|This page documents a Wikidata guideline. It is a generally accepted standard that editors should follow, though it should be treated with common sense, and occasional exceptions may apply. Changes made to it should reflect consensus. When in doubt, discuss your idea on the project chat.|
|This page in a nutshell:
The description on a Wikidata entry is a short phrase designed to disambiguate items with the same or similar labels. A description does not need to be unique; multiple items can have the same description, however no two items can have both the same label and the same description.
Please note: this page describes the use of descriptions for items only. While properties have descriptions, their primary purpose is not to disambiguate labels; instead, they provide a brief synopsis or further details on how a property should be used (and do not necessarily follow the below stylistic conventions to do so). For more information about descriptions for properties, see Help:Properties.
Language-independent general principles
Avoid information that is likely to change
Words and phrases like "current", "incumbent", "expected", or "next year's" will eventually have to be changed. For example, if you were describing Tatsumi Kimishima, it would be better to use "fifth president of Nintendo" than to use "current president of Nintendo". While both are correct, the latter will change when Mr. Kimishima retires, while the former does not change. Just using "president of Nintendo" would also be appropriate, as it would provide enough information for successful disambiguation if, for example, there were numerous noteworthy individuals by the name of Tatsumi Kimishima.
For sportspeople, it is unwise to list the player's current team, as that also has the possibility to change. If you were describing Daniel Alves, it would be better to use "association football player from Brazil" than to use "association football player at FC Barcelona", because Daniel Alves' club may change.
Avoid opinionated, biased or promotional wording
Neutrality is a core value of Wikidata, Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. Try to keep descriptions neutral by avoiding opinionated or biased terms. In addition, avoid terminology that could be interpreted as promotional. "American novelist" is a neutral description while "the best novelist in America" is both opinionated and promotional.
Avoid controversial claims
Descriptions should try to reflect information both accurately and neutrally. If possible, you should avoid including controversial claims in descriptions. For example, it is better to describe the Pinnacle Islands as a "group of islands in East Asia" than a "group of Japanese islands" or a "group of Chinese islands". Remember, there will be a lot more information about an item on the page than just the description.
Follow Wikimedia namespace conventions
Wikidata contains items for several types of Wikimedia site pages that are found outside of a site's main namespace (for example, non-article pages in Wikipedia). These include templates, category pages, help pages, and Special pages. If an item is for Wikimedia site use only, it should mention the site in the description. This allows readers to know, at a glance, that they are not dealing with normal content.
Label: Top Gear
Description: Wikipedia disambiguation page
This item is the Wikipedia disambiguation page for things that are called Top Gear.
Description: Wikipedia portal showcasing content related to the field of history
Although the inclusion of "Portal:" in the title makes it clear to people that are familiar with Wikipedia that this is a Wikipedia portal, not everyone who uses Wikidata will know what that means, so specifying that it is a Wikipedia portal still is a good idea.
Descriptions are not definitions
The concept represented by the item is defined by the statements not the description. If you need to distinguish an item from another item, add the right statements with sources before you add a special description. Also when searching items don't rely on the description's correctness, check the statements to ensure you found the right item.
Guidelines for descriptions in English
These guidelines apply to descriptions in English. Speakers of other languages may define guidelines for their language. Until that happens, the guidelines for English can be used as a starting point to the extent that they make sense and are useful for the individual language.
Descriptions are not full sentences, but small bits of information. In most cases, the proper length is between two and twelve words. One-word descriptions are almost always too ambiguous, and should be avoided. If the description goes onto a second line it is probably too long, and if it goes onto a third line, it is almost definitely too long.
Generally, a good starting point for a description is the class the item is an instance of (P31) (if any).
- For a person: [country] [career the person is known for] (Examples: Madonna (Q1744) or Faty Papy (Q1394573))
- For a location: [type of location] in [subregion], [country] (Examples: South Beach (Q186106) or University of Oxford (Q34433))
- For an organism: [type of organism] native to [region] or [type of organism] that is part of [larger group] (Examples: Tulip (Q93201) or Ailurus fulgens (Q41960))
- For a work of media/the arts: [year] [type of media] [creation method] by [contributor(s)], or [year] [genre/subgenre] [type of media] (Examples: A Prayer for Owen Meany (Q13911), Get Out (Q25136235) or The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Q49607)). For films, see Wikidata:WikiProject Movies/Properties#Description
- For episodic content: episode of [series] (Example: Once More, with Feeling (Q1501524))
These serve as good starting points, however you should not feel bound to them.
Descriptions begin with a lowercase letter except when uppercase would normally be required or expected. Essentially, you should pretend that the description is appearing in the middle of a normal sentence, and then follow normal language rules. Most terms would not be capitalized if they appeared in the middle of a sentence. However terms such as proper nouns (e.g. the names of specific people, specific places, and specific titles) should be capitalized.
Label: Lionel Messi (Q615)
Description: footballer from Argentina
This example begins with a common noun (footballer) that is not usually capitalized in the middle of a sentence, so its first letter is not capitalized here either. Argentina is a proper noun, and therefore its first letter is capitalized.
Label: sunflower Galaxy (Q13981)
Description: spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici
This example begins with an adjective (spiral) that is not usually capitalized in the middle of a sentence, so its first letter is not capitalized here either.
Label: John Smith (Q3182477)
Description: English botanist, first curator of Kew gardens (1798–1888)
This example begins with a demonym (English), an adjective that is always capitalized in the middle of a sentence, so the first letter is capitalized here too.
Descriptions are not full sentences, and should not end in periods/full stops. This is not a license to ignore punctuation entirely; if a description should have commas in it, those should be included. Wikidata takes no position whether the serial comma should be used or not used. Both "red, white, and blue" (the serial comma is after white) and "red, white and blue" (no serial comma) are acceptable in the English language. The serial comma is a contentious issue, so you should respect the initial description writer's choice to include or not include it. You do not need to reiterate the subject in the description, as it is already in the label.
Label: Miami (Q8652)
Description: city in southern Florida, United States
The description does use a comma, separating the state from the country, which is normal in the English language. It is not a complete sentence and does not have a period.
Label: Yoko Ono (Q117012)
Description: artist, author, and peace activist from Japan
This description uses a serial comma. This description could also be written without the comma after the word author, and it would be correct in the English language.
No initial articles (a, an, the)
Descriptions should not normally begin with initial articles (a, an, the). In the English language, there are some phrases that require an initial article, and in those cases you can use the initial article; however, if it is not needed, it should not be used.
Label: Dwyane Wade (Q31683)
Description: basketball player from the United States
Ordinary cases do not have an initial article. In this case, "a" is the proper initial article, and it is omitted.
Go from more specific to less specific
Descriptions should start with the more specific information first. When dealing with locations, for example, this might mean beginning with the municipality and ending with the country.
Label: Arcenillas (Q1650433)
Description: municipality in Zamora, Castile and León, Spain
In general use the local government hierarchy of names to go from more specific to less specific (Zamora is in Castile and León, which is an autonomous community in Spain). Names are separated by commas only rather than descriptions (leave out 'province of' in front of Zamora).
Label: Velika Polana (Q1043463)
Description: town in Velika Polana municipality, Slovenia
"Municipality" included here for the first level only to distinguish the town from the municipality.
How to query them in Sparql
?item schema:description ?itemdesc. FILTER(LANG(?itemdesc) = "en")
For related Help pages, see:
- Help:Items, which explains what items are and what rules they follow
- Help:Label, which explains what labels are and what rules they follow
- Help:Aliases, which explains what aliases are and what rules they follow
- Help:Statements, which explains what statements are and what rules they follow
For additional information and guidance, see:
- Project chat, for discussing all and any aspects of Wikidata
- Wikidata:Glossary, the glossary of terms used in this and other Help pages
- Help:FAQ, frequently asked questions asked and answered by the Wikidata community
- Help:Contents, the Help portal featuring all the documentation available for Wikidata
- Quarry: Wikidata - English descriptions starting with "a .."
- Quarry: Wikidata descriptions consisting only of one character (all languages)
- Quarry: Entity ids in item descriptions