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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
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 (if any).
- For a person: [country] [career the person is known for] (Examples: American singer and songwriter or Burundian footballer)
- For a location: [type of location] in [subregion], [country] (Examples: neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida, United States or university in Oxford, England)
- For an organism: [type of organism] native to [region] or [type of organism] that is part of [larger group] (Examples: bulbous plant with showy flowers in the genus Tulipa or mammal native to the Himalayas and China)
- For a work of media/the arts: [year] [type of media] [creation method] by [contributor(s)], or [year] [genre/subgenre] [type of media] (Examples: novel by John Irving, 2017 film by Jordan Peele or 2006 open world action role-playing video game). For films, see Wikidata:WikiProject Movies/Properties#Description
- For episodic content: episode of [series] (Example: episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Description: municipality located 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
Description: town in Velika Polana municipality, Slovenia
"Municipality" included here for the first level only to distinguish the town from the municipality.
Guidelines for descriptions in Swedish
In contrast to the English language, the Swedish language have two different grammatical genders (utrum and neutrum). So, for completeness Swedish descriptions should contain the appropriate initial article. This makes the descriptions usable outside Wikidata in compliance with Wikidata:Data access/sv.
How to query them in sparql
?item schema:description ?itemdesc. FILTER(LANG(?itemdesc) = "nl")
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: Help links