Wikipedia Primary School/Review
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Introduction to Wikipedia guidelines for writing articles
In general, articles are written with a precise intention: to provide a sufficient and acceptable quantity of information for a simple research on the subject. Of course, their quality is lower than a paper or a specialistic research, and still they have to be verified independently and eventually “adapted” to be re-used properly. Still, the possibility itself of having such a free (and freely modifiable) base is definitely a huge leap forward, compared to what was available just 12 years ago.
Another problem (already recognized by WMF, but harder to be tackled) is the so-called “Western bias.” In essence, since the majority of users and sources come from developed countries, this turns into an over-representation of Western-based subjects on Wikipedia, and an under-representation of subjects that deal with the so-called “Global South”.
Since a couple of years, this has become one of the main objectives of WMF and projects aimed at reducing that bias are already ongoing. For sure, a project like this, which aims to determine the needs of schools in Africa and that may finally allow access to the wealth of books, documents and general knowledge of Africa, can significantly contribute to this.
For what it may concern the Italian version (or better, the articles taken into consideration in this assessment), it has a lower grade of quality compared to its English and French counterparts, as already stated. Practically speaking, this means that the considered Italian articles should be first qualitatively enhanced at a point, that it becomes frankly impossible to consider them as a viable source of knowledge, at least for the first version of the project. It could be maybe considered for a second phase, given that such quality enhancement has been performed. About the other languages, the general situation should be considered – at the most – similar to the Italian version of Wikipedia. Especially for medium and small communities, it is strongly suggested to wait until Wikidata has deployed its full potential (which can be realistically scheduled for mid-2013), in order to undertake the “Italian strategy,” suggested within the feasibility study.
Quality has always been considered one of the main issues of Wikipedia. Because of this, it has developed various guidelines on contents and style, that became increasingly complex and detailed over time. Most of them are now collected in the “Wikipedia Manual of Style” (or simply the “Manual of Style”, MoS), a style guide for all Wikipedia articles.
Every article should have a fixed structure too – even if this statement has different meanings: in fact, there are different structures for articles to follow, depending on the subject. Anyway, there are some principles that are common to all contents, and that are used by the community to define which articles are the best written, through a community procedure.
According to the relevant guideline, the best articles should meet the policies regarding content and, in addition, have to be well-written (“its prose is engaging, even brilliant, and of a professional standard”), comprehensive (“it neglects no major facts or details and places the subject in context”), well-researched (“it is a thorough and representative survey of the relevant literature,” with “high-quality reliable sources” that support “in-line citations where appropriate”), neutral (“it presents views fairly and without bias”), and stable (“its content does not change significantly from day to day”). More, they have to have “a concise lead section that summarizes the topic and prepares the reader for the detail in the subsequent sections,” and an appropriate structure with “a substantial but not overwhelming table of contents.” The article’s length should be appropriate so that it “stays focused on the main topic without going into unnecessary detail” and be illustrated with appropriate and sufficient media. Of course, such a result cannot be reached in a short time, but it is the outcome of a progressive work over time of more users, everyone giving his/her small or big contribution – and contrarily to what common sense may suggest, it is often achieved.
Quality assessment of articles on Wikipedia in English, French, and Italian
Since conducting a complete quality assessment on all projects would have been very complicated, we limited it to the three main projects considered: English, French, and Italian Wikipedia. The assessment has been done considering, first of all, the judgements expressed within local “Quality Assessment projects,” with several adjustments made by the reviewer.
These projects were born with the idea of providing an informal assessment of the Wikipedia articles and of their adherence to the guidelines. It has to be noted that, since every Quality Assessment projects has developed an evaluation system on its own, it has been necessary to balance the different systems, as well as to make several adjustments of the assessment itself, in order to have an acceptable overall judgement. What follows is a comparison between these systems.
It also should be taken into consideration that “featured article” and “good article” ratings are assigned through a community procedure, which differs in its details from version to version, but that can be considered fairly homogeneous.
Another aspect that we took into consideration is the participation of the community to the Quality assessment project: while the English and French projects appear more participated (even if is not so rare to find dated assessments), the Italian project is far less participated, thus less reliable in determining the overall quality of an article. Also for this reason, Italian assessments have been heavily re-assessed.
The following table gives an impression about the overall quality of the 127 articles on which the analysis focused on.
What immediately stands out is the disparity of quality between the three projects: English Wikipedia is on average qualitatively better than the other two versions, with 17 of the 127 articles taken into consideration that have been considered “featured articles” or “good articles” by its community. In comparison, only 6 French articles and 2 Italian articles have been judged the same.
Always on average, the Italian version proved to be the relatively worst version out of the three, mostly because of its tendency of lacking punctual sources in its articles – while citing authoritative sources is one of the three main guidelines of Wikipedia – that caused a strong downgrading of most articles.
Especially the rating of the articles on African states oscillate between C and D, with no article that has been assessed with a mere B-grade. On the contrary, corresponding one on the English and the French version are on average qualitatively better: the former has 4 featured articles and 5 good articles about African countries, even if less than half deserved a C-grade; the latter has 2 featured articles, but about two thirds of the articles were assessed with a C- or D-grade.
A well-written article in all three versions, that has also undoubtedly a great relevance for African audiences, is the one about the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) – even if there is room for some improvement, since on every version there are some paragraphs which can be considered better than their equivalents in other languages.
Apart from that, it is difficult to find other articles which can be assessed the same on all of the three projects. Though there are single examples of well-written articles that can be used as touchstones, such as “Cinéma” on the French version, or “Planet” on the English version, the overall impression is that Wikipedia gives better performances on articles on specific subjects, than in general, introductory ones on a particular subject. This pattern appears to be generally found in all versions.