Short descriptions in a menu of suggested articles
Short descriptions as a subheading below the article title

The short description of a Wikipedia article or other mainspace page is a concise explanation of the scope of the page. Wikipedia's mobile interface uses descriptions to augment searches, and the Wikipedia App also displays them below each article title.

Initially, short descriptions were drawn from the Description field in Wikidata entries, but because of concerns about including information directly from another project, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) made provision for these to be overwritten by short descriptions generated within Wikipedia.

Eventually, all articles should contain a short description template, even if it is empty, so it is easier to keep track of new articles which still need to have one added.

Short descriptions can also be accessed by the {{Annotated link}} template to annotate internal wikilinks.

Pages which should have a short description

  1. Most mainspace articles should have a short description.
  2. Mainspace pages that are not articles, like redirects, disambiguation pages and the like, should usually also have short descriptions, though there may be cases where this is not true. A generic short description transcluded by a common template is very often suitable for this class of page and has been done for a large number of pages.
  3. There is no policy or style guidance stating that specific pages or namespaces may not have a short description. Use your discretion, and the

    The short description is part of the article content, and is subject to the standard processes for content decisions, including but not limited to Bold–Revert–Discuss and the rules on edit warring and vandalism. Short descriptions are subject to many Wikipedia standards of content, including those found at Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons and Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, though, like the title, they are not able to be referenced inline. Just like article titles, they are decided by editorial consensus.

    The most convenient way to create and edit short descriptions is using the short description gadget. Please do not create or use redirects/shortcuts to it. The gadget does the job better, and redirects break the gadget's function. If you need to do a manual fix, please use the correct template name {{Short description}}.

    This restriction does not apply to the use of {{Short description}} inside other templates for special purposes, like redirects, where a generic short description is added to a whole category of pages by transclusion in an existing template.

    Writing a short description

    Short description should be drafted or edited with the following in mind:

    Purposes

    Short descriptions serve several purposes including a very brief indication of the field covered by the article; a short descriptive annotation; and a disambiguation in searches, especially to distinguish the subject from similarly-titled subjects in different fields.

    Content

    When visible on desktop or mobile the short description immediately follows the article title, and should be comprehensible in that location. Short descriptions should so far as possible:

    • use universally accepted facts that will not be subject to rapid change, avoiding anything that could be construed as controversial or judgemental
    • avoid jargon, and use simple, readily comprehensible terms that do not require pre-existing detailed knowledge of the subject
    • focus on the purposes stated above, without attempting to precisely define 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 (since some mobile applications may truncate longer descriptions).

    Formatting

    As a short descriptive annotation, each short description should:

    • be written in plain text, without HTML tags or Wiki markup
    • start with a capital letter, and avoid a final full stop
    • avoid initial articles (A, An, The)
    • be brief: aim for no more than about 40 characters (but this can be exceeded when necessary).

    Exceptions

    If an article title is sufficiently detailed such that an additional short description would not be helpful, e.g. Alpine skiing at the 1960 Winter Olympics – Men's downhill, a short description is not necessary. However {{Short description|none}} should be added to remove the article from missing short description tracking categories.

    Inclusion of dates

    The inclusion of a date or date range is encouraged where it would improve the short description as a disambiguation, or enhance it as a descriptive annotation. Generally that is the case at least for biographies, articles on specific publications, and dated historical events. Editor discretion is always needed, and in some cases there will be more important information than dating to be included within the available 40 or so characters, but if space is available such dates are encouraged.

    The following date formats are recommended for consistency but can be varied if there is consensus that in some particular case an alternative date format would be better. In the table below, the examples illustrate the recommended date format only; they are not intended to recommend any particular descriptive wording.

    In biographies, care should be taken to distinguish between dates which define a lifespan and those which define a period in office: lifespans should normally be specified by "(birthyear–deathyear)", and periods in office by "from startyear to endyear". For historical biographies, specific dates such as "1750–1810", where known, 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.

    Type Recommended date format Examples
    Biography Lifetime most important [Person description] (birthyear–deathyear)

    Year of death unknown (or BLP): [Person desc] (born birthyear)
    Year of birth unknown: [Person desc] (died deathyear)

    English composer (1668–1735)

    English composer (born 1668)
    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

    Publication Publication in a specific year Publicationyear [Description] 1964 musical film

    1988 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald
    1981 arcade game

    Historical Event in a specific year Eventyear [Description] 1861 American Civil War battle
    Period or range [Description] from startyear to endyear

    [Description] (startyear–endyear)
    [Description], startyear–endyear

    Epidemic of bubonic plague from 1665 to 1666

    Epidemic of bubonic plague (1665–1666)
    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 "floreat" should be avoided as it is not universally understood. Centuries should not be abbreviated "c. " due to the potential for confusion with "circa".

    Sources for short descriptions

    • WikiProjects may find it useful to suggest standard formats which may be applicable to categories of articles.
    • Wikidata has English descriptions of a significant fraction of Wikipedia articles. Where these are good, they may be copied to the relevant article, most conveniently using the

      Format and placing

      All articles should have a short description. If not using the gadget, you can add add short descriptions manually using the template {{Short description}}.

      Per MOS:ORDER, the template should always be the first element on the page. This means that it goes above any hatnotes, deletion/protection tags (CSD, PROD, AFD, PP notices), maintenance or dispute tags, and English variety and date style. Redirects are an exception to this rule. If (unusually) you need to add a short description to a redirect, you should add {{Short description}} below #REDIRECT. See below.

      Where a single short description is suitable for multiple articles that all use the same template (such as a specific type of infobox), the {{Short description}} template can be transcluded from the infobox rather than being added one by one to each article. In such cases, a second parameter |noreplace should be added to the template so that the result can be overridden by a later manually inserted instance.

      Always use the {{Short description}} template – do not use any alias.

      Other templates and gadgets attempt to extract the description from pages by explicitly searching for the use of the {{Short description}} template.
      For example, {{Annotated link}} searches for templates "Short description" or "short description".

      Do not start the template with a space: {{ Short description.... While this does create a valid short description, the space will prevent searches for the {{Short description... text.

      Making it visible on the page

      The short description is by default invisible when visiting Wikipedia using a desktop browser. It is visible and used by the mobile interface. If you want to see and edit short descriptions from your desktop browser, you can enable MediaWiki:Gadget-Page_descriptions.js from your Preferences in the Gadgets menu Testing and development section: Show page description beneath the page title (not compatible with the Page Assessments gadget). This makes the short description visible to you, but not to other Wikipedia readers using desktop browsers.

      Gadget instructions

      Red means that the short description is missing; orange means it's from Wikidata (you can click it to go there).

      Editor hints are only available for those who are auto confirmed, and only work for Vector and Monobook skins. Coded by User:TheDJ. May contain bugs. (Display is somewhat erratic, you may have to refresh the page a few times to get it to show.)

      For a more direct and robust approach that is compatible with the Page Assessment gadget, see user CSS instructions at § Testing; the code snippet there can simply be copy-pasted. This does not provide Wikidata color highlighting, however.

      Seeing a short description but can't find the code in the page?

      If the page isn't [directly] using {{Short description}}, try these steps:

      • See if the Infobox template on the page has a short description parameter.
        • If not, it may generate one automatically from metadata; see the template's documentation page and, if necessary the page of the meta-template used by the topical infobox. If you find that the meta-template has such a parameter and the derived topical template does not, please add it and documentation for it to the derived template(s).
      • At portals, look for the template {{Portal description}} in the portal's code. You can add a |topic= parameter to override to auto-generated topic name.
      • Still can't find it? Look for other transcluded templates or Wikidata-related code.

      Taking scuba diving (Q1096878) as an example:

      • {{Short description/test|Underwater diving where breathing is from equipment independent of the surface}}
      • {{Short description/test|none}}
      • {{Short description/test|wikidata}}

      Shortdesc helper gadget

      • Shortdesc helper is compatible with the page assessments gadget, shows the short description in the header if it exists, allows for easy editing of only the short description, shows the Wikidata description (if it exists and a local short description does not) and allows it to be imported locally and, if desired, edited.
      • This script introduces the short description as a CSS class .mw-page-description which can be highlighted by a line of CSS like .mw-page-description { background-color: #FF80FF; }

      Using short descriptions in Wikipedia

      Mobile interface
      Wikipedia App

      Mobile site

      Users of the mobile interface now outnumber desktop users in page views. Whenever a mobile user searches on a browser for an item using the search function from within Wikipedia, they see a list of suggested articles with their short description beneath. This allows the reader to pick the article they want if the short description does a good job of distinguishing between articles with similar names. This should be the primary consideration when designing short descriptions.

      Wikipedia App

      Users of the Wikipedia App see the short description as a sub-title immediately below article title. When writing a short description, it is helpful to consider how the description fits if viewed immediately after the article title.

      Annotated links

      The template {{Annotated link}} can be used to automatically annotate a link in a list using the associated short description. This can be used in outline and index lists, and in shorter lists in articles such as "see also" sections or disambiguation pages, which will be automatically populated with annotations using the associated short descriptions. These will remain up to date when the short description is edited. Annotated link does not work via redirects, so if the link is to a redirect, check if it is a redirect with possibility of becoming a full article. If so, add an appropriate short description to the redirect page – this will also help when someone wants to make it into an article – or change the link to a direct link. Both of these options can be appropriate, and it is a matter of judgement which is better in a specific case. (Bold-Revert-Discuss applies)

      Short descriptions on redirect pages

      {{Short description}} conflicts with the magic word #REDIRECT if placed in the standard position at the top of the page. If there is a short description first, the redirect becomes functionally a soft redirect – it will not take the reader directly to the target, but will work if the link is clicked on the redirect page. It also generates an edit summary that the redirect has been removed.

      This may be fixable, but the workaround is to ensure that #REDIRECT is above {{Short description}}.

      The short description helper gadget no longer causes this problem, as it now inserts the short description below #REDIRECT. Manual addition can still be done incorrectly, but the problem is trivially avoidable, and easily fixed.

      Functions

      A short description on a redirect page has two functions:

      1. It provides annotation for {{Annotated link}}s, which do not go to the final destination of a redirect to get a short description, and that is often better, because there are a large number of redirects for which the destination page short description would be confusing, ungrammatical, or otherwise slightly weird if used in conjunction with the redirect page title, and
      2. the presence of a short description indicates that the topic described may be a valid article topic, so a short description should not be used for common misspellings etc. The short description also indicates the scope of a potential article more clearly than the title alone.

      This is the way a short description can be made available for annotated links without having to creating a full article, which is useful if there is not enough reliably sourced information available to create the article yet, or insufficient time or inclination. The short description of a Redirect to section should refer to the section content and should not generally be the same as the short description of the main article containing that section.

      History

      Wikipedia's mobile interface uses short descriptions to augment searches, and the Wikipedia App also uses them below each article title. These descriptions were initially implemented by WMF developers using the description for the article from Wikidata. After concerns were raised about accuracy, suitability, and the potential for sneaky vandalism on Wikidata, WMF developers created a SHORTDESC magic word, giving editors the ability to override the Wikidata description directly on Wikipedia, as was discussed here:

      The magic word approach was later superseded, and replaced with the current Wikipedia template {{Short description}}. In a first iteration, mobile devices displayed the Wikipedia-specific short description where that existed, but continue to display the Wikidata description where it did not. In 2020, use of Wikidata descriptions on mobile was discontinued. Currently, mobiles devices display the Wikipedia description if it exists, and display no short description if it does not.

      See also