there are multiple ways to accomplish that. You can search Wikimedia Commons to see if there are available images already on Wikimedia or use a tool to try to find them. If your subject has died, you can upload the image as "Fair Use" by pressing the upload file link on your left hand Tools bar. Clip your image and then follow the prompts in the Wizard and be sure that you justify your use of the photograph. Something simple like "unable to ascertain if any web images meet free media criteria" is a sufficient answer to justify why you aren't using distributable media; "sole use on biographical sketch" is adequate for a minimal use explanation; and "Image being used to improve and enhance recognition and identification of a biographical subject" satisfies the limited damage to commercial rights.

In general, if an image was published prior to 1929 you can most likely use it. This guide may help in determining if an image can be loaded to Wikimedia Commons, but it is critical that you can determine when a photograph was published, if its license is not one of the four mentioned below.

Another excellent source for finding images is Flickr. When searching on Flickr, there are four kinds of licenses you can upload to the Commons. These are "Commercial use allowed," "Commercial use & mods allowed," "No known copyright restrictions," and "U.S. Government works." Narrow your search with one of these filters and see if there is an image available. Check on the image's license which is located on the left side under the picture on Flickr. The image's license will be located under the image on the right hand corner. If the icons look like this By large or this By large, then it's usually OK to upload to Commons. To upload Flickr files, you may use the Upload Wizard or other tools such as Flickr2Commons, F2ComButton or Flinfo.

If you are unable to find an image already on commons, or load a photograph, please add the template {{Image requested|people}} to the talk page to alert others to search for an image.

For minor touch-ups, alterations or things like removing watermarks, ask the Graphics Lab for help. They are very helpful and typically have a quick turn-around time.

See also Commons:FAQ.

Sources for women[edit]

  • Some of the best sources for women are newspapers. You might try:
  • You can also request resources from other Wikipedians via a service of the Wikipedia Library.
  • Hathitrust has digitized records which can be searched for full text entries on women.[4]
  • The Internet Archive has a full-text book search for millions of books. Public domain books can be read online or downloaded. For copyrighted books they can be viewed online by one logged-in user at a time. [5] Type in the search box next to the gift box (the one that says wayback is to retrieve or save urls). Click on the box that says Search full text of books and it will bring up archived links. Most are open access, but some will come up with a link allowing you to check out the book for 14 days.
  • The University of Manitoba hosts a free online collection of historical materials related to Manitoba (Canada) and University of Manitoba alumni and faculty. You can search through newspaper archives, letters, journal entries, photographs and more. [6]
  • FamilySearch has access for signed-up users to many original records from international sources, i.e. birth/death records, census records, baptismal records, naturalization records and so forth. [7] While primary sources cannot be used to verify notability, they can be used to flesh-out your biography by providing names, relationships, movements and locations. Sometimes the only way to find a birth or married name is through primary records. Repeating the information on a primary source is not original research, drawing conclusions from information is, so be careful how you use the information.
  • The Saskatchewan Genealogy Index Search allows search of births over 100 years old and deaths over 70 years old.[8] As of May 19, 2018, their deaths records have only been digitized up to the year 1917, and marriage searches are not yet possible. Searches will return names, dates, birth places and parents. See cautions above at FamilySearch on primary materials.
  • The Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency allows search of births over 100 old, marriages over 80 years old, and deaths over 70 years old. [9] It will return name, date and place (no parents), as well as a certificate number. See cautions above at FamilySearch on primary materials.
  • Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics allows search for births over 100 years old, marriages over 75 years old, and deaths over 50 years old. [10] Searches will return names, ages, dates, places and other identifying information. See cautions above at FamilySearch on primary materials.
  • The New Brunswick Vital Statistics from Government Records allows search for births over 96 years old, marriages over 51 years old, and deaths over 51 years old [11]. Searches will return names, ages, dates, places and other identifying information. See cautions above at FamilySearch on primary materials.
  • The Prince Edward Island PARO Collections Database allows search for baptisms over 95 years old, marriages over 80 years old, and deaths over 54 years old.[12] Searches will return names, dates, parents, spouses, cemeteries and churches, along with other available archival materials such as census records, records of name changes, and records of court cases. See cautions above at FamilySearch on primary materials.

Authority control[edit]

Adding {{Authority control}} at the bottom of the article (above {{DEFAULTSORT:}}) links Wikipedia articles to the corresponding entries of various international authority files. The entries typically correspond to people, book titles, and similar well-defined entities. The actual authority file, e.g. VIAF number, should be added to the article's Wikidata entry, but others can do this task if you are not ready to do so yourself. These identifier values are usually held on Wikidata (see above), but If you want to manually input them, that can be done by typing {{Authority control|VIAF=##########|ISNI=#### #### #### ####}} Other applicable common databases include NLA=National Library of Australia, GND=German National Library, BNF=French National Library, LCCN=Library of Congress, BNE=National Library of Spain, which can be added in the same manner.

When searching for the person's authority file, remember to try various forms of the person's name (maiden name, married name, even, for example, "Mrs. John Ono Lennon").

Resources for help[edit]

You can ask for help in several places on Wikipedia.

  • The Teahouse is a good place to get friendly answers to many questions.
  • Women in Red also has a Librarian in Residence, Megalibrarygirl. You can contact her by email or on her talk page for referencing help. She has access to databases and other resources that may help you with your article.
  • Chat with us on the Women in Red talkpage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wagner, Claudia; Garcia, David; Jadidi, Mohsen; Strohmaier, Markus (23 March 2015). It's a Man's Wikipedia? Assessing Gender Inequality in an Online Encyclopedia (PDF). The International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media. Oxford, England: Cornell University Library. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 June 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  2. ^ Sloan, William David; Mackay, Jenn Burleson (2007). Media Bias: Finding It, Fixing It. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. pp. 99–101. ISBN 978-0-7864-5505-8.
  3. ^ Ambrosius, Lloyd E. (2004). Writing Biography: Historians & Their Craft. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. pp. viii–ix, 2–3. ISBN 0-8032-1066-3.
  4. ^ Noonan, Theresa C. (1999). Document-Based Assessment Activities for Global History Classes. Portland, Maine: Walch Publishing. pp. iv–v. ISBN 978-0-8251-3874-4.
  5. ^ Carney, Edward (2008). English Spelling. Abingdon-on-Thames, England: Routledge. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-134-71991-4.
  6. ^ Powell, Kimberly (2008). The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy: A complete resource to using the Web to trace your family history. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-1-60550-785-9.
  7. ^ "Alliance of Pan American Round Tables Records". University of Texas Libraries. Austin, Texas: University of Texas at Austin. 2015. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  8. ^ Smith, Elsdon C. (1986). American surnames (Reprinted ed.). Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co. p. 295. ISBN 978-0-8063-1150-0.
  9. ^ Read, Judith; Ginn, Mary Lea (2015). Records Management (10th ed.). Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-305-44599-4.
  10. ^ Simpson, Jack (2008). Basics of Genealogy Reference: A Librarian's Guide: A Librarian's Guide. Westport, Connecticut: ABC-CLIO. pp. 23–24. ISBN 978-0-313-36363-4.
  11. ^ Przecha, Donna (n.d.). "Finding Female Ancestors and Maiden Names". Dublin, Ireland: Ancestry Information Operations Unlimited Company. Archived from the original on 26 January 2017. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  12. ^ Davis, Marianna W. (1982). Contributions of Black Women to America: The arts, media, business, law, sports. Columbia, South Carolina: Kenday Press. p. 220. OCLC 8346862.
  13. ^ Eigler, Friederike Ursula; Kord, Susanne (1997). The Feminist Encyclopedia of German Literature. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-313-29313-9.
  14. ^ Klein, Kathleen Gregory (1995). The Woman Detective: Gender & Genre (2nd ed.). Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-252-06463-0.
  15. ^ Miller, Claire Cain; Willis, Derek (27 June 2015). "Maiden Names, on the Rise Again". The New York Times. New York City, New York. Archived from the original on 5 February 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  16. ^ Goldin, Claudia; Shim, Maria (Spring 2004). "Making a Name: Women's Surnames at Marriage and Beyond" (PDF). Journal of Economic Perspectives. 18 (2). Nashville, Tennessee: American Economic Association: 143–160. ISSN 0895-3309. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  17. ^ de Haan, Francisca; Daskalova, Krasimira; Loutfi, Anna (2006). Biographical Dictionary of Women's Movements and Feminisms in Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe: 19th and 20th Centuries. Budapest, Hungary: Central European University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-963-7326-39-4.
  18. ^ Anthony, Deborah J. (2010). "A Spouse by Any Other Name". Journal of Women and the Law. 17 (6). Williamsburg, Virginia: William & Mary Law School: 187–222. ISSN 1081-549X. Archived from the original on 29 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  19. ^ Yurkiewicz, Ilana (September 23, 2012). "Study shows gender bias in science is real. Here's why it matters". Scientific American. New York City, New York: Springer Nature. Archived from the original on 1 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  20. ^ Fellman, Megan (December 13, 2012). "Fewer Resources May Explain Why Some Female Faculty Publish Less". Northwestern Now. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University. Archived from the original on 15 June 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  21. ^ Dempster, Lisa (10 June 2016). "If you doubted there was gender bias in literature, this study proves you wrong". The Guardian. London, England. Archived from the original on 11 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  22. ^ Pellack, Lorraine J.; Kappmeyer, Lori Osmus (March 2011). "The Ripple Effect of Women's Name Changes in Indexing, Citation, and Authority Control". Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 62 (3). Hoboken, New Jersey: American Society for Information Science and Technology by Wiley-Blackwell: 440–448. doi:10.1002/asi.21469. ISSN 1532-2882. Retrieved 29 July 2017.