Advice on using Wikipedia

Steve recently wrote that the BBC should engage with Wikipedia. I agree.

[photo credit: Steve Bowbrick]

Here’s some advice for anyone at the BBC wanting to get involved, which includes some things to consider if you’re not already familiar with contributing to Wikipedia. Feel free to ignore it if you don’t work for the Beeb, but perhaps it will be interesting and useful to other people too and of course I’m keen to hear what (presumably many) important things I’ve missed.

First of all, it’s worth knowing that the BBC has editorial guidelines about using open access online encyclopedias.

“…When correcting errors about the BBC, we should be transparent about who we are. We should never remove criticism of the BBC. Instead, we should respond to legitimate criticism. We should not remove derogatory or offensive comments but must report them to the relevant administrators for them to take action.

Before editing an online encyclopedia entry about the BBC, or any entry which might be deemed a conflict of interest, BBC staff should consult the house rules of the site concerned and, if necessary, ask permission from the relevant wikieditor. They may also need to seek advice from their line manager.”

Once you’re comfortable with all of that, the next place to look is Wikipedia’s own documentation.

A good places to being in the guide on contributing to Wikipedia, which says that although you do not have to create an account to edit articles on Wikipedia, there are many good reasons for you to do so. See especially the advice on why create an account. BBC employees should be open and transparent about their BBC status (which will be obvious from their IP addresses anyway, like this well publicised example) and the best way of doing this is by creating and using a user account.

More good places to get started include the Five Pillars, avoiding common mistakes and the perfect article (although it’s worth remembering that perfection is not required).

The policies and guidelines are important. Anyone considering editing Wikipedia you take their time in absorbing and understanding all the policies and guidelines. Here are some highlights. What follows it not a complete list, just a taster to get you started.


Neutral point of view

“All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.”…


“The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth—that is, whether readers are able to check that material added to Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source, not whether we think it is true.”…

No original research

“Wikipedia does not publish original research or original thought. This includes unpublished facts, arguments, speculation, and ideas; and any unpublished analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position. This means that Wikipedia is not the place to publish your own opinions, experiences, or arguments.”…

What Wikipedia is not

“Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information; merely being true or useful does not automatically make something suitable for inclusion in an encyclopedia” …

see particularly the policy on news reports

“Wikipedia considers the historical notability of persons and events. News coverage can be useful source material for encyclopedic topics, but not all events warrant an encyclopedia article of their own. Routine news coverage of such things as announcements, sports, and tabloid journalism are not sufficient basis for an article.”…


Conflicts of interest

“Activities regarded by insiders as simply “getting the word out” may appear promotional or propagandistic to the outside world. If you edit articles while involved with organizations that engage in advocacy in that area, you may have a conflict of interest.”…

see particularly How to avoid COI edits and How to handle conflicts of interest

External Links

“Wikipedia’s purpose is not to include a comprehensive list of external links related to each topic. No page should be linked from a Wikipedia article unless its inclusion is justifiable”…

plus What to link, including What should be linked, Links to be considered and Links normally to be avoided

Reliable sources

“Keep in mind that if the information is worth reporting, an independent source is likely to have done so.”…


“Within Wikipedia, notability is an inclusion criterion based on encyclopedic suitability of a topic for a Wikipedia article. The topic of an article should be notable, or “worthy of notice.” Notability is distinct from “fame,” “importance,” or “popularity,” although these may positively correlate with it.”…

see particularly General notability guideline and Notability of article content

“Keep in mind that an encyclopedia article is a summary of accepted knowledge regarding its subject, not a complete exposition of all possible details”…

You’ll want to be careful to follow Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines to ensure that any proposed edits, new pages or external links are worthy of inclusion, and always be open to correction from Wikipedia’s users and editors.

5 replies on “Advice on using Wikipedia”

  1. Excellent stuff. It’ll be interesting to see what you do in this area.

    I suppose one area that particularly occurs to me is that occasionally I find the news stories are a little short on background. Having a couple of links at the bottom on places to read about the background to a conflict or news story (usually wikipedia is a good source, and when it isn’t, perhaps the bbc folks could make it one), would be a bit advantage.

  2. It’d also be extremely cool to see clips from bbc news / documentaries / programs on relevant wikipedia articles.

    A specific wikipedia license would be OK, if a more generally friendly license would be too hard to arrange.

  3. It would be very handy if the pictures that accompany programmes on the iPlayer were make “creative commons with attribution” so they could be used on Wikipedia to illustrate articles about the TV and radio broadcast.

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