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Wikipedia:The perfect stub article

Stub articles are the ugly ducklings in the Wikipedia pond. Outsiders scoff at them, and make dark comments about the abysmal quality of information to be had on Wikipedia. Veteran contributors consider stubs a nuisance because they prevent missing coverage from appearing as missing articles. (see the essay m:Kill the Stub Pages for debate). Yet, in spite of all the scorn they garner, many a stub has grown up to be a beautiful swan.

When creating a stub article, remember that its value is primarily in what it might become, and that if it doesn't begin to grow, it may be worse than no article at all. Don't assume that additions and improvements will immediately pour in of themselves. Focus on ways to draw others into contributing. You don't have to do extensive research to create a foundation on which others will be eager to build, but you do have to be thoughtful. Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Inform the regulars that there is work to be done by adding a link to your stub from Wikipedia:Find or fix a stub. Many contributors patrol the Recent Changes page, but if your stub scrolls off without attracting any contributions, it helps to have a more permanent flag that further work needs to be done.
  2. There is a suggestion for "This is a stub" text on Wikipedia:Boilerplate text.
  3. Follow the standards of proper English. Write in full, clear sentences.
  4. Give a clear, precise definition or description of your topic. Avoid fallacies of definition. For biographies and articles about non-concepts (e.g., about countries and cities), definitions are impossible, so begin with a clear, helpful, informative description of the subject. State what a person is famous for, where a place is and what known for, the basic details of an event and when it happened, etc. A good definition or description may encourage potential contributors by suggesting the limits of the article, indirectly summarizing what needs to be done. For example, Salvador Allende was the President of Chile from 1970 until 1973 would be a good description.
  5. Try to give more than just a definition--at least a little more. It doesn't hurt to be provocative, as long as you attempt to be unbiased and reasonably accurate. What is interesting and important about the subject? If your introduction would make someone want to read further, then it will probably entice someone to write further. As little as one extra sentence can turn a good description into a brilliant stub, e.g. Salvador Allende was the President of Chile from 1970 until 1973. The CIA might have been involved in the coup that ousted him. With a start like that, you don't have to know any more yourself; a dozen contributors will be falling over themselves to fill in the details.
  6. Make sure any relevant linkable words have been linked. But be careful about which words you link to; see naming conventions. e.g. Salvador Allende was the President of Chile from 1970 until 1973. The CIA might have been involved in the coup that ousted him.
  7. Submit the article with a Summary comment that will attract the attention of others to your stub. If nothing else, cut and paste the stub itself into the Summary field when you save your article.
  8. Feel some responsibility for your stub article. There is a fine line between helping by outlining out what needs to be done, and being annoying by not doing anything yourself. If nobody contributes to your stub for a few weeks, roll up your sleeves and expand it yourself. Take the fact that nobody has contributed as a hint that your stub might not have been that great, and if nothing else, try to make it a better stub.

It is possible to follow these guidelines without writing a treatise. Generally, for the shortest of Perfect Stubs, two sentences will do fine--as long as they're two good sentences. (And if you don't know enough about a topic to write two good sentences, consider not writing a stub.) The extra time and concentration required will pay off in a higher probability that you get the ball rolling on something, rather putting up a static object of derision.

Admittedly, these guidelines are in some sense irrelevant because no matter what you do, someone will probably fix the article for you. That's the beauty of a wiki! But if you want to contribute something positive, and you can't write the whole article yourself, then at least let your contribution be an implicit invitation to participation.

See also Wikipedia:Contribute what you know or are willing to learn about.

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