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Editing botanist articles on Wikipedia: Home

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Portrait of Elizabeth Gertrude Knight Britton
From the vertical file collection,
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
the New York Botanical Garden.

(Please note that this guide is not meant to be an introduction to editing Wikipedia more broadly; there are many other resources available online that new editors might use to learn this skill.  Local Wikipedia meet-ups are also a wonderful way to learn more about how to edit Wikipedia.)

1. Improving Wikipedia

It's important to remember that virtually anyone can improve Wikipedia.  You don't have to know how to write computer code or be an expert in all fields.  If you have knowledge in an area and a reference to cite to support your edit, be bold and make a change to an article.  Please make a Wikipedia account first.  There is a lot of information for beginner editors available online.

2. Identifying articles to edit or create

Remember that creating a new article is one of the more advanced things you can do on Wikipedia. There's lots of work you can do on Wikipedia that is related to improving articles about botany and botanists.  Other Wikipedia users have already identified botanist articles that already exist, but could use some additional information.  These articles are known as "stubs".  A list of botanist stubs can be found here.  If you are interested in providing photos, a list of botanist articles needing photos can be found here.

If you've edited Wikipedia a bit already and are comfortable with the website, you are ready to think about authoring an article.  Remember that the Wikipedia community and higher-level editors want articles of substance to be added to Wikipedia.  Any person for whom an article is created should have contributed something significant.  In the case of botanists, this might mean that the person made significant plant collections, authored many plant names, pioneered new methodologies, taught many influential students, or authored significant texts.  If you want to create a new article, you should make certain that you have a good number of references to refer to and to cite when you are writing the article.

Keep in mind that if authoring an article about a living person, there are guidelines for what content is appropriate to include.

3. Gender

Wikipedia:Writing about women states that "only 15.5 percent of the 1,445,021 biographies on the English Wikipedia were about women as of January 2015. As a result of sourcing and notability issues, almost all biographies before 1900 are of men." (source)  If you are interested in increasing the profile of women in science, editing Wikipedia can be a good way to work towards that goal.

Even if you are not interested in gender-gap narrowing initiatives specifically, biographical content from Wikipedia is harvested by Google and others, making what you write on Wikipedia accessible and visible to the world.

Drawing of John Torrey by Sir Daniel MacNee.
From the collection of Sir William Hooker,
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England.

Once one begins to edit Wikipedia, it becomes apparent that biographical pages are radically inconsistent from one another.  The Wikipedia:WikiProject Plants has provided the following guide for what a botanist article should contain:

WikiProject Plants has a number of components, these include taxa, botanical topics, and botanists. When describing taxa with authorities, the authorities should be checked against the List of botanists by author abbreviation, and if necessary, added. Authorities should be linked, and if red linked, consideration should be given to creating a biographical page. Wikipedia has no specific criteria for botanists, although it has for scientists in general. In most cases recognising an author by linking their name to a species as an authority is a form of notability, and any requests for deletion should be directed to this section.

Botanist biography pages should at a minimum contain the following, the {{infobox scientist}} and {{botanist}} templates (the latter in turn creates a Reference to "Author Query for 'Cronquist'". International Plant Names Index), a list of publications, including the ones that give them botanical authority status, and links to taxa they named, or are named in their honour. The botanist template will also generate a category (Category:Botanists with author abbreviations). In the Talk page the use of the {{WikiProject Plants|class=|importance=}} template will link it to the project.

If seeking additional biographical information for a botanist, be aware that there are many resources available that have not yet made their way into Wikipedia.  For example, the Mertz Library has an extensive Vertical File filled with biographical information for botanists.  This resource can be access onsite.  Many of these files include photos or portraits of botanists.  Email the library to make an appointment to conduct research with this collection.

3. Asking for help

The Mertz Library is fortunate to have a rich local community of passionate and active Wikipedia editors, also known as the Wikimedia NYC Chapter. Going to local Wikipedia events is a very rewarding experience.  Editors are generally generous with their knowledge, and passionate about sharing information.  If there are no local options available, Wikipedia does also have a mentorship program.

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