Changing Wikipedia for the better

By on February 6, 2020

Changing Wikipedia for the better

By on February 6, 2020

Changing Wikipedia for the better

Katherine Lopez is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medicine. After completing our recent Wikipedia training course sponsored by the National Science Policy Network, she’s ready to take her new science communication tools into her career.

Wikipedia is my go-to location for quickly finding an answer to those random questions I have throughout the day. Whether it’s finding the birthdate of a historian, or learning the date of prior impeachments, it’s a place which usually will house the answer. This experience is applicable not only to me, but to many people when doing these quick Google searches, as Wikipedia tends to be among the top results. The summary description at the top of most articles facilitates a quick response while also providing other relevant details.

However, despite the amount of time spent on it, I never had actually edited an article, nor did I know how to do so. Then I joined the Wikipedia training course offered by Wiki Education and the National Science Policy Foundation, where I took advantage of the opportunity. Initially, I thought becoming an editor was a more rigorous process, as did my colleagues when I explained to them the course I was participating in. More than once, in those moments where an answer to a question was needed in a moment’s notice, I would access an article with caution banners at the top of the page. These banners are available to describe how an article could be improved.  This was a chance to tackle those articles which were flawed, from adding missing citations to updating content with the latest published research. I could now remedy these articles myself, instead of previously waiting on the goodwill of other volunteers to complete these tasks.

There are many Wikipedia articles available, but only very small number of volunteers who create and curate content. Additionally, many of those individuals may not have access to research articles or may not be able to decipher scientific terminology, which is why having more scientists on Wikipedia benefits the whole community. I focused primarily on neuroscience/ecology articles in which many could be enhanced. In the beginning, even with minor edits, I would revisit the page multiple times to see if I had received feedback from the community or simply if my edit was deleted. None of that happened, but rather I received responses from others making my edits stronger, which was reassuring. During the course, we had weekly meetings, and one of the topics was discussing issues/problems within Wikipedia. One of those problems was how male dominated Wikipedia is, from the articles available to the make-up of editors. Frankly, this hadn’t occurred to me, until I realized one of the articles I was editing about a biology topic (dominance hierarchy) had only a small paragraph about females (out of seventeen sections!) even though it’s a behavior found in both sexes  While posting on the Talk page (a discussion forum found on each Wikipedia page for volunteers to discuss changes), another individual also wanted to take on reworking the page to make the representation of each sex equal. This was a positive experience in that someone else also found this to be an important issue.

Thanks to this training experience, now there’s at least one more female Wikipedian. Since the course ended, I’ve given my own informal lectures to colleagues on how to edit Wikipedia articles, focusing on genetics articles, as many in this category fall short of “good” articles. Making improvements can be as simple as utilizing the Citation Hunt tool, which is a straightforward way to see text within an article that is missing a citation. With a little guidance, you’ll see that the layout for editing a page is simple to navigate, including how to add sources. And if you don’t know where to start, you can look through the Quality Scale on Wikipedia for articles that need help, or Start/Stub pages. From there you can view all the pages classified under this low-quality category. On the Talk page of an article of interest, you can also view the level of importance and to whom it may be important to. A topic I’m interested in, dominance hierarchy, is of mid-importance for both WikiProjects Animals and Ecology. This is a great way to comprehend where the article stands and can provide an overview of the level of work needed for the page.

I believe scientists may find it daunting to tackle a Wikipedia article, or at least to even start. However, even minor edits to improve readability of an article benefits us all.


Interested in taking an introductory Wikipedia training course? Write Wikipedia biographies for women across disciplines and professions (here). Taken a Wikipedia training course already? Work on science policy or voting rights topic in our new advanced course! To see all courses with open registration, visit learn.wikiedu.org.


For inquiries about partnering with Wiki Education, contact Director of Partnerships Jami Mathewson at jami@wikiedu.org or visit partner.wikiedu.org

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