Over the last couple weeks, students in our WRTG 315 class have been working on an assignment that required each of them to create a brand new or mostly new Wikipedia article on a topic of their choice. The topics ranged from specific events in wrestling to local icons like a tattoo artist and comics shop. It was awesome to see their pages develop and grow.

Some tips for helping students create Wikipedia pages, based on our short experience:

  • First, encourage your students to find an existing Wikipedia article on a topic similar to what they want to write about. For example, if the student wants to write about a local parade, they should look at other parade articles. This will come in especially handy if the student is writing an article that would benefit from a sidebar. Those sidebar categories are already set and they’ll need to use the correct labels.
  • When the students create their Wikipedia accounts, they will automatically have a “sandbox” page. Show them how to start the rough drafts of their articles in the sandbox first. This way they can do all the trial-and-error necessary for figuring out Wikipedia citations without worrying about other editors tinkering with their work. Also, it gives you, the instructor, a “clean” copy of their work to grade.
  • Assign the Wikipedia tutorial as a class reading. It helps give an overview, but there will still be a lot that they will have to learn by doing. One of the most important tips here is that Wikipedia articles are expected to have “a neutral voice” — this might be a good topic for a class discussion.
  • If students struggle with getting the right wiki code in their articles, have them look at the “Edit” tab of the similar pages they found earlier. Copy / Paste, my friend.
  • Make sure students are linking to other Wikipedia articles where appropriate, and have them identify at least one or two articles that should link to their page – otherwise, it’s an orphan article.
  • Finally, students should find some existing categories to give their article. Looking at the similar pages they found might help here, or they can look through Wikipedia’s categories structure.

We found several helpful readings when preparing to do this assignment. A couple of these included:

2010. Tardy, Christine. Writing for the world: Wikipedia as an introduction to academic writing. (PDF)

2011. White, David. The Learning Black Market.

Update: See also this 2012 post from Audrey Watters, Building a better Wikipedia with the help of college students.