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Research:Women and Wikipedia: Contributions in a Collaborative Online Space

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This page documents a planned research project.
Information may be incomplete and change before the project starts.

Key Personnel


Project Summary


I am a doctoral student in the English Department at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. My studies focus on writing and digital technologies, and I am especially interested in the relationship between gender and contributions to online spaces such as Wikipedia.

As one of the world’s largest and most successful writing projects, Wikipedia is of tremendous interest to researchers of writing. However, while many composition scholars have celebrated the collaborative and technological affordances of Wikipedia, few compositionists have investigated why, as this 2010 survey found, only 13% of contributors are women. Although the 2011 Editor Survey noted an 8.5% growth in female editors over the last two years, there is still clearly a sizable gender gap in the Wikipedia community.

Thus, I am beginning a research project focused on female contributors to Wikipedia. I hope to build on existing efforts by Wikipedia’s Gender Gap community and learn more about women’s experiences as contributors to understand what enables and hinders their participation. I want to know why few women contribute to this space, and what implications this holds for writing and, more broadly, the production of knowledge within the Wikipedia community. Compositionists clearly value Wikipedia’s mode of knowledge production, but I want to investigate whose knowledge is left out. For my dissertation study, I’d like to send an open-ended survey to Wikipedia’s female contributors and to then conduct interviews via phone, email, chat, or Skype to gather in-depth perspectives. Interviewing these women will not only provide insight to women’s experiences on Wikipedia, it will also allow me to theorize why more women don’t contribute. Ultimately, I hope to develop a theory that explains the kind of epistemology valued by the Wikipedia community—and explore its implications for women and feminist teachers of writing alike.

With this research, the results of which I would share with the Wikimedia Foundation, I hope to foster female contributions to Wikipedia and to help Wikipedia reach the goal expressed by Sue Gardner who aims to raise the rate of female contributors to Wikipedia to 25% by 2015 .



For this study, I hope to survey at least 50 women who contribute to English language Wikipedia, and to obtain at least 10 interviews. I do not require a random sample or statistically significant sample sizes, but of course I hope to recruit as many diverse women as possible (i.e., frequent contributors, admins, infrequent contributors, women from different backgrounds/locations). Please visit this page to learn more about my survey and interview protocols.

I want to fairly represent the experiences of women who write on Wikipedia, but first I will need to gain access to these women. I do not know the best way to identify female contributors, so here I ask for the Research Committee’s suggestions and support. Perhaps it is best to contact the gender gap listserv, and/or I could post my recruitment notice somewhere on the Community Portal.

This project seeks to interview women who contribute to Wikipedia. It is nearly impossible to “validate” a participant’s gender in online research such as this, but essentializing gender using a strict formula is problematic in any situation. Thus, I seek to interview users who self-identify as women: I will not provide any criteria to define what “counts” as a woman.

For your reference, here is a draft of the recruitment message I propose to use:

Greetings [user name],

My name is Leigh Gruwell, and I am a doctoral student at Miami University in Oxford, OH. I am also a Wikipedia contributor and I value Wikipedia as an incredible collective resource. I study writing, and am interested in how gender impacts contributions to online spaces such as Wikipedia. I am writing you today to ask for your help. For my doctoral dissertation, I’d like to survey and interview women who contribute to Wikipedia in order to better understand their experiences. By sharing my research with the Wikimedia Foundation, it is my hope that Wikipedia may become an even more inclusive space.

If you are interested in participating, you may access the survey here [link]. The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete, and participation involves minimum risk. You may also choose to participate in an interview with me. These interviews would last about 30-45 minutes and would be conducted via Skype, telephone, IM, or email. Participation involves minimal risk. I value your privacy and will take every precaution to ensure confidentiality. I will not track IP addresses, and all data will be stored securely. My university does require that participants sign a consent form, but real names (or Wikipedia user names) will never be used in my research unless you would like to be identified. If you are interested in participating in an interview, please email me (gruwellc@miamioh.edu) or send me as message on Wikipedia (my username is Lcg04c).

[I would add this upon approval] This study has been reviewed and approved by the Wikimedia Foundation Research Committee. For more information about my study including the informed consent document, please visit this page. You may also feel free to contact me with any additional questions.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Leigh Gruwell

Doctoral Student

English Department

Miami University, Oxford Ohio




It is important that I share my research with Wikipedians. I will share drafts of my interview questions here (and welcome any input), and I will happily share any findings under the most open license I can manage (of course, if I publish anything based on this study, I will need to contact the publisher to work out what I can and cannot share).

My research is also of interest to teachers and scholars of writing, thus I will present my work in relevant venues, such as:



Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection


My first priority is the ethical, responsible treatment of participants. My institution's IRB board determined my procedures for the protection of human subjects are sufficient and approved this project as exempt in March 2012, but I will work with my dissertation committee to ensure the continued protection of participants. In addition to securing informed consent, I will share my motivations and methods with participants, and participants may withdraw at any time with no negative consequences. I will also provide participants the opportunity to review (and contest) any representation of them or their ideas in drafts of my findings. Raw data (including interview recordings and transcripts) will be stored securely and confidentially.

Benefits for the Wikimedia community


Wikipedia has already announced its intention to raise its share of female contributors to 25% by 2015. In addition to understanding more about the women who already contribute to Wikipedia, my research will help to identify what currently prevents other women from contributing. This will allow me to theorize about how Wikipedia might go about fostering additional female participation. Wikipedia gets its strength from the collaborative efforts of a diverse group of people, and inviting more contributors will only make Wikipedia stronger.

Time Line


The (flexible) timeline for this study is as follows:

  • February-June 2012: Submit proposal for IRB review [note: my institution approved this project as exempt from IRB oversight] and obtain support from Wikimedia
  • June-July 2012: Recruit and interview initial participants
  • August 2012: Draft initial findings. Share results with participants.
  • May-June 2012: Conduct more interviews
  • Fall 2012: Begin Dissertation Work (see below)
  • January-March 2013: Write dissertation prospectus, obtain approval for project modifications via IRB (if necessary)
  • April-May 2013: Recruit additional participants (*if needed)
  • May-August 2013: Conduct additional interviews (*if needed)
  • August-December 2013: Transcribe interviews, analyze results
  • January-April 2014: Draft and revise dissertation. Share results with participants.
  • April-May 2014: Defend dissertation. Explore publication/presentation options, and share findings with Wikipedia community.



Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of background references:

  • Antin, Judd Raymond Yee, Coye Cheshire, and Oded. "Gender differences in Wikipedia editing." In Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration. (Nov 2011): ACM, New York, NY, USA, 11-14.
  • Collier, Benjamin and Julia Bear. “Conflict, criticism, or confidence: an empirical examination of the gender gap in wikipedia contributions.” In Proceedings of the ACM 2012 conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (2012): ACM, New York, NY, USA, 383-392.
  • Day, Michael, Randall McClure, and Mike Palmquist. “Composition in the Freeware Age: Assessing the Impact and Value of the Web 2.0 Movement in the Teaching of Writing.” Computers and Composition Online (Fall 2009)
  • Glott, Ruediger, Philipp Schmidt, and Rishab Ghosh. “Wikipedia Survey—Overview of Results.” Wikipedia Survey. Collaborative Creative Group. March 2010. Web. 8 Oct 2011.
  • Hawisher, Gail and Patricia Sullivan. “Women on the Network: Searching for E-Spaces of Their Own.” Feminism and Composition: In Other Words. Eds. Susan Jarratt and Lynn Worsham. 172-197. 1998.
  • Jarratt, Susan C. “Feminism and Composition: The Case for Conflict.” Contending with Words: Composition and Rhetoric in a Postmodern Age. Eds. Patricia Harkin and John Schilb. New York: MLA, 1991: 105-23.
  • LeCourt, Donna and LuAnn Barnes. “Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics.” Computers and Composition 16 (1999): 55-71.
  • Lim, Sook and Nahyun Kwon. “Gender differences in information behavior concerning Wikipedia, an unorthodox information source” Library & Information Science Research 32.3 (July 2010): 212-220
  • Purdy, James P. “When the Tenets of Composition Go Public: A Study of Writing in Wikipedia.” College Composition and Communication 61.2 (Dec 2009): 351-373.
  • Reagle, J., & Rhue, L. "Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica." International Journal of Communication 5 (Aug 2011): 1138-1158.
  • Selfe, Cynthia L. and Richard J. Selfe. “The Politics of the Interface: Power and Its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones.” College Composition and Communication 45.4 (Dec 1994): 480-504.
  • Stierch, Sarah. "Women and Wikipedia Survey 2011." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 21 May 2012. Web. 12 Jun 2012.
  • Wysocki, Anne and Julia I. Jasken. “What should be an unforgettable face...” Computers and Composition 21 (2004) 29-48.
  • Zickuhr, Kathryn and Lee Rainie. “Wikipedia: Past and Present.” Pew Internet. Pew Research Center. 13 Jan 2011. Web. 8 Oct 2011.



I welcome any and all feedback from participants as well as the wider Wikipedia community. Please feel free to contact me with any suggestions or questions on the discussion page, or email me at gruwellc@miamioh.edu.