by Camille Gamboa, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Director, Sage
Wikipedia is the fifth most visited site in the world and the most popular reference work in history. It also serves as an authoritative tool for researching faculty. As Rachel Helps, Wikipedian-in-residence at Brigham Young University, notes, “Works cited on Wikipedia have an outsized influence on scholarly work.” So how can we – any member the scholarly community – help to ensure that the information it includes is accurate and robust?
I know I’m preaching to the choir when I share statistics about that power and popularity of Wikipedia, but here’s one stat that might be a bit more startling: only 19 percent of Wikipedia biographies are of women(!). This number has grown slowly over the years (in 2020, it was 15 percent), but .
Given the power of Wikipedia, the lack of women biographies, that women play such a critical role in social and behavioral science (SBS), and that SBS is so central to our publishing program at Sage, organizing an event to add and improve entries of Women in SBS seemed like the right think to do. So we did, and on March 8th – International Women’s Day – with in-person events in our DC and London offices and online.
Here are some tips for anyone who has come across a lackluster or inaccurate bio on Wikipedia – or worse, no article at all – and wanted to edit but didn’t know where to start.
Preparing to Edit
Get your data – and sources – ready
It might sound obvious, but before you begin editing, you’ll need to gather information about the person – things like career achievements, works published, awards and honors, etc. – the essentials you would naturally include in a typical bio but stripped down to what’s most important. A good tip to help you decide what type of info to gather is to take a glance at a few profiles of individuals in that person’s fields that you think are well-written.
This info will need to come from two to three (or more) reputable, mostly secondary sources, even for short entries(called “stubs”). So self-published sources such as personal websites, the individual’s blogs, and LinkedIn profiles won’t work, but university website, government sites, and mainstream media sources will.
Now is not the time for everyone
If you cannot find enough reputable sources, it’s likely that your article will not pass Wikipedia’s threshold of “notability” and it won’t be accepted as an entry (no matter how well-respected they are in their discipline, how much your dean brags about them, or how interesting you thought their local TedX talk was!). Unfortunately, now may not be the time for them to join the world of Wikipedia. Instead, consider focusing your energy on getting those reputable sources created in the first place.
Get your images ready
If you want your entry to include an image you will need to get it from Wikimedia Commons. If there is no image associated with the entry on Commons already, you can upload one of your own or one that the photographer (not the subject) has licensed. (This means you can’t upload one you download off their LinkedIn account.)
Anyone can do it
With a little bit of training (see ours for example), it is relatively easy to learn to edit on Wikipedia. It may be a little tedious when you have a lot of info to include, but it’s not hard and you don’t need to know code to do it (for those of you who have set up a blog or website on WordPress or Squarespace, it will be very easy to do). We had individuals of all abilities at our event making progress.
But you can’t do it for anyone
There are clear conflict-of-interest rules for editing Wikipedia. You can’t edit an article about yourself, friends, family, or work colleagues. If your goal with editing is to improve the public profile of someone you are tied to in this way, you’ll have to think of a more creative way to do it.
Check your tone
Also, remember the article probably shouldn’t take the same tone as a personal website. According to Wikipedia, entries should be written “responsibly, cautiously, and in a dispassionate tone, avoiding both understatement and overstatement.” This means words and phrases such as “the highest-regarded in her discipline” or “the ultimate authority on this topic” will not be welcome. To Wikipedia, a neutral point of view is “non-negotiable.”
Short entries are just fine!
Wikipedia is powered by thousands of volunteers across the globe who can (and will) pick up where others have left off. So, if you spend a day putting up “stub” biographies for people lacking articles, it may be that the next time you go to check on those articles, others have already added more info in there for you. Just make sure to include enough basic info that others can pick it up and add more.
It’s actually kind of fun
It can be a rewarding experience to see slow progress being made on articles you care about, especially once you get used to the platform and Wikipedia’s requirements. It’s especially fun once you start to see changes that you make stick.
It’s more fun in a group
Getting together with others to edit is not only helpful in terms of coming together to troubleshoot or figure it out together, but it also makes it more fun. And our post-pandemic work-from-anywhere norms make it easier to edit in a group. I was able to edit from home with a sick daughter a room away (also partly my inspiration – when she’s old enough to search for scientists online, I want faces of women to pop up). Other participants edited from several different time zones and locations, but through the power of Zoom, we were all connected. There was real power in knowing that we were all working toward the same goal at the same time.
You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help
While editing individual articles is not hard, it can become more complicated if you are trying to get a group to do it together at once. In those cases, it might make sense to ask for help.
For our event, we asked for help from members of the Wikimedia team – and I’m very glad we did. Our main Wikimedia volunteer was patient, helpful, passionate, and responsive. She was generous with her time ahead of the event (producing an excellent training for us) and during the event, answered any and all questions clearly. And it took no arm-twisting to get her involved – I was connected to her by a member of the Women in Red leadership and she readily agreed. I recommend starting with Women in Red to anyone interested in planning their own event dedicated to women. It may just make sense to join one of theirs that’s already in motion!
After editing is done
Your work may not be finished
After you add or edit an article, you may hear from Wikipedia editors about further edits that are needed to make the entry better or to keep it up altogether. While this can be discouraging, in my experience, that second look with added or improved data did the trick.
Now I have the know-how
Perhaps the best thing about learning how to edit on Wikipedia is that once you’re done learning, you’ve now learned how to edit on Wikipedia! So the next time your patrons point out an article that is inaccurate or incomplete, you can change it yourself or give them the tools to do it. It’s empowering and both helpful for our own academic circle but also to the wider world.
About the Author: My name is Camille Gamboa (she/her) and I’ve joined The Charleston Hub’s blog to write about all things communications. I am the corporate communications and public affairs director at Sage, where I employ various communication strategies to brand Sage amongst the scholarly community, media, policymakers and public. I also work with groups in the US and across the trans-Atlantic to demonstrate the value of social and behavioral science to those outside of academia. I have a Master of Arts in communication from Pepperdine University and a certificate for women and leadership from Antioch University. I currently reside in the greater DC-area with my husband and two young daughters. @CamilleGamboa
Great post, @CamilleGamboa