Wikipedia is one of the internet’s last bastions of freely accessible public information, and since it’s relatively unspoiled by the type of polarization common on social media it can feel refreshing to research anything from the mechanics of aircraft toilets to Alexander the Great without being bombarded by trolls or ads. But occasionally you might encounter a page that makes your brain hurt.
If you’re researching advanced quantum mechanics for a school project, regular old Wikipedia might not distill everything you need into one condensed section that’s easy to understand. Likewise, if you have a learning disability or you’re a student who needs an easily-phrased rundown of a topic, some Wikipedia pages can seem overly dense and riddled with nonessential, tangential information, not to mention longwinded language.
Luckily, that’s where Simple English Wikipedia comes into play. Simple English Wikipedia is basically a shadow site for the main Wikipedia page, in that it contains alternative entries for pages written in more complicated language.
How to find the simpler version of what you’re searching
If you’re perusing the main Wikipedia entry on, say, particle accelerators, and are having trouble getting what you need, change the URL. Just add the word “simple” in front of the URL to access the Simple English page, and once you do that you’ll notice that en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particle_accelerator becomes simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particle_accelerator, with the latter link providing an abridged rundown of the basics.
This concept currently applies to a total of 186,000 articles on the site. You’ll notice that the differences don’t necessarily portend a watered-down version of the entries, but an emphasis on simple, plain language. That’s the main rule behind Simple English Wikipedia, as explained on the homepage.
True to form, there’s a regular Wikipedia entry on Simple English Wikipedia, and a Simple English entry written on Simple English Wikipedia. You’ll notice the sentences are shorter and the syntax a little more straightforward on the Simple English page. It’s a digestible (and quite meta) example of how the whole concept works.
It’s extra useful for people with special needs
The overall goal of Simple English Wikipedia is to broaden the scope of accessibility to more people. As stated on the Simple version’s Wikipedia entry, the site exists for students, children, adults learning English, and adults with learning disabilities. To that end, there are guidelines for people looking to write their own Simple English entries, and they differ a little bit from the standard fare pages you’ll encounter on the main site.
As explained on the Simple English homepage, any contributor itching to write an article needs to “use Basic English words and shorter sentences,” and focus on the overall rule “simple does not mean short.”
The site’s homepage expands on what’s meant by that:
Writing in Simple English means that simple words are used. It does not mean readers want basic information. Articles do not have to be short to be simple; expand articles, add details, but use basic vocabulary.
With all the noise and profit-driven platforms defining the modern-day internet experience, it’s good to know that Wikipedia is still doing what it does best — and it’s doing it for as many people as possible.