Friday, February 5, 2010

Writing for Wikipedia – Writing the Lead

So far, we’ve talked a lot about what Wikipedia is and is not, and about Wikipedia’s views on biographies. It’s time to address some of the mechanics of actually creating an article.

If you’ve been following the author links each day, you know all the articles have a similar look and feel. That’s because Wikipedia has a defined style for each type of article, including biographies.

Let’s take a look at today’s links: Steven Saylor, Andrew Vachss, and Amy Tan.

Each of these articles has a title and the title is the name by which we know the author. If you look back at the Sunday and Monday links, you’ll see all our sample biographies use the author’s name as a title.

The articles begin with leads – information that appears above the table of contents. The first sentence of the first paragraph in the lead section:

· Contains the article title (the author’s name) in bold, the date of birth, and date of death if appropriate–remember, verifiable facts not forecasts–and any titles (e.g. Poet Lauriat) bestowed on the author.

Examples from Wikipedia articles:

Tony Hillerman (May 27, 1925 - October 26, 2008[1][2]) was an award-winning American author of detective novels and non-fiction works best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels.

Dame Agatha Christie DBE (15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976), was an English crime writer of novels, short stories and plays.

· Provides any other names by which a person might be known,

Examples from Wikipedia articles:

Amy Tan (Chinese: 譚恩美; pinyin: Tán Enmei) (born February 19, 1952) is an American writer of Chinese descent whose works explore mother-daughter relationships.

Janet Evanovich (born Janet Schneider, April 22, 1943, in South River, New Jersey) is an American writer.

· Might provide the person’s nationality
· Clearly tells why the person is notable

The rest of the lead paragraph should state the most notable facts about the author and be written in a way that makes the reader want to read more.

Have you selected an author and drafted a lead? Are you proud of your lead sentence? Would you like some feedback? Use the comments link below to show us what you’ve written.

For today’s reference articles, I searched for Steven Saylor, Andrew Vachss, Amy Tan, William G. Tapply, and Rosemary Poole-Carter. I managed to find Amy Tan right away, but none of the others. Luckily, they are all authors and we have handy online book stores to assist with correct spelling of authors’ names. When I changed Stephen to Steven and Vachs to Vachss, those pages came right up. After verifying the spelling for William G. Tapply, and Rosemary Poole-Carter, I searched again, but came up empty. Perhaps those two fine authors do not yet have pages, although it’s hard to believe that of Mr. Tapply who has published more than forty novels and a respectable number of non-fiction titles since 1984.

William G. Tapply holds a special place in my heart. He provided the first blurb for my first novel. I never met him in person, just exchanged a few email messages and the manuscript for Hacksaw. My experience was not unusual. By all accounts, he was an incredibly generous man who mentored many young authors. Wikipedia doesn’t have a place for biographies for those earning the title of Great Human Being, so I plan to write an article about Mr. Tapply’s writing career, and will use that article in my examples. My lead for William G. Tapply:

William G. Tapply (1940 - July 28, 2009), an American author also known as Bill Tapply, and best know for his Brady Coyne mystery novels, penned more than forty books during his twenty-five year novel writing career and nearly a thousand
magazine articles during his lifetime. He was a Contributing Editor for Field
& Stream and a columnist for American Angler. With his wife, author Vicki
Stiefel, he ran The Writers Studio at Chickadee Farm from which they mentored young writers.

Notice, I haven’t yet found his date of birth, but I provided the information I did have. Will I publish the article like this? Yes, if I don’t find the missing date. One of the great features of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit an existing article. So, if I write what I know and get it out there, others can fill in the missing pieces, expand the article to include knew sub-topics, correct any errors.

Are you ready to begin inside Wikipedia? No? Wikipedia provides a user-friendly tutorial and recommends new contributors practice by editing a few articles before creating their own. In addition, an article wizard is provided to assist with those first few articles. We’ll use the wizard to create our author articles.

But first, a few edits. When searching for a favorite author who does needs a wiki page, you’re likely to find several who already have pages. These are good places to try your hand at a few edits. Are the publication lists up to date? Are links missing? (E.g. If an author has won an award, is there a link to the award page?) Are sources sited?

After you’ve read the tutorial, practiced in the sandbox, and edited a few live articles, you’re ready to try your hand at creating your first new article. Chances are, you’ll make mistakes, most new contributors do. However, you can avoid a few of the more common errors. For example, before beginning a new article, search Wikipedia to make sure that article does not already exist. If you expect to find an article, and don’t, check your spelling or try different forms of the name.

Next Friday we finish our drafts. For more ideas on the kinds of information to include, check out these examples:

Mark Twain, Truman Capote, and Stephen Hawking

Other articles in this series include:
• January 15 – Wikipedia Registration
• January 22 – Background on Biographies
• February 5 – The Rest of the Story
• February 12 – Creating an Article in Draft
• February 19 – Benefits
• February 26 – Odd and Ends

Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

News, Views and Reviews Blog

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  1. I'm not sure I'd ever dare write for Wikipedia, but it's fascinating to learn more about how it's done, and the information's useful for writing any kind of article. Thanks.

  2. Wikipedia, though not an authoritative source of information by any means, is a great jumping-off point for further research but unfortunately it often includes text that has been copied from other websites without attribution, a terribly common practice on the internet these days. I hope would-be contributors know better than to do that when adding articles, but apparently many do not, so it might be worth mentioning.

  3. Sheila,

    I'm glad you're enjoying the series - and do hope you'll try your hand at Wikipedia. If you aren't ready to write an entire article on your own, consider adding information to exisiting articles.


  4. Kate,

    Not only is attribution the right thing to do, but there are advantages to doing so on Wikipedia. Links to the original articles help the Wiki police verify the information, give readers additional sites for research, and, in some cases, make your Wiki post more accessible to readers.

    If you borrow from another writer, always give credit.

    Thanks, Kate, for the reminder.


  5. Thank you, Charlotte. I've been intimidated by this idea, but you've made it seem doable...maybe!


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