Wikipedia Editing for Scientists

David Eppstein has written up a guide for scientists who want to get started contributing to Wikipedia.

Here is why you might want to write for Wikipedia, from Eppstein’s writeup:


You already have other avenues for publishing your writing professionally, and plenty of demands on your time. Why should you take the extra time to write for Wikipedia as well?

  • Public service. Part of being a scientist is communicating to the public, and Wikipedia is a great way of writing about research in a way that can be found and read by the public.
  • Give and take. As a research scientist you are benefiting from a vast collection of survey articles written by the Wikipedia community. Why not reciprocate and help improve the existing articles by sharing your knowledge?
  • Righting wrongs. You’ve probably already found some important topics that you know about from your research that are missing from Wikipedia, or worse, described incorrectly. Who better than someone who knows about these topics professionally to repair the damage?
  • Practice. To write well on Wikipedia, you have to pay more attention to matters of readability than you might when writing for your peers. Practicing your writing ability in this way is likely to cause your professional writing to improve.
  • Broaden your knowledge. When you write about a topic, you learn about it yourself; you may well find the topics you write about useful later in your own research. Also, when you carefully survey a topic, you are likely to find out about what is not known as well as what is known, and this could help you find future research projects.
  • It looks good on your vita. Actually, I don’t think any tenure committee is going to care about your Wikipedia contributions. And in most cases the fact that you’ve contributed to an article is invisible to most readers, so it’s also not going to do much for making you more famous. But recently the NSF has started to take “broader impacts” more seriously on grant applications, and if you can make a convincing case that your Wikipedia editing activity is significant enough to count as a broader impact then that will probably improve your chances of getting funding. And getting more funding really does look good on your vita.
  • Your advisor asked you to. This may or may not be a good reason, depending on what your advisor asked you to edit. Articles about a general subject area that you’re starting to learn about in your own research, as a way of making a public contribution while helping you learn: good. Articles about your advisor or his/her own research: not so good.

I agree.

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