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Translation assignments, weasel words, and Wikipedia's content in its later years

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By Aaron Halfaker, Jonathan Morgan, Piotr Konieczny and Tilman Bayer

A monthly overview of recent academic research about Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, also published as the Wikimedia Research Newsletter.

Translation students embrace Wikipedia assignments, but find user interface frustrating

An article, "Translating Wikipedia Articles: A Preliminary Report on Authentic Translation Projects in Formal Translator Training", [1] reports on the author's experiment with "a promising type of assignment in formal translator training which involves translating and publishing Wikipedia articles", in three courses with second- and third-year students at the Institute of English Studies, University of Warsaw.

It was "enthusiastically embraced by the trainees ... Practically all of the respondents [in a participant survey] concluded that the experience was either 'positive' (31 people, 56% of the respondents) or 'very positive' (23 people, 42% of the respondents)." And "more than 90% of the respondents (50 people) recommended that the exercise 'should definitely be kept [in future courses], maybe with some improvements,' and the remaining 5 people (9%) cautioned that improvements to the format were needed before it was used again. No-one recommended culling the exercise from the syllabus."

However, the author cautions that Polish–English translations required more instructor feedback and editing than translations from English into Polish (the students' native language). And "most people found the technological aspects of the assignment frustrating, with most students assessing them as either 'hard' (39%) or 'very hard' (16%) to complete. The technical skills involved not only coding and formatting using Wikipedia's idiosyncratic syntax, but the practical aspects of publication. [Asked] to identify areas requiring better assistance, the respondents predominantly focused on the need for better information on coding/formatting the article and on publishing the entry. Thirty-nine people (almost three-quarters of the respondents) found the publication criteria baffling enough to postulate that more assistance was needed. That is even more than the 36 people (68%) who had problems dealing with Wikipedia's admittedly idiosyncratic code."

In the researcher's observation, this contributed to the initially disappointing success rate: "Of the 59 respondents, only eight had their work accepted [after drafting it in a sandbox]. Seven people were asked to revise their entries to bring them into line with Wikipedia's publication guidelines but neglected to do so, and 36 did not even try to publish. Some of those people were still waiting for their feedback to get a green light, but this result can only be described as a big disappointment. ... After a resource pack on how to translate and publish a Wikipedia entry was distributed to a fresh batch of students in the following semester, the successful publication rate proved significantly higher." These English-language instructions are humorously written in the form of a game manual ("Your mission is to create a Polish translation of an English-language article and deliver it safely to the Free Encyclopaedia HQ officially known as 'Wikipedia'. Sounds easy? Think again. Wikipedia is defended by an army of Editors who guard its gates night and day to stop Lord Factoid and his minions from corrupting it with bad articles."). They are available on the author's website, together with a small list of the resulting articles (which is absent from the actual research paper).

The project was inspired by author Cory Doctorow's use of Wikipedia in a 2009 course – most likely the one listed here, although the paper fails to specify it. The absence of discussion of the Wikipedia policies, combined with the absence of any references to prior research from the field of Wikipedia in education, makes it almost certain that the author was unaware of Wikipedia policies and available support (Wikipedia Education Program, etc.).



  1. ^ Piotr Szymczak: Translating Wikipedia Articles: A Preliminary Report on Authentic Translation Projects in Formal Translator Training. In: Acta Philologica 44 (Warszawa 2013) p.61ff
  2. ^ Geiger, R. Stuart. "Bots, bespoke code, and the materiality of software platforms". Information, Communication & Society: 1–15. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2013.873069. ISSN 1369-118X. Closed access icon, author's copy at
  3. ^ Fabian Flöck, Maribel Acosta: WikiWho: Precise and Efficient Attribution of Authorship of Revisioned Content.
  4. ^ Fergus Pitt: Which News Organizations Influence Wikipedia? January 17, 2014,
  5. ^ Vincze, Veronika: Weasels, Hedges and Peacocks: Discourse-level Uncertainty in Wikipedia Articles.
  6. ^ Kuksenok, Katie; Brooks, Michael; Mankoff, Jennifer (2013). "Accessible Online Content Creation by End Users". Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. CHI '13. New York City: ACM. pp. 59–68. doi:10.1145/2470654.2470664. ISBN 978-1-4503-1899-0.
  7. ^ Aleksi Aaltonen, Stephan Seiler: Cumulative Knowledge and Open Source Content Growth: The Case of Wikipedia
  8. ^ Elena Cabrio, Serena Villata, and Fabien Gandon: A Support Framework for Argumentative Discussions Management in the Web.
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  • Lovely game instructions. Should be adapted into, I don't know, Wikipedia:Your first article and somewhere in Help or some such place. Jim.henderson (talk) 16:34, 3 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • re: 80 percent of academics listed on the Wikipedia page American Sociologists are male, while in reality less than 60 percent of American sociologists are male. Did they count the %% for (fe)male sociologists in Encyclopedia Britannica? This phrase is constructed as if to uncover a male cabal in wikipedia. I would have believed in this if 80% of the wikipedians were our respected venerable academic sociologists themselves. But I am pretty much sure that an average wikipedian couldn't care less about a gender of a sociologist. In wikipedia our notability criteria is a major threshold. And if there is less women bios in wikipedia, this simply reflects the fact that our whole wide world wide web of academia gives less prominence to women academics, and that's it. Yes, wikipedia is a mirror of wikipedians' interests. Yes, pokemon and pornstars are better covered than sociologists of any gender or sexual orientation. But I don't believe in a sharp watershed of wikipedians' interests over "male vs. female sociologists". Staszek Lem (talk) 02:44, 4 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]


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