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Wikipedia:Short description

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Screenshot showing a Wikipedia page in the mobile app, with the short description appearing immediately under the main title
In the mobile app, descriptions appear below the article title.

The short description of a Wikipedia article or of another namespace page is a concise explanation of the scope of the page. These descriptions appear in Wikipedia mobile and some desktop searches,[note 1] and help users identify the desired article. When viewing an article, some mobile Wikipedia apps also display the description below the page title.

Short descriptions do not appear by default when viewing an article in desktop view, but logged-in users who wish to see and edit them can do so easily by enabling the Shortdesc helper in their Preferences "gadgets".

Purposes

Short descriptions provide:

  • a very brief indication of the field covered by the article
  • a short descriptive annotation
  • a disambiguation in searches, especially to distinguish the subject from similarly titled subjects in different fields

Pages that should have a short description

All mainspace articles should have a short description (including those that are intentionally blank; see below). Redirects and most pages outside the mainspace do not normally need a description, although one may be added in the rare cases it would be useful.

The short description may appear directly in the wikicode for the page, via the {{Short description}} template, or may be transcluded automatically from a template such as an infobox. Disambiguation pages and list articles both make use of transcluded descriptions, and those do not normally need to be edited manually.

Content

The short description is part of the article content, and is subject to the normal rules on content, including Wikipedia:Neutral point of view and Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons. The normal editing rules such as Wikipedia:Consensus and Bold–Revert–Discuss also apply.

Editors should bear in mind that short descriptions are not intended to define the subject of the article, but rather to distinguish it from other similarly named articles in search results. Short descriptions provide a very brief indication of the field that is covered, a short descriptive annotation, and a disambiguation in searches (especially to distinguish the subject from similarly titled subjects in different fields).

Each page should ideally have its own purpose-written short description. While Shortdesc helper does allow the importing of text from Wikidata, that should be done with care: Wikidata descriptions are not subject to Wikipedia's policies, and have a different purpose. Wikidata descriptions are often too long or too technical to be used as Wikipedia short descriptions, often define instead of distinguish, often start with a lowercase letter instead of an uppercase letter, and may not have received sufficient scrutiny. It is the responsibility of the editor to ensure that the short description is appropriate, accurate, and compliant with Wikipedia content policies. This is especially important for biographies of living people and for medical articles.

Content

When visible on desktop or mobile, the short description immediately follows the article title, and should be comprehensible in that location.

A short description is not a definition and should not attempt to define the article's subject nor to summarise the lead.

As far as possible, it should:

  • focus on the purposes stated above
  • use universally accepted facts that will not be subject to rapid change, avoiding anything that could be understood as controversial or judgemental
  • avoid jargon, and use simple, readily comprehensible terms that do not require pre-existing detailed knowledge of the subject
  • avoid duplicating information that is already in the title (but don't worry too much if you need to repeat a word or two for context)
  • start with the most important information (mobile applications may truncate long descriptions).

Formatting

Each short description should:

  • be written in plain text – without HTML tags or wiki markup
  • start with a capital letter
  • avoid initial articles (A, An, The) except when required for correct grammar and meaning
  • avoid a final full stop
  • be short – no longer than is needed to fulfill its functions effectively
    • More than 80% of short descriptions use fewer than 40 characters.
    • Fewer than 3% of short descriptions are longer than 60 characters, and short descriptions longer than 100 characters will be flagged for attention.
    • Short descriptions exceeding 40 characters may be truncated in some contexts.[note 2]
    • Because they are intended to be scanned quickly, longer, more specific descriptions can be less useful.

Examples

A good way to draft a short description is to consider the words that would naturally follow if you started a sentence like this:

  • "[Article subject] is/was a/an/the ... ".

You can then use those additional words as the short description. So for example if you wanted to write a short description for Stève Nzigamasabo, your sentence would be "Stève Nzigamasabo is a Burundian footballer"; and Burundian footballer becomes your short description.

Here are some examples, though they can all be varied if the context allows something better. See also § Inclusion of dates. Remember to ensure that your description is short (See "Formatting", above).

  • For a person: "[country adjective] [what the person is known for]" (Examples: "American singer/songwriter" or "Cuban ice skater")
  • For a location: "[type of location], [country]" (Examples: "City in Florida, United States" or "University in Oxford, England")
  • For an organism: "[type of organism] [how it is best known]" (Examples: "Species of moth", "South American monkey", "Extinct group of molluscs"). Do not include family or other technical taxonomic terms.
  • Publication: "[year] [type of publication] by [author or director]" (Examples: "1983 novel by John Irving", "2017 film by Jordan Peele").
  • Miscellaneous: "Type of [noun]", "Concept in [academic field]"

Inclusion of dates

Dates or date ranges are encouraged where they would: (a) enhance the short description as an annotation or (b) improve it as a disambiguation. If space is available within the available 40 or so characters, biographies of non-living people, articles on specific publications, and dated historical events generally benefit from dating, but sometimes there may be more important information that needs to take precedence. Care should be taken where the biographies of living persons (BLP) policy applies: birthdates for living people should not be included unless sourced within the article.

The following date formats are recommended for consistency, but can be varied if there is contrary consensus on the talk page. In the table below, the examples illustrate the recommended date format only; they are not intended to suggest any particular descriptive wording.

In biographies, care should be taken to distinguish between dates defining a lifespan and those defining a period in office: lifespans should normally be specified by "(birthyeardeathyear)", and periods in office by "from startyear to endyear". For historical biographies, specific dates such as "1750–1810" are preferred to "18th-century", as it is not clear whether that means "born and died during the century", "in office during the century", or "mostly active during the century". Other dated events or ranges can use any convenient dating format, as long as the meaning is clear.

Date inclusion recommendations, by article subject type
Type Criterion Recommended date format Examples
Biography Lifetime most important [Person description] (birthyeardeathyear) English composer (1668–1735)
BLP or year of death unknown: [Person description] (born birthyear) English composer (born 1668)
Year of birth unknown: [Person description] (died deathyear) English composer (died 1735)
Period in office most important [Office description] from startyear to endyear
  • King of Scotland from 1488 to 1513
  • Pope from 965 to 972
Currently in office: [Office description] since startyear President of Mexico since 2012
Term of office contained within one year: [Office description] in start/endyear President of the United States in 1841
Publication Publication in a specific year Publicationyear [Description]
  • 1964 musical film
  • 1988 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald
  • 2001 video game
Historical Event in a specific year Eventyear [Description] 1861 American Civil War battle
Period or range [Description] from startyear to endyear Epidemic of plague from 1665 to 1666
[Description] (startyearendyear) Epidemic of bubonic plague (1665–1666)
[Description], startyearendyear Epidemic of bubonic plague, 1665–1666

Where a date is not known exactly, "c. " may be used for "circa". Other examples are given at WP:APPROXDATE, although "fl. " for "floruit" should be avoided as it is not universally understood. Centuries should not be abbreviated "c. " due to the potential for confusion with "circa".

"none" as a short description

All articles should have a short description (and therefore should belong to Category:Articles with short description), but some article titles are sufficiently detailed that an additional short description would not be helpful, e.g., Alpine skiing at the 1960 Winter Olympics – Men's downhill.

In those cases, {{Short description|none}} should be used to add the article to Category:Articles with short description. Occasionally, a default value of "none" may already be transcluded, for example in some Wikipedia list articles; that default should not normally need to be edited, but it can be overridden for a specific page by adding {{Short description|Overriding description}} at the top of the page.

How to edit

Single page

The easiest way to create and edit short descriptions on the desktop is to use the Shortdesc helper gadget. This may be enabled in the Gadgets tab of your Preferences under the "Editing" section.

Alternatively, you can manually amend the {{Short description}} template. Short descriptions cannot yet be edited with the VisualEditor.

If you are editing manually on desktop and do not have the gadget loaded, do not add a {{Short description}} solely because the template seems to be missing from the wikicode. Descriptions are sometimes set by another template (such as an Infobox) elsewhere in the article. For more information, see § Why can't I see any short description?.

If you are editing manually, do not start the template with a space — {{ Short description... — this may break other templates which search for the {{Short description... text.

Always use the {{Short description}} template – do not use any alias. See WP:SDNOALIASES

Placement

Per MOS:ORDER and MOS:LEADORDER, the template should always be the very first element on the page. There is just one exception to this, namely redirects. If (unusually) you need to add a short description to a redirect, you should add {{Short description}} below #REDIRECT. For more information, see § Short descriptions on redirect pages. Placement is handled automatically if you are using Shortdesc helper.

By transclusion into multiple pages

Where a single short description (or rule for generating one) is suitable for multiple articles that all use the same template/infobox, the description can be transcluded from the template rather than being added one by one to each article. In that case {{Short description}} does not appear in the wikicode for the page.

Such transclusions are normally done after local consensus by template editors. {{Template short description}} is available to simplify the process, and ensures that the resultant description doesn't exceed the recommended length even if a page editor adds some unusually long text to an infobox. All templates that generate a default description should include a |2=noreplace parameter so that the result can be overridden by a manually inserted instance that appears at the top of the wikicode (see T193857 for technical details). {{Auto short description}} should also be added to the documentation page so that the template gets added to Category:Templates that generate short descriptions.

Why can't I see any short description?

By default, short descriptions are not displayed when viewing an article in desktop view. To make them visible on the page and to enable easy editing, enable Shortdesc helper in Preferences. On the desktop platform, short descriptions appear below article titles in search result lists only if you are using the latest Vector skin: in Preferences | Appearance, make sure the Vector radio button is selected and the Use Legacy Vector box is not ticked.

You can always see whether the page has a manual short description by opening it for source editing (not visual editing); you should find {{Short description}} right at the top. Unfortunately, the absence of {{Short description}} there does not necessarily mean that a short description is missing, as it may be transcluded from some template such as an infobox. That can't be determined from the page code (at least without following through to the template code pages), hence the recommendation to enable Shortdesc helper.

As mentioned above, please don't add a new short description solely on the basis that {{Short description}} is missing from the wikicode.

Short descriptions on redirect pages

Most redirects do not require a short description. Occasionally it may be useful to add one:

  1. on soft redirects where an annotation would make the page clearer
  2. where the redirect page is the target of an {{Annotated link}}
  3. as an indicator that the topic described may be a valid article topic (Redirects with possibilities).

{{Short description}} conflicts with #REDIRECT if placed in the standard position at the top of the page. For such pages only, the template should be placed immediately underneath #REDIRECT.

The short description of a Redirect to section should refer to the section content and should not generally be the same as that of the article itself.

Annotated links

The {{Annotated link}} template can be used to automatically annotate a wikilink with a corresponding short description for the page. This may be useful where links to multiple pages are presented in the form of a list, for example in "See also" sections. {{Annotated link}} does not follow redirects, and if the link has to point to a redirect it may be appropriate to add a short description to the redirect page itself, as it would in this case normally be a redirect with possibilities. In other cases it may be more appropriate to change to a direct link, or use a piped alias. The template should not be used for annotating links on disambiguation pages, for the reasons stated in the template documentation.

The {{AnnotatedListOfLinks}} template may help editors quickly apply {{Annotated link}} to multiple listed links at once.

History

Short descriptions were initially implemented by WMF developers primarily as a search disambiguator, using item descriptions from Wikidata. After concerns were raised about accuracy, suitability, and the potential for hard-to-detect vandalism on Wikidata, the developers created a SHORTDESC magic word, giving editors the ability to override the Wikidata text directly on Wikipedia:

The magic word approach has been superseded by the Wikipedia template {{Short description}}. At first, mobile devices displayed the Wikipedia-specific short description where that existed, but continued to display the Wikidata text where it did not. In 2020, use of Wikidata text to characterize Wikipedia content was discontinued. Mobile devices now display the Wikipedia description if it exists, and display no short description if it does not.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Currently used for the new search widget, enabled on Vector (2022) (also known as "new Vector").
  2. ^ Below search results and in suggested article boxes at the bottom of mobile view. See discussion.