Wikipedia for Journalists (Bookshelf)


Wikipedia for Journalists is a part of the Bookshelf Project that chapters and other Wikipedians can translate and print to give out to teach journalists and other people in the media industry how to use Wikipedia's content in a responsible and effective way.

This page needs your help!
Do you have experience talking to journalists about Wikipedia? This deliverable is in early stages of development. Please lend your insights and help us flesh out the talking points. Thanks for the visit, Hannibal

This brochure is in development stage one where we actively seek new ideas. Please help by editing this page. (Learn more about the next phases of this brochure)

Instructions edit

The brochure edit

The brochure will end up being 5–8 pages in print, in color.

Positioning message edit

You use Wikipedia every day. When you conduct a web search for information, Wikipedia is among the first results. But when you use Wikipedia, you need to be clear about what it is and what it isn't. You need to understand how to evaluate the content for reliability. You may also have questions about how content is created, who is in charge, and how to reach the volunteers who write Wikipedia. The Bookshelf materials provide the answers to these questions all in one place to make your daily work easier.

Talking points edit

This material should be divided into two parts:

  1. Writing about Wikipedia
  2. Using Wikipedia as a source
  • Check the discussion tab - it will help you gauge the quality of discussion for the article
  • Check the history tab - it will help you gauge the iterations taken by the article
  • Check the citations
  • Good place to check facts on trivia
  • Good place to find a list of any sort (for example, public holidays across countries, list of movies a movie star acted in)
  • Starting point on facts about a person or happening
  • Ready reference for writing a book/writing on a subject
  • IMPORTANT CONCEPTS (Jimmy Wales view on the topic)
    • Wikipedia seems to be perceived by the general public as similar to a newspaper - not rock solid, but not bad.

Journalists and bloggers use Wikipedia every day. Hundreds of articles every year cite it as a source, including those from 50 of the top 100 newspapers in America.  (Data source needed.) Wikipedia for journalists is a guide to the world’s largest encyclopedia. Search: Wikipedia:Wikipedia as a press source

Production Notes edit

Each module comprises the instructional text. There will not be a main character for this deliverable. Most modules also have a Try it! at the end.

  • [square brackets] are used within instructional text to facilitate communication within the project team on a specific area (for example, if there are areas that need to be fleshed out more) and to clearly mark out xxxxx's dialog. Text within the square brackets will not be printed.
  • Production notes are provided at the end of each module. The Production notes represent communication between the scripting and visual design. This text will not be printed.

Content Development edit

[Title page] edit

[Brochure title: Wikipedia for journalists]

[Image: Wikipedia logo]

[First page] edit

Journalists like you often debate whether to use Wikipedia as a source. The collaborative model and its transparency make Wikipedia radically diffferent from most other sources. On the other hand, Wikipedia comes high among internet search results, which makes Wikipedia itself a powerful force and it is therefore newsworthy.

After reviewing the information below, you will be able to:

  • Search effectively in Wikipedia and gauge the quality of the information you get
  • Write competently about Wikipedia

[Tip icon]: Wikipedia will give you the questions you should ask, not the answers.

Wikipedia 101 edit

Anybody can write articles for, correct facts in, and illustrate Wikipedia. It is a massive project, with 91,000 active volunteer contributors (often called "editors"), 16 million articles in 276 languages, and 400 million visitors each month. Wikipedia is among the world's five most visited websites, far outranking any news outlet.

Unlike traditional encyclopedias, Wikipedia does not have a editor-in-chief. Instead, individual volunteers discuss improvements and, when they disagree, seek consensus based on reliable sources such as academic journals, newspapers, and books. The goal of Wikipedia is to provide neutral, well written, and verifiable articles to every human on the planet. Both established and new contributors participate in the decision making process as equals. In practice, however, the contributors who edit a particular article most frequently influence the content for that article more than others. When disagreements arise, however, those carefully citing high-quality sources are more likely to influence the outcome.

Wikipedia seems to be perceived by the general public as similar to a newspaper: a useful source of information which might not always be 100% accurate. It is most useful for background information on a topic. Wikipedia editors often advise readers to view Wikipedia with reasonable skepticism. When readers need reliable sources, they are advised not to cite Wikipedia directly, but to go to the sources that Wikipedia refers to. This will be covered in greater detail later in this brochure.

[Tip icon]: For more information about Wikipedia's limits, type "Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not" in the search box.

Finding your way around Wikipedia edit

Finding Wikipedia is not hard. Almost any search on the internet places Wikipedia at the top five hits. But finding your way within Wikipedia can be challenging, due to the sheer number of articles. There are two basic ways to look things up in Wikipedia: by searching or by browsing.

Searching: If you know the name of an article you are looking for, simply type it into Wikipedia's search box. The search box will try to match what you type with any existing articles. If there is no exact match, Wikipedia lists several articles that come close. This is the quickest way to find an article, but it will not give you a complete overview over the subject. To find more articles for a common topic, look for the item "containing…" in the drop-down menu, as you type in a search term. Clicking this will lead you to articles that merely contain the search term, instead of taking you directly to the article itself.
Browsing: If you would like to look around the encyclopedia to get an overview, click Contents in the left-side menu. Here you can find comprehensive lists and indices with links to further topics. There is even a complete alphabetical index and indices by category.

After you have reached an article, you should also check out the most relevant links in the text or in the "navigation boxes" that accompany most articles.

[Image:Navigation box, for instance:] [Caption:Articles about similar subjects can be collected in boxes such as this.]

Whether you trust Wikipedia or not, there are creative ways to use the abundance of information on Wikipedia. For example, if you wonder what story is of peak interest to the online communities currently, you can easily find out. From any page on Wikipedia, click Recent changes in the left-side menu. On that list, you can see which articles are most heavily edited.

Production notes


Evaluating Wikipedia edit

As a discerning reader, if you want to evaluate the quality or bias of an individual article, you will need to adopt a new approach to analyzing and evaluating the content. This brochure will give you tools to distinguish good Wikipedia articles from articles that need further improvement, and to understand the processes that an individual article underwent to get to its current state. You will also develop an understanding of when it is appropriate to use Wikipedia as a source.

According to the largest available survey of the Wikipedia contributors (, at least 70% of those who contribute to Wikipedia describe themselves as subject matter experts. There are mathematicians, history professors, biologists, librarians and many other professions represented among the Wikipedia editors. Other contributors are self-taught in various disciplines.

Wikipedia's articles have been favorably compared with articles from traditional encyclopedias and have also been cited in courts of justice, in newspapers and by scholars. However, discussions about how to improve the articles have been going on since Wikipedia started, and there are many tools and strategies that the contributors can use.

Here is a short step-by-step approach you can use:

  1. Check out the structure of the article (its table of contents), and make sure it is clear. Are all aspects of the subject covered?
  2. Read the lead section of the article. If it is not understandable, there is a risk the rest of the article is also badly written. If it is very brief or incomplete, this may indicate that each writer has worked only on small pieces, without much consideration of the subject as a whole.
  3. Look for words that signal emotions and bias. The article should be written neutrally and cover all major viewpoints.
  4. Are there sources for most or all statements? When scrolling to the bottom of the article, you should see a list of reliable sources that the editors have referenced. It is probably better to go to the sources, rather than citing Wikipedia directly.
  5. Watch out for warning signs at the top. There are several types, and most serious warning signs are explained on...
  6. ... the discussion page - where editors plan and talk about how to make articles better. You can find the link to it at the top. Read the discussion to see if there is a fight in progress.
  7. Determine the stability of the article. Click the link "View history" at the top of the page, and look at when the last edit was made. Are there more than 10 edits per day, you should be careful. Articles should always be checked for vandalism, and those enduring edit wars should be treated with even greater skepticism.

On Wikipedia's main page (which you reach by clicking on the Wikipedia logo), each day, one of Wikipedia's finest articles are presented. By clicking on "More featured articles", you can see excellent articles on various subjects. They will give you an idea of the level of quality Wikipedians strive for.


[With explanations]

Production notes

Source file for the hallmark of quality screenshot is available here.

Citing Wikipedia edit

When writing articles for newspapers, it is customary to let people know where you got your information. It makes it easier for them to check your conclusions and to evaluate your message. So, whenever you use Wikipedia in your work, you should attribute Wikipedia - unless you can go further to the sources.

But it is not enough to write "source: Wikipedia" or to write "Source: Wikipedia's article about William Shakespeare". Even including a URL to the article is not enough. Why? Since Wikipedia's articles evolve so quickly, the version of the article you looked at in April may differ from the version that people see in October. Indeed, it is possible for an article to change substantially only moments after you viewed it. The best practice is to refer to the specific version that you want to reference. Under the "Toolbox" menu on the lefthand side of any article, click "Cite this page" for full citation information; or, you may wish to simply click "Permanent link", and then copy the URL in the address bar. Either way, you will get a link which in the future will still point to the current version of the article. This is the URL you should include in your work.

It is also a good idea, particularly in printed works, to add the date you viewed the article, like this: (accessed: August 20, 2010)

[Image: Arrow pointing to Mount Everest. Caption: Name of article.]

When others use this URL, they will go directly to the same version you referenced, and can easily compare this to the latest version of the article.

Reusing material from Wikipedia edit

Everything on Wikipedia is free to reuse, including all images. Wikipedia uses only material under various free licenses, such as Creative Commons. As long as you give your source (as explained above), you can copy, edit and spread all content on Wikipedia. The only exceptions are some images in English Wikipedia, which are covered by allowing "fair use" images.

Wikipedia has several sister projects. Among them Wikimedia Commons, a media archive with more than 7 million images and other files (October 2010 figures) is the biggest.

Clockwise from top, Wikimania (conference), Wikifunctions (programming functions), Wikibooks (textbooks and manuals), Meta-wiki (project coordination), Wikiquote (quotes), Wikispecies (directory of species), MediaWiki (wiki software), Incubator (new projects), Wikidata (structured data), Wikivoyage (travel guide), Wikiversity (learning materials), Wiktionary (dictionary), Wikinews (news), Wikisource (source texts), Wikimedia Commons (media library), and Wikipedia (encyclopedia)

All these have only materials that are free to reuse and spread.

Writing about Wikipedia edit

There are plenty of stories that you can write about Wikipedia. This is evident when you look at the vast number of news items about Wikipedia. Many journalists ask the same questions, and here we will answer most of the most common questions, as well as suggest ways to find new stories about Wikipedia.

Contacting Wikipedia for interviews edit

Since Wikipedia's governing model is quite flat, many journalists do not know who they can talk to. Some solve the situation by citing Wikipedia's help pages. This is not ideal and can lead to misunderstandings about how Wikipedia works. Instead, we recommend these ways of contacting representatives:

  1. ..
  2. ..
  3. ..
  • Wikimedia Foundation
  • chapters and community
  • contacting Jimmy Wales

What have others written edit

Nowadays it is hard to find a story or angle on Wikipedia that is unique. With more than [X] news stories each year, there are bound to be some repetition. But you should avoid the most common stories:

  • Wikipedia will need to advertise
  • One of Wikipedia's founders is critical of Wikipedia

Three common scenarios for journalists edit

Scenario 1: I want to find someone to interview about Wikipedia edit
Scenario 2: I want a debate about how someone criticized Wikipedia edit
Scenario 3: I want to test Wikipedia for accuracy edit

Conclusion edit

  • Wikipedia should be the first place you look, but never the last. As a collaboratively-written secondary source that cites the work of journalists (among other things), it’s risky and often inappropriate to cite Wikipedia as source.

Further discovery edit

If you are looking for more details about the evolution of the particular article or maybe the date when a particular information was updated, one of the most effective features to use for this purpose is View history. This page provides you timestamped information on the changes made to an article. You could use this page for version comparison or to study how the article evolved from the time it originated. Sometimes contributors explain their edits for the change they made. View history lets you review those comments as well.
Discussion is another page that you can access to review contributor deliberations and decisions.


For specific questions, visit Wikipedia Reference desk which is manned 24 hours and 7 days a week by Wikipedians. Search: Wikipedia:RD

Production notes

The source file for the corresponding screenshot of the history tab is available here.

Cite Wikipedia edit

If you add an article, please cite both the title and the source. Note that if you're listing an article from a traditional press wire service that ran in your local newspaper, it may not have the same title everywhere; be cautious about duplicates.

Please add your entry to the end of the page, using Template:Cite news. The template, with the most commonly used parameters, is:

  • {{cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title= |url= |work= |publisher= |date= |accessdate=2024-04-22 }}
    "Relevant/representative quote here."
  • If the article is about Wikipedia itself, search Wikipedia:Press coverage.
  • If the citation is in a book, rather than a periodical, search Wikipedia:Wikipedia as a book source.
  • If the citation is in an academic publication, such as a peer-reviewed journals, search Wikipedia:Wikipedia in academic studies.
  • Place a notice on the article's talk page about the press reference.

Permissions edit

  • ..
  • ...

Conclusion edit