Legacy or Paper Weight?

Think about how many man-hours go into a single issue of a scientific journal. For each article, the first author probably works full-time for something like three years. Throw in the other five or six authors, and now you're somewhere closer to four or five years. Say there's ten articles per issue, and you are up to forty or fifty years of labor for each issue of a scientific journal! And there are hundreds of journals.

But what happens to that journal article? What happens to all those years of research? Well of course some professors subscribe to that journal, or maybe if you're extremely lucky your work gets picked up by CNN or the Science Times. But most of the time, that journal issue and the fifty man-years of work it represents just end up getting buried under the next month's issue. That's why it's so crucially important that every journal article gets indexed in some kind of academic database, like PubMed. At least this way it can be found by fellow researchers and cannot be totally forgotten.

There's a complementary way to share your research with the entire world, and that's Wikipedia. By summarizing and posting your research findings to the internet after publication, you can help make sure that they are secure and available to everyone within the greater body of human knowledge and ideas. A complete list of benefits to summarizing your research on Wikipedia can be found here, and how-to posts here.

Ten Benefits of Wikifying Your Research

There are already academic outlets to distribute research findings, so why use Wikipedia? This list summarizes how Wikipedia can help you and your research.

1. Visibility. Wikipedia is currently the seventh most popular website in the world, just beneath Amazon.com. By comparison, NIH.gov (which includes PubMed and NCBI) ranks down at about 350th and arxiv.org is 12,000th. The accuracy of its information has been scientifically verified. In the internet age, Wikipedia is the front lines of public education.

2. Opportunity. Google your research topic, and chances are a Wikipedia article will be among the top hits. Wikipedia articles are one of the first places people look when investigating a new topic. Many articles are practically empty, which gives you as an editor a unique opportunity to discuss your published work in an otherwise crowded playing field.
Wikipedia is the top Google hit for "atmosphere", as for many research topics.

3. Your Words - No Limits. Unless your research was featured in the New York Times, no one is likely to cite it on Wikipedia except you. And since you're the expert in your research, you're also the perfect person to do that. Academics frustrated with the long road to publication or waiting for a review invitation may be pleasantly surprised at the immediate gratification of authoring or editing a Wikipedia article.

4. Public Education. Historically, academic journals are for-profit and not open access. In contrast, Wikipedia is free for the public. Summarizing and disseminating your research on Wikipedia establishes a direct connection between you and the public who is funding the research. In an age when publicly funded research is increasingly under scrutiny, Wikipedia creates a deliverable for taxholders in the form of freely available information.

5. International Reach. Most journal articles are in English, but an increasing number of scholars speak English as a foreign language. For such researchers, the prospect of wading through densely-worded primary research articles can be laborious and time-consuming. Wikipedia provides an easy summary for foreign academics in your field to learn about your research. In addition, Wikipedia articles can be authored in any language, so foreign scholars familiar with your research can disseminate it to their colleagues.

6. Meta-analysis. Wikipedia articles can be freely edited by anyone, have an unlimited number of contributors, and last forever. Each Wikipedia entry is therefore a forum for experts in the field to come together, post their individual findings, and agree on how to resolve those findings with minimal bias. Wikipedia therefore presents a new way to analyze, integrate, and update research, unavailable in any journal. It’s like a review article written by twenty experts which never goes out of date.

7. Interconnectivity. The ability to hyperlink different entries and pieces of data creates an organizational hierarchy which places your research in context of existing knowledge and connects it to existing and emerging fields. By contributing to Wikipedia, you are writing the textbook of the future.

8. Intellectual Fulfillment. Being an editor of Wikipedia is a fun, challenging, and rewarding experience. It will help you learn to summarize your research in an unbiased, accessible way. After you’re done wikifying your thesis, you may feel empowered to edit other Wikipedia entries about topics that matter to you. Wikipedia is one of the most important sources of information for the public. The more scientists edit Wikipedia, the better educated the public will be.

9. Certificate and Publicity. If you wikify your research and inform us about it, we'll send you an official certificate, plus a nifty sticker which will make your labmates green with envy. You can list your participation in the Wikipedia Research Editor Corps under the community service section of your CV or Biosketch.

10. Wikipedia needs us. Wikipedia is not cluttered with advertising. It is a small non-profit which relies on volunteers like you and me to write its articles. If we don't put science on Wikipedia, no one is going to do it for us. If we don't correct public misconceptions on Wikipedia, those misconceptions will be held. There is no guarantee Wikipedia will last forever. Contributing academic expertise to Wikipedia will increase the value of this public resource and its accuracy, as well as our voice.

With so many benefits to wikifying, what's stopping you? Follow these instructions to set up an account, summarize your research, and cite it for the world to enjoy.

Getting Started

Anyone can edit Wikipedia, and your edits are preserved forever in the history of the page. Creating an account is very helpful for keeping track of the pages you edit, plus it is required for starting a new article. Create an account here or at the upper right of the Wikipedia main page.

Now that you've created an account, look up the topic of your research or dissertation. Try a few different search terms within Wikipedia (e.g. different gene names, or gene versus protein), as well as a Google search. You might be surprised at how little information is available. For example, podocalyxin appears in nearly 300 PubMed articles, but its Wikipedia article is just one paragraph long. Click the "Edit" tab to start adding information.

Rarely, there will be no Wikipedia entries at all relating to the topic of your expertise. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to add to mankind's body of knowledge. Wikipedia has a wizard for creating a new article which you can learn more about here.

Next: How to summarize your research effectively

Tips for Summarizing Your Research

1. Expect to spend a little time on it. It took me about one day to distill the collected findings of my 6-year thesis project into a Wikipedia article. You don't have to do it all in one shot, but when you finish the page you will feel a real sense of accomplishment.

2. The detail level should be somewhere between an abstract and a review. Abstracts from your papers or your dissertation might be a good place to start. Did you recently write a review paper, or the first chapter of a dissertation? Consider using it as a  guide for your Wikipedia entry.

3. Don't just copy/paste verbatim from your published work. That would be self-plagiarism, and the language might be too technical for the public to understand. Try to figure out a way to phrase your research so that it can be understood by a wide audience. Use original language and cite references to avoid copyright issues.

4. Cite early and often. Citing sources is important for verifying your edits and the best way to make sure they don't get erased. It also provides a platform for interested readers to read more about a topic. Citing is a cinch on Wikipedia - you can learn how to do it here.

5. A picture says a thousand words. If you have unpublished illustrations or figures from a lab meeting, consider uploading them to Wikipedia commons. These may be the only images available on the internet for this topic.

6. You will quickly find it necessary to cite the work of others to explain your own research. Think about the papers that have had the biggest impact on you, and incorporate them into your summary with references. This is a great way to highlight your favorite publications.

7. Use hyperlinks! The internet is not limited to plaintext. Connect your research to as many Wikipedia articles as possible by using square brackets [[  ]] and the "pipe"| character. For example, this

codes for this:

8. Don't worry too much about making mistakes. Wikipedia is edited by everyone, and no one knows who wrote what. You should always try to post accurate information and cite it whenever possible, but honest mistakes do happen and you can always correct them later if no one else corrects you first.

9. Controversial statements do not last long on Wikipedia. Try to make factual, even historical statements wherever possible, and back them up with citations. Avoid making judgements. If you can make a statement everyone can agree with, it will stay on Wikipedia forever. That is the beauty of Wikipedia.

Next: how to cite your research easily in Wikipedia

How to Cite Papers on Wikipedia

Citing your journal article on Wikipedia is a great way to safeguard your edits and also to increase the visibility of the original article. Luckily, Wikipedia has installed a Citation function in the Edit toolbar which makes it possible to create citations quickly just by knowing identifying information. The following animated GIF shows how to insert a PubMed citation in Wikipedia without writing any code.
After you press the Insert button and complete your edits, it's absolutely essential that you scroll down to the bottom of the Edit page and save your changes. If you don't do this, all your edits will be lost! After saving, your version of the page will be saved forever on the article's history tab. You might want to save a copy of your edits on your own hard drive as well.

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