Irked by Wikipedia errors? Here’s how to fix them

Elsevier’s science & technology books team has created a useful guide to editing the site

Wikipedia, the free, open-source online encyclopedia, has been around for more than a decade. In that time it has grown into one of the premier destinations on the Internet for millions of visitors and registered users looking to obtain or contribute information on a topic of interest.

According to Wikipedia, as of April 2015, there are just under 5 million articles in the English language version of Wikipedia.

Its pages consistently top lists of search results in Google and other popular search engines; Google even pulls data from Wikipedia to populate information summaries in sidebars that sometime accompany its search results (see screenshot below).

Google WikipediaScreenshot

While Wikipedia is a huge source of information, it is also a community, with its own rules for governance, and members who share the responsibility of enforcing them. Its fundamental principles are summed up in its “Five Pillars”:

  • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia
  • Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view
  • Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute
  • Editors should treat each other with respect and civility
  • Wikipedia does not have firm rules

Why care?

SciTech Connect logoThis article first appeared on SciTech Connect – our blog for science and technology book authors, resources and news.

Wikipedia’s freewheeling, open-source nature comes with a downside, of course, in the form of sometimes questionable accuracy. Maybe you’ve been irked by a persistent piece of misinformation on a page pertaining to your line of work? 

For better or for worse, Wikipedia is not going anywhere anytime soon, and continues to be relied upon by millions as an information source. The silver lining, however, is that Wikipedia bills itself as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” – so why not you? It’s easier than you may think.

Where to start?

Should you choose to participate in this community, we have compiled a Concise Guide to Editing Wikipedia that includes information on how to create a user account and edit or add citations to a Wikipedia article. In addition, it covers how to make the best use of your time on this site.

Creating an account
While it’s possible to edit Wikipedia without creating an account, doing so will cause the site to log your computer’s IP address in the page’s edit history. This can sometimes be less anonymous than making up a user name. The easy steps to creating an account are laid out here

Editing pages
Try looking up Wikipedia pages about subjects you study or have written about. For example, if you contributed a chapter to a book on lithium-ion battery technology, you might try reviewing Wikipedia’s page on lithium ion batteries. Editing pages on Wikipedia can take some getting used to, but we’ve listed the basics for you here.

Adding citations to pages
Wikipedia encourages citations for all assertions of fact in its articles. However, it is not hard to find such assertions that have not yet been cited to a source. An easy way to find these is to simply search a page for the phrase “citation needed” by hitting Control-F on your keyboard. If you see any such information on the page that can be backed up by a source you’re familiar with, you can enter the citation using these simple steps here.

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