Wikipedia is free to edit, so we each can play a part, so today I’m sharing a guide for those who don’t know where to start! Like it or not, Wikipedia is one of the main sources people turn to to get information – on everything from people, to companies, to molecules. So it’s really important that that information is accurate – and the accuracy of the information depends upon all of us because the content is written and edited by everyday folks like us who’ve decided to take to the keyboard, volunteer a little time, and become a “Wikipedia editor.” 

Don’t worry, it’s not a huge time investment (unless you want it to be) – you can edit as much or as little as you want – create whole new articles or just fix some punctuation. The biggest investment time-wise is getting started and getting used to working in the Wikiverse. 

Because all the content is added by volunteers, each with their own interests, the information available tends to skew towards those peoples’ interests. So, there might be a ton on some obscure video game and barely anything on your favorite chemical. And, super importantly, there’s typically a lot more on Caucasians rather than people of color and men more than women (fewer than 18% of Wikipedia biographies are about women as per )

And this brings me to how I first got started editing – about 2 years ago I saw an article about a UK physicist Dr. Jess Wade, who had devoted herself to the cause of increasing representation for female scientists on Wikipedia, writing literally hundreds of new articles a year. 

I didn’t set my sights that big but figured I could maybe write an article or too. My first article was on Virginia Minnich, who discovered an abnormal form of hemoglobin, hemoglobin E that can cause a blood disorder: 

I went on to create 13 more new articles for female scientists, as well as expanding upon existing articles – on female scientists, male scientists, molecules, all sorts of things – because whenever* you’re on a page, you can make a change (sometimes they temporarily lock “hot topic” pages from all but the most trusted editors in order to prevent spammers, but otherwise all’s fair game). And I even hosted a Wikipedia #WomeninSTEM edit-a-thon, in collaboration with CSHL WiSE and the CSHL Library and Archives, where I trained people on editing and then a group of us met to create articles for female scientists. 

I’m not citing my 14 articles to brag – it’s just a drop in the bucket – and nothing compared to the work of Dr. Wade and lots of others working behind the scenes. I’m bringing it up because if I can do it, so can you! 

But starting is the hardest part, so today I wanted to share some of what I shared when I held those edit-a-thon training sessions. Note: I am definitely NOT an expert on all this and I have to look stuff up and ask questions all the time. Thankfully, Wikipedia has a lot of great “how-to” guides (some of which I’ll link to). Still, it’s easy to get lost, but it’s also easy to find help – the teahouse is your friend! remember that! The teahouse is a page where you can ask questions and get them answered, and it’s designed for newbies so the answerers are patient with you 

It’s too hard to try to fit everything into a post, so I decided I’d make a few figures highlighting some main points, but the most important content if you’re serious about getting started is in these slides



For scientists, getting used to Wikipedia can pose a unique challenge since we are used to “primary sources” – original research and “secondary sources” – things like review articles that report on those primary  sources. But Wikipedia isn’t either of those – it’s an encyclopedia, so the sources you cite need to be at least secondary sources – so don’t just cite someone’s paper saying they discovered something – cite someone else, like a newspaper or a review article, saying that they discovered something. 

Another biggie is that you can’t (that is, you shouldn’t) edit your own page or the page of someone or something that you’re strongly connected to. Don’t worry – being in love with a protein and editing its page doesn’t count for this restriction. But what you also can’t do is just go stick in your own primary research into the article on that protein. This goes back to that needing a secondary source thing. 

The secondary source requirement is meant in part to prevent people from swamping Wikipedia with articles on their moms, friends, dogs, etc. and making it even harder for Wikipedia editors to keep up with spammers & trollers (Wikipedia may seem like an anarchy but it does have “moderators” as well as bots that try to maintain order).

But the secondary source requirement can create challenges when you go to create pages for scientists, because even really important scientists usually don’t get much outside press and for someone to be considered “notable” enough to have their own article, they have to have sources you can cite. 

Case in point: it took winning a Nobel Prize for physicist Donna Strickland to be considered “notable” enough to have her own page since she hadn’t been written enough in outside sources to meet the criteria before then. 

So, in addition to featuring more women in Wikipedia, people should also feature more women in general…

This is a great guide for writing articles about women: and it’s broadly applicable. And here’s a great getting started tutorial: and an interactive one: 

And, for a less great getting started guide, here are links to my slides: 



Note that there are a lot of live links – just click on the underlined text for more

Final note: Wikipedia us just one part of the “Wikiverse” – there’s also things like Wikidata and, importantly, Wikimedia Commons, where you can find and share images and graphics – some of mine are there and I would upload more, just don’t have time. But those all need volunteers too – so everyone can find a way to contribute – a little or a lot, so give it some thought!

This post is part of my weekly “broadcasts from the bench” for The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Be sure to follow @theIUBMB if you’re interested in biochemistry! They’re a really great international organization for biochemistry.

more on topics mentioned (& others) #365DaysOfScience All (with topics listed) 👉

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