The Wikipedia Article Project was a new kind of challenge compared to other work we’ve done in our Advanced Writing class this semester. While the “team” aspect was a part of that challenge, in my perspective, it wasn’t the primary one. During the project I found establishing our identity and role as writers in the public sphere, as well as determining what content was relevant for our section were the defining aspects of the challenge. Writing a Wikipedia article requires thinking about the kind of information we present and how we present that it. On one level, we serve as reporters, conveyers of information to the public, yet we maintain a standard by which we adhere to factual information as close as possible. During our project, we had to find a role that was a medium between public writing and scientific writing. Determining what was relevant for our section required thinking about all possible viewpoints, and incorporating them to give a fuller description of the section.
Writing any Wikipedia article includes thinking of one’s role. This is because the role shapes the content in the article. Maybe this applies to any encyclopedia, but I think this is particularly true with Wikipedia articles. That’s because of the open-contribution, or as Zittrain might describe it, “verkeersbordvrij” (127) nature of Wikipedia. Wikipedia article writers must hold themselves accountable to their audience by referring to sources at every instance, and keeping text as close to the content of those sources as possible. I found when writing the article we acted somewhat like citizen journalists or scientific accommodators, trying to provide as clear a definition as possible to the readers. But at the same time, we stuck to the principles of Wikipedia by referencing peer-reviewed sources and factual information, like scientific writers. A citizen journalist is more dependent on their own interpretation. Fahnestock says the purpose of accommodators is “to celebrate rather than validate” (279). As Wikipedians we cannot stray from our sources. Our purpose is to achieve a well-rounded definition by providing relevant information, even from different perspectives. In this way our role is also different from scientific writers who write strictly on their research. We may incorporate the view of one writer, but other perspectives could also be relevant to a subject. I’d describe our public sphere role as “dedicated informers”. We strive to provide the audience with a full-bodied definition comprised of multiple sides and perspectives, and absent of a singular interpretation.
Judging what sides, perspectives, and viewpoints were necessary required a new kind of critical thinking. As Wikipedians, we must include relevant, but well-researched, interpretations of a subject so that the reader may interpret the information for themselves. This requires weighing rhetorical quality, the evidence and factual information behind any viewpoint, and then comparing views or ideas about a subject against one another. Donald Lazere says when acting as a critical writer one’s aim “should not be to avoid expressing opinions but to express opinions that will impress your readers as educated, unprejudiced, and fair” (129). While we aren’t taking one critical stance when writing our Wikipedia article, it was important to think critically from all sides of a subject matter. In this way we could provide relevant information from many different perspectives, not just one. We also had to think about what a particular concept said about the overarching subject, like how Queer Theory or Cultural Centrism fit into “Influences” of Public Sphere Writing.
Through all of this, working as a team might not have been as much of a challenge as it was an advantage. Individually, determining one’s role and collecting all relevant information would have required much more effort, thought, and work. But by working together and through the contribution of every team member, we could more easily determine our collective role when writing the article and then ascertain what we thought was relevant to our portion of the article.
Zittrain, Jonathan. “The Lessons of Wikipedia.” The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. NewHaven, CT: Yale UP, 2008. 127-48.Print.
Lazere, Donald. “Viewpoint, Bias, and Fairness: From Cocksure Ignorance to Thoughtful Uncertainty.” In Reading and Writing for Civic Literacy: The Critical Citizen’s Guide to Argumentative Rhetoric. Boulder, CO: Paradigm P, 2005. 125-38.Print.
Fahnestock, Jeanne. “Accommodating Science: The Rhetorical Life of Scientific Facts.” Written Communication3.3 (Jul. 1986): 275-96. JSTOR.