Why I Wrote an Article for Wikipedia (and You Should, Too)

I’m happy to announce that my first Wikipedia page is now out in the wild. I am not going to mention it by name in text for the sake of protecting my identity, but you can see it in the screenshot below and then go find it, if you’re interested. As of this writing, the page hasn’t changed much since I wrote it. It received a rather poor rating from the mods, and I’m not entirely sure why yet, but I am proud of it anyway.

Wikipedia article screenshot

So why did I decide to write a Wikipedia article? I had never heard of the subject of my article before I picked her somewhat randomly from a list of redlinks (missing articles). I was certainly not an expert on her. I don’t believe I’m an expert on anything, because even though I read a lot, I have a terrible memory. I get my facts pretty crooked, unless they’re related to Star Wars.

But I learned how to do research in the third grade. And I needed this little confidence boost of feeling like I’d contributed something concrete to the world, however small. Strange that digital things can feel concrete, isn’t it? And the #1 reason that I decided to write an article for Wikipedia is:

90% of Wikipedia contributors are men.

I wanted to become a Wikipedia contributor to help tip that balance a little. It took me an embarrassingly long time to put this one article together, but I want to push myself to keep contributing occasionally to Wikipedia, both writing articles and editing existing articles. Wikipedia is largely written by and about men, so there’s a big need for articles to be written by and about women.

Wikipedia lists the following as reasons that fewer women contribute than men (source: Gender Bias on Wikipedia):

  1. A lack of user-friendliness in the editing interface
  2. Not having enough free time
  3. A lack of self-confidence
  4. Aversion to conflict and an unwillingness to participate in lengthy edit wars
  5. Belief that their contributions are too likely to be reverted or deleted
  6. Some find its overall atmosphere misogynistic
  7. Wikipedia culture is sexual in ways they find off-putting
  8. Being addressed as male is off-putting to women whose primary language has grammatical gender
  9. Fewer opportunities than other sites for social relationships and a welcoming tone

Another reason cited in the article is Wikipedia’s failure to attract female editors.

So far, I haven’t really interacted with the Wikipedia community, so I can’t speak to what it’s like. My plan right now is to keep to myself, but maybe some day I’ll be confident and involved enough to want to join the fray. The threat of online harassment is definitely off-putting, but I think it’s an issue no matter what forum you enter online — even among family and friends on Facebook! It’s more damaging in some forums than on others though, and it’s weird to join an established community with nothing but your words to represent you.

As far as the interface, I didn’t find it too difficult since I have a background in web design & development. In fact, I thought learning and using the markup was pretty fun. But I can see how it would be uninviting to many. I had to use Google to find the resources I needed, on Wikipedia, about editing Wikipedia—things like style, markup, formatting, citation. It was like there was too much information and no good way to navigate it.

But it’s a rewarding little challenge to step up and create something that could be useful to people. I would encourage all of my friends to give contributing a shot, especially the women. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be able to learn and follow the rules. I did 100% of my research online, so I was able to do it on my own time, from the comfort of home. I’m sure not all articles can or should be researched this way, but as long as the sources meet the criteria, it’s still better than if the Wikipedia article continued to not exist at all. If the powers that be decide that your sources or your writing suck, they can point it out and it can be fixed.

If you’re interested, here’s the list of redlinks where I found my subject. Poke around, maybe you’ll find someone who interests you. Join us! Everyone’s favorite encyclopedia could use your skills.

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