Wikipedia Assignment

New due date: the last day of the exam period (i.e. April 21/12)

The purpose of this assignment is to practice assessing and evaluating Wikipedia, the ubiquitous internet encyclopedia. In other words, rather than asking you not to use it, we are bowing to reality and settling for sharpening your Wiki-skills.

In a nutshell, you are asked to edit and rewrite the entry for your chosen writer, or to draft an entire entry in those cases where one does not already exist. In the event that the entry is actually pretty good, you can still surely make a few suggestions, expansions, or additions. And, you can write up an explanation of why it is already effective.

The first step is to evaluate what is there. If there is no entry extant, your job is in some senses easier as you don’t have to identify and undo the missteps of others. The next few remarks pertain mainly to those faced with an existing entry, though they contain some hints for drafting, as well.

  • What sources are cited in the entry? Are they reasonable? Is the sole source the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica? (bad). Or does the entry provide, ideally, several up-to-date sources? (good). Tip: check out the entry on your writer in the Dictionary of National Biography, available electronically through the UNB library system.
  • Pay attention to any notices or flags on the entry. Are they reasonable? How could they be addressed?
  • Read the “Talk” section, as that is where explanations and discussions take place.
  • Assess the tone of the entry. Is it neutral (good) or biased (bad)? Assess what sorts of things are highlighted: does the entry go on about your subject’s love life to the exclusion of all else (bad), or does it present a balanced view of her life with a strong emphasis on her professional/working life, which is after all why she is in an encyclopedia in the first place?
  • Critical assessments and reputation. Be careful here: you are not making an argument, but instead, you are presenting a general overview of your subject.

Things to consider including in a biographical Wikipedia entry (not all may apply):

  • A section on early life, to include details of birth, education, family life, &c, usually of a personal rather than a professional nature.
  • Material on professional life, accomplishments, &c. Look at other entries for hints on appropriate organization.
  • A section on later life and death.
  • List of your author’s published works (with original dates of publication)
  • Links to electronic texts and other pertinent web-sites
  • List of printed materials. There may be bazillion out there; your job is to include the few most central ones, of the most general use. Do not hesitate to consult a Reference Librarian.
  • Citations for all your sources. Cite everything, particularly anything evaluative (eg. “Jane Doe was an exceptional writer” won’t fly in the Wikipedia world. Instead, something like this would be less likely to provoke disagreement: “Samuel Johnson called Jane Doe ‘an exceptional writer’.” And add a footnote.)
  • Visuals are great but be sure they are out of copyright. Check out what already exists in Wikimedia Commons. Portraits and book covers are commonly used.

When drafting or editing,

  • Pay attention to the standard sort of sections in Wikipedia biographical entries.
  • Do add (or add to) a bibliography of printed materials. Also add a section of external links to appropriate sites, where they exist.
  • Keep in mind the triple Wikipedia mantra of 1) neutrality, 2) no unfair use of copyright material, and 3) evidence, in the form of citations.
  • There are buckets of resources about writing for Wikipedia, on Wikipedia. Do not consider making online edits without familiarizing yourself with them.
  • If you are writing from scratch, try to make your entry more than what Wikipedia calls a “stub” (i.e. a very short, preliminary article). If you are dealing with a pre-existing stub, expand it.
  • Since this is potentially a public document, writing standards are particularly important. Do not hesitate to consult a Writing Tutor.

Hand in to me

  1. Either a print-out of the pre-existing article, or the last date on which you accessed it so I can look it up in the history to see what you were working with, minus any subsequent edits from you or anyone else.
  2. Either a hard-copy of your own version, or, if you are posting it online, the date on which you consider your version to be final (this can include edits from others after your initial posting).
  3. Any explanatory material you think necessary. For example, if the original entry only used one outdated source and you have used several more timely ones, that should be clear enough. But perhaps you might want to explain some of your choices, or indicate any challenges you had (for example, challenges in finding information). Your explanatory material is particularly important in cases where the entry is already pretty good and you have not made many edits: tell me how it is good.
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  1. Wikipedia Assignment « the distaff side

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