Editing Wikipedia

I’ve been asked this question a few times recently, so thought it worth sharing my answer with everyone that reads this blog:

What’s the best way to approach editing Wikipedia articles about us?

There are a number of reasons why you might want to do this – the most obvious being that there are some factual inaccuracies that you want to correct – though sometimes there are other reasons too.

There have been several high profile incidents where Wikipedia has been edited – by either the individual who is the subject of the article or by an employee of an organisation with a page on the site – with various degrees of success or humiliation. Here’s my guide to getting more of the former and less of the latter.

My instinctive reaction is: don’t do it. Editing Wikipedia is a minefield and getting it right will take up an awful lot of time. Think about another way around it – could you publish a list of corrections on your own website, or on a blog? Perhaps encourage someone else who reads it to make the corrections, but leave Wikipedia itself well alone.

If you are determined to get involved, here’s what to do. Firstly, do not edit anonymously but create an account on the site. This is for the very good reason that your edits will not be anonymous anyway – your IP address will be recorded and if you are using a work computer, people will easily be able to find out where you are.

Instead, give yourself a username that’s understandable, not some random pseudonym. Then, open your personal user page and edit it to explain exactly who you are and who you work for. What you are aiming for is complete transparency – the last thing you want is people thinking that you are being sneaky.

Once that’s all done, it’s time to edit the entry itself. Or, rather, not – because my advice would be not to edit the text of the article itself first of all. Instead, I’d limit my edits to the article’s talk page initially. Explain in the page the inaccuracies, and perhaps link to the web page I mentioned earlier with a list of corrections. Then let the community do its work – some corrections will be made to the page – maybe all of them. What you are doing is giving the Wikipedians the facts, and allowing them to put their own house in order.

If that doesn’t happen, or if there is an urgent correction that needs making, then edit the text itself. Firstly, make the change, ensuring that you clearly link back to sources to back up your edits – and make sure you use the edit summary box to explain what you have done and why. Then, drop by the article’s talk page and again explain who you are, what change you made and why you did it.

Once all that is done, sign up to get email alerts when the page is changed so you can keep on top of what further edits people are making.

If you find that someone just goes in right away and reverts – that is, removes your edits and restores the page to how it looked before you started – do not get tempted into reverting their reversion! These tit-for-tat “edit wars” do nobody any good! Instead, try and engage with the person making the reversion, again through the article’s talk page, or on that user’s own page maybe. Most Wikipedipedians are friendly, conciliatory folk and you should be able to talk them into being more reasonable.

Of course, if that fails, there is always the Wikipedia arbitration process. Good luck with that.

For more on Wikipedia culture, I found Andrew Lih‘s book The Wikipedia Revolution pretty good. Lih is clearly a fan of Wikipedia, so it is hardly an unbiased account, but there is some really useful background in there.

This post was originally published at DavePress.

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Frederick P. Wellman

Good layout of the approach. I think the key take away for us in government is that you have to be open and clear that you are a representative of the government and you are addressing fatal innacuracies or malicious content. Not liking what is said, if its based in fact, is not a good enough reason to touch or even approach editing a Wikipedia entry. People get in trouble when they are trying to engage in “information operations” if you will and propagandize on the site. Everything needs to be based in verfiable facts as the start point…not opinion.

Teresa Ruano

As someone who is an experienced Wikipedian, I will add a few other comments: One of Wikipedia’s core policies is “no original research“, and the community has clearly defined guidelines about what constitutes a reliable source. Make sure you understand these core policies. A blog is NOT considered a reliable source on Wikipedia, so it would be better to cite third-party, factual sources for any changes you are suggesting. With regard to self-interested editing (doing so on behalf of your employer), there’s a guideline on conflicts of interest that you should read. There’s a general bias in the Wikipedia community against self-interested editing, which is why posting your suggestions to the talk page is a good idea. However, keep in mind that this is a community guideline, not a core policy, and there’s growing acknowledgement in the Wikipedia that self-interested editing, so long as it is done in keeping with Wikipedia’s core policies, can be done constructively. Also, with regard to edit-warring, if you do it, you’re likely to get blocked as an editor. Engaging on the talk page instead can be time-consuming, but it’s the only way to demonstrate that you understand and are willing to participate in the collaborative editing process in keeping with Wikipedia’s core policies and guidelines.