Snort at Wikipedia for being an “unreliable source” all you want, but it has come a long way from being the academic black sheep it once was. Crowd-sourcing information into the world’s largest free encyclopedia sounded risky, but by relying on strict codes of ethics and the keen eyes of passionate editors, Wikipedia is proving naysayers wrong.

A desktop computer monitor with a keyboard is on a white background. On the screen is an image of a library aisle with shelves full of books, and a large, open book is in the foreground as if it were jumping out of the computer screenIn one study conducted by Nature, researchers found that a selection of Wikipedia articles on scientific subjects were comparable to a professionally edited encyclopedia like Encyclopedia Britannica. Even when inaccuracies are found and proven, Wikipedia can be updated almost instantaneously, unlike corrections needed for printed editions.

The trick is finding people who have expertise to share their hard-earned knowledge with the rest of the world. That’s where you come in. After a lifetime working in your chosen field, you have accumulated prowess that shouldn’t be allowed to go to waste. If you’re retired and are seeking ways to stay intellectually engaged, it’s time to consider contributing to Wikipedia.

The World Needs Your Knowledge

During the same study that compared the content of the two encyclopedias, Nature, a respected scientific journal itself, surveyed their own authors and their Wikipedia usage. A woman with short-cropped grey hair is wearing a bright marigold sweater while resting her chin on a folded hand. Her elbow is up on the desk where she is working, looking at an open laptop that faces away from us, with an open notebook beside it.The survey found that although 70% of them had heard of Wikipedia, only 17% consulted the site weekly, and less than 10% helped to update the information they found. (Granted, all of this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because the study was done in 2005, almost 20 years ago.) The point remains: To continue as a reliable source of information, Wikipedia needs contributions from experts in addition to enthusiasts and hobbyists.

You might even consider it a civic duty to share your hard-earned expertise rather than let it go to waste. In our discussion about the importance of metaliteracy, we talked about how we are all active participants in an online society. In addition to being critical about where we get information, we also need to consider what we share. By helping to guide others in their journey for knowledge, we are ensuring that the information they get is accurate and complete.

10 Steps to Becoming a Wiki Editor

It may seem daunting, but editing for Wikipedia is relatively simple. Most of the time you aren’t creating new material but instead helping to add reliable, established sources to existing articles. This is where your expertise comes in: you know where to find credible sources (heck, you might even know them personally), and you know what is most important for people to know. All you need to do is share. 

Wikipedia wants more contributors to help guarantee its continuing success, so they’ve made it easy by breaking it down into ten simple steps: 

Register an account

We are treated to a desktop-level view of a woman's hands typing on a laptop keyboard. On the desk in the foreground are reading glasses and a leather journalCreating your own account is not strictly necessary but helpful if you’re planning on editing articles. It offers added privacy and security, particularly if you use a pseudonym, although you can choose to use your own name as well. (Just keep in mind: everything you put on the Internet is forever, and if you use your name it opens you up for indefinite scrutiny.) Having an account makes it easier to communicate and collaborate with others in the Wiki community, and it grants access to enhanced editing features and monitoring capabilities.

Learn the Five Pillars

Wikipedia has five fundamental principles

  1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia
  2. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view
  3. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute
  4. Wikipedia’s editors should treat each other with respect and civility
  5. Wikipedia has no firm rules

Be bold, but not reckless

As the site’s success hinges upon participation, Wikipedia encourages you to correct an error if you spot one and add improvements wherever you think it is needed. (If your edits are deemed incorrect or unnecessary, they’ll merely be reverted or edited out. No harm, no foul.)

Know your audience

Hands gnarled with arthritic joints are typing on a laptop keyboard, which we see from overhead.Wikipedia is for everyone, not just academics or field experts, so you need to keep things accessible and jargon-free.

Do not infringe copyright

This is a biggie. Since Wikipedia is free content, you can’t just copy text or figures from other sources unless they’re published under an open-access license (and properly attributed). Put things in your own words as much as possible.

Cite, Cite, Cite

Verifiability is crucial to maintaining the highest possible standards. Attribute every statement with a reliable, published source if possible. Providing citations will help if your information is challenged by another editor in the future.

Avoid self-promotion

Wikipedia wants to discourage people from, for example, writing a page about themselves. If you’re notable enough, someone else will write one for you. Along the same lines, it’s a good idea to avoid the conflict of interest involved when writing about people you know personally, like mentors, colleagues, or competitors.

Share your expertise, but don’t argue from authority

What Wikipedia is getting at here is that no matter how many degrees you might have, verification of information and sources is always necessary. The information needs to stand on its own, in other words. Also, be sure to include scholarly or scientific publications you have contributed to, but use common sense about which pages you add this information to.

Write neutrally and with due weight

Wikipedia articles need to be impartial in tone and content. No opinions offered as facts. In addition, it is important to include information about fringe theories or scientific controversies, but they shouldn’t hold equal weight/discussion as the confirmed and accepted consensus.

Ask for help

The technological aspect of editing a page can be tricky at first, so be sure to use their help desks or take advantage of their Adopt-a-User mentorship program.

One Caveat

There’s some chatter online about how you could get paid for becoming a Wikipedia contributor/editor. Be extremely cautious when treading here, because it has become a highly controversial debate. To give you a (very) brief background: some people realized that they could use PR firms or paid writers to promote their own brands or hide unsavory bits of their past. This is not an accepted practice. Theoretically, anyone who has been paid to edit a wikipedia page (like a PR firm) is required to disclose that on the site — although the rate of people complying with this policy is not well-established.

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