how Wikipedia Works/Printable version

Acknowledgements edit

Special thanks to:

Bill Pollock for supporting a Wikipedia book and a free license, Tyler Ortman for his patience and hundreds of suggestions, Megan Dunchak for her care with the manuscript, Riley Hoffman for layout, and the entire No Starch staff for their support; Samuel Klein for helping develop this book and for teaching Phoebe how Wikipedia (should) work; Benjamin Mako Hill for providing technical support, advice on free culture and licensing, and writing about free software; our reviewers (any mistakes are entirely our own): John Glover, Corprew Reed, Diane Schiano, and Richard Stallman; Eben Moglen for advice on the GFDL; the contributors to w:User:Phoebe/book: AaronSw, Sj, Clayoquot, Peterblaise, MER-C, Graham87, Jeandré du Toit, Llywrch, BanyanTree, and Kim Bruning; and our many friends who offered advice and support, especially James Forrester, Austin Hair, Lauren Manes, Sasha Wait, and Sarah Wait Zaranek.

And thanks to the thousands of dedicated Wikipedians who make Wikipedia, and this project, possible.

Introduction edit

Welcome! Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, is the largest and most popular reference website in the world. Wikipedia is also unique: This encyclopedia is written by everyone and can be read by anyone.

This book is written for readers, current editors, potential contributors, and anyone else interested in Wikipedia. The book describes what kind of writing Wikipedia includes, how Wikipedia works behind the scenes, and how to get involved.

We cover all aspects of participating in Wikipedia, from reading the site to editing articles to navigating the site's community and governance.

Wikipedia is based on a wiki, a technology that allows anyone to change pages easily on the site. If you're impatient to work on Wikipedia, go to and start improving the encyclopedia right now!

If you learn most quickly by diving right in, or if you already edit Wikipedia, then you can use this book as a reference guide and a source of tips. But if you're just starting out, or if you want to know everything about how Wikipedia works today and how it has developed over time, you should start reading from the beginning.

Chapter 1 edit

Chapter 1. What's in Wikipedia? edit

Wikipedia is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. Even if you only read the titles of Wikipedia articles, it would take you most of a month, without a break, to scan all of them. If you tried the same with Microsoft Encarta, or any traditional encyclopedia, you could be done in about a day, with time left over to eat, shower, and take yourself to bed. Reading the full content of Wikipedia would take you well over two years, if you read continuously—and then you would have to start over, as most of the pages would have changed in the meantime.

There are well over five million articles in Wikipedia. And the site is still growing at an enormous rate, so this total will doubtless be much higher when you read this than it is as we write it (see Figure 1.1, “Wikipedia's growth over time”). By early 2008, the English-language Wikipedia was estimated to consist of over 960,000,000 words, which is equivalent to over 1,700 copies of War and Peace (itself about 560,000 words long in a standard English translation). [1] On average, another 20 to 40 million words were being added each month, or 35 to 70 more copies of War and Peace—or one copy every 12 hours, all day, every day, continuously.

Figure 1.1. Wikipedia's growth over time

This enormous growth has been occurring since Wikipedia began. Some more statistics show that the site has grown most rapidly since 2005, as Wikipedia's mainstream popularity took off:

  • The site launched on January 15, 2001.
  • It ballooned to 250,000 articles by April 2004, on the English-language site alone.
  • It passed 500,000 English-language articles in March 2005.
  • A year later, on March 1, 2006, the English-language Wikipedia surpassed the 1,000,000-article milestone.
  • By late 2006, there were over 1.5 million English-language articles, with around 1,700 new articles being added each day.
  • The article total surpassed 2,000,000 in September 2007.
  • By August 2008, there were over 2,500,000 articles. At this point, articles were being created at a rate of 10,000 articles per week.

During this same period, Wikipedias in other languages were also experiencing tremendous growth; see Chapter 15, 200 Languages and Counting for more on these projects.

Wikipedia has never had a target number of articles; any contribution is kept in the encyclopedia as long as it meets Wikipedia's standards. The average Wikipedia article is still quite short, say 500 words, but articles also tend to grow over time.

With well over five million articles in the English-language Wikipedia, topics include almost everything imaginable: from detailed explanations of basic science topics to equally detailed expositions of episodes of popular television shows. There are articles on railway locomotives, programming languages, people of all types, abstract concepts, and cities and towns all around the world. Finding out what's in Wikipedia is one of the great joys of exploring the site.

This first chapter will offer an introduction to the encyclopedia through the following approaches:

  • Describing the content found in Wikipedia. (If you're overwhelmed by Wikipedia's labyrinthine setup, Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content will discuss good ways to navigate around the site and explain how to find content by searching and browsing.)
  • Explaining the types of content the encyclopedia aims to include by outlining the criteria for topic inclusion, the style in which topics are covered, and other content policies. Once you understand something about the policies and guidelines that govern content, you can start to get a feel for Wikipedia's house style—the telling details that indicate whether an article has been worked on by good editors. (Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article will explain in greater detail how to evaluate an article's quality.)

What Is an Article? edit

An article, in this context, is defined as a Wikipedia page that contains encyclopedic information. Technically, the article count only measures pages of content that are not dead ends (which means they contain at least one internal link leading to another Wikipedia article) and are not redirects (pages that simply automatically take you to another article). The article count also ignores a great variety of other types of pages that are not devoted to content (administrative, internal, image description, and community pages, all described in detail in "Non-article Content" on Section 3.1, “Types of Non-article Pages”). Counting all these other pages brought the total Wikipedia page count to over 13,000,000 by mid-2008.

Summarizing the parts of Wikipedia that do not consist of encyclopedia articles and explaining how to tell the difference between articles and other types of pages.

The basic information in this chapter will provide the foundation for understanding how to edit Wikipedia, described in Part II, and how to participate in the site's community, described in Part III.

Wikipedia covers every topic found in general encyclopedias, specialist encyclopedias, and almanacs, along with many topics not covered in any of these traditional references. This is possible in part because Wikipedia is not constrained by the economics of traditional publishing; it does not need to pay writers or spend money on paper. (Wikipedia is instead constrained by the judgment of its volunteers: It does not accept just any article. Several inclusion policies are enforced.)

Note: The ultimate purpose of Wikipedia's community is to create and improve articles and to distribute them freely.
  • There has always been interest in Wikipedia's milestones—the moments at which the number of Wikipedia articles surpasses certain round numbers. Friendly betting pools developed around guessing the milestone date for a half-million and then a million articles. At this writing, the five million and ten million article betting pools are open for guessing the exact date when Wikipedia will reach these milestones. (The prize is widespread recognition of your remarkable guessing skills.) See w:Wikipedia:Pools.
  • The actual millionth article, created on March 1, 2006, was w:Jordanhill (railway station), an article about a railway station in Scotland. Hundreds of people counted down on the IRC channel and the wiki to see which of a flurry of new articles would be the one millionth article. Many editors waited anxiously for the opportunity to post; over one hundred articles were contributed during the same second. There was even major media coverage of the event; see [1]. The two millionth article was created on September 9, 2007. Amid some confusion, the article w:El Hormiguero, about a Spanish TV comedy, was identified as probably being the two millionth article.

Audience and Level edit

All articles should be clearly worded and accessible to a general readership, but Wikipedia also welcomes specialist articles that require a background in the topic to be fully understood. These articles should include context for the lay reader, however.

On rare occasions, two articles about a topic exist—an uncompromising article that provides a full picture and a more accessible "introduction" article for nonspecialists (for example, w:Introduction to entropy). See w:Category:Introductions.

Articles vary widely in length, detail, and comprehensiveness. Most of Wikipedia's articles begin their lives as stubs (very short summaries) and are gradually built into more comprehensive treatments by several editors. Stubs are incomplete—by definition, they lack something vital—but they are often useful and well written. Approximately 70 percent of Wikipedia articles are still classified as stubs.

The remaining 30 percent of articles (perhaps numbering over half a million) are more in-depth, comprehensive treatments of a subject. These may rival or go beyond the best work in traditional encyclopedias. A high-quality article includes numerous sources and references, pictures or diagrams, and a complete and clear explanation of the topic.

Types of Articles edit

Are you wondering how Wikipedia found enough topics to fill two million articles? Here are some (but by no means all) of the types of content that are included:

Traditional encyclopedia topics

You can find all the types of content that you might expect from a general encyclopedia such as Encyclopaedia Britannica. Articles about science, historical events, geography, the arts, and literature are all included.


No occupations or groups are restricted or emphasized, although in order to qualify for an article, the person must be notable, that is, well known within his or her major field of endeavor. Once this criterion is met, you may write an article about anyone: artists, musicians, scientists, historical figures, authors, athletes, politicians, monarchs, and on and on. (People are discouraged from writing about themselves, however.) The Wikipedia biography project (Wikipedia:WikiProject Biography) keeps track of biographical articles; by the end of 2007, there were nearly 400,000 articles listed as biographies, or nearly 20 percent of Wikipedia (see Figure 1.2, “A representation of content in Wikipedia from August 2007: 7.2 percent of articles are about places; 3.4 percent about albums and singles; 3.0 percent about tree-of-life zoology; 1.6 percent about films; 10.8 percent about living people; and 8.9 percent about other biographies. Disambiguation (dab) pages comprise 4.2 percent of Wikipedia. Twenty thousand articles represent 1 percent of Wikipedia. These numbers were compiled by Dutch Wikipedian Eugene van der Pijll.”).


There are articles not just on countries, provinces, and major geographical features but also about cities and towns worldwide. For instance, there is an article about every city or hamlet in the United States (approximately 40,000 are recognized by the US Census Bureau).

Rambot: Most of the 40,000 articles about American towns were not created by hand; instead, they were created automatically with freely available census data. (The automated user account that created the pages is affectionately called Rambot.) For some time after Rambot made its initial efforts in 2002 and 2003, some community members complained that these census-based articles made up too much of the total article count. Now, however, it's not an issue because local residents and others have improved nearly all of the bot's articles, and the increase in other content means these articles now comprise only about 2 percent of the site.

There is still plenty to do in these conventional topic areas, but they don't crowd out other topics. Wikipedia includes many nontraditional subjects as well, including the following:

Fictional characters

Want to read up on the personal history of Frodo or Darth Vader? While articles about real people are certainly included on Wikipedia, articles about well-known fictional characters are included as well.

Media—movies, books, albums, songs, television shows (and their episodes), videogames, and more

Work in almost any medium can be considered for its own article.

Companies and organizations

There are factual articles about most well-known corporations. The field of technology is covered particularly well. For example, the articles about Microsoft and Apple, Inc., are both comprehensive; these two articles reference roughly 100 outside sources apiece. Companies can be included in Wikipedia if there is enough reliable information and independent reporting available to support a useful article (simple existence of the company is not enough to qualify, and promotional material is not welcome). As with biographies, writing about your own organization or company is discouraged.

Figure 1.2. A representation of content in Wikipedia from January 2008. In August 2007: 7.2 percent of articles are about places; 3.4 percent about albums and singles; 3.0 percent about tree-of-life zoology; 1.6 percent about films; 10.8 percent about living people; and 8.9 percent about other biographies. Disambiguation (dab) pages comprise 4.2 percent of Wikipedia. Twenty thousand articles represent 1 percent of Wikipedia. These numbers were compiled by Dutch Wikipedian Eugene van der Pijll.
Computer software and hardware

Considering the way Wikipedia is authored, you might expect a few articles about computers, and you'd be right—there are thousands of articles about programming languages, software, hardware, and computer science theory.


Wikipedia has been a hit with transportation enthusiasts. There are thousands of articles about railway stations, canals, airports, and other minutiae of transport networks. For instance, the article I-35W Mississippi River bridge, about the interstate highway bridge in Minnesota that collapsed on August 1, 2007, was created well over a year before that event.

Current events

Though the site does not support original reporting, Wikipedia is updated rapidly when major stories break. Current events coverage has had a major profile ever since the up-to-the-minute coverage of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and related tsunami (this article alone had well over 1,000 edits in its first 48 hours). Finding out more about current events on the site is described in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content.

Some pages are primarily navigational. These pages exist to point the way toward other Wikipedia pages. Three types of navigational pages are well worth noting:


Linked lists are a defining feature of Wikipedia. Want to find a list of songs about Elvis Presley? No problem—it's at List of songs about or referencing Elvis Presley. Lists can be about nearly about any topic; though like any content, they should ideally be referenced. In fact, List of female tennis players was one of the earliest pages created on Wikipedia. Lists are browsable; start from List of topics to find lists of … well, nearly anything. (See Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content for some of our favorites.)

Disambiguation pages

These pages include a whole list of links to possible articles that have similar names. For example, the Wikipedia page Orange links to articles on the color orange, the fruit, the Orange Bowl, the Dutch royal house of Orange, and numerous other pages (see Figure 1.3). Because it is not possible to anticipate which meaning you may be searching for when different topics share a name, these disambiguation pages pull together all the possible options. These pages are especially useful for biographical names: If in the course of some research, you come across a surname only, try the Wikipedia page for that name. It may quickly offer you a range of individuals to choose from.

Figure 1.3. The disambiguation page Liquorice

These pages simply push you from one page title to another automatically. You won't actually see these pages directly, but they are used extensively for alternate spellings, variations on names, and any other situation where confusion might exist over the precise article title. Redirects are not included in the official article count, but lists and disambiguation pages certainly are.

Further Reading edit

Article and Content Inclusion Policies edit

When people find out that anyone is allowed to add content to Wikipedia, they often assume that any type of content can be added and in any fashion. But in reality, editing and writing on Wikipedia is constrained by a kaleidoscopic array of rules, or policies (these are discussed fully in Chapter 13, Policy and Your Input).

Like a traditional encyclopedia, Wikipedia doesn't accept just anything, although its inclusion policies are clearly much broader than those for most encyclopedias. Articles are only kept on Wikipedia if they meet specific criteria.

Wikipedia has tried to filter out unencyclopedic material by codifying and abiding by general content policies, rather than by creating a list of approved topics ahead of time. What can be added to the encyclopedia is not laid down in advance, but is decided according to some basic principles worked out in the early days.

Policies determine both the kinds of topics that are acceptable and the way in which those topics are treated. If properly applied, the policies are designed to result in a fair treatment, no matter how contentious the topic. If policies cannot be conformed to—for example, if there are no reliable sources about a topic—then an attempt to create a good Wikipedia article for that particular topic may fail. Whether someone likes or dislikes the topic itself, however, should not have any bearing on whether an article is included. In other words, the only limit on what appears in Wikipedia is whether an article can be written that complies with all of the content policies.

No one in particular has the job of deciding whether an article is suitable for Wikipedia. Rather, contributors submit new pages to the site directly, and they go live immediately without intermediaries. Other contributors then review these articles. Large numbers of new articles are deleted every day, but new content that conforms to the content policies is kept. (See Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research for how to start a new article and Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes for how articles are deleted.) A new article may also be edited quite savagely to make it more suitable for keeping. An editor who inserts content that falls outside the policies, or removes content that is within them, is not furthering the aims of the project.

Although there is generally broad agreement on these policies, they rely (as with all things on Wikipedia) on editors actually applying them. If you find content that seems to violate these guidelines, it often means that no one has gotten around to fixing it yet.

Core Policies: V, NOR, and NPOV edit

Three policies are so central to Wikipedia's workings that the encyclopedia would be unrecognizable (or nonexistent) without them. These core policies are Verifiability (V), No Original Research (NOR), and Neutral Point of View (NPOV). In broad strokes, they form the framework in which content is created and edited on a daily basis with no top-down editorial control.

From the outset, Wikipedia was committed to a Neutral Point of View (NPOV). This policy is similar to what journalists mean by objectivity in reporting.

As time went by, contributors became more determined to keep out guesswork and rumors, so Wikipedia needed a policy that promoted fact-checking. This principle is now formulated as verifiability from reliable sources.

With Wikipedia's growing popularity, there was also a basic need to prevent Wikipedia from being used as a soapbox to spread new ideas that someone had just thought up (euphemistically referred to as original research). The No Original Research (NOR) policy says that ideas and facts must be previously published elsewhere by a third party before they are documented in Wikipedia.

Policies Are Important

Most of Wikipedia's policies began as temporary solutions to disputes or other problems. Because they worked well and proved robust in so many contentious areas, they became universal across the encyclopedia. The practical application of these policies is open to some interpretation, but if a Wikipedia contributor has major disagreements with these policies even in theory, that contributor will probably not be happy on Wikipedia.

Policies vs. Guidelines

There is a distinction between a policy, which is mandatory, and a guideline, which is advisory. Guidelines are more complex rules that help to keep Wikipedia's quality high. The three core content policies are supported by a host of associated guidelines, which will be discussed as we go along. These guidelines include the concept of notability and various principles defining the boundaries of Wikipedia's coverage.

In outline, each of the major policies is apparently simple enough. The unpacking of their implications is another matter. Imagine, if you can, an article about a rock band that is neutral about drug abuse and explicit lyrics, that only reports published documentation on trashed hotel rooms and the influence of The Smashing Pumpkins, and that cites its references in footnotes as assiduously as any doctoral dissertation. You are coming close to the distinctive Wikipedia voice.

Understanding the Policies edit

Verifiability (Wikipedia:Verifiability, shortcut WP:V) means that you should always be able to verify that the content of a Wikipedia article is factual, using reliable outside sources that are cited within the article. The Verifiability policy exists to make Wikipedia more accurate. Misremembered facts, casual writing, and gossip should not be included in articles.

In a perfect article, any major statement of fact is attributable to a source outside of Wikipedia, no matter which editor (anonymous or not, expert in the field or not) added the information. References in Wikipedia are explicitly cited, which is different from many traditional encyclopedias. Those works are written by small groups of experts, but because Wikipedia is open to everyone who wants to contribute, even anonymously, it is correspondingly important to be sure that an article's statements can be confirmed by reliable outside sources.

If a topic has never been discussed by any reliable, third-party sources, the Verifiability policy dictates that Wikipedia should not have an article about that topic. Writing the article should be put off until better sources have been published outside Wikipedia. (A lack of published sources might also indicate that the topic is only of interest to a few people; see "Other Guidelines" on Section 2.3, “Other Guidelines”.)

In practice, being able to verify information from other sources is very useful, even on apparently minor points. And when an article provides a list of sources, it becomes a convenient jumping-off point for further research.

Aside from benefiting readers, the Verifiability policy also simplifies things for Wikipedia editors by giving them a clear question to ask when evaluating an article's quality: Is this statement reflected in outside sources?

Though Verifiability is a core policy, it has yet to be fully implemented, and thousands of articles are tagged as being unreferenced (see Figure 1.4, “This is the template message for articles that don't cite any sources, which is a key part of complying with the Verifiability policy. These messages are meant to warn readers and alert editors that the article is unfinished.”). Verifiability is applied as a general principle. In practice, the ability of editors to verify a statement may depend on, for example, having access to a good library (a major concern in many developing countries). A fact should only be included if checking its accuracy is at least possible in theory; for important true statements, sources can almost always be found with time.

Figure 1.4. This is the template message for articles that don't cite any sources, which is a key part of complying with the Verifiability policy. These messages are meant to warn readers and alert editors that the article is unfinished.

You will certainly see unreferenced content on Wikipedia. Some of this content remains unsourced simply because sourcing is hard work, and Wikipedia is a work in progress. But some content clearly violates the idea of verifiability (for example, anything that is contentious and badly referenced or that really couldn't be referenced, such as things said in a private conversation). This material may be challenged and ultimately removed. (For more discussion on referencing style and sourcing, see Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research.)

No Original Research (Wikipedia:No original research, shortcut WP:NOR) means that all concepts and theories in Wikipedia articles should be based on previously published accounts and ideas. Wikipedia articles shouldn't contain original ideas, conclusions, descriptions, or interpretations of facts. Nor should they contain editors' personal views, political opinions, or any unpublished analysis of published material.

If you have something innovative to say, Wikipedia is not the right place to present it to the public. In other words, if you have performed an experiment, thought of a philosophical argument, or developed a mathematical proof—good for you! But this content doesn't belong in the encyclopedia unless your work has already been published somewhere else (ideally in a peer-reviewed and scholarly source).

Reliable Sources

Inevitably, there is much debate within the project about what exactly a reliable source is; this debate has gradually produced a guideline called Reliable Sources (which clarifies the Verifiability policy). It lists a wide variety of possible types of sources and naturally includes traditional scholarly books and articles. Certain websites do qualify, but self-published sources such as blogs usually do not. While source criticism (the picking of holes in the reputation of sources) should mostly be left to experts in a particular area, the meaning of the guideline is evident enough: Wikipedia aims to produce accurate, serious reference material, and the sources upon which it bases its facts must, therefore, be as reputable as possible. See Wikipedia:Reliable sources (shortcut WP:RS).

The initial motivation for the No Original Research policy was to prevent people with unconventional personal theories from using Wikipedia to draw attention to their ideas. These days, No Original Research is consistently used against the inclusion of material that is in no sense crackpot but is simply too novel for Wikipedia. Articles may also be tagged as possibly containing original research if it is suspected that material in them comes from an editor's personal experience, rather than verifiable sources (see Figure 1.5, “Article template message indicating concerns over violations of the No Original Research policy”).

Figure 1.5. Article template message indicating concerns over violations of the No Original Research policy

NOR also means that editors should not be tempted to provide historical interpretations or draw conclusions, even if they seem self-evident, without citing supporting outside sources giving the same interpretations. One consequence is that historical articles tend not to end with overall summary assessments of people or events. Conclusions from historians can be cited, but if two historians disagree, there should be no authorial attempt to reconcile the views; both sides should be given and the readers left to draw their own conclusions. Some pattern may exist in the facts, but it is not for Wikipedia to break this to the world. If someone else points it out, it can be mentioned and attributed.

Verifiability, Reliable Sources, and No Original Research clearly have something in common. In Wikipedia, both facts and opinions must be based on and referenced to outside information and ideas that have already been published. There is ongoing discussion on whether these principles can be summarized together under the idea of attribution.

Neutral Point of View (Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, shortcut WP:NPOV) means that all points of view about a particular topic should be fairly represented. NPOV is one of the oldest, most respected, and most central policies on Wikipedia. A neutral article makes no case and concentrates on informing the reader by providing a good survey of its topic. It is fair-minded and accurate and deals with controversial matters by reporting the main points where there is disagreement.

From the reader's perspective, the effect of neutrality should be this: An article on a contentious topic, such as a historical event that is seen differently by various groups, should not reveal where the article author stands on the matter. In almost all cases, such an article will have been worked over by a group of editors, and their opinions should not come through. Although the example of a rock band was given previously, there are more serious topics where maintaining a neutral point of view is not easy to apply. Consider a neutral treatment of slavery, communism, the history of Ireland, or abortion. Each of these has to be treated on a scrupulous basis, with proper weight given to all sides of the story. The discussion of rival opinions should be in a tone containing no sympathy or bias, regardless of the topic.

Neutral articles should also be comprehensive, though they don't have to be all-inclusive. All significant views should be provided or outlined, however. The reasons why a particular view is popular should be given in fair summary, but the overall expression in an article should not be slanted. NPOV doesn't mean that minority views must be written about with equal coverage to majority views, particularly when there is a wide disparity in their acceptance; points of view should be written up proportionately. Small minority views, such as "the Earth is flat," can be treated briefly, or in some cases omitted as being below Wikipedia's natural threshold of attention. There is no doctrine of equal time. In fact, to give all views equal coverage regardless of their outside acceptance is in itself an act of editorializing. The same goes for what facts or incidents are emphasized in an article; a scandal, rumor, or conspiracy theory may be included (if properly sourced), but shouldn't be given unwarranted headline status. Wikipedia is not tabloid journalism.

Using a neutral point of view, all sorts of controversies can be handled. An article should never directly include opinion within the text: "Coke is much better than Pepsi" is the wrong approach. Rather, the statement should be neutral, indirect, accurate, and specific. For example, it is acceptable to write "according to a 2006 Taste Tester's poll published in Taste Testers Monthly, 52 percent of taste testers found Coke to be better than Pepsi," with a full citation to the article being referred to. (This is a fabricated quote, by the way. See New Coke for some real quotes.) Of course, neutrality also rules out all sorts of propaganda tricks based on selective quotation.

NPOV also comes to the rescue where sources differ on the facts. Editors are often faced with contradictions in the historical record or factual matters; for example, whether person X was a nephew or a son of person Y. Both claims can be included. According to Verifiability and Neutral Point of View, this disputed factual point should appear as "Source A says X was the nephew of Y, whereas B says X was the son of Y," with references. According to the No Original Research policy, the matter should be left there, and if source C publishes some new evidence, this should then be added. Wikipedia is not a court in which verdicts are reached, and editors should not attempt to figure out the "right" answer themselves; an article may simply present the evidence, fairly and at adequate length, for the reader to consider.

Following NPOV means that advertisements, press releases, and other promotional materials aren't welcome on Wikipedia because these are inherently non-neutral. This may sound fairly obvious, but it affects the community's acceptance of other sources as well. For example, text from promotional websites for companies or schools, which are often used for sources, is often non-neutral and should be considered carefully before being cited.

In addition to making advertising unacceptable, NPOV is also a prime reason why editors are strongly discouraged from working on articles about themselves or their organizations. Except for basic factual corrections, it really is difficult to be neutral about yourself. (Also remember that any statement in an article, even if it's about a subject you know as intimately as your own life, needs to be backed up with a citation to an outside source because of Verifiability and No Original Research. Wikipedia should never be used for promotion.)

Editing Scandals

Some violations of the NPOV policy have been high profile; for instance, it was discovered that staffers for a politician were editing that politician's biography to be more favorable and removing uncomfortable facts. Naturally, this violated the Neutral Point of View policy. On January 27, 2006, the Lowell Sun reported on the Wikipedia article about an American politician, Representative Marty Meehan. It claimed that an anonymous editor, with an IP address traced to the House of Representatives offices, had been at work erasing mention of the congressman's broken term-limit promise. This then became a national news story.

All of the content policies, but particularly NPOV, affect Wikipedia's style and the way its text is worded. Disputes about NPOV often end up on the Talk Page of the article (discussed in Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article); if there is heavy debate about a topic in evidence, an editor may flag the article as being involved in an NPOV dispute (see Figure 1.6, “Article template message indicating concern that the tagged article does not have a neutral point of view”).

Figure 1.6. Article template message indicating concern that the tagged article does not have a neutral point of view

Other Guidelines edit

Along with the three core policies discussed in the previous section, a handful of other guidelines help determine what content is included in Wikipedia.

Notability edit

Wikipedia should only cover topics considered noteworthy in the outside world, as determined by reliable, independent secondary sources. Notability helps set a baseline level for inclusion to prevent Wikipedia from becoming something other than an encyclopedia. In practice, the lack of notability is the most common reason why a topic is deemed unsuitable for a Wikipedia article.

This concept is distinct from "fame," "importance," or "popularity," but it does mean there shouldn't be articles about topics that are of interest only to a very few people or of such local interest that there are no publications about them. In other words, an article should not be about your pet or your house (unless either of these is particularly well known and has been written about previously).

Notability is easy to think about superficially but difficult to apply or cleanly define in the abstract. A feeling for notability requires a practical sense of the relative significance of topics in a field, and it also requires a scholarly sense of which types of sources determine notability. An encyclopedist has to wrestle with weighing the extent and quality of information available on a topic. To take one example, King Edward V of England, one of the princes in the Tower whose reign was cut short when his uncle, Richard III, took the throne, is clearly notable, even though much that has been written about him and his fate is speculative.

In part because of this ambiguity, Notability is much more controversial and open to debate than Verifiability, No Original Research, and Neutral Point of View, but it is also closely related to these policies. Arguments about it may be tortuous in the abstract, but in practical terms, non-notable articles are deleted from Wikipedia over time.

There are separate notability guidelines that have been set up for various controversial areas, such as actors and actresses, websites, companies, musical groups, videogames, and so on; these guidelines may be found through links on the main notability page. Many of these guidelines are in place to help reinforce the idea that Wikipedia is not a promotional service, and most of them fall back on whether there are any reliable secondary sources to be had and the amount of documentation available on a topic. For example, if Alice has a website that gets thousands of hits a day, but no one has written about it in any sort of publication, Bob will likely not be able to write a successful Wikipedia article about Alice's site that doesn't get deleted by other editors as being non-notable, or with the short dismissive comment nn.

Similarly, suppose Carla hopes to write about her favorite band, which is much beloved locally but has no major music press. Not only would writing a neutral article be difficult, but also there are no reliable published sources that Carla can use (even if she knows the band's history first-hand).

As in the previous example, notability is something that should be considered in relation to each individual article, rather than whole classes of topics. Some musical groups are certainly notable, as are some companies and some videogames; others are not. The notability guidelines help sort this out.

On the other hand, there are inherent problems with the idea of notability which have led to many ongoing debates over the years on how to phrase and apply the guidelines. Here are some caveats to keep in mind regarding notability:

  • Notability may be perishable. Some topics are ephemeral in their interest, such as Internet memes and celebrities in the "famous for being famous" category.
  • On Notability: Notability is something that is judged by the world at large, not by Wikipedia editors making personal judgments. If multiple people in the world at large who are independent of the subject have gone to the effort of creating and publishing nontrivial works of their own about the subject, then they clearly consider it to be notable. Wikipedia simply reflects this judgment. (Adapted from User:Uncle G/On notability)
  • Notability is not the same as having a fan or someone taking time to research a topic in depth; there must be multiple independent sources.
  • The availability of accessible literature in English on any given subject can distort perceptions of notability; biographical facts, in particular, are unevenly accessible, leading to systemic bias, which will be discussed in Chapter 12, Community and Communication.
  • Notability is not distinction. It might arise from scandals or participation in controversies, as well as from recognized work such as writing a book.
  • Notability in a field is not the same as reputation. Wikipedia will, for example, include cranks who are now discredited but became famous for some reason, but omit solid scientists who are simply not well known.

On that last point, it is obviously flawed to assume that if there's no Wikipedia article, the subject is not notable. Wikipedia is a work in progress, and many worthwhile potential articles have not yet been written.

To sum up, writing a verifiable article without good sources is a bricks-without-straw exercise, and the presence or absence of sources helps determine notability. Thinking about notability helps to keep the project encyclopedic. The notability guideline as applied probably still errs in the direction of inclusion, with a bias toward lesser topics that are well documented elsewhere. This is a natural consequence of a policy evolution that has made reliable sources ever more central.

What Not to Write

There are some article topics that are pretty much always bad ideas. For instance, you can safely assume an article about or described by any of the following is among the category of unnecessary articles:

  • You or the organization you work for
  • Your band, which has only sold 47 copies of its one album (even if you think it will sell 48—or maybe 49!)
  • The religion or language that you made up with your friends in school one day
  • The street you live on (unless it is on a Monopoly board)
  • Any one of the 56 distinct regions in the Pokémon videogame series
  • Your apartment building
  • A stunt or trick only you have ever attempted, probably unsuccessfully
  • Any movie you made yourself that has never been seen by more people at one time than can fit in your basement

From Wikipedia:List of really (shortcut WP:DUMB). For a more serious version, see Wikipedia:List of bad article ideas (shortcut WP:BAI).

Copyrighted Material edit

As with other publications and organizations where writing is submitted, plagiarism is not allowed. In addition, any materials submitted to Wikipedia must be specifically licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), which is a "free license" (see Chapter 2, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia) distinct from traditional copyright. This license means that anyone can reuse and redistribute Wikipedia's content for any purpose without asking permission, as long as they meet certain conditions; Wikipedia content can be used on other sites or even republished in print.

For these reasons, materials taken from other places generally shouldn't appear on Wikipedia. You shouldn't take text or photos from the Internet or elsewhere and reproduce them on Wikipedia without explicit permission; copying any work that is not in the public domain or explicitly licensed as being freely available is a copyright violation.

Additionally, material that was not originally written for Wikipedia (such as a term paper) typically doesn't meet the other content guidelines. It is best, in almost all cases, to simply write the article afresh.

Non-encyclopedic Content edit

Some non-encyclopedic content is inappropriate for Wikipedia but may be welcome on other sister Wikimedia projects. For instance, definitions of words (without supporting encyclopedic information) are outside of Wikipedia's scope. The jargon used to describe such articles is dicdef, short for dictionary definition. A dictionary definition alone isn't sufficient for a Wikipedia article. However, dictionary definitions are very welcome at Wiktionary, Wikimedia's free dictionary project.

Original reporting of events is also not a part of Wikipedia. You may have been an eyewitness to an event, but writing what you know you saw straight into the encyclopedia probably violates the No Original Research or Verifiability policy. Wikipedia must wait for the mainstream media to report the facts, which it can then collate. On the other hand, original reporting is part of the mission of Wikinews, which is a citizen journalism project.

Similarly, a "how-to" article may not be encyclopedic, but would be just fine over at Wikibooks, Wikimedia's project to write free textbooks.

Original source documents (for example, the text of Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner") are not welcome on Wikipedia, but that is because primary sources belong on Wikisource.

These sister projects are fully described in Chapter 16, Wikimedia Commons and Other Sister Projects.

What Wikipedia Is Not edit

It's sometimes helpful to think about content inclusion guidelines in negative terms. Here is the basic consensus about what Wikipedia is not (adapted from Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not, shortcut WP:NOT). Taken together, these statements usefully define boundaries applied to Wikipedia's content. They also exist as longer formulations spelled out in policies and guidelines.

Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information, a directory, or a dictionary.

It's an encyclopedia (and preferably a well-rounded one) in which criteria such as notability are used to weed out entries. For example, an article titled List of bands beginning with the word "Lemon" was exactly what its title implied: a simple list, without analysis or context, that named the Lemonheads, Lemon Jelly, and a few other bands. It was quickly deleted. Articles on Wikipedia ought to serve some purpose. They should provide something recognizable as "information," concerning something recognizable as a "subject."

On a similar note, Wikipedia doesn't strive to be a Who's Who or a catalog of published works. Family trees and other family histories are not stored on Wikipedia, as much family history is considered "indiscriminate": Being related to someone notable doesn't make a person notable (with the exception of royal families and others where the hereditary principle matters).

Wikipedia is not a paper encyclopedia.

In particular, Wikipedia does not need to worry about printing costs or physical unwieldiness. It doesn't need to shorten or triage articles to conserve space. As long as there is money to buy servers and bandwidth, there are no physical restrictions on growth.

The implications for coverage are major: "Not worth including" is a decision that need not be made quite as often. This is another reason Wikipedia's model is a dramatic change from earlier encyclopedias. As long as articles conform to the site's other guidelines, specialized or minor articles can be included. Wikipedia has no set restrictions on what branches of human knowledge should be included.

Wikipedia is not a publisher of original thought, nor a soapbox.

This reiterates the policy of No Original Research: Wikipedia is not interested in personal essays. Indeed, it's a bad platform on which to air personal or political views. If you're looking for a way to get your name and opinions online, many free website and blog providers exist. Reviews of products, companies, and other personal opinions—whether positive or negative—are likewise unwelcome in Wikipedia articles. These are better placed on a website dedicated to reviews.

Wikipedia is not a mirror, repository of files, a blog, webspace provider, or social networking site.

This might seem like a strange point to make as it is directed not at Wikipedia's articles but at its user pages, the pages editors create for their own working space. (We will cover user pages in Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian.) Anyone can come along and create a user page, but Wikipedia only supplies this working space to allow editors to identify themselves and collaborate more effectively—not to back up unrelated files, publish a blog, or find a potential mate. Wikipedia is a project with a very specific purpose—to create and distribute an encyclopedia. It is not a helpful web application for storing other unrelated information.

Wikipedia is not a crystal ball.

This is a warning about posting rumor and speculation about future events, such as gossip about films that are currently in production. If it hasn't happened yet, it isn't Wikipedia material (though as with all guidelines, this should be interpreted using common sense: It doesn't mean that the article on the 2012 Summer Olympics should be started only when the opening ceremony gets under way).

Wikipedia is not censored.

Articles aim at a general and educated adult audience, and Wikipedia is neither simplified, nor is it compiled with regard to the needs or protection of children. While content is intended to be factual, it is also frank, and human sexuality is extensively covered. Religion is treated along the same lines as all other content. Some images in the encyclopedia may be disturbing or shocking.

Thus, some content may be considered offensive or inappropriate for young children. Understandably, this lack of censorship can cause distress—there are many hundreds of articles about topics that many people would prefer not to think about. Considering that the aim is to be a repository of all human information, written by a truly diverse group of people from all over the world, this is unavoidable. And given the policies of Neutral Point of View and Verifiability, Wikipedia is often an excellent source for information on controversial or potentially offensive topics.

Note: Wikipedia, however, should certainly not contain anything defamatory toward individuals. w:Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons (shortcut WP:BLP) sets down strict conditions of inclusion for articles about people. Verifiability and NPOV apply to all topics and are firmly enforced in cases where real lives may be affected. If, by misfortune, you do feel defamed, turn to "Help, an Article About Me Is Incorrect!" on Section 2.4.1, “Help, an Article About Me Is Incorrect!” for specific complaint advice.

No Blue Pencil, No Free Speech

"No censorship of topics" does not mean that other inclusion policies and behavioral guidelines for onsite interactions can be ignored. Though broadmindedness is highly valued on Wikipedia, nowhere in the policies is there anything about free speech. The site is designed as an encyclopedia project, not as a general forum.

Wikipedia is not static.

Articles are never set in stone. The encyclopedia is an open-ended work in progress, and Wikipedia articles are, by definition, always provisional. Even the best articles aren't considered off limits for further improvement. This attitude reflects a shared view of knowledge as something that by its nature is dynamic and expanding, rather than settled.

This final point is often left unspoken, but it is key. Changes can always be made, articles can always be improved, and there is always something else to do.

Further Reading The NPOV policy The NOR policy The Verifiability policy The Notability guideline Various notability guidelines for specific subjects Guideline for judging reliable sources The policy on what Wikipedia is not

Non-article Content edit

All pages on Wikipedia are of two types: About two million articles constitute the encyclopedic content, but ten million project-related pages also exist. What are these pages? Will you see them if you just look something up? If you find them when using a search engine, should you ignore those hits?

Wikipedia's readers should recognize that some Wikipedia pages are not articles, but they do not need to have any particular understanding of the non-article pages and can ignore them freely. On the other hand, involved editors should understand the different types of pages—their purpose and the way they help grease Wikipedia's wheels. The project-related and administrative pages are not as glamorous as articles, but they're of no less importance when it comes to understanding what happens in practice on the site.

3.1. Types of Non-article Pages edit

These extra pages come in several varieties. Non-article pages are devoted to the administration of Wikipedia, discussion of article content, technical infrastructure, descriptions of images, and the Wikipedia community.

Although they are not as widely known as articles, two of these page types—discussion pages and user pages—are actually the easiest places to start participating on Wikipedia.

Talk pages

Every article is coupled with a talk page (also called a discussion page), which is accessed by clicking the Discussion tab at the top of the screen. Here editors ask questions about the article's content, propose changes, display notices for other editors, and discuss technical matters (like the title of an article and whether an article should be split into pieces or combined with another).

Each discussion page is meant only for discussing the article it is linked to. Despite the name, discussion pages are not forums for general discussion of the article's subject.

A discussion page is attached to almost every non-article page as well. (Discussions about Wikipedia policy tend to range more widely than discussions about individual articles, but still remain somewhat tied to the topic of the attached page.)

For more on talk pages, see Chapters Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article, Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian, and Chapter 12, Community and Communication.

User pages and user talk pages

User pages are for individual editors (users) to describe themselves in whatever detail they see fit. By custom, they are set aside as a private space where editors can work. Often, editors will list projects they're a part of and articles they've worked on.

User talk pages, like article discussion pages, can be reached by clicking a tab at the top of the screen. To communicate with each other, editors leave notes on user talk pages. Whenever someone leaves a note on your user talk page, Wikipedia's software notifies you. (You'll find more on setting up user pages and leaving messages in Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian.)

The other kinds of pages are typically used as references and project coordination pages.

Policy pages and guidelines

These pages provide guidance about editing content and interacting with other volunteers. Policies and guidelines lay out stylistic guidelines for editing, content inclusion policies, procedures to resolve disputes, and much more. Policies will be described further in Chapter 13, Policy and Your Input.

Community discussion, procedural, and project pages

These pages are where the community discusses proposals and coordinates editing projects. Routine procedures, such as deletion discussions, are usually based on policies and are carried out on special procedure pages. These processes will be described more in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes. On Wikipedia what the community means tends to vary according to context—after all, the site is open to all comers—but often enough, it implies those who take part in these open-forum discussions.

Help pages

These pages include documentation of editing syntax, technical procedures, and best practices, and are referenced throughout this book.

Image description pages

Each image is coupled with an image description page. These pages exist to provide the image with a textual description (metadata).

MediaWiki-generated special pages and administrative pages

These are pages generated on the fly by the MediaWiki software and serve as utilities rather than editable pages. They are used for special lists and essential pages, such as the account creation pages.

Namespaces edit

Each type of page is distinguished from every other type (including from articles) by a prefix; for example, discussion pages are prefixed with Talk:. This prevents "collisions" between similarly named pages, for example, Sorting, which is an encyclopedia article about the process of arranging items, and Help:Sorting, which is not an encyclopedia article but instead offers technical assistance about the sortable tables found on some Wikipedia pages.

Each prefix is actually an indicator that the page is inside a particular namespace. (A namespace is a kind of container for different types of content.) For example, in this full Wikipedia URL

Talk indicates the namespace where the page exists, whereas Benjamin Franklin, separated from the namespace with a colon (:), is the page's name. If you were internally linking to this URL, you'd use the combination of the namespace and page name to properly indicate what page you meant: Talk:Benjamin Franklin.

Articles, which exist in the so-called main or article space namespace, do not have prefixes:

Benjamin Franklin is the full page name; the absence of a prefix tells you the page is an encyclopedia article.

All other types of content in Wikipedia exist in one of the other namespaces, which are indicated with one of 19 possible prefixes. Seeing a prefix before a title tells you that the page is likely part of the community or administration of the site (and therefore is not subject to the same content guidelines as articles).

The namespace also provides context and indicates the type of content that a page contains. For example, help pages contain technical documentation, rather than (say) encyclopedia articles or policies.

Although two pages in the same namespace cannot share a title, pages can exist under the same "name" in different namespaces. For example, the article Phoebe is about a personal name and is part of the encyclopedic content of the site. It is not the same thing at all as the page User:Phoebe, which exists in the User namespace and describes an editor who uses this name as a pseudonym.

The lines between encyclopedia content, on the one hand, and the Wikipedia community pages, on the other, are extremely clear and are delineated with the use of namespaces. As implemented on Wikipedia, community namespaces do not always exactly correlate with a single specific type of content. For instance, whereas only user pages are in the User namespace, you may find various pages such as technical documentation, community projects, and policies in the Wikipedia namespace. All of these pages, however, will have something to do with the running of Wikipedia.

All Pages in a Namespace

To scan a list of all of the pages in a namespace, click Special Pages in the Toolbox menu on the left-hand sidebar. At the top of the list that appears is the entry All pages. Click that, and a pull-down menu (to select a namespace) and a search box appears. The namespace listing will start at whatever spelling you place in the search box, something very necessary because several namespaces contain millions of pages. (Adapted from Wikipedia:Tip of the day/October 25, 2006)

List of Namespaces edit

Wikipedia has 20 built-in namespaces. These occur in pairs (for example, User and User_talk); there are nine such pairs, including the main namespace, where page names have no prefix, and two special namespaces, Special and Media. A namespace prefix must be kept when linking to a page. The prefix always comes before the page name and is separated from it with a colon.


Wikipedia runs using MediaWiki software, so all other wikis running on MediaWiki have these namespaces as well. Wikipedia adds two custom namespaces that do not exist on other wikis (Portal and Portal_talk) and has the Wikipedia and Wikipedia_talk namespaces, which may be appropriately renamed on other wikis.

For reference, the following namespaces exist:

  • The main or article namespace has no special prefix. This namespace is where all regular articles (all the "encyclopedic" pieces of the encyclopedia) exist. Pages in this namespace can be linked to internally with simply their name: [[pagename]].
  • The Wikipedia namespace is what could be called the project page namespace. It is for pages that are specifically about running Wikipedia and meta-level subjects related to the project. For example, the Community Portal can be found at Wikipedia:Community_portal and is meant as a place for the Wikipedia community to gather; Wikipedia:Statistics and its talk page, Wikipedia_talk:Statistics, are meant for describing and discussing the project's statistics. Policies, procedures, guidelines, community projects, and many help pages all exist within the Wikipedia namespace. The Wikipedia namespace may sometimes be abbreviated to WP, enabling shortcuts to be set up. For instance, WP:ARB redirects to Wikipedia:Arbitration_Committee.
  • The User namespace refers to user pages or pages that have been set up by individual editors to describe themselves, for example, User:Jimbo Wales. By custom, your user page is available when you register a username.
  • The Help namespace refers to basic documentation and help pages for using and editing Wikipedia. The prefix for these is simply Help:. Most of the project documentation pages are here or in the Wikipedia namespace.
  • The Category namespace is a major part of expertly using Wikipedia; we discuss categories at length in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content and Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web.
  • The Image namespace is prefaced by Image: and is used for describing and attributing images (for example, Image:White shark.jpg). If you upload any image or other media file to Wikipedia, one of these pages will be created. The Media namespace is prefaced by Media: and is used for a link directly to a media file, rather than its description page. Details are in Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters.
  • The Template namespace is prefaced by Template: and is used exclusively for templates that are transcluded or substituted into an article. You'll find more on templates in Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters.
  • The Portal namespace is for portal pages that collect articles on a particular topic; this is special to Wikipedia and not generally for MediaWiki. For more on portals, see Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content and Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes.
  • The Talk namespaces contain all the discussion pages. Except for special pages, every namespace has an associated Talk namespace, designated by adding talk: after the normal namespace prefix. In this book, we write these compound names with an underscore to be clear, but you can always use a space. The Talk namespace associated with the main article namespace simply uses the prefix Talk:, for example, Talk:Mathematics. The Talk namespace associated with the User namespace, however, has the prefix User_talk:. Similarly, Wikipedia namespace discussion pages are in the Wikipedia_talk namespace, so the discussion page for Wikipedia:No original research is at Wikipedia_talk:No original research. Generally, pages in the Talk namespaces are used to discuss changes to their corresponding page; however, pages in the User_talk namespace are used to leave messages for a particular user. The User_talk namespace is special in that, whenever a user's talk page is edited, that user (if logged in) will immediately see a message informing them that they have new messages.
  • The Special namespace refers to pages that are autocreated by the site's software on demand. These pages are not editable in the usual way and are generally either tools or automatically generated variable lists, such as a list of all pages on the site. See Help:Special page for a list.
  • The MediaWiki namespace is used for certain site messages along with a few other areas to define shortcuts and other text strings used around Wikipedia (for example, MediaWiki:Disclaimers). These pages are not usually editable by users.
Further Reading

Summary and What to Read Next edit

Wikipedia contains a staggering volume and remarkable variety of content, ranging from traditional encyclopedic subjects to articles about popular culture and technical topics.

Even so, every Wikipedia article must meet several criteria related to the site's mission. The most important criteria are the three core policies: Verifiability (V), No Original Research (NOR), and Neutral Point of View (NPOV). A number of further guidelines and corollaries to the major policies, particularly the notability guideline, help define what you should find in Wikipedia and what types of articles are acceptable.

Although there are now over two million articles in the English-language Wikipedia, there are even more pages devoted to the administration and community of the site. These pages, none of which are part of the Wikipedia encyclopedia, include discussion (or talk) pages; user and user talk pages; policy, procedure, and help pages; project administration and community discussion pages; image description pages; and MediaWiki-generated special site-related pages. All of these different kinds of pages are differentiated from each other by namespaces, which are indicated with prefixes that are separated from the page's name with a colon. Articles reside in the main or article namespace and have no special prefix.

In the next chapter, we'll discuss the origins of Wikipedia and how three disparate historical strands—wikis, encyclopedias, and free software—came together to influence the site's development. Skip to Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content to explore the structure of Wikipedia and learn better ways to search and browse the site or to Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article to learn how to evaluate an individual article.

Supplementary Figures edit

Chapter 2 edit

The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia

The hopeful dreams from the early days of Wikipedia have become reality. There is a free, online encyclopedia, and in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?, you reviewed its content. But what led to Wikipedia's creation, and what is the philosophy behind the site?

In Serendipities, leading Italian academic and intellectual Umberto Eco closed his first essay with this thought:

After all, the cultivated person's first duty is to be always prepared to rewrite the encyclopedia.[1]

In 1994, when Eco lectured to the University of Bologna on "The Force of Falsity," he naturally did not mean this statement literally. For him, the encyclopedia is metaphorical; a revision of beliefs is a sign of a civilization that can question itself, and fresh views and discoveries, such as a scientific advance or the exposure of a forgery, prompt new summaries of knowledge. But Wikipedia has allowed this metaphor to spring to life: Daily, thousands of people "rewrite the encyclopedia," and no one checks to see whether these editors have the appropriate degrees or credentials or are even dressed for the occasion.

Wikipedia combines the ideas of the encyclopedia, the wiki website, and free and open content to define how a free encyclopedia can be built by everyone. In this chapter, we'll explore these three ideas and how they have evolved, discuss the motivation behind the project and its early history, and examine the drawbacks to Wikipedia's method by discussing some common criticisms of the site, centered around a few case studies. In the last chapter of this book, we'll return to more recent history and the current organizational side of Wikipedia. In the meantime, as you read and edit articles and participate in community discussions, knowing Wikipedia's philosophical background and influences is key to understanding how it works.

Wikipedia's Mission edit

What is Wikipedia's role? In the 21st century, distributing information is easier than ever before. A megabyte of data—equivalent to the text of a large book—can be sent to mobile phones in most parts of the world for less than one cent. The Internet's infrastructure is increasingly available to the world's population, and broadcasters and publishers are becoming less-necessary intermediaries.

What has been missing is the freely available online information itself. The Web has plenty of other content: news, opinion, virtual shopping, and social networking. What the Web has lacked are hard facts, and quality factual material can change lives.

This is where Wikipedia comes in. Its mission is to make the whole world's information available in all languages. Until now, this has not been possible: Large reference libraries are not spread evenly around the planet. If you believe that good and balanced information is something that everyone needs, you can understand why a comprehensive, neutral online encyclopedia is important. And if you believe this information is a tool that everyone should be able to use in their daily work, you can see why a free, accessible encyclopedia is essential. Having quick, easy, everyday access to facts and reference materials matters now and is not merely a science-fiction concept like in Isaac Asimov's Encyclopedia Galactica or Douglas Adams's handheld Hitchhiker's Guide.

  • What Wikipedia Does: "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing." —Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, from an often-quoted 2004 interview on Slashdot
Further Reading Wikipedia's article on the Umberto Eco book cited at the beginning of this chapter The Slashdot quote and other Jimmy Wales sayings

Wikipedia's Roots edit

Wikipedia was founded in 2001, but the critical ideas and developments that helped shape the site were developed long before that. These ideas are listed below in chronological order. They show a quickening pace, especially after 1990 when the World Wide Web became a concrete proposal. Throughout the 1990s, technology progressed. New ways of thinking about tools emerged, and thoughtful and innovative developments combined to affect the content and implications of computer technology. These developments have produced ideas that are shaping the world. Wikipedia is part of a long tradition that predates the Internet, however, and some much older ideas feed into Wikipedia's culture—not least of which is the revolutionary concept of the encyclopedia.

Ancient Greece to Today: Encyclopedias edit

What is an encyclopedia? To most people, an encyclopedia is a large book or multivolume work. Comprised of a comprehensive collection of short articles, an encyclopedia divides an area of knowledge into separate topics. Encyclopedias are reference works, designed to orient new readers, summarize details that might have previously been spread over many publications, and provide a summary of available information in comprehensible terms. A good encyclopedia can answer many questions, without replacing the sources from which it was constructed.

Encyclopedias are examples of tertiary sources. They are neither primary sources, such as historical documents, nor are they secondary sources, such as textbooks, which usually discuss, report on, or interpret primary sources. Instead, an encyclopedia's compilers have gathered and summarized available secondary sources (often noting primary sources as well) to report on a field of knowledge and current thinking at that particular time.

The encyclopedia has venerable origins. Early examples exist in manuscript form in cultures around the world, and bound encyclopedias have been around almost as long as there have been books at all. Pliny's enormous Historia naturalis, written in 77 AD, is often cited as one of the first encyclopedias; this work was influential for at least 1,500 years. Some of the other very first encyclopedias were written in Chinese (the now-lost Huang Ian, published around 220 AD) and Arabic (the 10-volume Kitāb 'Uyūn al-Akhbār, or Adab al-Kitāb, compiled around 880 AD). Throughout the medieval era in Europe, other encyclopedic works were developed, many written in Latin and based around philosophical and religious ideas.

The word encyclopedia was not used to describe these works until much later, however. So where did this word originate? Wikipedia itself provides this explanation, crediting the 16th-century scholar Joachim Sterck van Ringelbergh (Figure 2.1, “Title page from Lucubrationes vel potius absolutissima kyklopaideia, 1541”):

The word encyclopedia comes from the Classical Greek "ὲγкύкλια παιδεία" (pronounced "enkyklia paideia"), literally, a "[well-]rounded education," meaning "a general knowledge." Though the notion of a compendium of knowledge dates back thousands of years, the term was first used in 1541 in the title of a book by Joachimus Fortius Ringelbergius, Lucubrationes vel potius absolutissima kyklopaideia (Basel, 1541). The word encyclopaedia was first used as a noun by the encyclopedist Pavao Skalic in the title of his book, Encyclopaedia seu orbis disciplinarum tam sacrarum quam prophanarum epistemon (Encyclopaedia, or Knowledge of the World of Disciplines, Basel, 1559). (From w:Encyclopedia, April 2007)

The earliest encyclopedias compiled knowledge about the entire world and were meant to be read straight through as a complete education.[2] This notion eventually evolved into the more modern concept of an encyclopedia as a reference work, more akin to the concept of a dictionary in which words are defined for easy consultation. (Encyclopedic dictionaries, a hybrid form, have existed since at least the second century AD.) An encyclopedia in the contemporary sense may illustrate objects, map places, contain articles about history, geography, science, and biography, and cover the spectrum of factual knowledge.

Figure 2.1. Title page from Lucubrationes, 1541

In the modern age, traditional encyclopedias have worked hard to balance the topics important to their audience with limited space and editorial capacity. Generalist encyclopedias aim to be universal in scope, while being compact enough to be fully updated every few decades and to fit on a bookshelf. Specialist encyclopedias can fill a similar amount of space for one field or subfield. A general children's encyclopedia such as World Book is written with a different format and goals than a scientific encyclopedia, but both provide clear introductions to topics. This formula has been a successful one, providing publishers with high sales continuing from the 18th century to today.

Today thousands of specialist encyclopedias are in print (Figure 2.2, “The six-volume Encyclopedia Lituanica, published from 1970 to 1980 in Boston, Massachusetts” shows one of these, the Encyclopedia Lituanica, an English-language six-volume encyclopedia on Lithuania). General encyclopedias have become household names: Encyclopaedia Britannica[3] and World Book for English speakers, the German Brockhaus, and the French Larousse. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia grew to 100,000 articles in Russian and produced encyclopedias in other languages of the USSR.

Figure 2.2. The six-volume Encyclopedia Lituanica, published from 1970 to 1978 in Boston, Massachusetts

Late 17th Century: The Modern Encyclopedia edit

The encyclopedia as we know it today was strongly influenced by the 18th-century European Enlightenment. Wikipedia shares those roots, which includes the rational impetus to understand and document all areas of the world.

Jonathan Israel[4] cites the Grand Dictionnaire of Louis Moréri (Figure 2.3, “Louis Moréri (1643–1680), a pioneer of the modern encyclopedia”) as being the first modern encyclopedia. Published in 1674, it ran to many editions over half a century. Then, as now, times were changing: The previous decade's Royal Society of London was composed of amateurs, mostly outside the universities, but they were pioneers of learned society and the modern scientific method. The new media of the time were journals, such as the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions, which were used to spread knowledge of scientific discoveries and theories. According to Israel, by the decade after Moreri's compilation appeared, the new institution of the learned journal threatened existing authority.

By the Enlightenment, the Renaissance concept of the polymathic uomo universale or universal man had been stretched to its limits. Science and exploration had added many facts to the body of knowledge, and no one person could grasp everything significant.

Encyclopedia editors made fields of knowledge available to the reading public by coordinating the efforts of leading scholars and intellectuals and condensing the available information. Israel writes that "these massive works … were expressly produced for a broad market." He mentions the "stupendous" 64-volume Zedler Universal-Lexicon in German (published 1731–1750); he also comments on the sheer expense of a well-stocked library at that time.[5] Access to general information was now available for the prosperous middle class; it was no longer confined to the rich and those actively involved in the intellectual networks.

Figure 2.3. Louis Moréri (1643–1680), a pioneer of the modern encyclopedia

The new generation of encyclopedias, of which the best-known is Denis Diderot's provocative French Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Encyclopedia, or a systematic dictionary of the sciences, arts and crafts), were general works. They included all areas of knowledge, from the technical to the esoteric to the theological.

Wikipedia as an Encyclopedia edit

Wikipedia carries on these encyclopedist traditions but with some radical changes. The most obvious change is technological: Wikipedia stores information online, so its scope is not limited by the economics of printing.

Wiki page structure encourages many short articles rather than a few long ones. This works because pages are hypertext: a collection of articles linked back and forth. Earlier encyclopedias used footnotes and indexes as a way to link to other articles, but Wikipedia uses hypertext to its full potential, giving it a very different organizational style compared to the printed page. This extensive linking extends beyond articles in the English-language version: Wikipedias in different languages, from French to Swahili (Figure 2.4), are cross-referenced with tens of millions of links, as described further in Chapter 15, 200 Languages and Counting.

Figure 2.4. The Wikipedia logo for the Swahili version

As described in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?, Wikipedia editors encounter the same issues that the original encyclopedia editors did—what topics to include and how to present them—and address these issues by developing content standards and style guidelines. Articles should be concise surveys, not personal essays: complete, accurate, and objective. They should summarize topics quickly in the lead section, as dictionaries do. These stylistic guidelines help Wikipedia fulfill the encyclopedia's traditional function: People consult the site for rapid introductions to a subject, written for the general reader.

Wikipedia's scope is far greater than previous encyclopedic projects, however. Encyclopedias have traditionally been published as comprehensive guides to some defined area of knowledge. Wikipedia is instead a collection of both specialist and generalist encyclopedias, linked together into an integrated work. Its articles can be updated immediately: Articles are dynamic, and their content can change from day to day or even (in the case of current events) from minute to minute. Wikipedia's huge scale and rapid updating is possible in part because the authorship model is completely different from earlier projects: The idea of the famous author or expert-written article has been discarded.

Finally, unlike earlier encyclopedias, Wikipedia is a noncommercial project, and its content is deliberately licensed so others can freely use it. This ease of access alone is surely far beyond what the early encyclopedists hoped for.

The 1960s and 1970s: Unix, Networks, and Personal Computers edit

Looking ahead several hundred years, we'll now explore the technological part of Wikipedia's heritage: the free software movement, the development and widespread growth of the Internet and the personal computer, and the development of wiki technology.

During the late 1960s, two key developments in computing technology occurred. The first was the beginning of the modern operating system essential to networked computing. In the 1960s, the computers in the public eye were the hugely expensive S/360 series of mainframe computers from IBM, whose twitching tape drives became iconic for speedy electronic brainwork. Meanwhile, comparatively disregarded at the time, the Unix operating system at Bell Labs was created on a humble PDP-7 minicomputer from the Digital Equipment Corporation. (According to legend, the machine had been recycled after having been left in a corridor.) Unix ultimately became one of the most widely used operating systems for the servers that power the Internet, continuing to flourish long after the IBM mainframes became hardware dinosaurs and inspiring a variety of free software projects.

During this same time period, the groundwork for the network that would become the Internet was laid. Called ARPANET, the original Internet was a US Department of Defense project first theorized in the 1960s. Along with other networks, ARPANET provided some of the first connections to universities and research institutions. Later, the technology behind this network became available for new networks available to consumers: The first email service was offered by CompuServe in 1979, the same year newsgroup software was developed.

A decade later, Tim Berners-Lee would develop a networked implementation of the idea of hypertext, an idea that would become the World Wide Web. With the development of web browsers in the early 1990s, consumers, who had been buying personal computers since the mid-1970s (a phenomenon that became widespread with the introduction of the Apple II in 1977), could now "go online" and participate in the growing Internet. These developments, occurring over just a few decades, completely reshaped the modern world and made large online projects like Wikipedia possible. The advent of personal networked computing also provided the necessary technical background for the cultural ideas of free software and online communities, which are critical to Wikipedia's development.

The 1980s: The Free Software Movement edit

In the early 1980s, Richard M. Stallman, a software developer at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, became alarmed at what he saw as a loss of freedom for computer programmers. Stallman had spent two decades working in a collegial environment, where changing or amending software was technically feasible and clear of legal worries. If someone needed someone else's computer program, he just asked for and adapted it.

As explained on Wikipedia:

In the late 1970s and 1980s, the hacker culture that Stallman thrived in began to fragment. To prevent software from being used on their competitors' computers, most manufacturers stopped distributing source code and began using copyright and restrictive software licenses to limit or prohibit copying and redistribution. Such proprietary software had existed before, and it became apparent that it would become the norm. ...
In 1980, Stallman and some other hackers at the AI lab were not given the source code of the software for the Xerox 9700 laser printer (code-named Dover), the industry's first. (From Richard Stallman, April 2007)

While Stallman and other hackers had been able to customize another lab printer so that a message was sent to users trying to print when there was a paper jam, they could not do so with Dover—a major inconvenience, as the printer was on a different floor. Stallman asked for the printer software but was refused; this experience and others convinced Stallman of the ethical need for free software.

Software, now produced by companies such as Microsoft, was owned and controlled, and sharing it entailed breaking a license and breaking the law. Source code—the version of a program necessary to make changes—was frequently not made available. You couldn't customize software, even after you paid for it.

In 1983, Stallman announced the GNU operating system project and two years later founded the Free Software Foundation. In an essay titled "What is Free Software?" Stallman declared the freedoms essential for free software:

  • The freedom to run the program for any purpose
  • The freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to your needs
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor
  • The freedom to improve the program and release your improvements to the public so the whole community benefits

The GNU project (whose logo, appropriately enough, features a gnu—see Figure 2.5, “The GNU project logo”) set out to build a completely free operating system, inspired by Unix. The acronym GNU was a programmer's joke that stood for GNU's Not Unix. A collaborative project, GNU was largely functional by the early 1990s. In 1991, a young Finnish programmer named Linus Torvalds offered one of the last essential remaining pieces, a kernel.

Figure 2.5. The GNU project logo

Torvalds called his project Linux. The combined system of GNU software run on this kernel is known as GNU/Linux and is now widely used by both individuals and corporations. Hundreds of people worldwide have contributed to Linux.[6]

This operating system, which has become the basis of numerous distributions developed for different purposes, has been one of the great successes of the free software movement. Some versions of GNU/Linux are distributed commercially, such as Red Hat Linux. The ideas behind free software have become widespread; other successful examples of free software projects are the Apache software, on which many servers run, and the Mozilla web browser, which millions of people use. Today, freely licensed, collaboratively built software supports work by businesses and individuals worldwide.

GNU developers recognized that new software licenses, which differed from traditional ideas of copyright, needed to be created to preserve the freedom to share these programs legally. Although the rights assigned with copyright have been of concern for a long time—a mention is made of copyright in the US Constitution, which grants Congress the power to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"—the advent of the personal computer and the Internet have magnified and broadened copyright issues. Broadly speaking, copyright law assigns the author of a creative work certain exclusive rights to sell and distribute that work, keeping others from copying and profiting from an author's work without permission. Today, copyright is assigned automatically in the United States and in many other countries when a work is created. However, because copying a work, such as a computer file, is now quick, routine, and costs virtually nothing, many questions have been raised about the place and effectiveness of copyright law in an electronic environment.

As an alternative to traditional copyright, Stallman created the General Public License (GPL) in 1989; today, this license is widely used for free software. This license is an example of copyleft—a movement to protect the freedom of creative works by using new licensing arrangements that incorporate ideas from free software.

As usual, Wikipedia has plenty to say on the matter:

Copyleft is a play on the word copyright and is the practice of using copyright law to remove restrictions on distributing copies and modified versions of a work for others and requiring that the same freedoms be preserved in modified versions.
Copyleft is a form of licensing and may be used to modify copyrights for works such as computer software, documents, music, and art. In general, copyright law allows an author to prohibit others from reproducing, adapting, or distributing copies of the author's work. In contrast, an author may, through a copyleft licensing scheme, give every person who receives a copy of a work permission to reproduce, adapt or distribute the work as long as any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same copyleft licensing scheme. (From Copyleft, April 2007)

By the turn of the 21st century, free software ideas had spread well beyond computer code. In 2000, Stallman created the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). The GFDL was conceived of as a complementary license to the GPL but was intended for written works such as software documentation rather than code. Wikipedia adopted the GFDL early on as its license for all content created on the site—a move that guarantees the site's content will remain perpetually free for everyone to use and redistribute.

Wikipedia and the Free Perspective edit

Wikipedia's approach is tied to the ideals of the free software movement. Both the software on which Wikipedia runs (MediaWiki) and the site's content are freely available for use by anyone to adapt and modify, qualified only by the requirements of their respective GPL and GFDL licenses. Wikipedia's slogan is Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. No one has to pay to view Wikipedia articles, but free means more than that: Free also means "no strings attached," and this is the consistent goal of the Wikimedia projects. Freedom means free of cost, free of restrictions to change and modify any content, free to redistribute, free for anyone to participate, and free of commercial influences.[7] The GFDL license specifies that any work placed under it may be legally reused and republished by anyone, with the only restriction being that any such republishing must itself also be licensed under the GFDL (and the original authors must be credited). In other words, the license ensures that any GFDL-licensed content is both freely available and open to all. Though contributors to Wikipedia do retain the copyrights to their work, they lose the right to specify what can be done with it.

Thus another site can repackage and profit from Wikipedia articles, as long as it respects the license. In fact, there are many legitimate sites like this, called mirror sites, and anyone using a search engine will come across them often. The only rules are that if a site does copy Wikipedia material, those pages must also be licensed under the GFDL and must acknowledge the content's origin. Because of this clause, the GFDL is sometimes called a viral license: It propagates and perpetuates itself.

Any author adding to Wikipedia should know what the license means. If having personal control over your work matters to you, you should not add it to Wikipedia. Once you have saved your contributions to the site, you've conceded that others can modify them and use them in any way they wish under the licensing terms.

Other works using the GFDL include the book you're reading; its text may be reused under the same conditions. The GFDL requires a history of authorship; on Wikipedia, you can look up the full list of original authors of articles (including pseudonyms, automated edits, and IP numbers) on the page histories of every Wikipedia page we cite. You'll find more about the GFDL and reuse compliance in Appendixes Appendix A, Reusing Wikimedia Content and Appendix E, History.

1995: Ward's Wiki edit

Tim Berners-Lee, the pioneer of the World Wide Web's technology, has said he always intended for the Web to be interactive. The social and cooperative side of Internet usage is now catching up with that potential, and wiki sites are just one part of a larger pattern.

A wiki is a type of website that anyone can edit. Setting up a wiki creates an effective tool for collaborative group authoring. Simply speaking, a wiki is a collection of web pages, located at a common address on the World Wide Web, that link to each other through their page titles and can be edited online by contributors without special permissions. More technically, a wiki is a kind of database, consisting of pages of HTML, the markup language used on the Web, but wiki pages can be edited by contributors using a simpler markup language.

Structurally, a wiki can contain multiple discussions consisting of many topics and is by its very nature dynamic and changing. Most wikis record the changes that are made to them, keep previous versions of pages, and make it very simple to add clickable links from one page to another page on the site. Openness is a key feature of most wikis as well. You don't need much technical knowledge or special permission to edit most wiki pages; instead, you can change them as you see fit. Wiki pages contrast with conventional web pages that have largely static and uneditable content.

The wiki concept and the name come from Howard G. "Ward" Cunningham, an American computer programmer. Instead of calling his idea QuickWeb, his first idea, he chose the Hawaiian term wiki wiki when setting up his website, WikiWikiWeb:

In order to make the exchange of ideas between programmers easier, Ward Cunningham started developing the WikiWikiWeb in 1994 based on the ideas developed in HyperCard stacks that he built in the late 1980s. He installed the WikiWikiWeb on his company Cunningham & Cunningham's website on March 25, 1995. Cunningham named WikiWikiWeb that way because he remembered a Honolulu International Airport counter employee telling him to take the so-called "Wiki Wiki" Chance RT-52 shuttle bus line that runs between the airport's terminals. "Wiki Wiki" is a reduplication of "wiki," a Hawaiian-language word for fast. (From w:WikiWikiWeb, April 2007)

On this original wiki site, meant for the Portland Pattern Repository (Figure 2.6, “The front page of the original wiki at ”), programmers exchanged ideas on patterns and approaches to programming, forming a somewhat rambling but fruitful discussion space.

In its original concept, a wiki expresses the views of a community with some common interest and brings people together in a shared space for discussing ideas and building resources. The main point of a wiki website is to make it easy for contributors to collaborate in building its content, whatever that content may be. If the site is wide open, what "the community" is may be nebulous, but a wiki community is often simply defined as those people who are editing the site.

A wiki, then, is not simply a technology but a whole approach for a group using a website to collaborate. This approach, which you could call a philosophy, cannot really be expressed by looking at single users or editors: Wikis have a collective aspect. In this, wikis are related to and draw from the culture of other online and open source communities.

1997: Open Source Communities edit

For software to be freely available is one thing, for many people to contribute to building the software is another. In an influential 1997 essay, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," Eric S. Raymond drew on the recent history of Linux development and argued that the open nature of free software allowed for widescale collaboration and development. Raymond coined a new term, open source, with a definition similar to the idea of free software. In the late 1990s, a group of Bay Area computer programmers and Raymond developed an open source movement, which also centered around sharable software but particularly emphasized the pragmatic benefits of collaboratively developed software to companies.

Raymond described how opening up software projects by making source code available and using open development processes could ultimately produce better software by increasing the number of people able to work on it. He coined the aphorism, "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow," which emphasizes how many different people, all concerned with understanding a program, help to find mistakes and other weaknesses and get them fixed quickly. In the essay, he also writes about the other benefits of using a self-selected group of collaborators who are only acting out of their own passion for the project:

...contributions [to Linux] are received not from a random sample, but from people who are interested enough to use the software, learn about how it works, attempt to find solutions to problems they encounter, and actually produce an apparently reasonable fix. Anyone who passes all these filters is highly likely to have something useful to contribute. (From Eric S. Raymond, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," presented at Linux Kongress, 1997)

Figure 2.6. The front page of the original wiki at

In a comparable way, Wikipedia urges its many readers to become writers, fact-checkers, and copyeditors, allowing anyone to ask a question or fix incorrect information. In a broad sense, the ideas of shared improvement and collective scrutiny are common to wikis, free software, and the concept of an encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

2000: Online Community Dynamics edit

Wikipedia is famous for fostering an elaborate, unusual volunteer community, but Wikipedia is far from being the first online community or the first wiki community. Other groups had already explored the ideas that would become the basis of Wikipedia's social principles.

Dedicated virtual communities have been around since the very beginning of computer networks. As the Internet has grown, hundreds of online communities have developed, each with its own mores and traditions. The idea of community suggests a focus on the individual people involved and how they interact as being key to understanding how these groups function. Wikipedia suggests a definition of a virtual community as being simply "a social network with a common interest, idea, task or goal that interacts in a virtual society across time, geographical and organizational boundaries and is able to develop personal relationships." For instance, some early notable online communities include the following (adapted from w:Virtual community):

Usenet, established in 1980 as a distributed Internet discussion system, was one of the first highly developed online communities with volunteer moderators
The WELL, established in 1985, pioneered some aspects of online community culture with many users voluntarily contributing to community building and maintenance (for example, as conference hosts).
AOL offered various forms of chat and gaming from its inception in 1983 and later helped pioneer the contemporary "chatroom." These chatrooms were initially moderated by volunteer community leaders and helped propel AOL to its position as the largest of the online service providers.

The new wiki communities in the late 1990s started with the idea of interacting online, which had been developed by these and many other online communities, and then added the ideas of open mass collaboration articulated by the growing free and open source software movement. But as wikis matured, they had to develop new ideas and principles for how people could collaborate fruitfully on such open, radically different websites.

The people working on the original WikiWikiWeb coined terms and developed ideas that would later become influential in other wiki communities, for instance, that people could take on different roles such as wiki gnomes, who beaver around on the site fixing small points of format and style. They also noticed that content could develop on a wiki in various ways (some better than others), for example, as walled gardens, dense areas of content that the average editor found hard to access.

The conversation continued on one small but influential wiki, MeatballWiki, which was set up in April 2000 by the Canadian Sunir Shah. This wiki attracted those interested in discussing online communities and their dynamics and typical issues. Much of the conversation on MeatballWiki was about the ways in which individual editors tended to respond to the freedom of editing a wiki. The concepts of soft security (security through group dynamics rather than hard-coded limits) and the right to leave (someone should be able to both join and leave a wiki community easily and gracefully) were first discussed here. Users also discussed large-scale concepts that affected the whole community, such as forking and interwiki connections—communities splitting apart or coming together. MeatballWiki continues today, full of essays, discussions, arguments, and musings about what constitutes a healthy, successful online community and what it means to work on a wiki.

Thus, the WikiWikiWeb, MeatballWiki, and other early sites developed the terminology and articulated the principles of structuring community that many wikis, including Wikipedia, operate with today. Wikipedia, in turn, has gone on to apply these ideas in large-scale ways not imagined by these early wikis.

Wikipedia as a Wiki Community edit

Wikipedia developed in an atmosphere where wikis were already established as a particular kind of online community. The word wiki is sometimes interpreted as a backronym, a back-formed acronym, as if it stood for W-I-K-I. In the style of Internet abbreviations, you could read this as What I Know Is, referring to the knowledge contribution, storage, and exchange functions of wikis. A typical wiki is still reminiscent of notes on an extended brainstorming session: The hypertext structure makes it possible to take up any point in its own smaller discussion thread. The early wikis were precursors to Wikipedia, not only in terms of technology, but also because people saw wiki editing, from the start, as a way to share knowledge. Wikipedia, however, changed the model of wikis from being a continuing conversation among peers to being a project for collating information and building a reference resource—and in so doing, showed that you could build a single work with a large, disparate online community spanning language and geography.

Being a wiki site is not intrinsic to Wikipedia's content. The adaptation of wiki technology, however, has been key to Wikipedia's quick success in an area where previous projects have failed. From the point of view of a technology historian, Wikipedia already deserves to be called a killer app, the sort of application of a technology that in itself justifies the success of wikis. Wikipedia has used its wiki aspects successfully to collate and develop the world's largest encyclopedia so far.

Embracing the history of encyclopedias, the openness of free software, and the easily accessible, collaborative aspects of online communities and wikis meant that Wikipedia was able to draw on both a large pool of technically aware people who saw the benefits of the free software movement as well as many nontechnical people who were attracted to the encyclopedic mission and community structure. A high level of collaboration has been possible in areas that would have been difficult to foresee. For instance, current events articles are rapidly updated, often with a thousand or more edits from hundreds of people in a single day, demonstrating the extraordinarily responsive power of this collaborative tool.

2001: Wikipedia Goes Live edit

Wikipedia has been an evolving phenomenon from the start. It has grown rapidly and has steadily attracted more attention.

Wikipedia's immediate predecessor was Nupedia. (This was not the first Internet encyclopedia idea, however; Interpedia, a project from 1993, never got off the drawing board.) Nupedia was started by Jimmy Wales, with Larry Sanger serving as editor-in-chief. The project was supported by Bomis, an Internet portal company founded and run by Wales and Tim Shell. Nupedia sought to provide an online encyclopedia website under a free-content license, built from contributed articles. Its model was more conventional, though; it was not a wiki, and contributors were expected to be experts in their fields. The pieces they submitted would only be published to the site after an extensive peer review process. The momentum of the project became lost in these multiple review stages, and only a few articles were ever completed.

Wikipedia was created on January 15, 2001, as an alternative based on an open wiki site. Initially, the site was presented as a way to attract new contributors and articles to Nupedia. (Both Sanger and Wales participated in developing the site in the early days, and there was later some dispute over whether they were "co-founders" of Wikipedia. Sanger left the project in 2002, while Wales continues to play a leading role in Wikipedia today.) To differentiate the site from Nupedia, the new project was named Wikipedia.

Wikipedia was immediately successful. Its wiki setup lowered the barriers to entry, and its reputation grew by word-of-mouth alone—the site has never advertised directly. A few key mentions on popular websites drew notice to the site; in March 2001, a posting was made on the Slashdot website, and in July of that year, it received a prominent pointer in a story on the community-edited technology and culture website Kuro5hin. These stories brought surges of traffic to Wikipedia, including people with technical savvy. Search engines, especially Google, also brought hundreds of new visitors to the site every day. The first major coverage in the mainstream media was in the New York Times on September 20, 2001.

By mid-2001, Wikipedia was beginning to acquire an identity of its own (Figure 2.7, “The Wikipedia logo used from late 2001 until 2003. This logo was designed by a volunteer called The Cunctator and was the winner in an open logo contest. See the progression of the Wikipedia logo over time at .”). Versions in Catalan, Chinese, German, French, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, and Esperanto had been created, and technical support had been set up (mostly far from the public gaze, as Jimmy Wales chatted on IRC and discussed issues on the mailing list). More visitors meant more articles were written and also more edits were made to improve existing articles (just as important, if a little harder to quantify). The Recent Changes page showed increasing activity. The project passed 1,000 articles around February 12, 2001 and 10,000 articles around September 7, 2001 (see Figure 2.8, “Wikipedia as it appeared in late 2001 (from the Nostalgia wiki, , a browsable version of a snapshot of Wikipedia from 2001)” for how Wikipedia appeared around December 2001). Nupedia, by contrast, only completed some 24 finished articles over its lifespan from 2000 to 2003.

Figure 2.7. The Wikipedia logo used from late 2001 until 2003. This logo was designed by a volunteer called The Cunctator and was the winner in an open logo contest. See the progression of the Wikipedia logo over time at

Wikipedia Today edit

Today, Wikipedia is a household word (at least in households with access to the Web). By late 2007, the site had become the #8 most visited website worldwide, as measured by Alexa ratings,[8] and the volunteer-based community organization behind Wikipedia has become highly complex, learning from past mistakes and developing institutions. Wikipedia is not only a piece of hypertext; the site is by far the largest and most inclusive cross-referenced single collection of factual information to ever exist. Due in part to this assiduous cross-linking of content, Wikipedia articles are prominent in search engine results; many (if not most) queries on the Web can be answered with a Wikipedia article. Wikipedia is an Internet phenomenon, unlike anything seen before—and it could not have technically existed on a comparable scale until quite recently.

During the early years, Wikipedia was administered (technically, financially, and socially) entirely by volunteers. The hardware and personnel needed to run the site was donated by Bomis. As time passed, however, Wikipedia's needs outstripped the ability of Bomis to meet them. The site's infrastructure (but not its content) is now run by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), which will be described in depth in Chapter 17, The Foundation and Project Coordination.

The WMF, employing a very small staff and governed by a board of directors, has taken on the role of coordinating a very large and disparate group of volunteers from around the world: By 2008, Wikipedias existed in over 250 languages. The Foundation serves as the parent organization for all Wikipedias and sister projects (these other reference projects are described in Chapter 16, Wikimedia Commons and Other Sister Projects). Initially based in St. Petersburg, Florida, the WMF moved to San Francisco early in 2008. However, most of the servers that provide Wikipedia's infrastructure are still hosted in Florida, with additional servers in Europe and South Korea.

Figure 2.8. Wikipedia as it appeared on December 17th, 2001 (See the Nostalgia wiki,, a browsable version of a snapshot of Wikipedia from 2001)

The Foundation's goals have remained in line with the ideal of volunteers freely creating content and distributing the world's information. Its mission statement is, in part,

to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.... The Foundation will make and keep useful information from its projects available on the Internet free of charge, in perpetuity.

The rest of the story of Wikipedia belongs in Part IV. There we'll tell you about the current gamut of projects in many languages and about the Wikimedia Foundation. The key ingredients for these projects and the Foundation were already in place after the first six months: developers to work on the software, open authorship of content, an international and multilingual group of contributors, word-of-mouth publicity, and a loose but effective central control of infrastructure, with community-driven lightweight editorial mechanisms.

Unfinished Business edit

Wikipedia's growth is still entirely open ended—the project has simplified the problem of where to stop by completely disregarding that question. The number of articles on the English-language Wikipedia might still grow by a factor of three or four, or even more. For instance, information about geography, if added to the same depth for the rest of the world as it has been already for the United States, could swell the English-language Wikipedia to a size between 5 and 10 million articles.

There are better questions to ask, however, than simply concentrating on future growth. How easy is it to find fresh encyclopedic topics? When will the editing community switch to focusing on greater depth and quality for each individual article, rather than on greater breadth of coverage overall? This may well be happening already: Quality of content is becoming just as important as quantity (see Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes for more on these quality-focused projects and how to get involved).

Enquire Within Upon Everything was a bestselling Victorian reference and how-to book, first published in 1856 (and referenced in the name of Tim Berners-Lee's early web precursor project ENQUIRE). This would perhaps be a better title for Wikipedia, which is gradually becoming a reference about everything. But some caution is still required when using Wikipedia (see Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article), and this is to be expected; the wiki culture has a deep acceptance of imperfection and incompleteness as both inevitable and perhaps even necessary for inspiring a working community.

Further Reading

Encyclopedias A brief history of encyclopedias A list of encyclopedias Information about projects to build an online encyclopedia

Free Software and Open Source The Free Software Foundation A biography of Richard Stallman The text of Eric Raymond's essay, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"

Wikis and Communities, the first and original WikiWikiWeb About wikis, from Wikipedia The history of wikis Meta page on interwiki prefixes Virtual or online communities An essay from MeatballWiki, "WikiPediaIsNotTypical"

Wikipedia The history of Wikipedia, from Wikipedia The WMF mission statement Alexa traffic details, for the Wikipedia sites An essay by Joseph Reagle, "Wikipedia's Heritage: Vision, Pragmatics, and Happenstance," on Wikipedia's influences and early history

The Wikipedia Model Debated edit

Wikipedia has been extraordinarily successful in its mission of producing a widely used, free-content encyclopedia in many languages. This success is reflected both in the very high use of the site and in the well-developed global community of dedicated volunteers that produce Wikipedia. However, Wikipedia is unfinished and far from being perfect, and this is reflected in the press about the site. Outside news stories about the site are often not "good news" about more free content. The media shows a greater interest in the "bad news" about the site's failings, which means many people first hear about Wikipedia in critical commentaries, usually about inaccuracies.

Over time, Wikipedia has acquired many critics, and hundreds of stories have been published about flaws in Wikipedia's coverage. Some discuss problems with individual articles, while others comment negatively on Wikipedia's overall policies and governance. Some also critique the entire idea behind Wikipedia. This criticism is not limited to outside media: Internally, contributors spend a great deal of time discussing how Wikipedia works and how to improve it.

In this section, we'll highlight some common objections to Wikipedia's working model: the potential for misinformation, academic respectability, and a lack of respect for expert and authoritative opinions and openness to amateur editors. We'll describe a few real-life case studies and critiques and describe Wikipedia's response. None of these objections are settled issues with easy answers; Wikipedia continues to refine its model. We encourage you, as you read through this book and learn more about how Wikipedia works, to consider these and other questions in forming your own opinion.

Misinformation: The Seigenthaler Scandal edit

In May 2005, a defamatory article slipped past the New Pages Patrol, the informal group of Wikipedia editors who check new articles as they are created. An anonymous hoaxer inserted a short fabricated biography, just five sentences, in the article covering John Seigenthaler, Sr., a distinguished American journalist who had served in the Justice Department of the Kennedy White House. The text suggested that Seigenthaler was connected to the Kennedy assassinations. No one noticed for five months—until September 2005 when the prank was revealed and made headlines.

A friend of Seigenthaler's originally discovered the article; he alerted Seigenthaler, who in turn contacted Jimmy Wales to complain. The objectionable content was deleted from the live page almost immediately after being noticed, by September 24, 2005; in early October, the article was then deleted altogether so the objectionable version could not be viewed from the page history (an accurate biography was subsequently re-created). Because Wikipedia content is mirrored on other sites, Seigenthaler also had to request his biography be removed at some of these sites, such as and

The matter did not rest there, however. Seigenthaler published a guest editorial in November of that year in USA Today.[9] In it, he talks about his "Internet character assassination," damns the "poison-pen intellects" loose on the Internet, and calls Wikipedia a flawed research tool. This sparked off several other articles about the site and interviews with both Seigenthaler and Jimmy Wales.[10]

The whole event was something of a defining moment for the site. The national news story of the vandalized Seigenthaler biography brought home the point that Wikipedia was now prominent enough that the accuracy of an article mattered—defamatory or inaccurate content really could harm individuals. Before the Seigenthaler scandal, Wikipedia contributors tended to accept that some incorrect content was on the site and held to the philosophy of "so fix it." This idea, which is still a core part of Wikipedia's basic philosophy, holds that on an open wiki where anyone can contribute, anyone who spots something wrong can—and should—also fix it themselves. The Seigenthaler incident prompted an intense effort to write more accurately sourced articles, to institute a zero-tolerance environment for nonsense, and to recognize that people who have no desire to work on the site themselves may be affected by Wikipedia articles.

Several procedural changes also followed in the wake of this story and the issues attendant with the tremendous growth Wikipedia experienced at the end of 2005. One development was the policy on biographies of living people (Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons, shortcut WP:BLP). This policy holds such biographies to strict compliance with Verifiability and No Original Research and discusses how to maintain the Neutral Point of View policy when dealing with negative and irrelevant information or information that is out of balance with the rest of the article. Violating this policy by inserting gossip or defamatory content is very serious; the article or the revision in question may be deleted, and ongoing violations may lead to an editor being blocked from editing. To deal with article complaints, Wikipedia also set up an email address and answering mechanism staffed by trusted volunteers.

In December 2005, anonymous article creation from IP addresses was stopped. You must now register and log in to create an article (see Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research). This policy helped cut down on the number of nonsense pages being created, pages that site administrators had to delete, which had become a huge amount of work—on the order of thousands of pages a day. Some question whether this measure is effective, and in the future, Wikipedia may experiment with turning anonymous article creation back on to see how much of a difference it makes.

One of the scandal's side-effects has been that people working in the media—and anyone whose name has been in the news—now tend to check whether they have a Wikipedia page, and many request to have the page changed (or in some cases, deleted). Editors treat such requests carefully, however. They consider the issue of neutrality and accurate sourcing and will not change articles simply to meet the wishes of the subject.

John Seigenthaler's sermon about the responsible use of Wikipedia's growing media power has not fallen on deaf ears. The possibility that an article can slip through the cracks is very real. Many increasingly sophisticated mechanisms to watch for and correct bad content have been created (see Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes), but Wikipedia's openness—a key value—means that something incorrect may be submitted and go unnoticed until it causes trouble.

Amateur Contributors, Authority, and Academia edit

Any Wikipedia contributor can be anonymous, and most are pseudonymous. Contributors are under no obligation whatsoever to reveal who they are "in real life," and the majority do not. You can't really know the details of an author's experience with a topic unless he or she volunteers that information. And experience is not supposed to matter: Whether someone is a college professor or a high school student, what matters is whether he or she respects Wikipedia's rules and contributes productively to the encyclopedia. This principle has been of primary importance since the beginning: An author's or editor's background should not affect his or her standing as a Wikipedia contributor.

By the same token, the content policies set out in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia? (particularly Verifiability) apply to everyone. Wikipedia does not simply accept arguments from authorities. Even widely known experts in a field have to support all claims they make by including appropriate references to published literature (at least in principle).

Given this, many questions arise. If most contributors are semi-anonymous, does it matter if someone lies about who he or she is? Is Wikipedia anti-academic? Does it harm itself by not respecting experts' opinions enough? And is the site credible, given that amateurs have built it?

In this section, we'll look at different aspects of authority and criticisms of the Wikipedia model.

Wikipedia and Academic Authority edit

Wikipedia has an uneven reputation with educators; some see it as having low quality, and others train students to use Wikipedia appropriately. Many colleges have now made it clear that citations from Wikipedia are not acceptable in term papers.[11] Wikipedia fails some tests of academic respectability for two basic reasons.

One is concern about the quality and accuracy of Wikipedia content, which certainly varies across the site. The other, more fundamental reason is that college-level teaching can properly view encyclopedia articles, of whatever standard, as being for the lazy student. Students should do their own research.

Those who work on Wikipedia would generally agree. Articles are intended to give quick access to information, and Wikipedia's references to scholarly works are meant to facilitate study, not replace it. Students should follow up on the references given in articles and research a topic in other sources too. Writing an essay by paraphrasing Wikipedia is not acceptable, and of course copying Wikipedia directly deserves a grade of F. Unfortunately, students can easily use the site in place of other sources. (See Appendix B, Wikipedia for Teachers for specific advice for educators using and concerned about Wikipedia.)

Wikipedia and Experts edit

The need to find supporting references for statements in articles (enshrined in the Verifiability and No Original Research policies) is connected to the way that controversies are handled on the site, particularly questions of contributor expertise. If you post something at all debatable, whatever your standing in the field, you must allow others to question it. Statements should make clear who said what and where, and neutrality means you include the full range of opinions. You can't just insert your expert knowledge as Wikipedia content, with no references to back up your work.

Wikipedia, therefore, has an egalitarian policy for editors. An expert has the same privileges as any other editor: Expertise must manifest itself through the editing and discussion process. The general argument is that if you're an expert in a topic, you have probably spent some years looking at the literature and should know the relevant publications to cite, so you can follow the policies with ease. The requirement to cite is a concession to the general, skeptical reader and rules out any arguments along the lines of "because I say so, and you should just accept that." If you write extemporaneously, without citing your sources, be prepared for questions along the line of "How do you know?" This challenge will happen to expert and non-expert contributors alike.

Some have argued that this leveling approach to the Wikipedia model is simply wrong. One formulation of this argument is that asking experts and professors for scholarly support for their opinions is disrespectful. Another is that Wikipedia is actively hostile to experts and expert knowledge, forcing even the most knowledgeable in a field to be challenged by extreme skeptics and amateurs.

A mismatch between the encyclopedic tradition of giving conclusions and leaving out some of the reasons why and the emphasis on giving full details and sourcing can occur. Even the reliance on reliable sources can be problematic. Reliable sources should be cited, but who determines which sources are reliable? Criticism of sources should be fair-minded, but experts can sound argumentative or too quick in their judgment to outsiders.

The solution Wikipedia offers to these difficulties is the dedicated discussion pages attached to articles. On a discussion page, you can query and clarify steps in arguments that are made in articles, as well as question the source of these statements. If, for example, the status of some book is in question, a hostile review can be brought up on the discussion page, even though it would be misplaced in the article itself. However, discussion alone sometimes can't solve conflicts involving questions of expertise, as shown in the following case studies. If the skeptic feels the expert is dodging the issue, but the expert is just trying to be concise, neither side will be satisfied.

Case Studies in Academic Authority edit

Wikipedia's interface with academia matters greatly to its progress, but academic authority alone is not sufficient for making one's case on Wikipedia. Wikipedia's approach in this matter has been shaped by real-world experience—including editing disputes, scandals, and matters that have been through the on-site judicial system. When contributors work pseudonymously, their qualifications must be either taken on trust or ignored. In addition, Wikipedia's history shows that even confirmed academic credentials are not a realistic safeguard against editorial clashes on the site. Editing by those holding credentials can be contested.

A contentious and highly visible area of science, the issue of climate change and its possible causes, led to one drama on Wikipedia in 2005. Many articles were involved; at this time, nearly 100 articles on climatologists, over 100 articles on global warming skeptics, and around 100 articles on the science of global warming exist (you can find these in the subcategories under w:Category:Climatology).

William M. Connolley, an academic climatologist, edits Wikipedia under his real name. Connolley ran into trouble monitoring and updating climate change pages when confronted with extreme skeptics who were also editing the climate change articles. Sheer disbelief can undermine any attempt to write sensible scientific material in accordance with consensus views, and in this case, the controversy led to edit warring between the two sides.

Due to this dispute, Connolley was sanctioned by the Arbitration Committee, the formal body of volunteer editors who help regulate and resolve disputes on the site and have the power to sanction editors if necessary (see Chapter 14, Disputes, Blocks, and Bans).[12] His sanctions consisted of a revert parole—he could only undo one change a day made by another editor, a move designed to help prevent edit warring. These sanctions were later reconsidered and dropped. Throughout the case, Connolley's qualifications to write on climate topics were not an issue; the ability to edit productively and in harmony with other editors has little to do with one's knowledge of a subject.

In a later case on pseudoscience from late 2006 (Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Pseudoscience), Wikipedia's view of academic authority was further clarified. The underlying issue had to do with neutrality (NPOV) and its implications for representing all major points of view when the matter in question was scientific. This ruling by the Arbitration Committee went more clearly with mainstream science; the scientific consensus is expected to predominate in scientific articles. The relevant principle read, "Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, a fundamental policy, requires fair representation of significant alternatives to scientific orthodoxy. Significant alternatives, in this case, refers to legitimate scientific disagreement, as opposed to pseudoscience."

A third case along these lines involved Carl Hewitt, an Emeritus Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was banned from editing certain articles on the English-language Wikipedia.[13] Arbitration committee rulings determined that he violated the Neutral Point of View policy and overstated the importance of his own contributions (and those of his students) in theoretical computer science and some other areas such as quantum mechanics and the sociology of science. The issue here is not the demarcation of the academic and non-academic approaches, but rather that Wikipedia articles, as surveys of academic literature, must not give undue weight to one approach. One affected area was logic programming, the basic technology of the "fifth generation computing" project. Here Hewitt overstepped the policy on No Original Research, attempting to impose his own definition of the field in the article.[14]

These cases all illustrate specific difficulties with the Wikipedia model. Academics and other experts are subject to the same policies, on conduct and content, that apply to everyone else on the site. These cases differ, however. Hewitt's approach violated the letter and spirit of Neutral Point of View, clearly causing a conflict of interest. Experts are not immune to human failings and passion. Connolley's problems with troublesome non-experts were short-lived because of his patience with the sanctions and with other editors; his substantiation of his own contributions was never an issue. A neutral point of view is simply not negotiable on Wikipedia, no matter how great your expertise.

Pseudonyms and Claimed Expertise edit

The role of editors' authority and expertise has also been debated in regards to what editors can say about themselves. The case of User:Essjay, real name Ryan Jordan, came to light in the Spring of 2007 and was prominent in the news for some time.

Essjay was a well-respected and experienced editor on the English-language Wikipedia, holding several trusted administrative positions. He also claimed anonymity, not revealing his real name or identity on the site, but did claim on his user page that he had a theology doctorate and an academic teaching position. He typically worked on the administrative and process side of the site, rather than on content, and became respected as a fair and committed Wikipedian.

In 2006, Essjay was interviewed for a lengthy piece in The New Yorker[15] and continued to state that he was an academic. This was later determined to be untrue—Jordan was really a young student without experience in theology—and by misleading the journalist he embarrassed Wikipedia. After the scandal broke, he resigned from the site. Questions remain as to whether he had ever used his claimed expertise to influence content and ultimately whether claimed (but false) topical expertise mattered when considering his well-documented skills as an editor on Wikipedia. Any attempts to influence the content of articles should have been ignored by anyone aware of Wikipedia's doctrine on not arguing from authority, but whether this was the case or not is open to debate. See Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian for more on user pages and advice on what to post there.

The Crowd of Amateurs edit

In these first two chapters, you have seen an outline of Wikipedia's model for content. There have been a few tweaks through the years, but the basic ideas of what material Wikipedia wants to gather, the way it is presented and distributed, and why things are done one way and not another have not changed much over time. That does leave a few questions. Who does the writing and editing? Is the site really an open free-for-all, or is there real project management and bureaucracy behind the scenes? These points are addressed later in this book (see Chapter 12, Community and Communication and Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes, respectively), but the answers, in terms of how Wikipedia works, are complex.

Going hand in hand with the criticism of Wikipedia as being hostile to experts is a related criticism about the community of editors—that Wikipedia relies on amateurs.[16] One common claim is that the only thing behind Wikipedia's success is a group of amateur writers, lacking the necessary expertise to produce a good reference work. Another criticism is that Wikipedia's framing of the issue of expertise is part of a larger problem with Internet culture. (Extensive discussion of Wikipedia's "business model" from this angle has ensued, which may be beside the point, given Wikipedia's status as a nonprofit initiative.)

Is documented contributor expertise necessary to write a great encyclopedia? The answer requires some qualification. Not all Wikipedians are amateurs; many are academics (though they may not write articles in their area of expertise). And when sources are considered, expertise is not rejected at all: Expert-written materials are the most desirable sources for articles on the site. Refer to the mission to clarify what the goal actually is. Wikipedia is building a huge compilation of materials and facts, many of which come from traditional sources, with the content policies simply acting as standards applied to everything submitted. Thinking of Wikipedians as the new encyclopedists makes sense, but, saying it more precisely, they're engaged in creating a new kind of tertiary source, for a networked world, delivered free.

Clearly, though, without widespread and open participation, the world's largest reference work could not have been created in less than a decade.[17] In contrast to the criticism of the site as being created by amateurs, many consider Wikipedia's harnessing of the masses to write a new kind of reference as a brilliant stroke—this new approach simply has a new set of strengths and weaknesses, as all new media do. For example, very rapid updates are both a strong and a weak point in the model, and this takes some getting used to.

Wikipedia has also succeeded because its arrival was timely. Since 2001, it has accumulated a base of articles—and a community of contributors—that cannot quickly be rivaled. No other multilingual reference sites have been created yet that could compete. Conceivably, criticisms noted in this chapter will lead to changes to the Wikipedia model or procedures and thus improve the encyclopedia, or a new site could improve Wikipedia's basic model. This idea is not impractical: The GFDL license and open ethos of Wikipedia explicitly encourage some kind of sequel to the site. And why shouldn't there be two tertiary sources for the planet, or even more? The future is wide open.

Notes edit

  1. See Umberto Eco, "The Force of Falsity," in Serendipities: Language and Lunacy, trans. William Weaver (New York: Columbia, 1998), 21.
  2. See Robert Collison, Encyclopedias: Their History Throughout the Ages (New York: Hafner, 1996), 21.
  3. For a critique of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, see Harvey Einbinder, The Myth of the Britannica (New York: Grove Press, 1964). This book by Einbinder, a physicist, is authoritative only for the mid-century editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica; it has a hostile bias, but it contains much interesting discussion and research on general tertiary source issues, such as updating, celebrity authors, science coverage, and humanistic approaches.
  4. See Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 134.
  5. Israel, Radical Enlightenment, 135
  6. For a discussion of large-scale collaboration sympathetic to Linux, see James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations (New York: Doubleday, 2004). For a history of GNU/Linux, see Glen Moody, Rebel Code: Inside Linux and the Open Source Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 2001).
  7. See the Definition of Free Cultural Works (, which the Wikimedia Foundation adopted for its projects in 2007 (
  8. Alexa is a Web-traffic measuring company that uses data from individuals using the Alexa toolbar (
  9. See John Seigenthaler, "A false Wikipedia 'biography,'" USA Today (November 29, 2005),
  10. The history of the whole incident is summarized in the article [[:w:Seigenthaler incident|]].
  11. See Noam Cohen, "A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source," The New York Times (February 21, 2007),
  12. The details of this restriction, from the first case in 2005, are posted at Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Climate change dispute. In the second case on the matter from 2005 (Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Climate change dispute 2), it was found that "William M. Connolley has generally adhered to his revert parole, although isolated instances can be found where compliance is incomplete or questionable," and "The one revert parole placed upon William M. Connolley was an unnecessary move, and is hereby revoked."
  13. See Jenny Kleeman, "Wikipedia Ban for Disruptive Professor," The Guardian (December 9, 2007),
  14. The details of his case are posted at [[:w:Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Carl Hewitt|]]. Hewitt did not accept the justice of the rulings and attempted to circumvent the editing restrictions placed on him.
  15. See Stacy Schiff, "Know It All: Can Wikipedia Conquer Expertise?" The New Yorker (July 31, 2006),
  16. See Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How the Democratization of the Digital World is Assaulting Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values (New York: Doubleday, 2007). Keen's perspective is hostile to Wikipedia, emphasizing expertise and the impact on the encyclopedia business.
  17. See Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (New York: Penguin, 2006). Tapscott and Williams are sympathetic to Wikipedia, discussing it within a business context.

Summary edit

On March 15, 2007, a landmark was reached when the word wiki entered the Oxford English Dictionary Online, after the technology had existed for just under 12 years. Wikipedia's heritage stretches much further back, though, to the many early encyclopedia and knowledge-gathering projects of the ancient world and the impetus to understand the world during the Enlightenment era. In more recent times, the technological developments of the personal computer and the Internet made both wikis and Wikipedia possible, and the free software movement provided Wikipedia with its philosophical stance. This rich history has helped define Wikipedia's goals to provide free information to everyone in the world in their own language and to do so in a transparent, collaborative, dynamic, and open manner. Free software has also given Wikipedia its content license: the GFDL, which ensures that content will remain open, accessible, and freely reusable by anyone. These goals have been a part of Wikipedia since the site's beginnings in 2001. For all its idealism, however, the site has certainly not been immune to criticism of both the model itself and the implementation; in this chapter, we presented some case studies illustrating these criticisms.

Chapter 3 edit

Finding Wikipedia's Content

Considering Wikipedia's vastness, finding exactly what you're looking for can be a challenge. Fortunately, search is a powerful technology. This chapter will explain how to search Wikipedia effectively.

But searching for a specific piece of information is not the only way to use Wikipedia. Unlike the sections in a printed book, Wikipedia articles are not in any particular order; instead, they can be bundled together by topic and in many other ways. This grouping makes it great fun to browse Wikipedia casually and facilitates chance discovery: Filling out your understanding of a topic's background is usually painless, and one topic can lead to another in a surprising and enjoyable way.

Whether you're reading Wikipedia for fun or serious study, mastering some key research and navigation skills will help you make the most of your time. Therefore, this chapter will also describe the key structures set up for browsing (portals, categories, and lists) and will explain some basic navigational tools, including the links on the website's left-hand sidebar.

As usual, this chapter will show you where to look up detailed and up-to-date explanations of the topics that are covered here only in brief.

Searching Wikipedia edit

If you're looking for a particular topic, name, or phrase, searching the site directly is the way to start. Wikipedia's search function is like consulting the index volume of an encyclopedia, minus the tedium. In the best cases, you are only a few seconds away from answering a query.

When you search Wikipedia, you're harnessing a powerful combination of technologies—the organic growth of the encyclopedia itself and the ability to sift instantly through hundreds of millions of words.

The Wikipedia search engine searches not only the titles of all two million articles but also their full text. The search engine also includes alternate article titles (redirect titles). (In addition, you can search Wikipedia pages that are not articles, as we'll explain.) The search engine works on the current database, so it will find even the newest articles.

If a search doesn't turn up anything, Wikipedia may not have let you down. Sometimes finding what you're looking for can take persistence. You can make your searches more focused, broad, or powerful. Learning about the structure of the site and the conventions governing how articles are named will also make your searches more worthwhile.

Finally, search doesn't cover all situations. For example, you may suspect that you are using the wrong spelling. You could be looking for a medical term that you would recognize in context but can't remember. Or you might want to know what topics are related to a particular academic field. In those cases, start by browsing categories and portals, as described in "Browsing by Topic" on Section 3.3, “Browsing by Topic”.

Basic Searching edit

Searching is simple: First find the search box located in the middle of the left-hand sidebar (see Figure 3.1, “The Wikipedia search box”) or go to w:Special:Search. Type your keyword(s) in the search box and then click one of the two buttons: Go or Search.

Clicking Go (or just pressing ENTER) takes you straight to the article with a title that is exactly the same as the words you entered.

If no article with that title exists, a list of articles that contain the search words in their title or text appears. Here you can opt to search again, with either the Wikipedia search engine or an outside search engine. (You'll also see a redlink to create a new article with the exact title you searched for; we'll talk about this in Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research.)

Figure 3.1. The Wikipedia search box

If you click Search instead of Go, a list of articles that contain your search words in their title or text appears. The articles are listed in the following order:

Articles whose titles contain your search words
Articles whose full texts contain your search words somewhere

Redirects and disambiguation pages might also be listed; these pages can point you to an appropriate article.

The Go button is useful whenever you can guess the title of the article you're looking for. The Search button is a better bet if you're not sure about the exact title or if you're searching for less common terms.

Sometimes Go searches don't end up where you expect—especially when redirects are involved! Plural search terms can be especially problematic, as article titles usually use the singular form. For example, there is no article titled Beatle—if you enter the word Beatle, you are taken instead to w:The Beatles. But searching for Rolling Stone doesn't take you to w:The Rolling Stones; it takes you to w:Rolling Stone, an article about the magazine. w:Trogg has nothing to do with w:The Troggs but instead redirects to w:List of characters in Sonic the Comic. Who knew? If you've been redirected, a notice will appear under the article's title in parentheses. If you don't get what you expect, a full-text search might help you find the article you're looking for. (And sometimes an article will helpfully point you toward unrelated articles with similar names.)

Varying the Search edit

If you can't find an article about a topic but you feel sure it must exist in Wikipedia, try a full-text search using different keywords. For instance, the article titled Flag of the United States could also be titled American Flag, The US Flag, or any of a dozen similar things. You will often be redirected to the proper article—but not always. Redirects will take you to similar articles only in the most popular and developed areas of Wikipedia, so searching for synonyms is also important.

Searching for articles about people can be particularly tricky. The titles of biographical articles are supposed to be standardized (first name, last name, according to w:Wikipedia:Naming Conventions, shortcut WP:NAME), but often vary in practice, especially if the name contains a combination of initials. If you're trying to track down John Karl Doe, a nonfiction writer, start by searching for John Doe, but also search for Doe, John as well as J.K. Doe, J. Doe, and Doe, J. Contributors also bring their own referencing styles to the site, which may invert or shorten names, or mistakes can creep in (like Carl for Karl). In the end, you might only find the article John C. Doe with persistence, perhaps as a redirect from Doe, JK. For less common names, searching for the last name only may get you what you're looking for and save much time in the end. This technique is particularly true for transliterated names or names with several historical spellings.

Power Variant Searching

An especially organized researcher can compile a list of title variants in a word processor and then copy and paste each variant into Wikipedia's search box. If you're trying to find an article about Willie "The Lion" Smith, you might search for Willie Smith, Willy "The Lion" Smith, Willie the lion Smith, W. Henry Smith, William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith, and whatever else you can come up with. You can also reuse that list in an external search engine.

Search Operators edit

Using a full-text search, you can search for a complete phrase by placing it in quotes:

"in the nick of time"

Placing a phrase in quotes only returns results that contain exactly what you typed: all of the words in the order you entered them. On the other hand, if you don't use quotation marks, the search will find every article that contains—somewhere in it—each one of those words.

You can add additional words after the phrase search; for instance,

"Benjamin Franklin" lightbulb

returns all articles that contain both the phrase Benjamin Franklin and the word lightbulb.

To exclude a word from the search result, put a minus sign in front of it; for instance,

benjamin -franklin

returns all the articles that contain Benjamin but not Franklin.

When searching for lengthy phrases, phrases with wildcards, and phrases with Boolean operators (that is, combining terms or phrases with and, or, or not), use an external search engine, as described in "External Search Engines" on Section 1.2, “External Search Engines”.

Searching Other Namespaces edit

By default, the search function only searches articles—which means it only searches pages in the main namespace. But you can also search other namespaces (that is, non-article Wikipedia content). Here's how:

  • Perform a full-text search for your terms. A results page appears.
  • At the very bottom of the results page, a list of checkboxes allows you to specify which namespaces to search (for example, you can search user pages or talk pages or both). You can search any combination of namespaces. Check the types of pages you want to search, and then click the Search button.

If you commonly search non-article namespaces, you can automatically include them in your searches by changing your default search options under the Search tab in your User Preferences, in the upper right-hand corner if you are logged in.

Some Special Searches edit

Wikipedia's search function also has other uses.

Searching for images or other media

Unlike text, images cannot be parsed by search engines. But they can be tagged with text descriptions and other metadata, which itself can be searched.

Wikipedia pulls many of its images from Wikimedia Commons. Searching for images in Commons is easy because images there are comprehensively categorized and indexed with text. The Commons project is described in Chapter 16, Wikimedia Commons and Other Sister Projects.

You can also search Wikipedia's Image namespace, though this namespace also contains (counterintuitively) other types of media such as audio files. See the previous section, "Searching Other Namespaces." Again, searching the Image namespace actually searches the text attached to the images, not the images themselves.

Searching for links from Wikipedia to outside websites

You can find any "outgoing" links to other websites that are contained in Wikipedia. Go to w:Special:Linksearch and enter the URL you want to search for. (For example, typing returns all Wikipedia articles that link to the White House website.)

Search Problems and Some Alternatives edit

Wikipedia's full-text search has a number of limitations, including the following:


Wikipedia article titles are case-sensitive; for example, the article titled US is not the same as the article titled Us.

This means if you search using the Go button, you might not be taken straight to the article you enter unless you use the exact same capitalization that the article's title uses! (See w:Wikipedia:Naming conventions (capitalization), shortcut WP:CAPS, for the full story.)

However, if the Go button doesn't produce any results, the search engine will default to a full-text search, which is not case sensitive, so you should still be able to find the article in question. Additionally, in many cases redirects have been created to get around this problem.


Words containing apostrophes (such as the name Mu'ammar) can be found only if the apostrophe is included in the search. (One exception: Words that end with 's can be also found by searching for the word without the apostrophe and without the s.)

Special characters

Searching for words that contain special characters such as accents and diacritical marks can be problematic. On Wikipedia, any character with a diaeresis over it (for example, the ë in Odiliënberg) might be stored as one character (in this case, ë) or as an HTML entity (ë). If a title is encoded with HTML, it may not show up in a simple search—for instance, you might have a hard time searching for Odilienberg or Odiliënberg. If this is the case, try searching for part of the title, such as just Odili.

If these problems seem daunting, remember that with a little cleverness, you can use search engines like Google to replace Wikipedia's built-in search engine (see the next section). Outside search engines don't suffer from the problems plaguing the built-in search engine. Whenever your search comes up empty, try searching using an external engine.

External Search Engines edit

Wikipedia pages can also be found using ordinary search engines such as Google.

Most search engines allow you to restrict your search results to pages from a particular site. If you restrict your results to pages from Wikipedia, the outside search engine can replace Wikipedia's built-in search engine.

To search Wikipedia using Google, type "high and low"

into Google's search box.

This search has two components. The first half,, tells Google to only search pages that begin with, which means every page in the English-language Wikipedia. (Use to search Wikipedias in every language.) The second half—"high and low"—is an ordinary Google phrase search.

Now click the Search button. The results page shows every Wikipedia article that contains the phrase high and low, including the Japanese film of that name and the feudal concept of high, middle, and low justice.

You don't have to use Google; you can use any search engine capable of restricting its results to pages from Wikipedia. For example, the search phrase above works equally well in Yahoo! and Google.

Wikipedia also has a drop-down menu next to the search field that allows you to choose, in addition to MediaWiki Search, an external search engine to use. As of mid-2008, the available search enginges include Google, Yahoo!, Windows Live, Wikiwix, and Exalead. For more information about searching, see Wikipedia:Searching (shortcut WP:SEARCH), which mentions many other possibilities. For example, other search engines designed for searching Wikipedia include LuMriX, WikiWax (not to be confused with Wikiwix), Qwika, and Wikiseek. LuMriX and WikiWax suggest article titles as you type, in the way an index might. Qwika is a search engine that searches Wikipedia across languages by using machine translation. Wikiseek searches across Wikipedia articles and groups its results into broad categories.

w:Wikipedia:Searching also describes plug-ins that let you search Wikipedia using your web browser's interface.

When to Use External Search Engines edit

There are several cases when using external search engines instead of the onsite search is a good idea:

  • The onsite search is occasionally disabled when Wikipedia's servers are particularly strained. If you try to use the search engine while it's disabled, you'll be shown a list of links to external search engines.
  • You might prefer using a familiar search interface instead.
  • External engines often offer a short preview of each article on the results page.
  • You may need to perform a complex search that is difficult or impossible to achieve using Wikipedia's built-in engine.

By default, external engines search across all Wikipedia namespaces, making it easier to find relevant policy, category, or image pages.

Using Firefox's Search

If you use the Firefox web browser, you probably know that you can search Google directly from the search box in Firefox's upper-right corner. You can also search Wikipedia with this search box. Click the search engine icon at the left side of the search box (this is a Google G by default) to get a drop-down list of available sites, and select the Wikipedia W. You can then search the English-language Wikipedia directly from your browser. (If the icon isn't present, click Manage Search Engines at the bottom of the list, and then click the Get More Search Engines link, where you can follow the directions to add a new search engine.)

When Not to Use External Search Engines edit

Search engines aren't magic. In order to find out what websites say, they send out computer programs called spiders that scurry out across the Internet, parse the contents of a web page just as a person might (though, of course, a million times faster), and carry the information back to the search engines.

This means that if a web page has been created recently, Google might not be able to find it. New Wikipedia articles sometimes take days or weeks to appear in external search engines, but Wikipedia's built-in engine can find them minutes after they're created.

Similarly, if a web page has changed recently, Google might "remember" the out-of-date version of the page, not the current version. For example, if the death of Catherine the Great has only just been added to the Wikipedia article Toilet-related injury, a Google search for might not find that page. Conversely, if the word breakfast has just been removed from the Youtiao article, a Google search for will return the Youtiao article if Google has not parsed the article since breakfast was removed. But once you click Google's link to the article, the word breakfast is nowhere to be found. In this event, you might investigate the article's history to discover the circumstances in which your search term was removed.

When and How to Exclude Wikipedia from Your Google Search

Just as you can exclude all pages that are not from Wikipedia, you can also exclude all pages that are from Wikipedia. Simply add


to your Google searches. (Don't forget the minus sign!)

For example, you might want to find sources for claims made in an article. You might want to make sure text on Wikipedia has not been plagiarized from another website. Or you might already be familiar with everything Wikipedia has to say about a topic and want to find new sources. "catherine the great" toilet salted fried chinese breakfast dough

Further Reading Wikipedia's search box Overview of searching About the Go button A collection of tools and plug-ins developed to make searching easier The policy on naming conventions for articles

Ways into Wikipedia edit

Wandering aimlessly through Wikipedia is compulsive, addictive, and time-consuming. It's also one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the site. As an editor, you will invariably find just one more thing to add or fix up around every corner.

But goal-directed Wikipedia browsing can also be useful and fun. This section explores some of those more structured methods to explore the site, beginning at Wikipedia's front door.

Welcome to the Main Page edit

The main page ( is the first page many visitors to Wikipedia see, and it serves as an entry point to the many neighborhoods within Wikipedia. It is also updated daily with new content. The main page is thus a great place to start a general survey or to start browsing to most areas of the site. Note

If you are at, which is a portal to all of the different language versions of Wikipedia, you are one click from the main page of the English-language Wikipedia. Moreover, the same is true if you are on any page of the English-language Wikipedia; you have only to click the Wikipedia logo in the upper left-hand corner or on the sidebar link called Main Page.

Navigating the Main Page edit

The main page is packed so densely with content that it can be overwhelming (Figure 3.2, “The main page of Wikipedia). At the top, a header welcomes you to Wikipedia and offers an automated count of articles—2,428,969 at the time of writing. Clicking this number reveals more statistics about Wikipedia. To the right of the header, you'll find links to broad scholastic topics such as History and Mathematics. (See "Portals into the Encyclopedia," next.)

Below the header, you'll find links to introductory information. Overview and Questions will give you basic information about the site; Editing takes you to the Wikipedia Tutorial, a good walk-through of basic editing techniques. Help links to the extensive help pages (this link is the same as the Help link on the left-hand sidebar).

Portals into the Encyclopedia edit

If you have a broad subject area in mind, notice the group of links on the upper right:

  • Arts
  • Biography
  • Geography
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Society
  • Technology
  • All Portals
Figure 3.2. The main page of Wikipedia

Follow any of these links and you will come to a portal. Just as Wikipedia's front page is a gateway to the encyclopedia as a whole, a portal is a gateway to a particular topic, offering selected articles, relevant links, and ways of finding editors with an interest in that particular subject. Note

Many more portals exist than are listed here. The final link, All Portals (or Portal:List of portals), reveals portals on a broad range of topics. Category:Portals is another, more hierarchical way to explore portals.

Portals are accessible and user-friendly ways to explore Wikipedia's coverage of a topic. A portal is also a project, attracting swarms of wiki editors who help beautify and maintain the articles in that subject area, not to mention the portal page itself. (The articles in the portal are hand-selected and are usually accurate and interesting.) Most portals feature an introduction to the topic; selected articles, biographies, and pictures; and links to any relevant WikiProjects and editor collaborations.


Portals originated in the Polish-and German-language Wikipedias. In early 2005, the idea was imported to the English-language Wikipedia; later that year, a special Portal namespace was created. Portal pages are, therefore, considered organizational pages, similar to the main page, rather than articles in their own right.

Some portal topics are broad, others quite specific. For instance, there is a portal for science, Portal:Science, and one for the sport of cricket, Portal:Cricket (Figure 3.3, “Example of a featured portal: The Cricket Portal”).

Figure 3.3. Example of a featured portal: The Cricket Portal

Daily Content edit

Below the main page's header, you'll find five sections that are updated every day: Today's featured article, In the news, Did you know … , On this day … , and Today's featured picture. Each provides a taste of the wide variety of content available on Wikipedia.

Today's featured article

Featured articles are a select group representing some of Wikipedia's best content. In order to be called featured, an article must pass through a rigorous process that admits only about one article in a thousand. (See "Featured Articles" on Section 4.3, “Featured Articles”.)

Each day, part of a featured article is excerpted here (typically the first paragraph). To read the rest of the article, click its title or the More link at the end of the excerpt.

In the news

This section contains a selection of articles about current affairs. These articles typically concern breaking news stories of international interest.

Articles about current events tend to be updated furiously (Wikipedia's newsroom is a few thousand people worldwide in front of computer monitors). Note, however, that these articles should not contain original reporting; for that, go to the Wikinews project (see Chapter 16, Wikimedia Commons and Other Sister Projects).

Where Is the News on Wikipedia?

Wikipedia does not draw a distinction between "news" and "non-news" articles. Current events and new developments are constantly integrated into existing articles or generate new articles linked from older ones. A new article about a major current event is treated no differently from one about a historical figure. To see current news in one place, visit Portal:Current events, where news stories are collated (with appropriate links to the encyclopedia); the sidebar on the right side of the Current Events portal lists Wikipedia articles about breaking events and newsworthy people.

The three remaining items of daily content are less reverent.

On this day …

This section contains a selection of noteworthy anniversaries. (For events that happened on other days of the year, follow the More Anniversaries … link.)

Did you know …

This section highlights random facts from articles that have been created or greatly expanded in the last five days. (Did you know … is put together at Wikipedia:Did you know, shortcut WP:DYK, where you can suggest factoids from new articles to include.)

Today's featured picture

This section contains a photograph or image chosen from among Wikipedia's best.

Constructing the Main Page edit

In some ways, the main page is like any other page on Wikipedia: Delve in and you will find people at work. Like the rest of the site, the main page is maintained by a dedicated group of volunteer editors, who update each section on a regular schedule.

But even when viewed in comparison to other Wikipedia pages, the main page is very unusual:

  • It receives a constant avalanche of traffic, averaging over 100,000 hits per hour. For this and other reasons, the main page is one of the few pages that are not open for everyone to edit (see "Who Can Edit What?"on Section 1.5, “Who Can Edit What?”).
  • Each section of daily content is constructed and updated separately from the rest of the page. The main page then draws these sections together with templates. (See "Templates" on Section 2.1, “Using Templates”.)
  • Because of this, the main page's page history doesn't track its daily changes, unlike most wiki pages (see "Article History" on Section 1.3, “Article History”).
  • Most Wikipedia pages are marked with the date and time they were most recently edited, but the main page is not.

If you want to make suggestions about the main page and to learn more about how it is edited and maintained, see the corresponding discussion page Talk:Main Page. Each section of the main page is linked from the discussion page, and it is here that you can suggest new daily content.

Time Travel

If you have ever wanted to go forward in time, you can always look at tomorrow's main page early at Main Page/Tomorrow. Miss a day or want to go back in time? Try Wikipedia:Main Page alternative.

Disclaimers, License, and Privacy edit

Scrolling down the main page, you'll find links to other helpful sections, including links to help and community areas of Wikipedia and to the sister projects. After those, you'll find links to Wikipedias in other languages; these links are only a selection from the total (now over 200) languages available.

At the very bottom of the page, the page footer, which is reproduced on every page, has a collection of disclaimers and links to copyright information. The general disclaimer in particular is worth reading. It states that Wikipedia makes no guarantee of validity—that is, the site doesn't promise to be correct, factual, or truthful in any way. Use Wikipedia for quick reference only. Double-check any important information—especially legal or medical advice, but information just for homework too. By accepting the disclaimer, you accept responsibility for any possible use you might make of information derived from Wikipedia.

Although this disclaimer sounds dire, it is in fact not so unusual. Many general encyclopedias disclaim all responsibility; Wikipedia simply makes a stronger point of it than most. Using common sense is key, and Wikipedia is great if you can accept its limitations: that the site is a work in progress and individual article quality may vary (more on evaluating individual articles in the next chapter).

In the footer, you'll also find a link to the GNU Free Documentation License, or GFDL, which was described in Chapter 2, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia; this license is the one under which all Wikipedia content is released. Understanding the GFDL, or at least its most basic implications, matters for a contributor because anything you contribute (from copyedits to whole articles) will be placed under this license. As a reader, you only need to know that you can reuse content if you credit the source in a particular way. Wikipedia:Copyrights, also linked to in the footer, will tell you more about the rights you retain under the GFDL and the copyright status of Wikipedia.

The privacy policy explains your privacy on Wikipedia and what information is collected about you (generally, a session cookie). Personal information about contributors is not collected or sold. However, newcomers to the site frequently misunderstand two key points. First, Wikipedia keeps a permanent record of everything transacted on the site: Every comment and edit is kept forever. Second, if you edit without being logged in, you are disclosing your IP address publicly and others may be able to trace it. Editing without being logged in is "anonymous" editing only in the sense that your name is not attached. To be more private, you should register an account. Because of Wikipedia's great prominence, you should be in no hurry to disclose any personal details on the site. Using your real name on Wikipedia is fine (the authors of this book do), but you should know the implications; the pros and cons are discussed in Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian.

Finally, the footer contains a link to the Wikimedia Foundation, the parent organization of Wikipedia. The footer also typically shows a date and timestamp telling when the page you are viewing was last edited.

The Omnipresent Sidebar edit

Every page on Wikipedia is framed by three unchanging elements:

  • Article tabs at the top (see Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article)
  • Site information at the bottom
  • The sidebar on the left (see Figure 3.4, “The left-hand sidebar includes five sections of links to tools and various navigation pages.”)


These elements are supplied by MediaWiki, the software that runs Wikipedia. You'll see versions of these elements on other websites, too, including on Wikipedia's sister projects and on entirely independent wikis. For more about MediaWiki, see Chapter 17, The Foundation and Project Coordination.

This section explores the sidebar. The sidebar presents a handy navigation menu for both readers and editors and provides other essential tools and links.

On the English-language Wikipedia, the sidebar contains five sections: Navigation, Interaction, Search, Toolbox, and Languages (though this last section does not always appear).

Figure 3.4. The left-hand sidebar includes five sections of links to tools and various navigation pages.

Navigation edit

Navigation offers four links to major directory pages and one to a randomly chosen article:

Main Page

As might be expected, this link goes to the main page. (You can also click the Wikipedia logo just above it to get there.)


A book's table of contents lists its sections in the order they're printed. Wikipedia is not in any particular order, so its contents page provides a wide range of different ways to navigate Wikipedia by topic.

Featured Content

This section showcases articles, images, and other content that Wikipedia's community has deemed particularly good.

Current Events

This section gathers articles related to current news.

Random Article

Clicking this link is like throwing open a book to a random page. The link takes you to a different, randomly selected Wikipedia article each time you click it.

Random browsing can be entertaining for anyone. New readers can grasp the range of content in Wikipedia, and editors can discover neglected articles that need fixing up, though some editors prefer a more methodical approach (see Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes).

Interaction edit

The links in this section help you find out more about Wikipedia or interact with the site as an editor:

About Wikipedia

This link takes you to a general overview of the project, intended to help newcomers orient themselves. About Wikipedia also links to other FAQ and help pages.

Community Portal

This page helps Wikipedia contributors communicate, collaborate, and mingle. The Community Portal is also a good place to learn more about current onsite happenings. (See Chapter 12, Community and Communication.)

Recent Changes

This page shows all edits made to Wikipedia in real time. This page is an important place that's covered in detail in the next section.

Contact Wikipedia

This link may be the least accurately named link in the sidebar. The contact page is devoted mostly to common complaints and their solutions, because, of course, no central authority is in charge of every Wikipedia article. Wikipedia:Questions (shortcut WP:Q) points to several other places answers might be found. For most questions, it is best to go to the WikiProject that deals with the topic you are interested in or a community forum to track down the active group of editors dealing with the issues you are interested in (see Chapter 12, Community and Communication for how to find community discussion forums).

The contact page does provide a number of email addresses for media inquiries, legal issues, and other concerns. These addresses lead into an email system (the Open-source Ticket Request System, or OTRS) staffed by a selected number of volunteers. Hundreds of questions from the general public about all aspects of Wikipedia find their way to OTRS every week. Responses are generally quick and courteous, but may be delayed when the volunteers have a large backlog of questions.

Donate to Wikipedia

This page provides a form (and a pitch) encouraging people to donate via credit card, check, or other means to the foundation that runs Wikipedia. (It also advertises Wikipedia-themed merchandise and copies of Wikipedia on DVD.) Wikipedia has no deep-pocketed patron; most of its funding comes from a steady stream of small, private donations. If you like Wikipedia, consider pitching in to help keep it online.

Note that the donation page is not located on the Wikipedia website. To return to Wikipedia from there, use your browser's Back button.


Help takes you to a comprehensive index for Wikipedia readers and editors of every experience level. Many of these basic help pages are worth reading to get an overview of the site, and these pages are also a good place to start if you have a specific question about how to do something.

Take note of the links across the top of the main help page. The glossary and the cheatsheet provide quick answers for editors, whereas the tutorial is a friendly introduction to editing a page. Of course, if you read this book cover to cover, you probably won't need to read it!

Recent Changes edit

Sandwiched in the middle of the sidebar's Interaction section is a link to one of the most important pages on Wikipedia. Recent Changes is a continuously updated list of every single edit made to Wikipedia, beginning with the most recent (see Figure 3.5, “The Recent Changes display”).

This list of edits uses the same format as the editing histories of individual articles (see Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article): Each new edit occupies a single line.

Exploring the Recent Changes page can give you a feel for what is happening on Wikipedia at any particular moment. Experienced editors might even get a sense of the site's general mood. But using the Recent Changes page this way is a little like trying to predict a presidential election by looking at a satellite photo of the United States. Hundreds of edits happen each minute, so any given glance at this page offers only the tiniest window into Wikipedia's broader workings.

The idea of Recent Changes, however, is a key part of Wikipedia's philosophy of transparent collaboration: Anyone can see any change that has been made to the site. All work in Wikipedia is open; there are no "hidden parts." Every edit made will show up on the Recent Changes page, even if it flashes by in a second.

In practice, the Recent Changes page is primarily used for detecting damaging edits (such as deliberate inaccuracies, wholesale text deletion, and other vandalism) as soon as they occur. Some editors, acting as volunteer security guards, use automated tools that help them sift through recent changes more efficiently in order to find and fix these edits (see Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes). At the top of the page, above the main listing of changes, you'll find two sets of links. The first set (Projects, Utilities, About Us, Requests, and Challenges) are community utilities and help pages that are discussed separately throughout this book.

Figure 3.5. The Recent Changes display

The second set—beginning with Below are the last 50 changes—control how recent changes are displayed. You can change the number of edits listed, hide edits made by anonymous contributors, and so on. By default, minor edits are displayed, though automated edits by bots are not.

You can also watch for entirely new pages as they are created; see Special:Newpages.

The Search Box edit

Returning to the sidebar, right in the middle you'll find the search box. This is where you enter terms for searching the English-language Wikipedia. Click the Go button to find an article with the exact title you entered; click the Search button to search for any occurrences of the words within the full text of all articles. See "Searching Wikipedia" on Section 1, “Searching Wikipedia”.

Recent Changes Camp

This conference is about wikis. Its name references the fact that almost every wiki software package offers a recent changes feature. It is one of the most recognizable parts of the technology. See for more information on the conference.

Toolbox edit

The Toolbox section of the sidebar (see Figure 3.6, “Close-up of the Toolbox section from the sidebar”) contains several utilities that give you more information about the page you're viewing, allowing you to fit the page into a broader context or letting you see the page in other formats.

Figure 3.6. Close-up of the Toolbox section from the sidebar


Two incongruous links—Upload File and Special Pages—are included with these article-specific utilities. We'll discuss these links at the end of this section.

What Links Here lists all the Wikipedia pages that link to the page you're viewing. (For example, Central Intelligence Agency and w;Acoustic Kitty both link to Acoustic Kitty.) You'll come to value this tool if you research less mainstream areas (see Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article).

Related Changes lists every recent edit to any page that links to the page you're viewing. Use this link to track activity in a particular topic area or to check for vandalism occurring across related articles.

Printable Version is a version of the page you are viewing formatted for printing; for example, some wiki formatting is removed, external URLs are spelled out, the sidebar is removed, and the font is different. If your web browser was made within the last couple of years, you'll never need to use this link: Your browser will send this printable version to your printer even if you click Print while viewing the standard page.

Because Wikipedia articles change unpredictably, linking to them can be problematic; someone might follow your link, only to discover a version of the article different from the one you saw. (The problem is especially acute on high-traffic pages that might be edited every few minutes.) When you click Permanent Link, you are taken to a time-stamped snapshot of the article as it currently appears. The text at this URL will never change, so you can link to it or cite it with confidence. (You can also link to any previous version of the article from the page history; every version of every page has a unique ID number.)

Cite This Page provides a handy, appropriate bibliographic citation (with a permanent link) for the article you're viewing, which can then be easily cut and pasted into a list of citations. You can generate citations in various bibliographic styles, including MLA style, APA style, BibTex, and so on.

If you're viewing a user page rather than an article or project page, you'll see two additional links: User Contributions, and, if the editor has enabled email contact, Email This User. User Contributions takes you to a list of all the edits made by that user (or that IP address). Email This User leads to a form where you can send an email to the editor without his or her email address being revealed.

Two last links are for more advanced use. Before images can be displayed on Wikipedia, they must be uploaded to the site. Upload File takes you to a form for adding images and other files to Wikipedia. (See Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters for a full description.)

Finally, the Special Pages link accesses a list of pages in the Special namespace. Unlike most pages on Wikipedia, these pages are not editable; instead, they are generated automatically each time you visit them. Some, such as My Preferences and My Watchlist, are customized for you and are only valid if you're logged in. (You can locate these two pages more easily, however; they are also available in the top right-hand corner of the page if you're logged in.) Most special pages contain utilities for advanced users and will be discussed throughout this book by topic.

Languages edit

The last section of the sidebar, if it exists, contains links to versions of the article you're currently viewing in other language Wikipedias. For instance, while viewing the English article Astronaut, if you click the Español link in the Languages section, you'll go to the Spanish-language Wikipedia article Astronauta. Language links should be alphabetized by the name of the language (Figure 3.7, “The Languages section for the main page: Each of these links takes you to the main page of another language's Wikipedia.”).

Figure 3.7. The Languages section for the main page: Each of these links takes you to the main page of another language's Wikipedia.

An article written by speakers of another language often differs in focus and perspective. But even if you're a monoglot, browsing articles in other languages can be a good way to find images.

These links are sometimes called interwiki links (see Chapter 15, 200 Languages and Counting for a more thorough discussion). The language links that appear depend on which Wikipedias contain an article about the topic in question. Even if a matching article exists in another language, an editor must first add an interwiki link to it before it will appear in the languages list.

Further Reading


Finding Out More

Sidebar Links

Joys of Hypertext edit

This section explores the many ways Wikipedia pages are grouped together. For example, pages can be grouped in the following ways:

  • Informally by topic
  • By date
  • Into hierarchical taxonomies (categories)
  • By format (for example, you can browse only high-quality featured articles)
  • Any way you like! If you follow links from one article to another, you create your own "group" of articles—your own personal story.

A Hypertext Primer edit

Written language has been around for thousands of years, but its format has changed many times. Stone carvings were expensive and time consuming (and decidedly nonportable) and were, therefore, used mostly for official state purposes. Medieval scholars wrote on valuable animal skins, which they periodically scraped clean and covered with new text. The printing press made written texts easily affordable and accessible.

Writing is circulated today in many formats, and each format has its own way of doing things. For example, newspaper articles are worded tightly to cut down on printing costs, and the most important information is placed at the beginning of the article so that you can conveniently stop reading at any point.

If you're an adult, books are second nature. Certain assumptions, such as the fact that the pages of a novel appear in a particular order or that the millions of extant copies of Sense and Sensibility all contain essentially the same text, are so ingrained that they hardly seem worth mentioning.

But Wikipedia violates many of these assumptions. It is a new medium, with its own strengths, weaknesses, and conventions.

The most striking feature of the World Wide Web—and of Wikipedia—is the link: text that takes you somewhere else and is traditionally underlined and colored blue. Early information theorists called links hypertext, and the term has become a catchall for the ways in which the Internet is different from the printed word.

What does hypertext mean on Wikipedia?

  • Wikipedia articles can be read in any order.
  • A Wikipedia article need not be read "cover to cover." In a single browsing session, you can read ten different paragraphs from ten related articles; indeed, this grazing approach is often the best way to gather information.
  • Wikipedia articles can be grouped in many ways, and these groups can overlap.


Wikipedia is not the first hypertext encyclopedia, but its embrace of hypertext is complete and fundamental. A Wikipedia article that is not linked to by any other article is called an orphan and placed in a special cleanup category.

Any word, name, or term in an article can be linked to an article about that concept. As a reader, the practical effect of this is that you can jump from one article and into another whenever you like. You are not constrained by the authors' view of the logical flow of the topic or the amount of background information in any particular article. If you're unfamiliar with a concept, you can easily refer to the article about that concept.

More generally, hypertext means that every page on Wikipedia references (links to) other pages—and of course, every page is linked to by other pages. Understanding how Wikipedia pages are linked to one another is key to browsing Wikipedia.

Because there are so many ways to explore related topics, Wikipedia is great for getting up to speed about subjects you don't know well—even areas in which you don't know what you don't know. (A search might lead you to a particular article, but that article itself can become a jumping-off point to another topic.)

Three Types of Links edit

There are three types of links on Wikipedia.

Internal links

These links lead from one Wikipedia page to another. Clicking the link will take you to the Wikipedia page being linked to. Internal links (also called wikilinks) are blue. You'll see internal links throughout the text of articles and other pages.

When you're editing an article, you can create an internal link by surrounding a word with double brackets. (See Chapter 5, Basic Editing.)


Wikification and wikifying are terms for adding wikilinks to a page.

Internal links don't always have the exact title of the page they're linking to; any text can link to any page, which is occasionally confusing. For instance, clicking a bluelink that reads Samuel Clemens might take you to the page Mark Twain (and your reaction might be "Huh?" "I knew that, I suppose," or "Of course!").


This Twain example illustrates one of Wikipedia's painstakingly negotiated conventions about article titles. Even though Mark Twain is a pseudonym, this name is the most common way to refer to Samuel Clemens, so the article bears that title.


These internal links lead to articles that don't exist yet. They look like ordinary internal links except that they're (unsurprisingly) red.

Clicking a redlink takes you to a page asking if you want to create the new article. Appropriate redlinks are a natural part of the encyclopedia, as they show what topics have yet to be covered.

External links

These are links to other websites. These links are always light blue and marked with a small arrow, but they can take three forms:

  • A full URL (such as
  • A bracketed number ([3])
  • Ordinary words or sentences linked to an external site

External links normally appear at the bottom of an article in the External links section, but they can appear throughout article text.

Using Tabbed Browsing

This feature, offered by most contemporary browsers, is a good option for serious study. By opening internal links in new tabs as you read through an article, you can add a new tab for each less-than-familiar term you encounter. After your first pass through some unfamiliar topic, your tabs will constitute a detailed set of Wikipedia notes.

Browsing by Topic edit

Using the Random Article link is fun, but if you have work to do, you need a way to find specific articles (unless your research area is the dynamics of online encyclopedias). Using search is the best-known way to find Wikipedia articles, but other ways to inform your understanding of a topic exist. For example, you can

  • Peruse lists of articles
  • Visit subject portals
  • Navigate categories

Lists of Articles edit

Most Wikipedia articles have traditional paragraph structures, but some take the form of lists. Each list item usually links to its own article. Thus, each list becomes a miniature index to its own topic area.

Wikipedia is pieced together collaboratively, bit by bit. It relies on contributors bold enough to slide new information into a complete-looking article. In this context, lists can feel particularly welcoming to new writers: After "This is a list of items" and "This list was written by a bunch of different people," the next logical thought is often "I can add another line item to the end of this list."

Consequently, lists abound throughout Wikipedia, indexing a staggering array of topics. Some are well maintained and quite complete, others more informal and amateurish. Sometimes they define an unexpected topic, such as List of songs about or referencing Elvis Presley), or provide a new view of a familiar topic, such as List of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners grouped by location. Smaller lists also exist within ordinary, paragraph-style articles.

Figure 3.8. The Lists of Topics page


Lists help Wikipedia expand because they encourage the creation of redlinks—links to articles that haven't been written yet.

Of course, lists can be grouped. They can be organized chronologically, by theme, or by annotation. Many lists are accessible through the main contents page, which is linked on the global sidebar. Some of the links available from the contents page include the List of academic disciplines, which provides a list of broad overview articles by academic discipline (such as engineering); these articles in turn link to more detailed articles. The List of overviews has a similar function: It presents a number of articles in a subject area (philosophy, for example) that give a survey of that area. The top-level page for lists is the Lists of Topics page, which is a directory of list articles.

List Policy

What makes for a sensible stand-alone list is supposed to be regulated by policy (see Wikipedia:Lists, shortcut WP:LIST), but Wikipedia policy, like much else on the site, is rarely static. In general, new lists should not advance a thesis, and "frivolous" lists are discouraged, though many have existed in the past (for example, a list of guesstimated IQs, including those of Beethoven and Madonna). Lists are subject to the Verifiability policy: One problem with having a List of geniuses is the verification of geniusness. See No original research and Verifiability.

One interesting way to proceed from a list is to click Related Changes in the left sidebar. Related Changes is a list of recent changes to any articles that the current page links to, which, in the case of a list article, includes all items in that list. If you're seeking editors working in your field of interest, this is one way to make quick contact.

You do have to filter out some noise: Related Changes shows changes to all pages linked to from a given page. If you apply it to List of glaciers, you may find edits to Glacier, Sierra Nevada, or Mount Kilimanjaro, alongside edits to less relevant articles such as Argentina and [[:w:2007]|]. For certain lists, Related Changes is an impractical way to proceed.

List of Our Favorite Lists

New lists are created all the time. But some existing lists are being phased out in favor of categories (a more rigid, automated classification scheme; see "Browsing by Categories" on Section 4, “Summary”).

A great deal of debate has surrounded the relative merits of categories and lists. Lists can be annotated, reverted to older versions, and peppered with references. Categories, on the other hand, are more automated and thus work better with really large collections of pages.

Traditional Classification Schemes edit

If you're feeling nostalgic, you can browse Wikipedia using traditional library arrangement schemes: the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Library of Congress Classification. These schemes might seem archaic, but because they were designed to organize broad arrays of human knowledge (and secondarily to sort books), they can be interesting to browse.

See Library of Congress Classification for the top level of the classification. If you click one of the 21 linked articles, you'll drill down into the next level of classification, with topics linked to the appropriate articles. Category:Library of Congress Classification also lists the breakdown by letter codes. The article List of Dewey Decimal classes gives the first three digits of the Dewey class, with some topics linked to those articles.

Further, you can find an outline of Roget's Thesaurus, with appropriate articles wikilinked, at Wikipedia:Outline of Roget's Thesaurus.

Date-Related Articles edit

There are a wide variety of date- and time-related articles that list significant events during a particular date, year, or even century.

Articles exist that summarize the following:

  • Every year between 1700 BC and the present (see List of years)
  • Every decade between the 1690s BC and the 2090s AD (List of decades)
  • Every century between the 40th century BC and the 31st century AD (List of centuries)
  • Every millennium between the 10th millennium BC and the 10th millennium AD (see List of centuries again)
  • Every geological division, epoch, period, and era (see List of time periods for these and many more)

Simply type a year in the search box or go to one of these lists.

As you might expect, the quality of these articles vary widely, usually in predictable ways. Jurassic, December 2004, and 1800s are detailed; 1485 BC is not. In general, the less-detailed articles are scattershot collections of factoids. If you're unsatisfied with a yearly article, move up to the decade or century level.

For most modern years, such as 1954, dozens of dedicated articles exist—for instance, 1954 in architecture or 1954 in baseball. However, 1954 in cricket is a category rather than an article, and if you want to learn more about crime in 1954, you might look at FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives by year, 1954. The overall Category:1954 is the right place to start for intensive research, as it collects all these articles in one place and numerous subcategories will point you in the right direction. Note

Year articles take precedence over other articles that might have numeric titles. For example, if you go to the article called 137, you get an article about the events occurring in the year 137 AD. As it happens, 137 is an interesting number in physics, but to read about that you should go to the article 137 (number).

You can also find an article for every date from January 1 to December 31. These are lists of anniversaries, not articles specific to a given year. They convey the significant events, births, and deaths for any date, such as January 20th—helpful, perhaps, for college students looking for a party theme. These lists populate the On this day … section of the main page. (The title convention is simply the month and day number, or April 1; no suffix is required for ordinals.) List of historical anniversaries is a handily arranged list of all these pages. Note

If you ever find it too tiring to work out 20th century dates in Roman numerals, such as those you might find in old copyright notices, copy the letters (for example, MCMLXVIII) into Wikipedia and let a redirect take the strain.

Decade articles are in a familiar form: the first year of the decade plus s (for example, 1660s, no apostrophe). Again, List of decades is a handy list with coverage stretching from the 17th century BC to the 21st century AD.

Century articles are found in either the form 18th century (for centuries AD, you can leave out the AD) or 2nd century BC (for centuries BC). The Common Era convention of writing BCE and CE, as many scholars do, is also supported and used within Wikipedia, coexisting with BC/AD (refer to Common Era for background); date links using this convention will redirect to the proper articles. (If you're really clever, type 0 AD into Wikipedia. Go ahead!)

These by-date articles stretch not only into the past (there is a century article for 40th century BC, before which Wikipedia only has articles for millennia), but also into the far future. These future year articles record not only future anniversaries and future astronomical events, but also fictional events that are supposed to have happened in these years. (In the 25th century article, for instance, we are reminded that Buck Rogers lived around 2419.)

Timelines provide detailed chronologies for various topics. The List of timelines lists timelines covering hundreds of topics, offering detailed perspectives for understanding history. If that's not enough, the Detailed logarithmic timeline and its linked pages could claim to be an education in itself.

Browsing by Categories edit

Another way to find articles is to browse through categories. Categories, like lists, collect related articles. But although Wikipedia's software treats a list the same way it treats any other article, it treats categories differently. In order to place an article in a category, an editor does not edit the category's page. Instead, the editor adds a specialized tag to the article itself, and the MediaWiki software automatically populates the category page with every article tagged as a member of that category.

Alongside links and templates, categories help provide structure to the wiki. In every topic area, categories are created and used to group related pages together: For example, Category:American novelists contains thousands of articles about authors, for those interested in exploring American literature. In an area where you already have some expertise, the category system may be your best bet for finding content of interest.

The categories in which an article has been placed are listed at the very bottom of the article page, underneath the article text, in a small shaded box (Figure 3.9, “The category listing at the bottom of an article, showing the categories in which an article appears: These are the categories for the article Exploding whale.”). Each category name is a link: Click one to visit the corresponding category page, which lists all the articles in that category.

Figure 3.9. The category listing at the bottom of an article, showing the categories in which an article appears: These are the categories for the article Exploding whale. The category listing at the bottom of an article, showing the categories in which an article appears: These are the categories for the article Exploding whale.

A page can be placed in any number of categories; indeed, most articles are in more than one. No category excludes any other, and categories can even be placed inside other categories, which can themselves be placed inside other categories! This creates a tree structure (or a taxonomy, if you prefer). For example, the article Malta is in Category:Malta, itself in Category:European microstates, which is in Category:Microstates, which is in Category:Countries by characteristic; this is then categorized under the broad category of Category:Countries. Browsing successive layers of subcategories is a useful way to find content: You can get to a high-level category any way you like and then drill down into a more specific area. Because Category is also a Wikipedia namespace, you can go directly to a category using the search box, for example, Category:Poets.

Categories may be surprisingly specific as well as sweepingly broad. Some are just fun: Category:Toys has as subcategories Category:Toy cars and trucks and Category:Yo-yos, whereas Category:Teddy bears is one subcategory of Category:Fictional bears.

Everyone is welcome to categorize pages as needed, either by placing an article in an existing category or creating an entirely new category (see Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters). As with every type of content, guidelines for creating and placing categories have been established. See, for example, Wikipedia:Naming conventions (shortcut WP:NCCAT).

Structure of a Category Page edit

When you click a category name from the linked categories at the bottom of an article, you are taken to a category page located in the Category namespace. These pages are divided into four main parts (Figure 3.10, “Example of a category page (the category of Fictional Countries), showing editable sections”):

  • The top part describes the topic. This section is editable and may contain wikilinks to relevant encyclopedia articles. This section is not always present.
  • The second part lists the immediate subcategories of the category. For example, Category:American crime fiction writers is a subcategory of Category:American novelists. This section is only present if the category contains subcategories.
  • The third part of the page displays an automatically generated, alphabetical list of wikilinks to the articles in the category. This list is the heart of the category page—it is always present and is usually the section that proves most useful. A category can contain any number of pages; some contain thousands. It would be impractical to display such a large number of links on one page; on Wikipedia, a category page will only display as many as 200 links at a time, sorted alphabetically. Click the Next 200 link to jump to the next page of links.


Alphabetical order is not always obvious: Articles about people, for example, are normally best sorted alphabetically by surname. However, if the correct sort tag hasn't been added to the biography, it will be alphabetized conventionally (i.e., by the first word in the page title, which is often the first name of the person). Details on sorting are in Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters.

The last part of the page shows supercategories—the categories that this category belongs to. These categories appear in a shaded box named (somewhat confusingly) Categories, just like the categories for articles.

Figure 3.10. Example of a category page (the category of Fictional Countries), showing editable sections

Missing Subcategories

The 200-link limit creates rather unhelpful artifacts on some category pages. The main part of the category page shows up to 200 links, starting with the letter A; but the subcategories list is also paginated alphabetically. On the next category page, you will often see further subcategories.

Navigating Categories edit

Categories form a kind of parallel Wikipedia universe. If you're lucky, a small cluster of categories will cover just the articles you're seeking. Think of subcategories as being under a category, and you'll appreciate that clicking can take you both "up" (to a more comprehensive category) and "down" (to a more specialized category). You can move to a category of greater scope and generality or (conversely) narrow things down.

Therefore, the other significant part of a category page is the list of categories to which the page belongs, in other words, the supercategories for which this category is a subcategory. These are your ways inside the category system.

Up-and-down navigation is a very handy way to move from a related article to the one you really want. For example, you can move from a place in the right state but wrong county to a category of places in the state to a subcategory of places in the right county, where you'll find the title of the article you want. That journey is like going in and up and then down and out of the category system. Most browsing using categories requires a combination of navigating up (to a more comprehensive category) and down (to a subcategory) in search of the category of greatest interest, followed by a systematic search of pages in that category.

A Longer Journey Using Categories edit

The article about the ocean sunfish (which is also known as the Mola mola) might be placed in the Molidae category, for the fish's scientific family name (Figure 3.11, “The ocean sunfish (Mola mola) or common mola is the heaviest bony fish in the world, with an average weight of 1,000 kilograms. The species is native to tropical and temperate waters around the globe. (From w:Mola mola, image from NOAA)”). Looking at the category page for Molidae displays the other species in this family (as long as those species have properly categorized articles).

Figure 3.11. The ocean sunfish (Mola mola) or common mola is the heaviest bony fish in the world, with an average weight of 1,000 kilograms. The species is native to tropical and temperate waters around the globe. (From Mola mola, image from NOAA)

Navigating from this category, you may go up, down, or out to one of the linked pages. w:Category:Molidae is a subcategory of Category:Tetraodontiformes. If you're interested in the biology of related fish, click that link. Once there, you'll see various families of the order Tetraodontiformes (such as the Puffers) listed as subcategories. This category system follows standard scientific classification.

You can eventually get to Category:Water from the fish articles. Using a less-than sign (<) to mean "clicking up to the next category," here is the chain of subcategories:

Ray-finned fish < Bony fish < Fish sorted by classification < Fish < Aquatic organisms < Water

Tetraodontiformes is one of more than 50 subcategories of Category:Ray-finned fish. Going from Category:Water,

Water < Inorganic compounds < Chemical compounds < Chemical substances < Chemistry

to find out where Category:Chemistry fits in, look at

Chemistry < Physical sciences < Scientific disciplines < Academic disciplines < Academia

Is there no end to this? Actually, keep clicking through categories:

Academia < Education < Society < Fundamental

and you end up here:

Fundamental < Articles < Contents

The Category:Contents is the top category of all categories.

This non-serious exploration makes a serious point: Wikipedia not only brings knowledge together, it also classifies it. You can find an exhaustive, unwieldy list of all categories at Special:Categories, or try Wikipedia:Categorical index for an arrangement by topic.

The highest levels of categorization are so broad that they are usually impractical even as starting points. But they do provide a novel way to sort content from a distance, as Robert Rohde did in some statistics from October 2007.[19] Programmatically tallying the articles in the broadest categories (and their subcategories), he was able to estimate the composition of Wikipedia itself: 28.0 percent science, 10.5 percent culture, 16.0 percent geography, 6.3 percent history, 0.8 percent religion, 5.5 percent philosophy, 1.8 percent mathematics, 14.3 percent nature, 6.0 percent technology, 1.4 percent fiction, and 9.6 percent general biography. These categories are, of course, fluid and negotiable (for example, the Politics category is inside the Philosophy category).

Categories and Content Policy

Categories should always reflect the content of the page and be supported by the article's references, especially if the category is contentious: w:Category:Murderers should not be added to a biography without justification. Classification should not be used to make a point or comment on content (see Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters for more on categorization guidelines). 3.5. Browsing by Page Type

You can also browse by article type rather than by topic.

Finding Excellent or Poor Content edit

Perhaps you want to read only the very best Wikipedia content. In this case, browse the Featured Content portal at Portal:Featured content, which includes all types of content (including articles, images, and portals) deemed to be the best Wikipedia has to offer.

Featured articles, available directly at Wikipedia:Featured articles (shortcut WP:FA), have been vetted, reviewed, and voted on by community members. They meet high standards of completeness, accuracy, and referencing, and represent some of the very best articles available on the site. Try your hand as a critic at Wikipedia:Featured article candidates (shortcut WP:FAC). Good articles are articles that may not be as extensive as featured articles but are still excellent quality; you can browse a collection of these articles at Wikipedia:Good articles (shortcut WP:GA).

Featured lists can reveal odd Wikipedia content. Whereas a list page taken at random from Wikipedia will (at most) have some navigational value, a featured list such as List of Oz books will have a good lead section, images, and much greater credibility. See Wikipedia:Featured lists (shortcut WP:FL) for several hundred featured lists.

Articles of poor quality or in need of attention are also collected in maintenance categories, such as Category:Cleanup by month. Another quick way to find articles with problems is to search for misspelled versions of commonly misspelled words in order to find errors and typos to correct, or (perhaps more interesting) search for dead-wood phrases such as "it is important to remember that," which can be replaced with more precise wording. The project page at w:Wikipedia:Cleanup, where you can add articles you find with problems, also provides a quick way to start getting involved. Finding poor-quality articles and systemized maintenance work will be covered thoroughly in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes.

Finding Images edit

Apart from text, images are the most common and important kind of media used in Wikipedia. They help bring the encyclopedia to life, showing places and people, plants and animals, book covers, and machinery types. They illustrate processes and diagram complicated procedures and systems. They include logos, trademarks, heraldic devices, and flags. You can also find large numbers of maps.

To find some of the very best images on Wikipedia, visit the list of featured images at Wikipedia:Featured pictures (shortcut WP:FP). There is also a link from this page to a category on the Wikimedia Commons for featured desktop backgrounds, or pictures whose aspect ratios are suitable for wallpapering your computer desktop. You can find some lovely images here.

To browse for other images, go to the Wikimedia Commons, where images are organized by category. The Commons is actually designed as a repository of media and images that all the Wikimedia projects can use and link to. Thus you may find images, for instance, that are described in languages other than English. More on searching the Commons is in Chapter 16, Wikimedia Commons and Other Sister Projects.

Finding Media Files edit

Every media file found on Wikipedia is intended to illustrate an encyclopedia article, not to stand alone. Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Commons offer a range of these files, from short animations to sound recordings. For instance, in the article about Mozart, you'll find a list of a few dozen or so audio files; these are short excerpts of his works for illustrative purposes. All of the media files in Wikipedia should be freely available under the GFDL license.

Like images, finding media files is a bit easier on Wikimedia Commons than on Wikipedia itself; on Commons, you'll find categories for sounds and videos, subcategorized into animations, animal sounds, and so on.

Again, just as for images, each file has a description page. Confusingly at first, these pages are all within the Image namespace; Wikipedia does not separate different media file types into different namespaces.

To play media files, you can try Wikipedia's embedded media player, which will play media files in your web browser. Simply click the Play in Browser link next to the file icon. Alternatively, you can download the file. However, playing it may present some obstacles as you may need to download special software. The major sound file type used on Wikipedia is the audio format Ogg Vorbis, whereas video files use the Ogg Theora format. These formats are broadly similar to others used to play digital audio and video, such as MP3 and MPEG, and can be played on almost all personal computers. Unlike MP3, QuickTime, and many other common formats, however, Ogg formats are completely free, open, and unpatented. Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X computers do not support Ogg formats by default and require additional software to play them. If your computer does not automatically play these files when you click them, you'll need to download and install free software from the Internet to play them. Go to for links to versions of downloadable players or codecs suitable for common systems.

If you already have a media player such as Windows Media Player or RealPlayer, or iTunes for a Mac, you can first download the .ogg codecs—small programs that decrypt the format—for these players, which will enable them to play Wikipedia's files. For Linux/Unix users, many recent free Unix systems are able to play Vorbis audio without any new software; however, many media players are available if you don't have any audio software installed. Wikipedia:Media help (Ogg) has a list of the free players available for all systems and directions for downloading the Ogg codecs for other music players.

Music files may occasionally use the MIDI format (.mid or .midi extension). MIDI is usually playable without new software. Most computers have a MIDI-enabled player and sound card.

In addition to music files, a small but growing number of articles contain spoken versions of the article recorded in .ogg Vorbis format by volunteers. With the right player, you can listen to Wikipedia articles in your car! Go to Wikipedia:Spoken articles, Category:Spoken articles, and Wikipedia:WikiProject Spoken Wikipedia (shortcut WP:WSW) to find these articles.

Further Reading edit

Indexes and Other Ways to Browse
Browsing by Quality
Browsing by Categories
Finding Images and Sounds

[19] These figures are taken from an October 2007 post to the WikiEN-l mailing list:

Summary edit

Wikipedia as a collection of information is amazing, but its real strength is as a collection of findable information. Searching is useful for finding articles on specific topics, but you may need to search using a variety of names to find the article you're looking for. You can configure Wikipedia's search to search multiple namespaces along with other options; you can also use external search engines. Access the search engine on the left-hand sidebar, which also includes a number of other links and tools. Some of these links and tools are consistent throughout the site, whereas others change depending on the page.

Wikipedia also has intricate and well-developed structures for browsing, including links within articles, editor-constructed portals, the main page, and categories. These structures all use hypertext, where one page leads to another via links, with information split between various pages that reference each other. Categories, which show up as links at the bottom of pages that are categorized, provide a powerful way to browse through related pages, including pages categorized by quality (such as featured articles). Categories set up a classification system, with more specific areas becoming subcategories of broader areas.

In the next chapter, we'll home in on the individual articles, describing their specific parts. We'll cover what you can expect to find, as well as how to evaluate the quality of a given article.

Chapter 4 edit

Understanding and Evaluating an Article

Once you've found the content you're looking for, the next thing you need to know is what you're looking at. With an understanding of namespaces and content types in Wikipedia, you can easily tell whether you're looking at an article, a discussion page, a community page, or a user page; and once you know how to search and browse the site, finding articles on your topic is simple. The next step is assessing an article's quality.

Understanding how to read all the components of an article—from its edit history to its discussion pages—is key for skilled and sensible reading of Wikipedia. Experienced editors and readers use many tricks to quickly evaluate pages and understand their state. It's a matter of knowing where to look and determining which clues are most significant.

In this chapter, we'll identify the different parts of a typical article and discuss what each part can tell you. We'll then list some detailed questions to ask when critically evaluating an article. Throughout this chapter, as we describe how articles are put together, we'll list Clues—points to pick up on for quality evaluation. If you're in a hurry, we've summarized our best clues at the end of the chapter. Note

In this discussion of the look and feel of Wikipedia, we'll be talking about viewing pages with the default configuration, the Monobook skin. Skins are customizable, and there are a variety to choose from; for more, see "Setting Your Preferences" on Section 1.1.6, “Creating the Account”.

Anatomy of an Article edit

Every editable page on Wikipedia is made up of three related parts: the text of the page or article, the page history, and a separate discussion page. The tabs that are visible at the top of (almost) any page are your entry points to these components. There are four tabs if you are logged out and six if you are logged in.

Assuming you're logged in, the tabs you'll see are shown in Figure 4.1, “The tabs at the top of a Wikipedia page”: Article, Discussion, Edit This Page, History, Move, and Watch.

  • The Article tab shows you the text of the article you are viewing; this is the default view when you go to a page and the view you'll want to return to after exploring other components. The title of this tab changes across namespaces; for instance, it displays as Project Page if you're looking at a page in the Wikipedia namespace, and User Page if you're looking at a page in the User namespace.
  • The Discussion tab shows you the discussion or talk page for that article; this is a separate page dedicated to discussion of the page's content.

Figure 4.1. The tabs at the top of a Wikipedia page

Note: The terms talk page and discussion page are used somewhat interchangeably. Although the tab intended for discussion of an article is labeled Discussion, it leads to a page located in the Talk namespace. Discussion pages attached to user pages, which are intended for conversation between editors, are called talk pages as well—though, to be pedantic, they are user talk pages in the User talk namespace.
  • The Edit This Page tab allows you to edit whatever page you are currently viewing. Clicking the tab opens up an edit window, where you can modify the text of the page.
  • The History tab shows you the edit history of the page you are viewing.
  • The Move tab moves the page to a new title. Leave this advanced operation alone for now, until you've had a chance to read Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web.
  • The Watch tab adds the article you're currently viewing to your own personal watchlist. (If you are already watching an article, the tab will display Unwatch instead and clicking it will remove an article from your watchlist.)

In this chapter, we'll cover articles as a whole along with talk pages and history pages. Editing is discussed in Part II, from Chapter 5, Basic Editing onward, and then we'll return to watchlists in Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian.

Absent Tabs: There are some exceptions that apply to the tabs you can view on a particular page. Protected pages, for instance, won't display an Edit tab, but will instead display a View Source tab that shows the wikisource of an article but doesn't allow you to edit it. Pages in the Special namespace, which are not editable, don't display any of these tabs. If you aren't logged in, the Move and Watch tabs are not available.

The Article Text edit

Did you ever wonder what makes Wikipedia articles seem so standardized? The conventional way of writing a Wikipedia article combines a number of recognizable features, which will generally appear as an article matures. In this section, we'll review the different parts that you may encounter in an article. Clue: All articles don't have to have all of these parts, but if you see an article without any of them—or if the text appears unformatted—chances are good the article was added by an inexperienced editor.

Directly underneath the page tabs, you'll see the title of the page you're viewing in large bold type, followed by a line and the words From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This is where the editable portion of the page starts.

Like trailers before a feature film, messages may appear in italics at the beginning of an article. These messages are not part of the article, but are a rubric properly called a hatnote. Hatnotes point you toward disambiguation pages or other articles that might be confused with the one you are viewing; for example, For the medical term see rigor (medicine) occurs at the top of rigour.

You may also see one or more warning messages in brightly colored boxes at the beginning of articles; for instance, warning you that this article requires attention from an expert or the neutrality of this article is disputed. Other messages may simply note that some kind of cleanup needs to happen on the article. These messages serve two purposes: They alert the reader to problems, and they let editors know that "something needs to be done here." They are produced with templates (see a list at Wikipedia:Template messages), and any editor may add (or remove) any template, so they are not particularly "official." They are, however, useful alerts to many kinds of quality issues, and they tell you that at least one editor has concerns about the article.

Color Coding

Article warning messages are of a standard shape (slim and rectangular) and are color coded: orange for content issues, red for a deletion candidate, and yellow for cleanup. Blue is used for any general informative messages. See Wikipedia:Article message boxes, shortcut WP:AMB, for a full explanation.

Following any messages, the text of the article itself begins. Often the article text is broken up into numerous sections, which should convey a logical structure to the article and break it into manageable pieces. If there are three or more such sections, a Table of Contents (ToC) is automatically displayed. Clicking any of the links in the ToC takes you directly to that section of the article. You can hide a lengthy ToC by clicking the [show/hide] link; if you are logged in, you can also disable all ToCs from showing in your user preferences.

Regardless of how many sections there are, the article should start with a strong introductory paragraph that tells you the topic of the article and why it is important.

The text itself should also be sprinkled throughout with internal links, or wikilinks, to other articles; these links are displayed in blue. Clue: If no wikilinks exist in the text, there's a strong chance the article was written by someone unfamiliar with Wikipedia's conventions, and the article itself may be questionable.

The text may also contain images (which should have captions) or graphics that summarize information about the topic. To see the full-size image and more information about it, simply click the image; this takes you to the image description page.

You may also see an infobox near the beginning of an article, typically on the right-hand side. These boxes are standardized presentations of key facts about the article's topic. Different styles of infoboxes have been developed for articles in many diverse fields, from species of plants to Australian cricketers. They are all based on templates, which are described in Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters. Clue: Authors do not sign anywhere in articles, so if you see a signature in article text, it was left by someone unfamiliar with Wikipedia's conventions.

For references, the article may contain footnotes or inline references. Sometimes external links are embedded in the text; this referencing style is discouraged, however, in favor of footnotes. Footnotes will appear as small superscript numbers at the ends of sentences; clicking the footnote number takes you to the appropriate footnote at the end of the article and vice versa; clicking the caret (^) at the beginning of a footnote takes you back to the text.

At the end of a good article, you'll find several standardized sections: See also, References, and External links. (On a disambiguation page, which serves as a dedicated navigational structure to point you to articles with related names, these aren't used.) The See also section should include a list of other relevant Wikipedia articles. Generally, articles that are already linked in the text are not included in this section. References, sometimes called sources or notes, include the sources used in writing the article. When present, footnotes are often listed here, or in a Notes section appended to the references. The External links section includes links to other relevant non-Wikimedia websites on the topic. For instance, if the article is about a company or organization that has a homepage on the Web, a link to this site should be included in External links.

There are occasionally Bibliography and Further reading sections included as well; the former may list publications by the subject of the article, whereas Further reading may list other important sources of information that aren't directly cited in the article. There may also be links to other Wikimedia sister projects in this section—for example, links to related media on the Wikimedia Commons or to a dictionary definition of a term on Wiktionary. There may also be messages in this section explaining that material has been imported from a non-copyrighted source. Clue: Any material imported from another source, such as an old encyclopedia, may need to be updated.

Reference and Research

The more critical attention you are giving an article and the more seriously you are researching a topic, the more the article's references are going to interest you. Though this is far from always being the case, references should be a mixture of online and paper sources and of recent works along with standard texts that give broad context. A good References, External links, or Further reading section can be a great place to start doing research, especially if you are new to a topic.

At the very bottom of the article, you find any stub messages. A stub, as mentioned in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?, is simply a short or beginning article that may be incomplete. Stub articles are sorted by topic and identified with these short template-based messages that tell you the article is a stub and what broad topic category it falls into. Clue: A stub article will likely be incomplete in terms of the information provided—seeing a stub message is an alert to check other sources as well.

A small box listing the categories into which the article has been placed follows the body of the article. Clicking any of these category links takes you to the category page, which lists other related articles in the same category. Clue: All articles should be in at least one category. An article that doesn't have any categories listed is likely new or orphaned.

Backlinks edit

If you want to place an article in a broader context, or if you're researching a topic in depth, the What Links Here link in the sidebar can be useful. Clicking this link shows you other pages that link to the article you are currently viewing. In other words, this link gives you a list of backlinks—places where your article is referenced on other pages. Checking the backlinks is one of the tricks of the trade for getting the most out of Wikipedia.

For an article on a basic topic, there may be a great number of other articles that link to it, and there may be too many backlinks to tell you anything useful. You won't learn a great deal from the backlinks to the article on New York, except that they are very numerous indeed. On the other hand, only a handful of articles may link to a more obscure article. For instance, for a historical figure you are researching, the backlinks may well turn up points of entry to research further: articles about events that occurred during their lifetime or lists of officeholders that include the person of interest. Don't assume the article itself will send you to all those other pages in its See also section—articles are always works in progress. Searching the site for the article's title won't necessarily turn up all the references to it on other pages, either, if the references are hidden in internal wikilinks with different alternate text. Using What Links Here will catch all the references to an article, however, including where it may have been discussed on user or project talk pages. If you're checking the quality of an article, it's always worth checking the backlinks.

No backlinks at all means you have found an orphan, which is considered a debilitating condition. An orphaned article is unfortunate and possibly suspect, alerting the reader to issues of potential concern. It may simply be that the article is new and no other articles have had a chance to link to it yet, or it could be a topic that is not really encyclopedic. If an article claims to be about an important topic, but nothing links to it, it may well be a hoax. Check to see how old the article is, as described in the next section. Clue: No incoming links can also mean the article has a poor choice of title, perhaps not conforming to Wikipedia style. It is also conceivable that an orphaned article has a typo in the title (for instance, a subtle error such as the wrong punctuation or Mc instead of Mac). If this is the case, it's worth searching for other articles about the same topic, as described in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content.

Article History edit

Once you've read an article thoroughly, you want to understand its next important aspect—how to read its history. Every page on Wikipedia, whether an article, a talk page, or any other page (except for the auto-generated special pages), has a record of all changes made to it that is captured in the page history.

Page histories are revealing to those in the know. The goal of reading a page history is often to determine the story of what has happened to an article over time. How old is an article? How many and which editors have worked on it? Has the topic been contentious, the subject of debate between editors? Has the page improved over time, or has any good content been lost? Was a particular edit valuable to the article? Is the current version that you're looking at vandalized? The page history can answer all of these questions and can also give you a good idea of an article's trustworthiness. Experienced Wikipedians glean a great deal about articles from looking over the page history and then following up on some of the individual edits that make up that history. Clue: How contentious the article topic is matters, because a subject that turns into a combat zone often drives off all but highly partisan editors; with careful investigation, the page history can tell you whether this is the case.

The page history is accessible by clicking the History tab at the top of the page. The History tab always leads to the history of whatever page you're looking at. For instance, if you are viewing the talk page of an article, clicking the History tab will take you to the history of edits to that talk page, rather than the history of the article it's associated with. Go back to viewing the article, and then click the History tab to see the article's history.

Substantial articles usually have a number of contributors. If the page history indicates that the page is entirely or almost entirely the work of one person, you are dealing with a situation more comparable to evaluating an article on someone's private website. Clue: A short history is a warning sign. If only a few people have edited an article, it is likely that only a few people have reviewed the factual content, and the page may represent a limited view of the topic.

You Can't Change Wikipedia

You can't actually change anything in Wikipedia … you can only add to it. An article you read today is simply the current draft; every time it is changed, both the new version and a copy of the old version are kept. This allows you to compare different versions and restore older content if necessary. Except for page deletions (discussed in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes), no content is ever actually removed from Wikipedia. (Adapted from Wikipedia:Ten things you may not know about Wikipedia)

Even in a long history, however, some edits should be discounted as being of little significance to the content. A number of editors may have simply made minor formatting changes to an article. Some passing bot may have edited it mindlessly. These contributors may not have verified any of the content but have simply brought the article up to Wikipedia stylistic standards. A common situation is that a single contributor has written the bulk of a short or beginning article, and then a few people will reformat the article but not change the content substantially. In these cases, there is still only one primary author.

Reading a Page History edit

First and foremost, the page history tells you who has worked on the page, and it allows you to examine the successive versions of the article and the differences between them (see Figure 4.2, “Reading a page history, accessible from the History tab”). You can also see the date and time of each edit and compare versions of edits. Finally, you can see the comments that contributors have left in the Edit summary field regarding their edits.

Figure 4.2. Reading a page history, accessible from the History tab

Each line in the page history represents a single edit. Every time a wiki page is modified and saved, a new version of that page is saved, and a new line is added to the page history. The most recent version is displayed at the top of the history, so reading down is reading back into any page's history.

Every line in a page history has several elements. Reading across, they are as follows:

  • First are two links, curr and last, along with a radio button. Clicking curr for a particular version compares it to the most recent version of the article (so you can see how that version compares to the version currently displayed on the site), whereas clicking last compares a particular version to the immediately preceding version (so you can see exactly what was changed with that particular edit). The radio buttons allow you to compare any two versions of an article, as described in "Analyzing a Page History" on Section 1.3.2, “Analyzing a Page History”.
  • Next, the date and time of the edit are displayed as a blue link. By default, this time is set to display in the UTC time zone. (You can change the time to your local time zone if you are logged in by going to My Preferences, as described in "Setting Your Preferences" on Section 1.1.6, “Creating the Account”.) Clicking this link will show you that particular version of the page. When you're viewing an old version, a warning message is displayed at the top of the page, and the page URL in your browser will display the version number, or unique ID, of the version you are looking at. You can use this URL to link to this particular revision of the page. (This is also how Permanent Link on the left-hand sidebar works.)
  • Next, the author of the edit is displayed. This author will be listed by either a username (if the editor was logged in) or an IP (Internet Protocol) address (if they were editing anonymously). Clicking the username will bring you to the editor's user page, if he or she has one; if the username is displayed as a redlink, that means the editor was logged in but has not yet created a user page. If an editor was not logged in, the numeric IP address of the computer he or she was editing from will display instead, and clicking the IP address will bring you to a list of that IP's contributions.
  • After the editor's name, there are links in parentheses to the editor's user talk page (Talk) and, if the editor is logged in, his or her contributions (contribs). Whether an editor was logged in or not, you can go to his or her talk page to leave a message. Clue: If you suspect vandalism, it can be particularly helpful to go the talk page to see if a particular editor has racked up any warnings from other editors. Again, a redlink means there are no messages yet on an editor's talk page. Clicking the Contribs link shows you a list of all the edits that particular editor has ever made.
  • Next, some edits will display a lowercase m if the edit was marked as minor by the editor; minor edits are generally small changes, such as spelling or typo corrections. The number in parentheses that follows (for edits made since mid-2007) shows the number of bytes that were changed with that individual edit; a large number is generally reflective of the entire article being edited and saved. (Somewhat more usefully, the net number of bytes changed with a single edit is also displayed in Recent Changes and in personal watchlists).
  • Finally, any text that follows is part of the edit summary provided by the editor. This is (one hopes) an informative comment that is intended to describe what the edit accomplished and why it was made. Sometimes these summaries are created automatically and contain a variety of links; often they contain a kind of shorthand or jargon that has been developed over the years.

Problem IPs

If an edit was made by a user who was not logged in, you can at least get a look at the other contributions made using the same IP address. But remember that the same IP address may represent different people editing, and different IPs may represent the same person, because Internet service providers don't always operate IP allocations in the simple way that telephone numbers are handed out. Many Internet service providers issue temporary IP addresses to their users from a pool of addresses, and when the user disconnects, the address is returned to the pool for allocation to someone else. These are known as dynamic IPs. (IP numbers that differ only in the last three places may be the same editor using a dynamic IP.) Furthermore, even if an IP address is fixed, it might be the IP for a computer in a public place, such as a library, an Internet café, or a school. This means, of course, that you may be seeing many people's contributions from the same IP address, and you cannot be sure a message left on the talk page will reach a particular user. IP addresses from public settings can sometimes reveal an extreme and baffling combination of excellent edits and vandalism. However, you still might be able to see that the particular edit occurred in the midst of a series of edits, which can help you gauge the character of whoever was at that machine at that time. If they've been determined to be from public computers, the discussion pages for IP addresses will sometimes have notices to this effect.

Analyzing a Page History edit

Comparing versions of an article, or examining diffs, is the most useful tool an editor has for determining how an article has changed over time. Diff is short for the differences between pages. The term diff is also commonly used as shorthand to refer to a particular old version of a page.

Checking the diffs can tell you not only how the page has changed over time but also if the current version displayed is the best one. If you suspect vandalism in the current version, for instance, flip back a change or two, using the radio buttons or the curr and last links, to see if the information persists. If something in the article seems untrue, it's worth comparing versions until you can determine when it was added and by whom. (After all, if you can ask the person who edited something into the article about the edit, you can perhaps get somewhere with your difficulty.)

Because all versions of a page are kept, any two versions can be compared. To do so, choose the radio button for the version you are interested in looking at. Another radio button will appear for all versions of the page that are newer than the one you chose. Choose this new right-hand radio button for the newer version you are interested in. (To compare to the most current version, choose the top radio button.) Now click the Compare Selected Versions button at the top of the page history.

A split screen will appear with two headers, as shown in Figure 4.3, “A diff is accessible by clicking Compare Versions on the page history. The newest version is shown on the right. Shading indicates a changed paragraph. The editor's name, the date and time of the edit, and the edit summary are listed at the top.”, each of which tells you the version date and time, the edit author, and his or her edit summary. The version on the right is always the newer version of the two you have selected. You will then see a line-by-line comparison of the wikisource of the two versions you have selected. On the old version, paragraphs that differ from the new version are highlighted yellow, and on the new version, they are highlighted green. Text removed within a paragraph is shown in red on the old version, whereas new text within a paragraph is shown in red on the new version; if a whole paragraph was removed or added, the text is simply black, whereas the other side is blank (white).

Figure 4.3. A diff is accessible by clicking Compare Versions on the page history. The newest version is shown on the right. Shading indicates a changed paragraph. The editor's name, the date and time of the edit, and the edit summary are listed at the top.
Undoing Vandalism

Any old version of a page can be edited and resaved to become the most current version, overriding any other edits. When this is done to undo a single edit, it's called reverting that edit. Reverting is how mistakes can be easily fixed, as explained in Chapter 5, Basic Editing, and how most vandalism is removed, as explained in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes.

Below this highlighted summary of changes, the entire rendered view of the more recent of the two versions you are comparing is displayed. Note that you can change this view in your user preferences, under Misc.

If no line-by-line differences are displayed, there are no differences between the two versions of the page. If there are also intermediate edits in between the two versions you are comparing, the comparison will tell you this (for example, 5 intermediate edits not shown). Only differences that occur between the two versions you are comparing are displayed.

If an edit was made by a registered user, you can follow up by going to that user's page to see who he is (or at least who he claims to be). Associated with each user page is the accompanying user talk page, which can give you a flavor of the user's interactions with other users: Is it full of thank-you notes or vitriolic arguments? Clicking the contributions of any particular contributor shows you the edits this particular person has made in Wikipedia. Clue: Is this a new or experienced contributor? What else has he or she been working on?

You'll sometimes need to find the exact revision in the history when a particular piece of information was added to an article. Perhaps you need to know who added a questionable statement or what the reasoning was behind adding a cleanup tag to the article. You could simply go back from the current revision one diff at a time, comparing each version until you find the one you are looking for. This method works well for articles with very short histories, but quickly becomes tedious for an article with a long edit history. Rather than doing this, then, there are a few tricks for quickly reviewing long page histories:

  • First, at the top of the page history, set the number of changes viewable to 500 rather than 50, so you can see all of the history (or at least more of it) on a single screen.
  • Quickly scan the edit summaries—does anything pop out? If, for instance, you are looking for the addition of a cleanup tag, does anyone mention adding this tag? Using CTRL-F to do a search for a particular term can sometimes be helpful.
  • If you don't find the version you're looking for, skip back a large number of changes and bisect the edit history by picking a revision somewhere in the middle. Review this revision by clicking the linked date or compare it to the current revision using the radio buttons. Is the information you're looking for in this old revision?
  • If so, keep going back several changes at a time until you find a version where it's not present. If not, go forward several changes until you find a version where it is present.
  • Once you've done this, you'll have located two revisions on either side of when the information you're looking for was added—one before the information was added and one after (the earliest revision you found that included the information). Once you've narrowed down a range in this manner, work your way backward and forward within the range a few revisions at a time, comparing revisions using the radio buttons.
  • Narrowing down the exact diff when something was added is usually quick. You can then follow up by checking the editor's edit summary and other contributions and determining whether it seems like a trustworthy edit.

Edit Summaries and Minor Edits edit

When reading page histories, you'll see comments and explanations. These are edit summaries, short comments provided by editors to help explain their edits. Edit summaries display in the page history, Recent Changes, and in user watchlists. The ideal edit summary briefly explains the nature of the edit and gives some context for it (for instance, not simply saying rewriting but rewrote 2nd paragraph for grammar and clarity). Edit summaries don't have to be complicated. If you make a test edit yourself, add test in the Edit summary box. When you reverse the edit, simply write undo test in the box.

Edit summaries are optional (though a very good idea), and even if present, they may be cryptic because a large body of jargon has been developed over the years. For instance, you might not be able to fathom avoid dab the first time you see it, but it is shorthand for avoided a disambiguation page, which, in turn, means that a link was fixed to point to an appropriate article instead of to a disambiguation page. To wikify a page is to add appropriate wikilinks to a page, by linking appropriate words, names, and phrases to other articles; it is one of the most common operations, as editors weave the web of the wiki, and it may also appear in a summary as wfy.

There are also some edit summaries that are automatically added by the software. For instance, the title of the section that was edited is automatically added and appears in grayed-out type in edit histories. Occasionally, you will see small conversations between editors as they go back and forth on a point (edit summaries are not indexed or searchable, however, so any really important discussion should always go on the talk page). Edit summaries can contain wikilinks if needed.

Refer to Appendix C, Edit Summaries Jargon or Appendix D, Glossary or Wikipedia:Edit summary legend (shortcut WP:ESL) for other possible terms that may occur in edit summaries. If you are having trouble figuring out an edit summary, compare the version in question with the immediately preceding version. The diff should make things clear.

In assessing an article, look for edit summaries that indicate reversions of a page to a previous state. These will be denoted by revert or abbreviations such as rv or rvt, and indicate either reversal of vandalism or editors disagreeing on a point. Clue: A patch of edits with many reverts in a page history indicates some sort of editing war. The quality of articles, unfortunately, is likely to degrade sharply in an extended edit war, so be warned.

Another important warning sign is an editor who never bothers with edit summaries. Clue: Especially if the editor is editing as anonymous, rather than editing with an account, you should treat such uncommented edits with suspicion.

The lowercase bolded m that sometimes appears next to the edit summary refers to a minor edit. This edit is one that the editor deemed small enough that it doesn't have to be reviewed by other editors. Examples of minor edits include spelling and grammar corrections, link fixes, and small formatting changes. Edit summaries for minor edits, if they exist, are often quite short: typo or spp for a spelling correction. Only logged-in users can mark an edit minor. While logged in, you can also choose to exclude minor edits in your views of the Recent Changes page and your watchlist.

Further Reading edit About backlinks How to read a page history An introduction to the edit summary and more information about automatic edit summaries A glossary of commonly used edit summaries; helpful if you come across an abbreviation you don't recognize How to read the difference between two versions of a page

Talk Pages edit

Discussion or talk pages are meant for discussion about articles and other pages. Nearly every page on Wikipedia has an attached, dedicated discussion page. These pages exist in the various Talk namespaces. You access or create a talk page by clicking the Discussion tab; if the type is blue, the page already exists; if it is red, you will be creating it.

Talk pages are important, socially and practically. They help strengthen content, and they're also an integral part of Wikipedia's community. Talk pages are the "grass roots"—they function as a space for conversation between all the readers and editors of an article. Editors can mention possible problems, leave notes about current or ongoing work on the article, and negotiate a way through conflicts on content. Wikipedia's main aim, to build up its editing community and improve the articles that have been started, is played out here. Talk pages play a large part in making Wikipedia work by keeping discussion close to the article's content, rather than on a centralized discussion forum. And anyone may take part, even if they're not logged in.

We mention how talk pages work early on in this book, not because you're necessarily going to post to them immediately, but because talk pages are essential components of articles, and they often carry important information about an article's quality. Examining talk pages is key to evaluating articles properly.

Reading and Contributing to Talk Pages edit

Talk pages provide a way for people to discuss articles without leaving comments in the actual article itself. They also provide a handy place for WikiProjects and other editing projects (discussed further in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes) to place evaluations and messages. The beginning of a talk page may have several templated messages, warnings, or ratings, as well as links to archives of older talk page discussions.

Sooner or later, as a reader of Wikipedia you will disagree strongly enough with something in an article to want to do something about it. Or perhaps some point in an article is a mystery, and you'd like a reference to another source. Although you can simply edit the article, the best way to express concerns or get feedback or help from others working on the article is to leave a message on the talk page. If necessary, start a new thread yourself. Simply edit the page by clicking the Discussion tab to go to the talk page, and then the Edit This Page tab or the New Section tab. Add a new section or a new comment, as described here.

A given conversation may be joined by two, three, or dozens of contributors. Talk page discussions usually consist of threaded comments below a topical header; the most recent comment is at the bottom. Replies to a comment are placed underneath it and are indented to help the dialog stand out more clearly. At least that is the theory: Complex discussion often generates branches within one thread or page section. Editors may want to come back to some point made higher up the page; if so, they should use deep indenting to try to keep the side-issue clearly delineated. Unlike contributions to articles, comments are signed by their authors.

By convention, each new topic on a discussion page is set off from the previous topics with a header like this:

==sheep foraging habits==
I was just wondering: what is the deal with the foraging habits of sheep? do the listed references cover this? I think we need some more detail  
about this important topic. -- Phoebe 19:11, 13 Jan 2007 (EST)

Using the ==Heading== formatting will add a heading to your comment, which will create a table of contents automatically. Add a new comment, with a header, to the very bottom of the page, below any other text that appears in the source box; then click Save at the bottom of the page. Alternatively, use the New Section tab, which allows you to start a new section without needing to edit the whole page. The Subject/Heading field will become the section heading for your comment. When you use the Post a Comment feature, shown in Figure 4.4, “Post a Comment tab from a talk page”, the section heading will also become the edit summary, so you don't need to create a separate edit summary when you save the page.

Figure 4.4. Post a Comment tab from a talk page Post a Comment tab from a talk page

You can indent comments with a bullet point and space (type an asterisk, followed by a colon); or more commonly, you can simply use a colon. Subsequent replies should be further indented using more colons; the number of colons provides a reference to the discussion level. For example, when you edit a talk page, the page source code may look like this:

==sheep foraging habits==
I was just wondering: what is the deal with the foraging habits of sheep? do the listed references cover this? I think we need some more detail   
about this  important topic. -- Phoebe 19:11, 13 Jan 2007 (EST)
:* Sheep foraging habits are covered in Sheep of the world, listed in references. -- Sj 18:24, 10 February 2007 (EST)
::* There's also some info in Sheep Past and Present.—A New Zealander (talk) 18:55, 10 February 2007 (EST)
:::* ok, thanks everyone! -- Phoebe 12:11, 11 Feb 2007 (EST)

and will produce the page shown in Figure 4.5, “A threaded discussion on a talk page”.

Figure 4.5. A threaded discussion on a talk page A threaded discussion on a talk page

This clearly shows the threaded discussion over time. A new topic is added to the bottom of the page with another section heading:

The paragraph about wool types is confusing. Could someone who understands the
subject rewrite it?  -- Charles Matthews 21:14, 14 Jan 2007 (EST)

You will see various styles of indentation used on Wikipedia.

The editor name and date are produced with automatic signatures. Comments on talk pages, unlike changes made to articles, should always be signed. To produce your signature, type four tildes (Phoebe (discusscontribs) 04:40, 12 June 2013 (UTC)). If you're logged in, this will generate a signature that by default consists of your username with a link to your user page and a timestamp with the date and time of your edit. It looks something like this:

Username 19:36, 10 January 2006 (UTC)

If you're not logged in, typing four tildes will produce your IP address plus a timestamp. When adding talk page comments, it is certainly an advantage to have an account. It inspires some confidence in other editors to know your username—you are identifying yourself as a member of the Wikipedia community, rather than just a number. With an account comes a user page and a personal user talk page, where people can, in turn, leave messages for you. If you aren't logged in, your IP address will be recorded; this address may be shared with other contributors if you are editing on a public computer, or it may change from edit to edit if it is a dynamic IP. IP addresses also have talk pages where messages can be left for that IP, but there is no guarantee that the message will reach the intended editor.

Take Time to Tilde

Always sign comments on talk pages (but never sign articles)! This is one of the golden rules of Wikipedia; not doing so is considered very bad form. These days, if you don't sign your comments, a bot may give you a lesson in manners by adding your signature automatically when you leave talk page comments. Find out more about custom signatures in Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian. 1.4.2. Making Good Use of Talk Pages

On talk pages, the basic idea is to make a clear point about how the article should be improved or what you'd like to know. For a suggested change, make a brief, calm case for your change (no need to go on at great lengths) backed up by necessary references. Chances are someone will change the article for you. If not, after a few days, you can do it yourself. Posting a preliminary comment on the talk page before making a change acts as a kind of insurance policy, as well as an explanation of your change. If you discuss first and then edit, you should not come under suspicion of high-handed behavior. Any controversial action should always be discussed on the talk page first. You are also welcome to weigh in on other ongoing discussions. In Chapter 12, Community and Communication, we'll take up how to use talk pages to communicate with other editors most effectively.

User talk pages are meant for conversation between editors, rather than conversation about a particular article. If you have an account, others may leave you messages on your user talk page by going to User talk:yourusername and editing the page there. When new messages are left for you on your user talk page, you'll receive a pop-up message when you next log in that notifies you about the messages (see Figure 4.6, “A notice alerts you to a new message on your personal talk page.”).

Figure 4.6. A notice alerts you to a new message on your personal talk page. A notice alerts you to a new message on your personal talk page.

This notice makes it easy to know when you have new messages, and the prompt persists until you go to the page. If you're not logged in, you might still find a prompt and messages for your current IP number.

You can reply to any messages left for you on your own talk page, in a threaded discussion, or on the other editor's talk page. For more about how to conduct a good discussion with another editor on a user talk page, see Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian. The basics are to be straightforward and, of course, polite.

Further Reading Discussion page guidelines Signing talk pages

Evaluating Articles edit

Wikipedia is in a constant state of development, with contributors adding new articles and improving existing articles every minute. Inevitably, quality varies greatly from article to article. Although most articles in Wikipedia are useful as a basic reference, the majority are still incomplete treatments of their topic. Furthermore, some articles are unreliable, as discussed in this section; spotting these is the first concern of a careful reader. This unreliability does not make Wikipedia useless, but it does imply that you need to exercise a degree of caution.

Evaluating articles is one of the fundamental skills for becoming both a skilled reader and an involved editor of Wikipedia. Whereas any reader should be able to judge the value of the information he or she is looking at quickly, editors must be able to discern what could be improved about an article as they set to work.

With experience, editors can quickly assess articles, even on unfamiliar topics, on the basis of clues and tricks of the trade. Although there are some established Wikipedia rating systems, judging articles remains more like choosing fresh produce rather than pulling processed food off a supermarket shelf—it helps to know what you're looking for and how to judge blemishes. 2.1. Misinformation, Missing Information, and Mistakes

Misinformation in an article is a real possibility, given the way that Wikipedia is compiled. The general public is, fortunately, now aware of this point: It is a very bad idea to rely on the uncorroborated testimony of a Wikipedia article. Use articles as stepping stones into a subject, not crutches to lean on. As it says at Wikipedia:General disclaimer, Wikipedia makes no guarantee of validity. A surprisingly common misconception is that Wikipedia employs fact-checkers for its articles, but that doesn't represent the situation on the ground. Facts are checked all the time by many active editors, but there is no one class of people on the site whose job is to confirm facts.

In most reference works, facts and other statements of truth are presented as having been vetted by a complex publishing process involving writers, editors, and fact-checkers, so the reader expects them to be correct. In Wikipedia, you cannot be so complacent. Though there are systems for peer review and developing accurate information, there is no guarantee at all that these processes and systems will have been applied to the particular article you're reading; the article might have been created in the past hour or not evaluated at all since it was created years ago. Each article is written by a different group of people with a varying amount of attention paid to it. Because of this, there is no serious way to judge Wikipedia as a whole; saying the site is a "good source" or a "bad source" is not precise enough. Instead, there are good and bad articles and a wide spectrum in between.

There are a few specific kinds of problems that may occur, each with different causes—misinformation, missing information, and simple mistakes. They all lead to inaccurate information being presented to the reader.

Misinformation, or bad information, comes in a few flavors. Wrong information that is purposely added is considered vandalism. Much of the vandalism on Wikipedia is obvious and silly graffiti or removal of article text in favor of graffiti. One of the great successes of Wikipedia is that this kind of vandalism can be easily cleaned up by anyone and is usually cleaned up very quickly; researchers that studied editing histories in 2003 measured the median cleanup time for obvious and vulgar vandalism as being less than three minutes.[20] Low-level vandalism, and its correction, is a constant occurrence in the open world of Wikipedia; a more recent study by University of Minnesota academics analyzed 57,601,644 article revisions and found that although about 5 percent of the revisions were vandalized, 42 percent of these damaged revisions were repaired essentially immediately, within one reader pageview.[21] (See Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes for more on vandal-fighting efforts).

However, deliberately added misinformation or vandalism can also be quite subtle. Misinformation can be introduced deliberately by people attempting to get a point of view across (which violates Wikipedia's core policy of Neutral Point of View). This might be done by only including a certain side of a debate, adding in and emphasizing controversial views, or relying on sources that only promote a certain point of view. Convincing misinformation can persist for a long time, especially in little-trafficked articles, though a close eye on the article can usually reveal it as suspect when it was added. Much misinformation has a distinctive slanted tone that is out of character with the rest of the article and other properly written Wikipedia articles. The Taner Akçam case involved misinformation that was both vandalism (malicious damage to site content) and defamatory (targeted at an individual's reputation).

The Problem with Misinformation

A high-profile example of the problems that can result from not checking for vandalism occurred on February 16, 2007, when the Turkish scholar Taner Akçam of the University of Minnesota was held up when traveling to Canada by border officials. Akçam reported that, when pressed on why he was being detained, immigration officials showed him a copy of his Wikipedia article from December 24, 2006, which had been maliciously altered to claim he was a terrorist. The immigration officials had placed reliance on this misinformation. See Taner Akçam for some links to the story and background on Akçam's work on highly controversial issues.

Much more common than deliberate misinformation is the simple failure of missing information. Articles may be completely correct but missing key aspects of the topic. Further information and a more complete treatment could help put the topic better in context, or perhaps even totally change the meaning of the information in the article. Because Wikipedia is built piecemeal, for an article to be missing some information is extremely common—and even expected. Stub articles, for instance, are known to be missing substantial details, but even longer or untagged articles may be missing parts. The only sure way to know you are getting the complete picture is to compare the article to other sources on the same topic.

Mistakes—misinformation that is not added maliciously—can happen in a wide variety of ways. Editors may add information that they remember to be true, but human memory is fallible. Perhaps they will add facts or ideas that have been discredited or are otherwise outdated. The sources that editors rely on might be wrong or misinterpreted. Copying and pasting information is very easy to do on the Web, so mistakes may be copied from one site to another and then repeated in Wikipedia (and then copied back out to other websites). Even simple typos, such as in numbers and dates, may lead to changes in meaning.

What should you do when Wikipedia gives you wrong information? The important thing, perhaps, is not to rely on the site for crucial information; always check other sources in addition to Wikipedia for important topics. More fundamentally, however, evaluating the content that you find is important.

If a subject is unfamiliar to you, evaluating an article may turn out to be difficult as well as important. Fortunately, the transparency of Wikipedia's development process means there are a variety of places to look for problems. So far we have flagged clues—any aspect of an article or its history where problems may be indicated if present. In this section, we'll outline a systematic approach, which should be applied more rigorously the more seriously you are studying a topic. A key theme is to look for clues to an author or authors' inexperience with Wikipedia.

D-R-E-W-S edit

There are five general areas to evaluate for every article.

D: Discussion Check the talk page of the article for any controversy regarding the article.

R: Rating Is there a formal rating of the article, or a cleanup notice? WikiProject ratings are on talk pages, not in the article itself.

E: Edit history The history of an article will tell you how and by whom it has been put together.

W: Writing and format How does the page read? How does it look?

S: Sources Are claims in the article well supported by solid references? 2.2.1. Discussion on the Talk Page

A talk page may not yet exist for a given article (in which case it will show up in red), but for controversial topics, there are most likely some notices and discussion already there. A particular point that's bothering you may already have been discussed. Any warning tag appearing on the article referring to a content dispute should (though it doesn't always) also lead you to the appropriate discussion thread on the talk page.

The talk page is, therefore, where to start looking to see if the validity of the article content is disputed or other questions have been raised. Is there a long Table of Contents on the talk page? Are there links to archives of previous discussions? Both of these indicate involved debates in the past.

If you have your own concerns or questions about an article, the talk page is the place to post them. Anyone working on the article should notice these messages. 2.2.2. Ratings

Another aspect to consider is how articles have been rated by other editors. Ratings may be in the form of negative evaluations (such as cleanup tags on the article) or positive ones, as articles are assessed as being among the best in Wikipedia.

There are two formal rating processes to choose excellent articles, both of which involve getting consensus among editors. The lengthy peer review processes that produce featured articles and good articles do guarantee attention to quality. Featured articles, which may end up on the main page, represent some of the best content available; however, they make up only about 0.1 percent of the total content of Wikipedia. Once featured, an article will have a small bronze star in the upper-right corner along with a note indicating this on the discussion page. good articles, which do not need to be as extensive as featured articles, will only include a note on the talk page. (See Wikipedia:Featured articles and Wikipedia:Good articles to browse collections of these articles.)

There have also been several formal rating projects to assess the quality of articles within a certain topic area; these ratings typically don't require consensus but instead reflect an individual editor's opinion of the article, based on set standards. Most rating projects have been organized by WikiProjects that focus on a particular topic area (for instance, Wikipedia:WikiProject Chemistry, which was one of the first to rate articles). If you're using Wikipedia for research on a particular topic, you may be fortunate enough to find that basic article rating is well advanced in your area of interest. Most of the rating systems amount to saying, On a scale of 1 to 5, where is this article? Any rating notices will be placed on the article talk page.

One general assessment project is the Wikipedia 1.0 WikiProject, which has taken the idea of rating articles and applied it across topics in a drive to collect high-quality articles on basic topics for release in collections. (The project has already helped issue some CDs of basic Wikipedia content.) Wikipedia 1.0 uses six classifications to rate articles: stub, start, B, A, good article, and featured article (which is reserved for articles that have gone through the featured article process). This editorial classification is also adopted by some WikiProjects. Again, members of the 1.0 project leave their ratings on article talk pages.

Finally, editors may assess articles as needing work. This is less formal than the processes just described, but is more widespread. As described, you may see warning messages at the tops of articles. These message boxes are produced by templates and may be added by any editor (as described in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes), and if you see one, it's a clue to look closely to see what the problem is. Sometimes it's obvious: A completely unformatted article or one with terrible spelling and no wikilinks is likely to get a cleanup message. Sometimes it's not obvious, however, especially since templates don't automatically go away: Someone may fix the problem but fail to remove the template. One trick is to go through the page history to see when the message was added and if the edit summary gives any further information.

If you see a message noting that an article is up for deletion, this is a huge red flag that it's probably poor quality. The deletion message should give some short reason for deletion. Deletion decisions are made through one of several processes; often articles will be up for discussion for a period of time before the decision is made, and the message will link to this discussion. See Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes for more information.

All of these ratings are simply indicative and should be taken with a grain of salt—ratings are approximate and subjective, often reflecting just one editor's assessment and not the current state of the article. However, knowing what other experienced editors think of the article can be extremely helpful in making your own decision about the article's quality.

Edit History edit

A wiki page, quite unlike most pieces of published writing, carries all its drafts along with it. One of the major benefits of keeping all versions is that investigative work can be carried out; you can track when a piece of information was inserted into an article and by whom. There are also a few bigger-picture things to consider when looking at an article history.

Was the article recently created? When was it last edited?

Though age is certainly no guarantee of quality, older articles have likely been seen and evaluated by more editors.

Have many people contributed to the article, or is it the work of only one or two editors? Were those contributors logged in or editing anonymously?

More people working on an article should mean that more editors have seen, evaluated, and checked the article; however, minor edits such as spelling corrections probably don't indicate a full check of the article. If in doubt about a particular editor's change, check his or her overall contributions by clicking the Contribs link.

Is there evidence of ongoing edit wars or arguments over content (that is, are there continual reversions of changes between two or more people)? Do the same changes keep getting made and undone, whether this is indicated in the edit summaries or not?

This may indicate a controversial topic, one on which there is no consensus, or an unverifiable topic. Verify any key facts with outside references. Serious edit wars tend to cause deterioration of the text, so also look at older versions of the page, which may be better than the current page. Not every edit war is over a serious matter: If the disagreement is niggling back and forth at some small point, does it matter to you?

Is there evidence of heavy or continued vandalism (that is, constant changes and reversions, often between IP addresses and other editors, with edit summaries like revert or rvv vandalism)?

Although this is not in itself evidence of quality problems—some of the very best and most heavily trafficked articles on Wikipedia receive the most vandalism, simply because they are so visible—it does mean you should make sure the article you are viewing is an unvandalized version. Some vandalism may be subtle, for instance, changing a date or a conclusion, and again it is best to verify important facts in outside sources. It's worth checking the differences between the version you're viewing and some previous versions that were edited by other people to make sure the version you're viewing is complete, not randomly cut by a vandal.

In general, for any article you are assessing, pick a few versions to compare to the current version. Get a sense of the page as dynamic: Has it changed a great deal over time, or was it submitted to the site nearly complete? How fast is the article changing? Was it once much longer than it is now? Although articles will generally get better and longer over time, sometimes they drift. Occasionally you will find that a previous version—sometimes months or even years earlier—was actually clearly better than the current version.

Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Captured Koala: A Page History Mystery

This exciting online mystery by Adam Cadre hinges on reading a Wikipedia page history! See actual screenshots on Section 3.4.2, “Navigating Categories” at

Writing and Formatting edit

Read an article through, for example, as you would a newspaper article. In evaluating articles, you must, of course, consider the nature of the article text itself. First impressions of quality are significant. Is it properly presented and apparently comprehensive? Does it carry conviction, as to its authority and balance of coverage? These points matter, along with close reading for factual accuracy. However, there are more concrete clues to the level of an article's development, as well.

Is the article well written, well explained, and in proper English? Within the article, is the topic explained in a way that makes sense to a casual reader, with a good explanatory opening paragraph and a clear definition in the first sentence?

If not, then it has likely lacked attention from experienced editors; it also may not have been written by someone really familiar with the topic. Good writing doesn't ensure factual accuracy, but as a piece of circumstantial evidence, it can make it more likely.

Of course, we are not saying that an article written by a non-native speaker of English is necessarily worse than one written by a native speaker: Expertise outranks language skills. But if mistakes in English persist in an article, no editor on the site with good English has worked over it. What matters is the neglect, not who the first author was. If an article is well written in a tight factual style and properly organized, it was either originally written that way, or it was subsequently improved by other editors. Either way, the article was likely looked at by someone with a good knowledge of encyclopedic writing and Wikipedia conventions.

Is the article formatted according to the Manual of Style? These are the guidelines for making Wikipedia articles look like Wikipedia articles.

Experience shows that this question is also very useful, at least if you are familiar with standard format on Wikipedia pages. Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research describes the Wikipedia Manual of Style in some detail. Clue: Compliance with formatting guidelines means that the original author or subsequent editors were familiar with them. If you read Wikipedia for a while, it won't be hard to recognize a page that has obvious formatting problems.

For instance, is the page conventionally wikilinked to other Wikipedia articles? Are the See also and External links sections formatted as bulleted lists? Ask yourself, does the article look and read like a respectable article? A page with unconventional formatting or plenty of formatting mistakes probably was not written by an experienced editor, which means, in turn, that the author also may not have followed more fundamental content policies. Probably the article has also been neglected since it was first posted. It may also have been cut and pasted from another site (which is usually a copyright violation). They say you can't judge a book by its cover … but if the dust jacket had obvious typos, you might begin to wonder.

Now you can assess the content itself.

Apparent Gaps

Some format and sense issues can be clues to deletions by vandals. The removal of a chunk of text can on occasion be detected by missing punctuation, such as unfinished sentences, or other obvious glitches.

Are there sections that explain various parts of the topic in more detail (such as History and Modern Status or Biography and Works)?

Articles without sections tend to be unsorted, sometimes just collections of facts without much logical order. This could indicate work by an editor who is unfamiliar with Wikipedia, or perhaps there has been much editing without a comprehensive overview. If this is the case, expect some factual errors to have crept in. Take a look for gossip and rumor, urban myths, and so forth.

Depending on the topic, do you see the elements that you would expect to be there?

For instance, an article about an author should include a formatted bibliography of works; an article about a historical event should place the event in context and provide some sort of chronology. The lack of these may not mean the article is poor but simply that it is incomplete, and other sources should also be used to get a complete picture.

What tone does it take? Does it read like an encyclopedia article or like a personal essay or advertisement?

If an article clearly violates some of the core content policies, such as NPOV, then it was probably added by someone unfamiliar with Wikipedia, and it may or may not be suitable for the site. If there are outrageous claims in the midst of otherwise fair text, this may indicate vandalism and you should check back a few versions.

Sources edit

Is the article referenced? This is a fairly simple but fundamental test of an article's quality. If you are troubled by other aspects, this is where you will be led to conclusions on trustworthiness.

Many older encyclopedias do not list references in the text or at the end of an article. Instead, readers are expected to trust that the authors of those articles are experts in their field. The credibility of the work as a whole is an appeal to authority. In Wikipedia, there is really no way of knowing whether an article author is an expert or not. Instead, the references that are used matter greatly, both for verifying information and for giving you as a reader sources for further reading on the topic.

A reference, in this context, refers to a citation to an outside work: for example, a printed article, book, or a web page. Other Wikipedia articles do not count as references; although these may be linked in the text or listed in the See also section, using them as sources is circular and misses the point of trying to get outside verification. (You might check those other articles to see if they are better sourced.)

Sources and references provide a very tangible way to evaluate an article's accuracy. You can (in principle) always go back and check the original sources yourself to find out what they say. Most people will first try the more indirect approach of quick plausibility checks on the Web. This is where searches excluding results from Wikipedia can be handy, as mentioned in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content.

The best kind of reference is for a specific piece of information in the article to be footnoted appropriately, with the citation being specific as to where to find the relevant information. This is the inline referencing style. More than anything else, a footnoted reference to a page in a scholarly book should confer confidence in the footnoted statement's accuracy. If in doubt, always check what the cited source and other sources say.

In a fully referenced article, all specific facts should be referenced. There have been extensive debates in the Wikipedia community over what this means and how far to go with references. As a reader, you probably have priorities: Check references first for claims that are surprising or likely to prove contentious. That is, good references are most vital for statements that you are unlikely to just take the author's word on.

Many articles are still not referenced inline. At the very least, sources should be clearly listed at the end of an article. Other references that are not used but that are relevant to studying the topic are placed in a Further reading section. Naturally, these references may still help you in verifying something.

Trivia Sections

From the point of view of quality, it is hardest of all to assess isolated facts. A list of such facts with bullet points is a real challenge: How can one infer anything at all about the truth of any given point? This is precisely the state of trivia sections in many articles. If no reliable sources are given, there is no reason to trust them, since trivia may be surprising, obscure, or even bizarre. See Wikipedia:Avoid trivia sections in articles, shortcut WP:TRIVIA.

There are still hundreds of thousands of good, verifiable articles, contributed by experienced editors and about notable topics, that list no references. Referencing content is a slow and ongoing task, and strong emphasis was not placed on it during Wikipedia's early years. On the other hand, no references for a dubious topic may mean it's not suitable for inclusion in Wikipedia. The other evaluative criteria can help you tell which is the case. If it's a topic you know something about, adding good references is one of the key tasks that Wikipedia needs help with. Asking on talk pages is one basic way to request better referencing of a given article. Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research deals with techniques and syntax for referencing.

Further Reading The General disclaimer The criteria used by the Wikipedia 1.0 team An overview of considerations and techniques for using Wikipedia for research and evaluating individual articles An overview of the general reliability of Wikipedia

[20] Viégas, Fernanda, et al. "Studying Cooperation and Conflict Between Authors with History Flow Visualizations." (CHI 2004, April 24–29, 2004). The IBM History Flow project:

[21] Priedhorsky, Reid, et al. "Creating, Destroying, and Restoring Value in Wikipedia." (GROUP '07, November 4–7, 2007).

Summary edit

Look over the article text, its associated discussion page, and their histories. The reader aware of Wikipedia's editing process can use these related pages to understand the provenance of an article and evaluate it. This process of evaluation is mostly based on experience with Wikipedia's standards—so if you're daunted by it, keep reading the site. Here is a baker's dozen of our best clues for evaluation, once more:

  • If no wikilinks exist in the text, there's a strong chance an article was written by someone unfamiliar with Wikipedia's conventions, and it may be questionable. Does the text comply with other content guidelines?
  • Compliance with Wikipedia formatting and style guidelines is a positive indication that an experienced editor has worked on the article. Are all the usual parts of an article present? Is it categorized in one or more categories?
  • Is the article a stub? Stubs will likely be incomplete in their information. Are there obvious aspects of the topic missing?
  • Did the material originally come from another source? Imported material, for example, from an old encyclopedia, may need updating.
  • No incoming links (backlinks) is often a sign that an article is new, has not been much scrutinized, or has a poor title. Check for duplicate articles on the topic with different titles. Is the topic verifiable in outside sources?
  • Is there evidence of disagreement or serious questions about content on the article discussion page?
  • Are there warning or cleanup messages at the top of the article? Has the article been rated by other editors?
  • A short page history is a warning sign. Is the article the work of more than one major author?
  • A patch of edits with reverts in a page history indicates some sort of editing war going on. The quality of articles is likely to degrade sharply in an extended edit war. Are earlier versions of the article better?
  • Are the authors new or experienced? Check their contributions—what else have they been working on?
  • Especially for edits from an IP number, rather than an account, readers are entitled to treat edits without an edit summary with suspicion. Does the diff reveal vandalism or possible vandalism?
  • If you suspect vandalism, check the editor or IP's talk page; are there any warnings from other editors?
  • Are there sources present in the article? Are questionable or controversial statements referenced?

Chapter 5 edit

Basic Editing

Editing wiki pages is at the heart of all activity on Wikipedia, from working on articles to participating in community discussions. Here's where Wikipedia becomes more than a reference tool. The Edit This Page tab above Wikipedia articles invites everyone to contribute.

Editing a Wikipedia page is not difficult. And whether you're interested in copyediting, research and writing, fact-checking, or fixing vandalism, you shouldn't have any trouble finding articles to improve and expand. This chapter describes the basic mechanics of editing existing pages—opening and understanding the edit window and using wikisyntax to format text. We'll also discuss how to perform both major and minor edits, how to revert edits to fix mistakes, and how pages are protected. The information in this chapter forms the basis for understanding the more advanced editing techniques described in the next five chapters.

Editing a Page edit

The term edit refers to a single change made to a wiki page: the act of modifying and then saving a page. Edits range from fixing a typo to rewriting an entire article from scratch; you can change any amount of text with a single edit to a page. In other words, you have permission to modify any article as you see fit. What you do with this editing permission naturally reflects on you.

By editing, you become a Wikipedia editor. You'll find a whole gamut of editors on the site, from those just trying out the system to those who are effectively on Wikipedia full-time. This free-form editorial process contrasts with the editorial layers found in other forms of publishing. You should be aware, though, that there are some expectations of any editor: Obviously, Wikipedia doesn't want editors to damage the pages or the project. The community of editors has values and norms, embedded in a strong tradition, and editors should also be good colleagues.

To edit an article, simply select the Edit This Page tab at the top of a page, modify the text by typing changes into the source text box (this box is called the edit window), add an edit summary in the field provided, and then click the Save Page button to create a new version of the page, which is immediately visible to everyone. The edit is then logged on Recent Changes, and others working on the article can see it immediately.

When you click Save Page, not only is your saved version viewable online right away, but it is also stored in perpetuity as a revision in the page history associated with your name or IP number and visible from the History tab. If someone subsequently makes an additional revision to the page, that new revision will display as the new "live" article, but your version is retained by Wikipedia and is accessible by anyone at any time by reviewing the page history.

Contributors vs. Editors

The terms contributor and editor are mostly used interchangeably on Wikipedia. Every editor acts as a contributor, and vice versa; the term editor can be roughly equated with "someone who uses the Edit This Page tab." The traditional publishing roles of author, illustrator, editor (who makes substantive changes), copyeditor (who fixes grammar and style), and proofreader (who fixes typos) may be filled by any participant. Many contributors become specialists over time and choose to work primarily in one area or within structured projects on the site.

Once edited and saved, pages are immediately and automatically updated. (If this doesn't happen, you are very likely experiencing an artifact of article caching caused by overloaded servers. Clear your browser cache, if necessary, by pressing CTRL-F5 in Firefox, Internet Explorer, and most other browsers.)

Understanding the Edit Window edit

The display that appears when you select the Edit This Page tab consists of several parts (see Figure 5.1, “The edit window view”). At the top, an editing toolbar displays buttons for easily adding common syntax and formatting. The edit window is next; this window gives you a single undivided view of the wikitext, or source text, of the page you're editing. Here, you can change the text, the formatting, or both. Wikitext is formatted in a special markup language (wikisyntax), which is described in the second half of this chapter.

Below the edit window, you'll find the edit summary field and three buttons that allow you to view or save your changes. At the bottom of the page, you'll find several other syntax options along with a menu of special characters. When you edit, you change the article's text in the edit window. First, however, you need to understand a typical article's structure.

Reading Article Wikitext edit

Take a moment to orient yourself in the edit window. What are the first words of source text? They may not be the actual first words of the article, which sometimes puzzles new editors. Instead, you may see some formatting syntax before the article itself.

To understand what you're seeing, consider the different layers of a typical article, as described in Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article. The actual article content is often between two layers of wikitext. At the beginning of the source text but before the first words of the actual article, you may see some structured information: cleanup templates, hatnotes, image links, or an infobox with data presented in tabular form. Scrolling past this information and past the article text, you'll find another layer of wikitext at the very end of the page; this information includes categories, stub templates, and possibly interwiki links. You can simply ignore this layer for the moment.

The first layer of wiki formatting can be the most confusing. But you can just scroll down until you reach the beginning of the article and the place where you want to make a change. In other words, in basic editing, you can simply ignore the formatting and improve the content.

Naturally, not all articles have these elements; many articles contain the bottom layer of wikitext, but not the top layer. If you're confused about a piece of syntax or formatting, you can always compare the source text to the rendered page (that is, the page as it appears on the Article tab). You might find it helpful to open two copies of the article you want to edit in different browser tabs or windows; use one window to edit and the other as a reminder of how the article appeared before you started editing.

Figure 5.1. The edit window view The edit window view

Using the Edit Window Tools edit

Above the edit window is the editing toolbar—a collection of buttons that provide various pieces of wikisyntax (Figure 5.2, “The editing toolbar”). Hover your cursor over each button to find out what it does. Like the menu of options in a word processor, these buttons can be extremely helpful, both as timesavers and if you can't remember the exact formatting of a particular piece of wikisyntax. To use the buttons, place your cursor in the edit window where you would like the syntax to appear. Then click the appropriate button, and the syntax will appear on the page. (Each piece of syntax will be described individually throughout the next several chapters.)

Figure 5.2. The editing toolbar The editing toolbar

Below the edit window, you'll see a warning about the GFDL and the edit summary field. This is for summarizing your changes for the benefit of other editors who are working on the page. Although not mandatory, it's good etiquette to add a short summary after making any edit. Simply type a brief description of what you changed. We describe edit summaries in Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article; see Appendix C, Edit Summaries Jargon for some common terms and Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research for more on using edit summaries to communicate with other editors.

Next are three buttons: Save Page, Show Preview, and Show Changes:

   Save Page saves your work and publishes a new version of the page immediately.
   Show Preview allows you to preview the page with your changes before saving them. You can also click Show Preview to experiment and test the effects of a change when you're not sure of the exact syntax to use—but be careful not to save accidentally! Once you've edited a page, we strongly recommend previewing your edits before saving, especially if you are new to wiki markup or are doing something unfamiliar with complicated syntax.
   Show Changes displays the differences between your unsaved version and the current version in the source code, which is handy if you can't figure out exactly how your changes will affect the page—or if you can't remember what changes you made!

If you decide to do nothing, instead of saving the page, click your browser's back button, or click the Cancel link next to the Show Changes button. No changes will be made to the page or the version history.

If you need editing help, you'll find a link below the edit summary field. Click the Editing Help link to open a help document in another window; until you become more familiar with marking up pages, keep help documents open in a separate browser window or tab. Above and below the edit summary field, you'll find some brief but important messages about verifiability, the GFDL, and violating copyright—this information should be familiar if you've read Part I of this book.

Below the buttons, you'll also see many pieces of wiki markup and special symbols. This display is provided for easy access to common or complicated syntax and characters. To add one of these characters to your text, such as an accented letter, place your cursor at the appropriate spot in the edit window. Then click the character you wish to add, and it will show up in the text.

Below this and the final note on the GFDL, you'll find a list of the templates used (or transcluded) on the page you're editing (if any have been used). To view one of these templates by itself, simply click the template name to go to the template page.

If you're a fan of keyboard shortcuts, you can use them to navigate various parts of Wikipedia and to edit pages. For instance, pressing ALT-S-ENTER will save a page in Internet Explorer (or pressing ALT-SHIFT-S in Mozilla Firefox), while pressing ALT-V-ENTER (or ALT-SHIFT-V) is equivalent to clicking the Show Changes button. More shortcuts are described at Wikipedia:Keyboard shortcuts; the shortcuts depend on your browser and on your chosen skin.

Customizing the Edit Window

By default, the edit window displays 25 lines of text, and each line is 80 characters wide. If you have a large monitor, setting the edit window to be wider and longer can be helpful; if you're using a smaller device to edit, you may want to make the window smaller. You can change the edit window settings in your user preferences if you're logged in. Click the My Preferences link in the upper-right corner of the page, select the Editing tab, and enter new numbers of rows and columns in Editbox dimensions. You can also set other editing options here; for instance, you can choose to open an edit window by simply double-clicking a page, which, if you're a fast editor, can save time.

Losing your place in the source text when editing very long documents is easy, so work on longer articles one section at a time. To edit within only a single section of an article, click the Edit link that appears to the right of any section heading in an article (Figure 5.3, “Section header with Edit link”). Only the wikitext of the section you are working on appears in the edit window.

Figure 5.3. Section header with Edit link Section header with Edit link

The Sandbox

To gain editing experience, visit Wikipedia:Sandbox. As its name implies, the sandbox is a dedicated page for playing around without altering a real article. The sandbox is also a good place to go if you want to test your wiki markup and you are not sure what it will look like once saved. The sandbox is regularly cleaned out, so you don't need to worry about your tests lingering. (Because of this, the sandbox is not a good place to start work on something you would like to keep; see "Drafting the Article" on Section 1.5, “Drafting the Article” for how to set up your own personal sandbox.) 1.2. Major vs. Minor Edits

A minor edit is an edit that the editor believes requires no review by other editors. Typical minor edits are spelling or grammatical corrections, adding a single internal link, fixing punctuation, or making small formatting or presentational changes. Though most minor edits change only a small amount of text, not all small edits are minor. Changing a single date in an article, say 1776 to 1667, is small but not minor. A minor edit should never substantially change the meaning of an article, and it should never be the subject of a debate.

Registered users who are logged in can indicate edits as minor when saving the page by checking the This is a minor edit box. That edit will then show up in the page history marked with a bold lowercase m. The purpose of minor edits is to allow others to filter out simple spelling or format fixes from lists of edits such as personal watchlists and Recent Changes. If a minor edit comes up on your own watchlist, you should not have to bother checking it.

Minor edits deserve an edit summary, the same as any other change. In general, if a change requires a long edit summary, the edit is not minor. With experience, you'll get a feel for what others consider minor. Making serious cuts or inserting anything likely to be contentious under cover of a minor edit description is considered heinous (just as full edit summaries are better than too-scanty ones), so err on the safe side in not calling an edit minor. If in doubt about whether an edit qualifies as minor, don't check the box. Logged-in users can choose to mark all of their edits minor by default on the User Preferences Editing tab, but we advise against doing this: Sooner rather than later it could cause you trouble by marking a major edit incorrectly.

Major edits comprise all other edits. Any change that affects the meaning of an article is major (not minor), even if the edit is a single word. Think of it this way: A major edit is a flag to all concerned editors that the modifications ought to be checked. 1.3. Handling Major Editing Tasks

Wikipedia's editors are encouraged to be bold: Wikipedia:Be bold is an editing guideline and one of the oldest slogans on the site. Sometimes articles are poorly written, and piecemeal changes are not enough—a complete transformation is called for. In that scenario, boldness is the order of the day. Still, editors can and should take steps to ensure that they perform really major editing jobs smoothly and acceptably.

We strongly recommend breaking large editing jobs into small stages. This is not the same as frantic saving; you shouldn't save every few seconds, unless your Internet connection is really bad. Saving your work every few minutes is reasonable, as leaving an edit window open for a long period of time without saving can cause a session error message. When making major changes, copying the wikitext into a word-processing document as a backup can also protect against saving mishaps.

Before implementing a major edit, you should seriously consider discussing proposed changes on the article talk page first by posing the question "Would anyone mind?" Wait a little while (at least a few days) for any responses. When editing, divide big edits into a series of smaller edits that you explain. Ideally, all major rewrites occur in a number of steps, each of which is clear. Others working on the site are then able to pick out, for example, a more specific point where they don't like or understand what you've done.

Edit Conflicts

Edit conflicts may occur by accident when two editors try to edit and save the same page at the same time. If this happens, you'll get an edit conflict notice at the top of the page, and you won't be able to save your change. Don't panic! First, copy the text of your change into a word-processing document so you don't lose it. To see the wikisource with your changes, you must scroll down to the lower of the two windows on the page (the upper window contains the other editor's conflicting text). Then you can cancel the edit by clicking the back button in your browser. Next, refresh the page and check the last diff to see what changed in the previous version. Re-edit the page, integrating your change and the previous editor's work; don't simply paste your version on top. Edit conflicts are common only on high-traffic pages. Be warned, though, that if you save a page twice, perhaps thinking the first Save Page click didn't work, you might be in conflict with yourself! Note also that an edit conflict is not the same as an edit war, when two editors cannot agree on changes.

We also recommend working section-by-section in longer articles. If no sections exist in a messy or unstructured article or new sections need to be added, add this section structure first. You can follow this edit by sorting material into sections and then copyedit each section and add references.

Once you've completed the editing process, write an overall, final edit summary to document the changes. Including a final summary is good etiquette and will help to ensure that particularly major edits are well received by the other editors working on the article. Even if they disagree, they'll still see that you're trying to work with others, with the goal of reaching consensus on the article. Put any longer comments on the discussion page. For more advice on structuring articles and making major changes, see Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research.

Work in Progress

A systematic approach may mean working on an article over an extended period of time. If this is how you prefer to edit, type

at the top of the page, which will create a template message stating that the article is under construction. Just don't forget to remove it when you're done! You can also leave a note on the talk page detailing your editing plan. Other editors will patiently let you finish.

Fixing Mistakes and Other Reasons to Revert edit

If you accidentally save a version of a page with a mistake on it, or your edit does not work the way you intended, don't fret! Because all versions of every article are saved, you can always revert a page back to a previous version. You can never make an irreparable mistake just by editing. Any page can be reverted to any older version, including the first version—the initial posting. Standard good practice, however, is to revert only when necessary to the latest good version: the version of the page before bad changes were made.

To revert an article, choose a previous version from the edit history and then restore that older, saved version, as described here.

Sorting Through Old Versions

You might find it helpful to use the radio buttons and compare version features on the page history to figure out which precise version you want to restore. Keep comparing old versions of the page to the current version until you find the one that you want. In the page history display, the most recent version is always on top. When paging through diffs, the right-hand side is the more recent version. See tips for sorting through page histories on pages Undoing Vandalism and Section 1.3.3, “Edit Summaries and Minor Edits”.

Once you have found the page version that you want to make the current version, select it: From the page history, click the linked date and time to view that version of the page. If you're comparing two versions, click the header that says revision as of (date and time) for the version you'd like to edit. You should get a warning message that you are viewing an old revision of the article (see Figure 5.4, “A warning message appears when you view an old version of a page.”).

Next, select the Edit This Page tab at the top of the article. The text of the old version will display in the edit window. You will now see a warning message that you are editing an old version (see Figure 5.5, “A warning message appears when you edit an old version of a page.”). You are going to ignore these warnings.

To revert a page back to an old version, you don't have to make any changes to the text—you just have to resave the page. After you have retrieved the text of the version you'd like to revert to, scroll down, add an appropriate edit summary ("reverting because …") and click Save Page, without making any other changes. The version you were just looking at will become the newest latest version, and you're done!

Figure 5.4. A warning message appears when you view an old version of a page. A warning message appears when you view an old version of a page.

Figure 5.5. A warning message appears when you edit an old version of a page. A warning message appears when you edit an old version of a page.


Use previews! Most self-reversions and editing accidents can be avoided by pressing the Show Preview button before saving changes.

Reverting to a previous version is also how most vandalism is undone. If you see a vandalized article, go to the edit history and find the last good version, which is often simply the next-to-latest version, and then revert back to it. Be careful not to lose any "good" information or changes by doing this. Compare a few earlier versions with your latest save to make sure all the vandalism is removed and all the good content is kept. Sometimes vandalism can be spread over two or three edits, often by the same editor. Be sure to add an appropriate edit summary; rvv vandalism is common.

If you are logged in, you can undo most edits in a similar fashion. Go to the page history and compare two versions. The most recent version of the two pages you are viewing will display an Undo link next to the Edit link on the right-hand side. Clicking the Undo link will automatically remove the inserted text (or replace the removed text) with that version. Click the Save Page button to finish undoing the edit.

The Undo link is most useful for removing obvious vandalism or fixing a mistake in the most recent revision. Be cautious about using this link for anything else; although any change can be undone, making mistakes and inadvertently undoing good changes when reverting to versions in the middle of the page history is easy to do.

Overuse of Reverts

Statistically speaking, as many as 20 percent of edits to Wikipedia are now reverted. Much of this is due to vandalism on popular articles. However, reverts should not be used to try and win arguments or impose your view on articles. To reinforce this, an official Three-Revert Rule (3RR) has been created, meaning that three reverts by any one person to a single article in a 24-hour period (except for vandalism control) is quite enough. In practice, editors with differences of opinion should discuss the issue and come to consensus on talk pages instead of reverting each other's changes in an article. A good rule of thumb is to revert only once before going to the talk page and making a rational case for your version. See Wikipedia:Three-revert rule (shortcut WP:3RR). Trying to get around 3RR is severely frowned upon, and users can be blocked for excessive reverting of the same article. This policy has gone a long way toward preventing edit wars, disputes between two or more editors where the same content is continually inserted and removed over a period of time.

Who Can Edit What? edit

The vast majority of Wikipedia pages can be edited by anyone, whether they're logged in with an account or not. The rare exceptional pages not open to editing include some system-generated pages and a few key pages that are permanently restricted, such as the site's disclaimers at Wikipedia:General disclaimer and the main page.

Apart from those, a small number of other pages at any given time have been closed to editing with an administrative action called protection. This is usually a temporary measure that is generally prompted by a surge in vandalism to a page. Protection comes in two flavors: full protection and semi-protection. Protected pages should be clearly identified with gray-bar template messages at the top of the page. If you ever find that you can't edit a regular article, the page is probably protected; instead of an Edit This Page tab, you'll see a View Source tab.

A fully protected page is editable only by site administrators and is effectively out of circulation for a while. Such temporary protection is, these days, almost always a reaction to an intractable edit war over an article's content and is quite rare. For example, Burt Reynolds was protected after a serious dispute over the actor's birthplace. Here is a sample of the dispute between two editors on the talk page:

   As JSDA added above, Lansing, Michigan is now on his "Official Web Site" as his place of birth. How do you explain this one away??? Are you going to continue the hype? And as I've mentioned before, it's fine that he claims he's from the south, but it is not the truth. Again here's the website link. Burt Lugnut215 00:47, 6 July 2007 (UTC)
   It is obvious the person doing the page is just regurjitating [sic] facts found on the web and not fact checking. Because here is another "LIE" that is in the personal FAQs .. Bottom line is in his televised interviews when asked his birthplace, he says Waycross, Georgia. He has said it about 10 different interviews, and there isn't one televised interview where he says Michigan. Rogue Gremlin 03:33, 7 July 2007 (UTC)

Only arguments that prove to be very contentious, with much edit-warring between two or more people, will result in protection. Protection allows a time-out for content disputes to be resolved by discussion and fact-checking, rather than changing the article itself back and forth.

Semi-protected pages, on the other hand, are editable by the vast majority of logged-in users. They are not editable by those who are not logged in (anonymous editors editing from an IP address) or by editors who have an account that was only created within the last four days. Semi-protection is now quite common for pages on subjects in the news headlines, for example, celebrities that are at the center of a short-lived media storm. Such articles attract bad edits, and semi-protection filters out a high proportion of vandalism.

In these cases, protection is generally removed when media attraction to the topic lessens. Some other pages are semi-protected when they are highly visible or prone to constant vandalism, and these pages may be protected for longer; for instance, the article about the current President of the United States is subject to a constant stream of vandalism. Other articles may also fall under semi-protection because they are often vandalized by school students (some articles about elementary and high schools are particularly vulnerable). Some very visible page components, such as high-use templates, are also protected to prevent vandalism; sometimes this is done automatically through a mechanism called cascading protection in which the components that make up a fully protected page, such as the main page, are also protected.

Semi-protection, therefore, compromises the purist wiki principle of anyone can edit anything, but protection has been necessary essentially because of Wikipedia's own prominence. Administrators are responsible for protecting pages and for reviewing the protection status of pages. You can find out more at Wikipedia:Protection policy (shortcut WP:PROT). The Wikipedia:List of indefinitely protected pages (shortcut WP:PERMPROT) lists pages with long-term protection. You can discuss any case of semi-protection on the talk page of the article, which will not be protected. If you feel an article needs semi-protection—for instance, if it is attracting a few dozen incidents of vandalism a day—add a note to Wikipedia:Requests for page protection (shortcut WP:RFPP), and an administrator will take a look and decide what to do.

Further Reading A summary of basic syntax and instructions on how to edit a page Keyboard shortcuts for editing Wikipedia Information about minor edits The Be Bold guideline for updating pages The Protection policy The sandbox, for experimenting with editing

Syntax edit

Wikipedia uses a special markup language for formatting pages; this syntax is variously known as wikisyntax, wiki markup, or simply wikitext. It styles wiki pages and determines how text will appear on the screen. This syntax is common to all wikis that use MediaWiki software (though it will not work on wikis that use other software).

A Quick Word About Templates

Over time, Wikipedia has moved toward the presentation of structured information and messages to the reader using templates, or special page elements (such as navigation elements or message boxes) that can be included on other pages. You can recognize templates by their appearance in the markup: A template placed in another page appears in the source text as the template name enclosed in double curly brackets, like Template:Message or Template:Mystatsbox. You can simply edit around these for the moment. Throughout the next several chapters, we'll refer to useful templates for formatting and styling pages. If you want to use one, simply place it on the page by typing in the curly-bracket syntax exactly as it's given, replacing any variable text as necessary (use the Show Preview button to see how it looks before you save the page). To learn more about templates and how to edit them directly, see Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters.

You don't need to know HTML, the standard web page markup language, to become a proficient Wikipedia editor. The fundamental markup is very simple and can be used both for simple formatting tasks—such as whether text will appear indented, italicized, or bold—and for more complicated tasks—such as displaying images or math formulas and coding templates to be reused on many pages. What we cover here is enough to start editing and writing. If you need an additional reference as you work, wikisyntax is documented extensively at Help:Editing and Help:Wikitext examples.

Fundamentals of Text Markup edit

Here we introduce the first things you need to know about markup.

Bold and Italic edit

Text may be rendered bold by placing three apostrophes on either side of it, like this:

bold text goes here

In standard Wikipedia article style, bold text is always used for highlighting the article topic in the initial paragraph. Bold text for emphasis should be used very sparingly in articles.

Make text italic by using two apostrophes:

italic text goes here A Farewell to Arms

Italics are used for the titles of works, as well as for emphasis.

You can combine the two by using five apostrophes to make text bold-and-italic:

a highlighted title

Bold-and-italic text is appropriate for highlighting an article's subject when the article is about a particular work. For example, in the first sentence of the article about War and Peace, the book's title would be rendered in bold-and-italic.

Underlined and strikethrough text are not commonly used. Create underlined text by enclosing the text with the and tags. In articles, italics are preferred to underlined text. Strikethrough text is convenient in threaded discussions on talk pages to retract something that was said (simply deleting something can be mystifying if other editors have already replied to it). Enclose the strikethrough text with the and tags.

Indentation, Line, and Paragraph Breaks edit

Line and paragraph breaks are created on Wikipedia by simple newlines (or carriage returns, if you are old enough to have used a typewriter). Create a space between paragraphs by leaving an empty line, which will display as entered in the source code.

To produce an indented line, place a colon (:) before the line you wish to indent. Two colons (::) will produce a line that is indented two steps, and so on. For example,

This is a comment
This is a reply
This is another reply

produces formatting like that in Figure 5.6, “Indentation on Wikipedia”.

Figure 5.6. Indentation on Wikipedia

Indented text is commonly used on discussion pages, when you want to produce a more-readable threaded discussion. Indentation is also used in articles for setting off quotations and mathematics or computer code examples, but you do not need to indent the beginnings of paragraphs.

Displaying Quotations

To display quotations in articles, use indenting for a quick solution. For longer quotations, you can enclose the quote in the tags


, which will display the quote more attractively by indenting both margins. You can also use the template

quotation text goes here

, which centers the quote and adds some graphical quotation marks to the text. Don't forget to cite a reference for the quote! More quotation templates can be found at Category:Quotation_templates.

Numbered and Bulleted Lists edit

Lists are commonly used on Wikipedia, both by themselves and for sections of articles such as See also and External links. Bullet points are used more often in articles than in ordinary prose; bullet points can improve readability, though at the cost of some typographic elegance.

To create a bulleted list, use an asterisk for every new item:

  • Example 1
  • Example 2
  • Example 3

To indent an item in a bulleted list, use more asterisks:

  • each new item starts with a star
    • more stars mean
      • deeper levels
  • which can be combined

This produces a list like the one in Figure 5.7, “A bulleted list”.

Figure 5.7. A bulleted list

You can also indent text using both asterisks and colons:

  • Example 1
  • Example 2
  • Example 3

This will produce the same effect and is commonly seen on discussion pages.

To make an ordered numbered list, use a hash mark (#). (To ensure sequential numbering, do not use empty lines to separate the list items.) For example,

  1. Example 1
  2. Example 2
  3. Example 3

produces a list like the one in Figure 5.8, “A numbered list”.

Figure 5.8. A numbered list

For indented levels, use more hash marks. Using more hash marks will start the numbering over for that level, but as long as you don't separate list items, you can continue the numbering for each level. For example,

  1. List item A1
    1. List item B1
    2. List item B2
      1. List item C1
  2. List item A2

produces a list like the one in Figure 5.9, “A more complex numbered list”.

Figure 5.9. A more complex numbered list A more complex numbered list

Internal and External Links edit

Links were introduced in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content as the key to browsing and discovering Wikipedia. Links are very simple to add to articles, and wikifying a page by adding appropriate internal links is one of the easiest and most helpful tasks for getting started on Wikipedia. Links build the hypertext web of Wikipedia articles, and they build Wikipedia into the Web. Correspondingly, Wikipedia has two types of links: internal links to other Wikipedia pages and external links to other websites.

Internal Links edit

Create an internal link (also called a wikilink) to another page on Wikipedia by enclosing the name of the page you wish to link to in double square brackets:

Article name

When you save the page, the article name will show up as a blue underlined term in the article text; clicking that link will take you to the page you linked to.

The article name that you use to create the link is the part of the page URL after /wiki/. Therefore, Article name links to

Internal links should not contain underscores: Article_name is equivalent to Article name, and in article text, the underscore is unwelcome. Only the first letter of an article name is automatically capitalized, so wikipedia goes to the same place as Wikipedia.

To display linked text that is different from that of the link itself, use the pipe character (|) in between the page name and the text you wish to display:

display name

For instance, if you type this:

Walt Disney's Mickey

Walt Disney's Mickey will appear in the text, linked to the Mickey Mouse article.

The pipe character is also known as the vertical bar and is usually found on the backslash key on standard (QWERTY) keyboards.

Be sure that any alternate or display text makes sense and doesn't break the flow of the article; use descriptive text rather than "click here" or "this link," which should not appear in articles.

Redlinks edit

You can also link to a page that doesn't exist yet. To do so, simply enclose the name of the page that you think should exist in double square brackets. A link to a nonexistent page will show up as red instead of blue; consequently, these links are called redlinks. Clicking one will take you to a screen where you can create the new page. Redlinks help Wikipedia grow. A redlink may disappoint a reader; but it challenges an editor to create a needed article.

Redlinks can also be piped, just like regular internal links. Occasionally, you will find that two or more article-worthy subjects share a name, but only one is already an actual article. In that case, go ahead and create a redlink for the second subject. For instance, if you're writing an article about Samuel Smith, the Mayor of Brooklyn in 1850, you don't want a link to the already-present article on Samuel Smith (chemist), co-inventor of Scotchgard, or any of the other dozen Samuel Smiths who have articles. In this case, you might make a redlink to Samuel Smith, which is less misleading for the reader than linking to the wrong historical figure and is also more likely to provoke the creation of an article about the politician.

If Wikipedia has no article on a particular topic, creating a redlink asking for one is appropriate if the site ought to have such an article. Create a redlink only if the topic deserves an article itself. For example, fans of an author often wikify all the titles in a bibliography, implying each work is worthy of its own article. Opinions may differ on that. Still, redlinks introduced by others should only be removed if overlinking within the article is evident, or you can make a strong case that an encyclopedic article cannot or should not be written about the topic. Occasionally text will be mistakenly linked, and the link can be removed while keeping the text intact. In general, though, if you start removing redlinks, you're making a statement that the proposed growth would be a negative for the site, and except in some clear-cut cases, others will tend to question your authority to decide that.

Tricks with Internal Links edit

Text that you type immediately after an internal link without spaces will display as part of the link. This trick is handy for making plural words out of links. For instance, if you want to link to the article Horse but need the word horses in the text, simply type:



This trick applies only to text characters and doesn't work with apostrophes.

To link to other namespaces outside of the main article namespace, include the full namespace name: For instance, link to User:Phoebe to access the user page for the user Phoebe. Use the pipe character and alternate text if you do not want the prefix to display as part of the link. Alternatively, for pages with prefixes, to create a link that produces the name of the page without the prefix (without having to retype the article name), you can use the pipe character at the end of the link, with nothing after it:


Typing this will produce a link named simply Phoebe in the text. Inserting a space after the pipe character hides the link entirely.

To link to a category page (rather than placing a page in a category), use a colon before the link. For example,


will display a link to Category:Dogs on the page. Without the initial colon, no text will be displayed; instead, the page will be placed in that category and the category name will appear at the bottom of the page.

Internal links work to create links in nearly all situations. You can include them in image captions and template text.

Internal Linking Policy edit

There is a Goldilocks-style policy for wikilinks in articles: not too many and not too few. Adding too many wikilinks (overlinking) is usually caused by novice over-enthusiasm. Here's the basic idea: Link any term once per article, at most, and usually on the first occurrence. This excerpt from a lead section shows the style:

   "'Tom and Jerry'" are an animated cat ("Tom") and mouse ("Jerry") team who formed the basis of a successful series of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer theatrical short subjects created, written and directed by animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (later of Hanna-Barbera fame). One hundred and fourteen "Tom and Jerry" cartoons were produced by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio in Hollywood from 1940 until 1957, when the animation unit was closed down. These shorts are notable for having won seven Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (Cartoons), tying it with Walt Disney's "Silly Symphonies" as the most-awarded theatrical animated series.

The piped link animated is enough about animation: The words animators, animation (in animation unit), and the second use of animated do not need links. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio are different articles (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio might have been a redirect, but actually isn't), so they both get links. The words cat and mouse will not need to be links later in the article.

In a long article with multiple sections, the rule on only linking once is sometimes relaxed. If a reader would have to scroll a long way back to find a wikilink, repeating the link is kinder.

What should be linked? You do not need to link every common noun: Tree doesn't always need a link, if there is nothing special about the tree. Every year of modern time has a page, but 1966 does not need to be a wikilink whenever it occurs. A rule of thumb is to reserve links of dates for events having some historic weight. In general, link to the most specific concept you can: Adding a link to London or Paris adds little value to an article when compared to a link for a particular neighborhood or suburb of a major city; readers are almost certain to know something about London, but they may have no idea where Kensington is in relation to Buckingham Palace.

Avoid splitting up a single concept. It should be Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, rather than Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. If a single concept is suitable as a topic in its own right, make it a single internal link, even if the article hasn't been written yet. Sometimes you'll need to change awkward syntax: Wikifying Professors Bohr and Einstein as Professor Neils Bohr and Professor Albert Einstein makes a lot of sense, but then you should wonder why Professor is used at all. Does knowing that Einstein was a professor add anything useful? Ending up with Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein is actually much better.

Don't introduce self-links—links that lead back to the same article. These are quite easy to notice if they simply consist of the article title: In that case, the software displays them as bold type rather than as a link. Usually self-links occur when an editor inadvertently links to a page that redirects to the article you are linking from. For instance, in the article Romulus and Remus, the name Remus should not be linked because Remus redirects straight back to Romulus and Remus. The only exception to this ban is when you link to another section of the same article, as described in "Sections and Headings" on Section 2.3, “Sections and Headings”.

Check Wikilinks as You Introduce Them

Sometimes problems with self-links will only show up when you check the links; this is a good habit to develop, anyway, because wikilinks will not always lead where you expect.

External Links edit

To link to an external website, you can simply paste the URL (with the http:// prefix) into a wiki page:

and it will appear as a clickable hyperlink.

You can also enclose the link in single square brackets:


The URL will show up as a number in square brackets, like this: [1]. The numbers will automatically increase serially as more links are added to the page.

The preferred method for displaying an external link is to label it. To produce alternate text for external links, leave a space in between the URL and the text you wish to display. For example:

Google's search engine

will display Google's search engine as the link in the text. Do not use the pipe characters for external links.

External Linking Policy edit

Wikipedia articles often include a section called External links that is conventionally placed near the end of an article and should include links to web pages outside Wikipedia that are relevant to the article.

Prefer Internal Links

Don't use external links in place of internal links. If Wikipedia doesn't have an article about a concept or entity, create a redlink rather than creating a link to an external site; any external links can be used as references instead.

Wikipedia has several guidelines about which external links to include. Types of sites that are welcome include pages directly relevant to the topic of the article (such as a company homepage for an article about a company), pages from reputable sources that contain further description or research that is accurate and on-topic, pages with information that could not be added to the article because of copyright or density of detail (such as professional athlete statistics or full film credits), or any other relevant content that may add to a reader's understanding of a topic but is not suitable for inclusion in an article (such as an interview). If an external page is used as a source for information in an article, it should be listed as a source and placed in the References section of the article rather than in the External links section. The sites in External links should provide additional information beyond that provided by source citations.

Though some external links are welcome, Wikipedia is not the place to include a comprehensive list of external links related to each topic—Wikipedia is not a directory. Typically, commercial pages or sites that only exist for selling a product are not included; the article about television should not include a list of links to companies that sell television sets (such link inclusions are generally removed as spam). In general, you should remember that Wikipedia is not meant for self-promotion; webmasters and web authors should not add links going to the websites they work on or for.


Wikipedia uses nofollow tags, which means that search engines do not take into account whether a site is linked to from Wikipedia when they calculate rankings. From a search engine optimization standpoint, including a site in a Wikipedia article has no benefit. This decision was made in order to discourage zealous webmasters from trying to use Wikipedia to boost their sites.

If you do remove a link from an article, take care the author didn't use it as a source, whether as an inline link in the text or a link in the External links or References section. If you're trying to decide if a link is useful, check the page history to see who added the link and whether they provided an explanation for adding it. Removing links is a tricky business; if you're unsure, you can always post a quick message to the talk page.

Some whole sites should not be linked to. Wikimedia maintains a blacklist of these sites, which is incorporated into MediaWiki software. If a link to one of these sites is included in a page, you'll be unable to save the page; instead, you'll get a message prompting you to remove the offending link(s). (You might occasionally get this message even if you're not the person who added the link originally, for instance, if the link was not removed after blacklisting). The vast majority of blacklisted sites are pornography sites and commercial sites that have been consistently "spammed" on one or more projects (typically by being placed as links, sometimes automatically, on many unrelated articles). As the explanation for the list on Meta wiki says, "The spam blacklist exists primarily to control widespread spamming of Wikimedia Foundation projects. It is intended as a last resort for spam which spreads across multiple projects, and which is pursued by multiple individuals or IP addresses." See Wikipedia:Spam blacklist to suggest any additions or to appeal a decision. In addition to this restriction, any site that violates another's copyright (such as an illegally posted copy of a work) should not be linked to.

Links to sites in languages other than English are somewhat discouraged, but that does depend on the topic. If a topic is connected with Germany, German speakers, or the German language, a link to a site in German is generally fine. Other instances where you might want to include a link to a non-English site are when the material the site covers is not available in English on the Web, authoritative information on the topic is typically published in that language, or the site is obviously scholarly and important.

One helpful trick is to preface the link with a language icon template such as Template:De icon, which warns the reader that (in this case) the site is in German. Templates for many languages can be found at Category:Language icons.

Attack Sites

One long-running debate is over the loosely defined term attack site, meaning a site containing pages or isolated pieces of aggressive text and biased criticism or even defamation. In effect, an attack site is a propaganda website. Wikipedia does not wish to link to such sites, although some critical pieces may be linked to from articles, and some sites attached to organizations are mentioned even though their content may be offensive. Whether linking to some inoffensive parts of a site that offers links to worse material is acceptable has not been settled. These matters are typically decided by reference to Wikipedia's mission to compile an encyclopedic work and whether a link has anything to do with that. There is some trade-off between informing, on the one hand, and avoiding links to material that may offend, on the other. Linking to sites in order to harass other editors is entirely forbidden (Wikipedia:Harassment, shortcut WP:HARASS, is a guideline dealing with onsite harassment).

Sections and Headings edit

Sections divide articles into readable pieces. They also have other uses such as dividing conversations on talk pages. A section marks out a subtopic and also serves to define an editable unit on a page. You can create internal links to a specific section by adding a hash mark (#) and the section name; external links to sections also work, though the section name must then use underscores instead of spaces.

You can click and open any section on a page to edit separately, except for the top section (lead section or introduction). By convention, the page does not start with a section heading but with the first words of an article. Editing a page by section is more convenient in several ways: It saves excessive scrolling and produces an automatic prefix in the edit summary.

Sections are produced by using equal signs, like this:

==Section== ===Subsection=== ====Sub-subsection====

Although you can use just one equal sign, using only one produces a title that is the same size as the automatically generated page title and is not recommended for articles. The section headers are in bold, so you don't need to add other formatting (and indeed, this doesn't work). Headings should not use uppercase except when ordinary English does: Fried eggs, not Fried Eggs. You can include wikilinks, or even external links, in headings. This is somewhat ugly, though, and is not recommended in articles. Section headings show up in the table of contents for the article.

If an article has four or more sections, a table of contents (ToC) will automatically be generated; this table of contents contains links to the sections that are present. The table of contents provides an easy way for readers to navigate long articles. You can hide the ToC by clicking the Hide link.

Formatting the Table of Contents

You can entirely remove a ToC from an article by including the special syntax somewhere on the body of the page. You can also format or modify the ToC (for instance, to display as an alphabetical A–Z list) by using special templates, as described in Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters.

For a clearer writing style, you should introduce sections (as a good first step) in editing a badly organized article. Expanding and varying the existing section structure of an article can also help clarify the text. The Template:Sections template is the cleanup message used to request the introduction of sections; see Help:Section (shortcut WP:SECT) for some more detailed advice.

Linking into and out of Sections edit

Sections of pages serve as anchor points and can be linked to. For example,


is an internal wikilink to the section Cubs in the article Lion. In an article, you'd certainly pipe such a link:

lion cub

to end up with a wikilink that reads lion cub but that takes you directly to the Cubs section of the Lion article. The full URL for this link would be:

which takes you right to the section.

Occasionally, you will want to direct readers to another article from a section, for instance, when a top-level article on a topic, such as History of the United States, provides an overview of a broad topic that is addressed in more detail by several more specialized articles. In this case, the section of History of the United States that deals with the Civil War era directs the reader to the main article History of the United States (1849–1865) for more information.

These links are generally produced by templates, such as

which points the reader toward the main article on a topic with a message saying Main article: page name.

Another template is

For more details on this topic, see page name.

which creates a message saying For more details, see page name.

A related template,

renders For further information: page name.

Simply place the template at the beginning of the section you want to link from. In each case, replace page name with the name of the page to link to.

Linking from sections to other articles plays a major organizational role in building Wikipedia as a piece of hypertext. This structure is widely used to place invitations in high-level articles to explore details in other articles.

Hypertext Is Not Prose

Some criticisms of Wikipedia have appeared based on the incorrect premise that articles are stand-alone prose. The notion is that, for example, History of the United States really represents what Wikipedia has to offer on the topic—that readers will read through it all, looking at that article in isolation. But that article is also there to give access to other articles. Although long articles in traditional encyclopedias might be assessed in such a fashion, Wikipedia is designed for surfing between many interlinked articles. 2.4. Removing Formatting and Hiding Comments

Sometimes you may want to display wikisyntax on a page, without it actually functioning as markup. For instance, you may want to discuss a formatting issue on a talk page or write help pages with examples for other editors.

The easiest way to do this is to use the tag, which ignores wiki markup and reformats text by removing newlines and multiple spaces. To use <nowiki>, enclose the text you want to display with markup between <nowiki> and . The syntax you put between these tags will be displayed just as you type it.



tags are similar, except that they do not reformat newlines or multiple spaces.

You can also produce constant-width text that stops newlines and spaces from being reformatted but still interprets wikisyntax. Simply place a leading single-space indention at the beginning of a line. This creates text with a dotted-line box around it that is not formatted like the rest of the page. You'll only see this occasionally in articles, but it is good, for instance, for displaying snippets of computer code. You will also see this formatting when a space is accidentally left at the beginning of a line of formatted text.

Hidden comments can be left on a page with the comment tags: . Replace comment text with the comment or remark you wish to leave. Text in between the tags will not display for readers in the rendered page, but it will show up in the wikisource when others edit the page.

Usually, leaving comments in the raw text of a page is inappropriate; anything addressed to readers or editors should be left on the talk page instead. Comments left in the page wikitext can be useful, however, as a note on how a particular template is being used or as a note to yourself for quick drafting. The comment tag is rarely used and should not be confused with comments left on talk pages, separate comments pages that sometimes exist as part of rating pages, or the Request for Comments process.

Further Reading

Lists and Sections

Summary edit

Wikipedia pages are editable by everyone quickly and directly, whether they are logged in to Wikipedia or not. There is no moderation before a new version of a page goes live and replaces the previous version. Only a few pages are protected in any way from editing. You can start editing by clicking the Edit This Page tab to access the edit window. The source code that appears when you edit a page is called the wikitext or wikisource.

Most markup for the wikitext can be learned as you need it. Knowing the basics of formatting text and the layered approach of wikitext will serve you well, making quick edits possible. Understanding lists and headings also helps you organize articles and contribute to discussion pages

Chapter 6 edit

Chapter 6: Good Writing and Research edit

This chapter explains how to take part in the main activities on Wikipedia: writing, researching, and improving encyclopedia articles. It covers how to start articles—a simple matter—and how to write them well—a considerably more difficult one. Good writing comes as a result of practice, as well as having a knack with words, and understanding the style, tone, and referencing of encyclopedia articles.

A good writer will always consider a projected article in a wider context. The sheer scale of Wikipedia has an impact on research work. Existing articles and the research that others have already added to Wikipedia will help inform your choice of topics and will likely give you feedback on the research you intend to do. Reviewing the site to find what has already been written in a subject area is a kind of due diligence: You'll avoid duplicating the efforts of others and save time.

Wikipedia has the added complexity of having been developed by tens of thousands of editors. Learning how to work productively in this collaborative environment can mean acquiring some particular skills. In this chapter, we'll discuss how to write a good article using advice accumulated from Wikipedians who have collectively written hundreds of thousands of articles.

Starting New Articles edit

The Wikipedia community greatly values new articles that fill a gap, are well written, and are well referenced. This really is praise from experts! If you have already eased into editing, perhaps by copyediting the work of others, you can certainly consider starting a fresh article.

Anyone with an account can start new articles easily in a couple of seconds. If you don't have a user account, you can still propose articles, as we'll describe in the next section. Before you start typing, though, keep some things in mind. It's as true for Wikipedians as for Boy Scouts: Be prepared! Consider the preliminaries before investing substantial amounts of time in writing. These are the steps involved in writing a new article:

  • Decide on a topic.
  • Check Wikipedia for existing coverage.
  • Find references and research the topic.
  • Choose a title and start the article.
  • Draft the article.
  • Link it to other articles and categorize it.

The more flexible, thorough, and resourceful you are in carrying out these steps, the simpler you'll find it to make good additions to the encyclopedia. Research hard, and then write well, whether you're adding one long article about a detailed topic, a short stub, or a group of related articles. The same techniques also hold true if you're rewriting an article or expanding an existing stub article; for many topics these days, you're far more likely to find a poor-quality article in need of cleanup and expansion than no article at all. The challenge for the writer is the same, however.

Deciding What to Write About edit

Is an encyclopedia of two million articles complete? Not at all. If you don't know what to write about, visiting a good library is an easy way to come up with a notable topic. Or, you can investigate some of the many projects that have been set up to gather topics that need to be written about:

Requested articles (shortcut WP:RA)

This page—really a suite of pages by topic—is where anyone can add a request just by creating a redlink. Note that requested articles pages tend to be rather messy, and just because an article is listed here doesn't mean the topic meets inclusion guidelines. Always double-check to see whether the requested article actually exists in some other form and if it should be written at all.

Articles for creation (shortcut WP:AFC)

This is where new or unregistered users can request an article be created. The page consists of a template form that article requesters fill out; registered users then go through and approve or deny requests. If you're a registered user in good standing, don't use this form for creating new articles; however, you can often find ideas here that deserve to be turned into articles.

Missing encyclopedia articles

This WikiProject is a centralized place to determine what topics might be missing from Wikipedia, based on researching other reference works. The project states that its goal is "to ensure that Wikipedia has a corresponding article for every article in every other general-purpose encyclopedia available."

Category:Wikipedia missing topics is the umbrella category that collects lists of potential missing articles. Likely topic areas for missing articles include politicians from anywhere that isn't the United States or Europe; biographies from before the 20th century (check any public-domain biographical dictionary, particularly ones not in English); scientists in a prominent national academy; and so on. Some individual editors' compilations of missing articles can be found at Category:Red list, which collects so-called redlink lists that editors set up as working pages.

If you understand copyright and what's in the public domain, you can use imported material from older sources to start your article. For instance, much of the text of the now-public-domain 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has been imported into Wikipedia. Other materials from Wikisource, which should be public domain or GFDL, can be reviewed with a view to adapting it. Copy-and-pasting is almost never enough, though; adapting older material requires skilled editorial work to bring both the language and the factual content up to date (for instance, a subpage of the missing encyclopedia articles project works on verifying articles from the 1911 Britannica to ensure these articles are accurate and timely).

Before Starting a New Article edit

Once you've selected a topic, make sure an article about that topic hasn't already been written in Wikipedia. You'll have to search the site thoroughly to avoid creating a duplicate article. This step is important because of the lack of top-down structure on the site: Whereas in a traditional encyclopedia, an editorial committee would assign authors topics, Wikipedia has nothing like this, and authors are responsible for understanding what else exists on their topic and making new articles fit into this structure.

Good Timing

What if your information goes stale? What if it hasn't happened yet at all? As mentioned in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?, future occurrences—a sporting event, a film under production, or construction work in progress—are usually not suitable article topics if they are just speculative. Wikipedia is not a crystal ball. If you have good verifiable sources and a precise future event, then you can write about it in Wikipedia. Material related, for example, to a new road being built can be in articles, but only when appropriately tagged. Blue-bar informative templates exist for this purpose (in Category:Temporal templates). If a topic is time sensitive, you should flag the information correctly. For example, as of 2008, no confirmed sightings of a Yeti have been made. The quick way to indicate that information is valid as of a particular date is to use the {{As of|year}} template, replacing year with the valid year. See Wikipedia:As of (shortcut WP:AO) for how this helps maintain the site.

After you search the site for the topic and working article title you have in mind, you'll find one of the following cases is true:

  • An article on the topic already exists (possibly under a different title than the one you had in mind).
  • More than one article has been written on the topic, all using different titles.
  • Some material on the topic exists, but in a more general article that encompasses several topics.
  • The topic is briefly mentioned in another article, but has not been developed.
  • The article title you want has been used, but the article is about something else.
  • No references to the topic are anywhere on the site.

If an article already exists on the topic (but under a different name), simply make your article title into a redirect to that page, as described in Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web. Working on the existing article to improve it is a good next step; very few articles on Wikipedia are comprehensive. At this point in the English-language Wikipedia's history, this outcome is the most common one for people looking to write about a particular topic, considering the vast number of existing articles.

If more than one article has been written about the topic and they seem to duplicate each other, they may need to be merged; see Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web for directions on merging. You can continue to work on improving the articles in the meantime.

If your topic has been developed in an existing, broader article, you'll probably want to work on that article to improve the existing content. If enough material for a separate article on that specific topic has been written, you'll want to split the content into an article with a new title; see Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web. Be sure to add an appropriate introduction, conclusion, references, and See Also links to the new page.

If a topic is mentioned in other articles but not developed, make sure each mention of the topic is wikilinked to the title of the new article you want to write. This will connect your new article to existing content on Wikipedia. Additionally, checking out these topic mentions could give you research leads. Take note of anything interesting and unexpected and any relevant references you find as you come across them.

If the article title has already been used but the article itself is about a different topic, you'll probably need to move that article to a more precise title, create your article with another precise title, and then create a disambiguation page to direct readers between the articles, as explained in Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web. For example, John Gray is a fairly common name. If you want to write an article on an architect with that name, you may title your article John Gray (architect) instead of simply John Gray. If John Gray already has an article about a physicist, that article could be moved to the title John Gray (physicist), and the main page John Gray could be reformatted as a disambiguation page to refer readers to these different articles.

If you don't find any articles or references to your topic on Wikipedia, you should pause before writing. Why is your topic not mentioned anywhere? Is your topic notable (see "Avoiding Treacherous Topics" below)? Have you looked for all the potential alternate names for the article or topic? Perform a thorough search, using all the title variations you can think of. If you decide your topic is notable (and simply missing), make sure you can place it into the context of already-written articles. Generally, you should add redlinks in existing articles to your new proposed article (either in the text or in the See also section) before you begin writing; then when you do create the article, you won't be creating an orphan.

Avoiding Treacherous Topics edit

If your intended topic hasn't been written about or mentioned, find out why. Revisit the article inclusion guidelines, mentioned in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia? ("Other Guidelines"), especially the notability guidelines (shortcut WP:NOTE) and the sidebar on classic topics not to write about (shortcut WP:DUMB).

New authors can fall for a handful of common traps. Perhaps the most dangerous are so-called vanity articles and wishful thinking about notability. Vanity articles are articles that have been written for promotional purposes (usually by the subject of the article) rather than for their encyclopedic value. If you're considering an article about yourself or your company—please don't. Even with the best of intentions, this can be seen as self-promotion and often leads to the article being deleted. Even if this doesn't happen, writing an article about yourself can be a mixed blessing: You don't control the content once the article is posted, and any relevant negative information will be highlighted just as prominently as the good. (Think of it another way: Encyclopaedia Britannica won't publish your résumé, either.)

Wishful thinking about notability can occur in other areas too. Common topics that are often borderline in terms of notability are articles about local bands, living people, and new movies, books, or albums. As mentioned in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?, Wikipedia has specific notability guidelines for all of these areas. Consider these guidelines and how your article fits in context.

Other treacherous topics are articles that have been deleted in the past. If you begin to write an article on a topic that was been previously created and deleted, you'll get a warning message that reads, Notice: You are re-creating a page that was deleted. In other words, one or more editors decided that the topic was not suitable for Wikipedia. If the article was deleted through the community process, Articles for Deletion (see Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes), a link to the discussion about that article will be included in this warning message. Follow that link and figure out why the page was deleted: Is the topic itself unsuitable for Wikipedia, or was the original article simply flawed in a way that's fixable? If in doubt, an administrator (who can view the deleted version) can probably help.

Starting the Article edit

As a logged-in user, you can choose a title and begin writing. Want to create a new article? Now is the perfect time to choose a Wikipedia username and open an account, as you must be logged in to start a new page. In the meantime, consult Wikipedia:Your first article (shortcut WP:FIRST) for a concise list of things to do.

Click a Redlink edit

The best way to initiate an article is to begin from a redlink on an existing page. Let's say your chosen topic is gingerbread cottage architecture, and you want to write a new article with this title. This term may already be used on some existing Wikipedia page (perhaps the general article about cottage architecture or gingerbread houses), and you can turn it into a redlink. Or, an unsuccessful search could bring up a page with a redlink matching your search term.


The What Links Here link works for redlinks as well (the search page also offers this option when a page does not exist: See all pages within Wikipedia that link to this page). Checking what backlinks exist before starting an article can point you to related existing content and give you an indication of how popular a redlink is by how many pages link to it already.

You can set also set up a redlink to Gingerbread cottage architecture on your user page, thus starting your braglist. Describing your new articles in this way is perfectly acceptable and will undoubtedly be of interest to Wikipedians checking out what articles you've started.

Clicking the redlink will bring up an empty editing window with the heading Editing Gingerbread cottage architecture, as shown in Figure 6.1, “The empty editing window for a new article”. Start typing! Or, if you're more prepared, paste in text that you've already written (see "Drafting the Article" on Section 1.5, “Drafting the Article”).

Preview your work, correct the formatting, punctuation, and typos, and save the new article. Add a short edit summary indicating that this page is the first version. If you've followed these instructions, the new page will not be an orphan (not quite anyway) because at least the page with the once-redlink now has a bluelink to your article. And clicking What Links Here in the sidebar on Gingerbread cottage architecture will reveal those unexpected pages that already link to your article (for example, if this article is on another editor's to-do list).

Figure 6.1. The empty editing window for a new article The empty editing window for a new article

Typos in the title require page moves to correct them because titles are not directly editable. One good reason to start with a redlink is that you are less likely to make a mistake in the title itself.

Two More Ways to Start an Article edit

For maximum user-friendliness, you can visit Help:Starting a new page for further help in creating a page. Enter your article title in the search box at the top. If it does not already exist, you'll be walked through the process of creating the page.

The most basic (but also the most primitive) way to start an article is simply to type the article's name into the browser as a URL. For instance, you can start your article titled Gingerbread cottage architecture by sending your browser to

Once you have sent your browser to a nonexistent Wikipedia page, you'll see some text telling you the page doesn't currently exist, which you should already know, along with a link to start the article, which will work if you're logged in. While starting an article this way is very quick, finding a page where you can first create a wikilink to your topic is the best method since you shouldn't ever create orphan articles. Using the browser method also increases the possibility of accidentally creating duplicate articles or articles with misspelled titles or other typos.

Titles Are Tricky edit

Wikipedia has some title conventions you should respect when starting a new article. When you're searching, these conventions work for you by making it more likely that you can infer the exact title of a topic. This is (naturally) why respect for conventions is more than pedantry; consistent titling is a usability issue. In a given area, the titles of existing articles offer good clues to the conventions in force. The most basic convention is to always use singular forms: Siberian Tiger, not Siberian Tigers. But exceptions are made for plural nouns; the article about stilts is at Stilts (as a single stilt is something you'd probably want to trade for a Pogo stick and, in any case, a Stilt is a bird).

Titling an article about a person can be particularly confusing. Articles about people should generally be in the form of first name last name. This convention can be hard to follow for articles about nobility, ancient Romans, people with multiple surnames, and any other special case. An article about someone called Raymond, Count of Provence might be under Raymond of Provence because nobility titles are often omitted. What if more than one such historical figure existed—for instance, Raymond II of Provence with Roman numerals (not "Raymond the Second")? But how is the name spelled? Raymond, Raymund, Raimund … ? What if of should be the French de? The article is actually located at Ramon Berenguer II, Count of Provence, using the Catalan spelling for Ramon. If redirects have been set up to this article from possible name variations, using Google is probably the quickest method for finding the article by searching for the words Raymond, Count, and Provence. Detailed case studies for naming articles about people are covered in Wikipedia:Naming conventions (people).

Here are more examples. The article about Saint Francis of Assisi is Francis of Assisi, not Saint Francis of Assisi, although the latter is a redirect. You can find specific advice for naming articles about saints on the Saints WikiProject at Wikipedia:WikiProject_Saints, where editors have developed special style guidelines for these particular articles. Even though the most commonly used and recognized name is preferred, the article on Madame Mao is under Jiang Qing, not Madame Mao, though again the latter name is a redirect. Initial articles are not included in page titles: Statue of Liberty, not The Statue of Liberty. Only proper names are capitalized: Pythagorean theorem, not Pythagorean Theorem. If several possible articles could have the same title, Wikipedia has a wide variety of disambiguation schemes depending on the topic. The most common is to add a qualifier in parenthesis to the article name, such as in the previous example of John Gray (architect). General guidelines on how to disambiguate page titles are on the main disambiguation page (shortcut WP:DAB#NAME).

Depending on what area interests you, looking at similar articles may save you time in figuring out a good title. These matters are all documented: For ample detail, see Wikipedia:Naming conventions (shortcut page WP:NAME), which is an official policy and includes information on naming conventions for many specific topic areas. Also see Category:Wikipedia naming conventions.

A few characters are forbidden in page names, including

  1. < > [ ] | { }

and some others that are problematic. Full details can be found at WP:NAME.

As we mentioned in Chapter 5, Basic Editing, the first letter of a title is always capitalized by the MediaWiki software, but otherwise titles are case sensitive: Capital letters in multiword titles, such as names, must be treated with care. Thomas Jefferson is not the same as Thomas jefferson. For titles that really should have a lowercase first letter, like iPod or e (mathematical constant), there is a special workaround: the template . This template displays the title of the article with a lowercase first letter (though the article name is still automatically capitalized in the URL). As for the famous case of E. E. Cummings, the article explains it, so we don't need to.

Drafting the Article edit

Once you've selected a topic and picked out a title, you need to actually write the article. Making several drafts is often needed to produce good writing. Drafting a new article somewhere else first before posting it to the site is often best. Drafting allows you to note ideas, gather sources, and leave unfinished sentences and comments to yourself while you figure out what you want to say—without the risk of adding "bad" content to the encyclopedia.

You can draft articles in three possible places. You can draft in the article itself or in your user space. You can also work offline in a text editor. Drafting in live articles is not recommended for newcomers, as an article may be severely edited or nominated for deletion while you are still working on it. For a quieter experience, work in your user space, where other editors are unlikely to edit what you've written; to start out, draft on your user page, and create subpages for drafts when you become more ambitious.

You can create a subpage in your user space—your user page and any subpages under it (see Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian). For instance, if your username is Ydobon, your user page will be at User:Ydobon, and you can create a subpage in your user space by simply starting a new page with a forward slash in between your user page name and the new page name, such as User:Ydobon/Draft1. Simply create the redlink by typing /Draft1 on your user page and then click it to begin writing. Subpages link back automatically to their main page. Constructing subpages with the forward slash works elsewhere but is not allowed in the article namespace. Subpages are widely used in project space, especially on process pages (described in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes) where every discussion is on a separate page. See Wikipedia:Subpages for more information.

You can also work entirely offline in a word processor, and then paste the content into the article when you are done. This method has some advantages. Printing the draft article to review it can often reveal inconsistencies and awkward phrasing and flow. Working in a word processor also makes it easy to spellcheck and restructure.

The user space method of drafting has the "what you see is what you get" advantage: You'll see the draft formatted exactly as it will appear in the article. Drafting in user space is thus a good method if you want to test out or perfect the wikisyntax formatting. Perhaps the best method is to start writing offline and then copy the work in progress to your user space when adding wikisyntax. User space is a public space to which you can invite other editors for feedback. But by convention no one else should edit a draft there, unless asked to directly.

Once an article is posted in the main article space, you no longer control it. If you are still doing major drafting while working in article space, you may want to add the anti-hassle template Template:Inprogress at the top. This template will fend off almost all intruders, reduce edit conflicts, show you know what you're doing, and probably deflect any early deletion proposals. Leaving the template up for a long time is not okay (and not a way to keep others from editing your work). In the same way, if you add hidden comments as a way of drafting, remove them when you're done.

Don't Forget edit

Articles are not signed. When you create a new article, provide a descriptive edit summary, perhaps summarizing the topic in a few words. Finally, once you click Save, you don't control the content. Perfect strangers—out of the hundreds of millions online—can now edit it.

Further Reading Article requests, sorted by topic Articles found in other encyclopedias but missing from the English-language Wikipedia, sorted by topic Articles that don't exist and have a high number of incoming links Directions on how to start a new page, with a handy search box where you can check to see if a page is really new The Articles for creation process, where unregistered users can request that an article be created Technical restrictions on creating page names Policy on naming articles How to create a subpage, including directions on how to create a user subpage

Writing Well edit

The perfect Wikipedia article probably doesn't exist, though discussions of good writing on Wikipedia have become catalogs of what this article should be. If you truly think the journey is more interesting than the destination, you may be a natural-born Wikipedia editor, because Wikipedia's reality is constant, incremental improvement. Articles evolve over time.

A good article fulfills a need for information—it informs the reader with broad coverage, relevant context, and deliberate, thoughtful prose. At the very least, a good article is understandable and clearly expressed, for both experts and non-experts. It thoroughly explores and explains the subject in appropriate detail. But the article isn't only its content; it's a web page, too. Wikipedians should write with this context in mind and continue to build the web. Good articles contain incoming wikilinks and external links. These external links should take readers to the best sites for following up on the article. Refer to the academic literature, if any applies, by providing references. By doing this, you are building not only Wikipedia but also the Web as a whole. Nodal pages—pages that connect you as well as inform you—carry added value for readers. A Wikipedia article is not trying to replace specialist information available elsewhere, but to give access to this material. Good web pages fill niches: The niche in question is an encyclopedia article, but now in a vastly enlarged Web context.

In this section, we'll discuss eight broad areas to consider when writing an article as well as two tips for accomplishing your task—consulting the Manual of Style and getting reviews. For more advice, Wikipedia:The perfect article (shortcut WP:PERFECT) lists about 20 pointers for producing excellent articles. Again, perfection may not be humanly attainable—we mentioned in Chapter 2, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia that acceptance of imperfection is deeply rooted in wiki culture—so please take our advice as aspirational and complementary to Wikipedia:Guide to writing better articles (shortcut WP:BETTER). 2.1. Consulting the Manual of Style

Much of the advice and many of the links in this section come from the Manual of Style, which is a style guide developed by the Wikipedia community for the purpose of helping editors write articles consistently and well. The Manual of Style is a lengthy document that has been developed over time and represents a tremendous collective body of knowledge about writing encyclopedia articles. Its main page resembles the kind of style guide produced by book publishers and newspaper editors. This conceals other pages that have been developed wiki-style: a complex web of further advisory material on how to write for Wikipedia. These Manual of Style pages provide guidance both for global issues (such as tone and organization) and small grammatical details (such as whether to use a serial comma). The term Manual of Style is usually understood as including Wikipedia:Manual of Style (abbreviations) along with other pages in Category:Wikipedia style guidelines.

The Manual of Style itself, available at Wikipedia:Manual of Style (shortcut page WP:MOS), is a Wikipedia guideline, which gives it an official standing. Together with the specialized pages it links to, the Manual of Style is essential reference material. Authors and editors should refer to it often (of course, they don't need to read it all before starting to write).

Most likely, a handful of manual pages will be most relevant to your particular topic area. For example, Wikipedia:Manual of Style (command-line examples) (shortcut WP:MOSCOMM) is of interest to those (and only those) intending to include examples of computer code in articles they write. Rather than trying to remember where the pages are and what they say, create internal links from your user page to the pages you reference most. For instance, one of the most useful pages is Wikipedia:Summary style (shortcut WP:SS), which explains how to structure lengthy articles and topics too large to handle in a single article.

Acronym Overload

The Manual of Style is often abbreviated MOS or MoS, and guidelines within the Manual are referred to by shortcuts such as MOS:FLAGS. Wikipedia has a list of these shortcuts at Special:Prefixindex/MOS:. Not everyone will know these or other Wikipedia acronyms. Too many acronyms can make a page hard to decipher (just you wait for Chapter 13, Policy and Your Input), a sentiment expressed nicely by the essay Wikipedia:WTF? OMG! TMD TLA. ARG! (shortcut WP:OMG). 2.2. Introduction and Topic Sentence

An article should begin with a clear description of the subject. The first sentence should define the topic of the article, using the title or subject of the article, which should be formatted in bold type. The rest of the introductory paragraph should explain the subject and its significance clearly and accurately, without going into excessive detail. If you're having trouble with the topic sentence, you might want to think further about the article title.

Although the opening of an article should convey why a topic is interesting, an encyclopedia article is not a book review or personal essay, and you are not trying to entice the reader. The article Robinson Crusoe should indicate in its first sentence that this is an English novel. References to Daniel Defoe's journalism and historical discussion about sea voyaging in the early 18th century should be postponed until later. If you are submitting an article adapted from research written for other purposes (such as a dissertation or school paper), your original opening will almost certainly need to be recast.

A lead section may be split into three paragraphs, at most, but it shouldn't be longer than this. The opening section should encapsulate the rest of the article. More advice can be found at Wikipedia:Lead section (shortcut WP:LS).

Some basic insights into the structure of newspaper articles can be useful as a reference point (the article inverted pyramid describes this style). The lead paragraphs of news stories frequently treat several strands of a story simultaneously, before giving the details. This technique is also very useful on Wikipedia, as a way of placing a good summary ahead of the main part of a longer article.

Let's analyze one introduction from Wikipedia [June 2007]:

   Herbert George Wells (September 21, 1866–August 13, 1946), better known as H. G. Wells, was an English writer best known for such science fiction novels as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. He was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and produced works in many different genres, including contemporary novels, history, and social commentary. He was also an outspoken socialist. His later works become increasingly political and didactic, and only his early science fiction novels are widely read today. Wells, along with Hugo Gernsback and Jules Verne, is sometimes referred to as "The Father of Science Fiction."

This introduction has a fairly simple A-B-A structure, with A being "science fiction" and B being "political views." (You may notice some possible issues with Verifiability: Who says his later work is not read much, and who gets to award the title "father of" anything? But these might also be covered better later in the article.) According to the Wikipedia guideline, a lead section should ideally have at most three paragraphs, so it could be a little more complicated than the example. But if an article has three main ideas, A, B, and C, you should introduce only one idea per paragraph. The topic structure could be something like A-BA-BC, with A being the headline and B and C the most significant related points, but that's about as complex as the opening should be.

Who Are We Writing For?

We're writing articles for someone who knows nothing about a topic but needs to get up to speed quickly. You have ten seconds.

   Who, what, where, when, why?
   Summary Lead section, then inverted pyramid.
   Omit needless words.
   The Economist style guide: clarity with precision.
   "Why" is almost more important than "what."

I sometimes picture my reader as a very bright ten- to twelve-year-old. Someone with a good reading age, but who knows nothing yet. Did you used to devour encyclopaedias as a kid? (Adapted from "My personal style guide" from User:David Gerard) 2.3. Comprehensiveness and Appropriate Length

A well-written Wikipedia article acknowledges and explores all aspects of the subject. In other words, it covers every encyclopedic angle. This goal in itself can be a strain on a writer. Cover every angle of William Shakespeare? The Neutral Point of View policy, however, does require comprehensiveness, defined as the inclusion of all significant perspectives. Something should be said about Shakespeare's influence on literature other than English and something about authorship theories.

Clearly, ensuring such an article is an appropriate length is difficult. Using summary style, mentioned in the Manual, is critical. Include sufficient information, depth, and analysis on the subject, but without unnecessary detail. Subarticles developed from the main one, related articles (such as the lengthy Shakespeare authorship question for the Shakespeare example), or in some cases in wiki sister projects can include this extra information. You'll find that material on major topics moves around from article to article until coverage is more balanced. 2.4. Structure

You can't expect your readers to have a clearer view of your article's logic and flow than you do. Divide long sentences, especially if they're loosely linked by conjunctions. Any longer threads of logical argument are somewhat suspect in encyclopedic terms. While avoiding a dense or cryptic style, Wikipedia articles should be tight and concise, rather than verbose. W.S. Gilbert wrote, "Never mind the whys and wherefore" in H.M.S. Pinafore; Wikipedians know that a good "why" can be valuable, but they look out for elaborate wherefores: Long arguments should be summarized and well referenced.

A good article is logically arranged and divided into sections. Collect the history of a concept into one section. Whether this comes immediately after the introductory section or at the end of the article depends on the particular idea.

An article such as Gas mask can place the chemistry before the history, or vice versa. For most readers, separating the two aspects of the topic is most helpful. This issue is typical when dealing with anything technological. The article Piano (as of March 2008) has a section on early history directly following the introductory section. Then the use of subsections for the grand piano, upright piano, and so on is clearly indicated by the subject matter. 2.5. Readability

Everyone on Wikipedia wants to be a good writer. Readability should be your ultimate goal. Readability means your writing is clear and easily understood. Encyclopedia article prose should be as transparent as possible so the writing doesn't get in the way of the content.

Readability doesn't exist in a vacuum, and good writing certainly does not mean insipid, tediously dry, or dull writing. Some of the excellent content already on Wikipedia can provide examples of strong prose (while you can also see some of the pitfalls in examples of poor articles). Other editors can also help provide input on style.

For guidance on making prose more elegant and readable, any writing guide may be valuable. Choose one that answers your questions and is itself readable. A classic American guide to good writing is Strunk and White's The Elements of Style; other classics are Fowler's Modern English Usage and Gowers' The Complete Plain Words. Just as helpful as a good style guide is saturation: Read good writing. Compare similar articles in different encyclopedias—what's similar, what's different? Reading well-written books will make you a better writer. With practice, you can write an encyclopedia article that is factually accurate and fair and also clear, eloquent, and colorful—or, to use a term from the earliest days of the project, written using brilliant prose.

Brilliant Prose

Brilliant Prose was one of the earliest project pages on Wikipedia. Larry Sanger created this project and addressed the subject in one of the very first messages to the Wikipedia-L mailing list. Sanger reported on January 22, 2001, that of the 184 articles then on Wikipedia, 14 were listed on the brilliant prose page, leading him to conclude that "Wikipedia does rock." (From 2.6. Audience

Who is the general reader? Who is your audience? Who Wikipedia's audience is has always been a subject of discussion. The consensus, if not the universal view, on Wikipedia is that articles should be written for a well-educated adult; this choice is also the traditional one made by Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Some specialist topics (such as many mathematics articles) will inevitably contain material that is not understandable to a lay audience. After reading an article, however, you should be able to say you know two things: what the topic is and why it's important. The introduction matters most to a nonspecialist. It should summarize the content of the article and place it in context for a lay reader.

Sometimes readability and accuracy conflict. Especially for highly technical topics, understanding a concept at all may be difficult for general readers. To tackle these expository difficulties, provide an acceptable, generally readable summary in the opening paragraph and then an accurate formal definition in the body of the article.

One person's jargon is another person's correct terminology, of course. It may make sense to put the jargon first. But then you have an obligation to define that jargon with a phrase such as roughly speaking …, in other words …, simply put …, or some other phrase indicating that what follows is the layperson's summary. All readers should know what content to expect.

This introduction from Blood pressure shows the use of both technical and everyday language:

   Blood pressure (strictly speaking: vascular pressure) refers to the force exerted by circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels, and constitutes one of the principal vital signs. The pressure of the circulating blood decreases as blood moves through arteries, arterioles, capillaries, and veins; the term blood pressure generally refers to arterial pressure, i.e., the pressure in the larger arteries, arteries being the blood vessels which take blood away from the heart. Arterial pressure is most commonly measured via a sphygmomanometer, which uses the height of a column of mercury to reflect the circulating pressure (see Non-invasive measurement). Although many modern vascular pressure devices no longer use mercury, vascular pressure values are still universally reported in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

One great advantage of hypertext, as shown here, is indirection. If you provide a wikilink for a technical term, those who follow it for more information will be a self-selected group who really want that information. The link to sphygmomanometer reduces the need for long explanations in the blood pressure article itself. 2.7. Use of Language

Many older encyclopedias err on the side of pomposity, but Wikipedia's tone is direct, crisp, and contemporary. Wikipedia articles are a kind of academic writing, but they do not adopt the formal or specialist tone of a learned journal. They should be interesting—not dry, colorless, or bland. They should not be literary, personal, argumentative, or investigative. In controversial matters articles should aim to be descriptive rather than opinionated. In this, Wikipedic prose is close to the journalism of a newspaper of record, reporting events from above the fray and presenting all notable sides of an issue.

Deaths may be accidental but should not be regrettable or premature or tragic. By the same token, though, euphemisms are misplaced: Don't write passed away for died. A discovery may be called highly significant or just significant. If you think about it, significant can be more impressive. Why? Perhaps because the general reader doesn't want to be bombarded with superlatives but would like to understand the main stages of a development. This point is covered in a general way at Wikipedia:Avoid peacock terms (shortcut WP:APT). Understatement also helps with neutrality. The historian Lord Acton said that "the best way of doing justice is a little reserve in uttering judgments."

Language should not be colloquial and should conform to usage guides. Follow standard writing conventions: Use complete sentences and correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Choppy writing is distracting. To the reader. To put it. Mildly. Abbreviations, however common in a specialist field, should not only be linked to their own article but also generally spelled out for the lay reader's benefit.

Whose English?

American English and Commonwealth English coexist on the English-language Wikipedia. This coexistence is supposed to be peaceful; strife involving Wikipedians with different settings on their spellcheckers is unwelcome. See Wikipedia:Manual of Style#National_varieties_of_English (shortcut WP:ENGVAR) for the Manual of Style section on what is acceptable where. The rule is when either of two styles is acceptable, an editor should not change from one style to another unless he or she has a substantial reason to do so. In other words, if an article is already written in British or American English, stick with that existing style when making additions. This was a hard-fought compromise in the early days of Wikipedia!

One special rule for writing in Wikipedia is to avoid self-references—that is, avoid references within Wikipedia articles to the Wikipedia project. Unlike in talk and community pages, where discussing Wikipedia is natural, in articles it is distracting. It also makes the content less suitable for forking to a new project, one of the goals of Wikipedia's open license. Avoid phrases like "this Wikipedia article discusses" and even "in this encyclopedia." This ban on articles mentioning Wikipedia obviously does not apply in articles about Wikipedia-related topics. For the Manual of Style page on this issue, see Wikipedia:Avoid self-references (shortcut WP:SELF). 2.8. Graphics

A good article includes informative, relevant images—diagrams and graphs, maps, portraits, photographs, and artwork—that add to a reader's interest in or understanding of the topic. Each image should have an explanatory caption. See "Images and Media Files" on Section 1.1, “Finding and Adding Images” for the technical details of how to add images to articles.

Graphics should support the text; the images should not be so numerous or so predominant as to detract or distract from the article itself. Don't include pictures just to make the article pretty. Use graphs, infographics (see infographics), and tables (tabular data) where they are the most appropriate format, not in all circumstances. Remember, any data should be referenced but not analyzed—analyzing data can become original research.

Infoboxes (templates displaying key facts) should not be intrusive and should not be tendentious (all facts should be verifiable). It should be clear to the general reader where to place the article as one of a related series. For example, War of the Austrian Succession includes a box listing the combatants of this 18th-century European war in chronological order (Figure 6.2, “Shown is the elaborate infobox from War of the Austrian Succession. The bottom two sections are additional infoboxes that can be expanded.”). Thetwo boxes at the bottom, whose contents are viewable by clicking the Show link in the box corner, are additional infoboxes that list the major battles of the war (a complete list is also at Category:Battles of the War of the Austrian Succession). Infoboxes are generally only included when Wikipedia has several related articles about a topic.

Figure 6.2. Shown is the elaborate infobox from War of the Austrian Succession. The bottom two sections are additional infoboxes that can be expanded. Shown is the elaborate infobox from War of the Austrian Succession. The bottom two sections are additional infoboxes that can be expanded.

2.9. Applying Basic Content Policies

The reader of an article should, above all, feel that it summarizes the topic responsibly. The way to do this is well understood. An article conforming to content policies is completely unbiased; it has a Neutral Point of View (NPOV), presenting competing views on controversies logically and fairly. Language use is also affected by the basic policies, and we'll give examples here.

Consider the phrase "the notoriously bloodthirsty and keelhauling pirate Blackbeard." To the trained eye of a Wikipedia editor, bloodthirsty is probably opinion, but keelhauling might be factual. Pirate is one of those words that could be used in different ways according to point of view: Was Sir Francis Drake a pirate? You might find a Spanish book that says he was. The response to this particular phrase might be to delete everything except Blackbeard and include a link to the fine Wikipedia article on Blackbeard, also known as Edward Tench. After all, you don't need to introduce someone who already has a dedicated article.

Appositive phrases such as convicted fraudster, quack doctor, disgraced politician, and international terrorist would most likely be purged. Before crying "Censorship!" be clear that this type of editing is considered housekeeping: The editor is applying Wikipedia's policies. Surprisingly often, people confuse cleaning up language into more encyclopedic style with censorship of facts. Wikipedia's Neutral Point of View may not speak for your point of view. This same reasoning may call for taking out renowned or extraordinary in front of a name. You may think a scientist deserves Nobel laureate with each mention of his or her name, but Wikipedia doesn't. Legendary is restricted to things and people in legends.

In any tricky area, be a neutral party. Point out all sides of an argument, without favoring particular viewpoints. Emphasize factual and accepted views. Give minority views a lower prominence, but provide sufficient information and references so readers can learn more about particular views.

Older material often gives clearer examples of editing for neutrality and tone. This extract, imported unchanged from a 1913 encyclopedia, illustrates the problems. It is verbose and slanted. The article is about the French mystic Madame Guyon (from Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon):

   Her strange conduct brought upon her severe censures, in which she could see only manifestations of spite. Evidently, she too often fell short of due reserve and prudence; but after all that can be said in this sense, it must be acknowledged that her morality appears to have given no grounds for serious reproach. Bossuet, who was never indulgent in her regard, could say before the full assembly of the French clergy: "As to the abominations which have been held to be the result of her principles, there was never any question of the horror she testified for them." It is remarkable, too, that her disciples at the Court of Louis XIV were always persons of great piety and of exemplary life.

You could cut this back considerably (and it still needs some work):

   Her conduct brought criticism, but her morality gave no grounds for it. Bossuet, one of the critics, said before the French clergy: "As to the abominations which have been held to be the result of her principles, there was never any question of the horror she testified for them." Her disciples at Versailles were pious people of exemplary life.

The two sentences at the start have been combined, increasing clarity and neutrality. Adjectives used as editorial comment or for unneeded emphasis were removed: strange in "strange conduct," severe in "severe censures," and great in "great piety." This type of editing and tightening should be applied to all writing in draft. The quote, by the way, has to be left as is. Quotes in Wikipedia shouldn't be copyedited. In this instance, you would have to find the original French quote and retranslate it. Although you could probably paraphrase the quote to say, "Bossuet was hard on her but thought her no hypocrite," it sounds like original research, and independently verifying Bossuet's attitude would be a better option.

One hazard of Wikipedia's NPOV policy is that unclear phrasing can seem more neutral, but you can avoid this. See Wikipedia:Avoid weasel words (shortcut WP:WEASEL). Apparently those weasels can also be blamed for wordiness, passive voice constructions, convoluted syntax, implicit endorsement of faulty logic, and monotonous repetition.

In its early days, you could find too much writing on Wikipedia in the form "some say X, while others say Y." This form aims at neutrality but fails. Problems with this phasing include lazy writing, as well as those weasel words:

   The phrase should be verifiable, reading "A, B, and C say X, while D and E say Y," with citations for each claim.
   What about those saying Z ? Aren't they being sidelined unfairly?
   Does the whole comment represent the entire debate fairly, including the main reasons for controversy?

Although one side may have to be wrong because the two perspectives are incompatible, a neutral point of view is still about presenting both sides fairly, no more and no less. The temptation to add weasel words can be particularly strong in articles about controversial subjects; for instance, the phrase nothing was ever proven occurred in the offending article in the Seigenthaler scandal (see Chapter 2, The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia). 2.10. Reviews

At any point, you can ask others to look over your work. Review happens naturally on Wikipedia, which is one of the site's strengths. To prompt other people to comment, Wikipedia also has dedicated places to go for help; see Wikipedia:Peer review (shortcut WP:PR). Here you can nominate an article for others to review and leave comments. Going through peer review is a common step for good articles being nominated for featured status, as described in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes. Anyone is welcome to give reviews as well, and reviewing other authors' articles can be a good way to learn to think critically about an article's structure. For less formal reviewing, see Wikipedia:Requests for feedback (shortcut WP:RFF). 2.11. Quality and the Good Stub

A writer contributing to Wikipedia may add new long articles that attempt full coverage of a topic, add good stubs that are clearly needed for the encyclopedia, or work on existing articles to improve quality. The end goal is to ensure that any article is a reliable and comprehensive summary of information about a topic and provides an excellent overview. This goal has always been the traditional objective of encyclopedia compilers.

The only question is how to get there. Writing well takes time, but contributing at a low level of quality is not very satisfying after a while. Wikipedia uses intermediate versions as stepping-stones. This is why stubs matter. To say a stub may be "good" means that even articles that aren't comprehensive have a concept of quality. A good stub article—the ideal stub article described at Wikipedia:Stub—constitutes a quick start to a page. It adds value to the encyclopedia, and other editors will not come after you cursing quietly.

To summarize, article quality is comprised of the following:

   Compliance with Wikipedia's inclusion standards, particularly NPOV and NOR
   References included throughout the text (indicating that individual facts have been checked against or derived from external sources)
   Factual accuracy, as verified by the external sources
   A list of pertinent reliable external links and sources on the subject
   Writing that conforms to a high standard of written English
   Appropriate images or diagrams and formatting that conforms to Wikipedia style guidelines, including logical sections and appropriate internal links
   A complete and clear explanation of the topic, with a logical flow to the article

Further Reading A short checklist of what a perfect article includes Advice on writing better articles The Manual of Style for writing and formatting Wikipedia articles The style guideline for stub articles An essay on how to meet Criterion 1a of the Featured article guidelines—that article prose is "engaging, even brilliant, and of a professional standard"

In starting an article, even if you can't yet give it the completeness and visual pizzazz mentioned in the last two points, you can ensure all the other aspects of quality listed. If you do this, then you've written the ideal stub.

Researching Articles edit

Research is important. If you don't cite references at all … well, we have to break it to you, others may delete parts of the article they don't find credible, and in some cases, the whole article may be deleted. A good article is well documented, with reputable sources cited for all facts. As an article author, you're responsible for referencing your work; at the very least when writing, include a selection of the sources you used to put the article together. If you can't find a source for a fact, it probably doesn't belong in the encyclopedia.

The research for any substantial article should take at least as long—and probably much longer—than the actual writing. This requirement to research puts limits on how prolific anyone can be as a Wikipedia author; after all, Wikipedia is not a touch-typing test. Thus, although wiki editing is quick and spontaneous, writing a good article depends on a great deal of preparation time spent gathering sources and searching for information, and the skilled Wikipedia editor must also be skilled at these research tasks. Although adding things you know "off the top of your head" is easy and tempting, think about how you actually know that fact. Is it something you learned in school or spent time researching? Have you seen it yourself, or is it something you heard? If you can remember how you learned it, you can probably cite a source. You'll still need to research even if you mainly modify existing articles, rather than beginning new ones. Edits and additions to articles are more easily accepted by other editors if they are accompanied by good supporting citations. And if you enjoy doing research, fact-checking existing articles and adding existing citations is also a major cleanup task, as described in Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes. Finally, good research skills are useful for evaluating information in an article; if you question a particular point on a talk page, for instance, first do a quick search to see if the information is supported elsewhere or not.

In this section, we'll talk about research techniques and the different citation styles for Wikipedia articles. Research, like writing, is a skill that takes some practice to do well, and this is just a brief introduction to the topic. Other resources include guides to doing research (The Oxford Guide to Library Research by Thomas Mann is one such guide), libraries and librarians (whose job is to help with research questions), and forums such as Wikipedia's own reference desk (at Wikipedia:Reference desk), where you can ask questions about any topic. Ideally research will be interesting and natural, rather than burdensome; collating facts is the primary job of the encyclopedist, and research is the process behind that. 3.1. Good Wikipedia Research

What is meant by good research? On Wikipedia, research makes the site a quality reference work. For an individual editor, doing your research before writing is also thoughtful preparation ahead of exposing your work to criticism and modification in an open forum. Good research can give you confidence in the content you're submitting to Wikipedia, and it fortifies an article against questions from other editors about content—which may be important, because Wikipedia, like online communities in general, can be an argumentative place.

The Verifiability and No Original Research policies are the background to referencing information on Wikipedia. All facts should be verifiable, and theories that are advanced must be based only on what is already published, without novel synthesis. In practice, this means that sources should be cited for facts in accordance with the Reliable Sources guideline. From Wikipedia's point of view, some sources are better than others. What is also true is that, whereas all facts should flow from reliable sources, some facts are more worthy of thorough research before including them in an article than others. Anything contentious, or possibly suspect, should be well documented first. In contentious areas, however, don't expect complete agreement on what a reliable source is. If an article presents two sides of an issue, its editors should find reputable authorities on both sides.

Occasionally information in Wikipedia has turned out to be urban myth, something that comes from a friend of a friend… . Make sure, in cases like this, that what's been said is actually something that's documented somewhere and not just gossip or lazy journalism. Cite a good, reliable, printed source for the information. If verifying a point is harder than you thought, that's all the more reason to record where you found it for the sake of Wikipedia readers. Remember that Wikipedia doesn't pass judgment on what is true, but the site is responsible for reporting on and gathering reliable information about all topics.

The easiest topics to research well have mostly been added to the encyclopedia. More obscure topics may be more difficult to research, but again, part of learning about a subject well enough to write about it for a lay encyclopedia audience is doing good background research. 3.2. Doing Research

Researching is hard work, but like hunting for treasure or solving a crossword puzzle, the act of discovering the unknown through careful steps can be quite satisfying. Regardless of the topic you're interested in, doing research to corroborate information in an article or to find out more about a topic consists of a few basic steps:

   Determine the question you're trying to answer. The question may regard specific facts in an article that you want to cite or may be more general (for instance, "What year did this scientist receive a Nobel Prize?" or "What basic topics did this scientist work on, and did he or she receive recognition for this work?"). With existing articles, if you need a place to begin asking questions, take a second and skeptical look at the factual content. Which salient facts are most likely to be in doubt?
   Figure out what kind of sources are likely to have the information you're looking for and where you can find those sources.
   Use the appropriate type of source. This is a critical (and often overlooked) part of good research: Not all sources are right for all topics. For information on a recent natural disaster, review newspaper or news agency accounts and governmental bulletins; these news stories can be found either through searching web indexes such as Google News, which is free online, or news indexes such as LexisNexis, which many libraries subscribe to. On the other hand, if you're researching a 19th-century writer, accounts of his or her life may be found in literary encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, introductions that appear in his or her work, or (if they were quite famous) dedicated biographies, which may be found in library catalogs. Often specific questions are easiest to answer: For the scientist example, a list of Nobel Prize winners may be found easily on the Nobel Prize committee website. For more in-depth information, however, you will need to turn to biographies.
   Search for appropriate sources. This requires turning your search question into keywords that can be used in a web search engine, library catalog, article database, or similar system. If you can't find anything using one term, try another similar term or name variation. It is at this stage and the previous one that asking for help from people knowledgeable about the topic and librarians can be very helpful.
   Read and evaluate potential sources. This is the time-consuming part of doing research. Do the sources answer your questions? Where did they get their information? Do they seem trustworthy? What trustworthy means can vary depending on what you're looking for; although a scholarly biography published by an academic publisher is usually a reliable source for investigating a scientist's life, an essay about that scientist that was written by a student and posted online on a personal website probably isn't. The Reliable Sources guideline, discussed starting on Section 3.3, “Reliable Sources”, talks a good deal about what a reliable source is for most topics on Wikipedia. The point is, however, that statements of fact should be based on the best information available.
   Document your sources. Once you've found a good, reliable source that answers your question, cite it, either with the inline style described in "Referencing Styles" on Section 3.4, “Referencing Styles” (for specific facts) or in a separate References section (for more general sources).

Congratulations, you're done! (For that article, anyway.) Note

File away URLs. If you find likely web pages by searching online, save the URLs, even if you remember exactly how you found a key reference. Searches are not always repeatable experiments because search engines and inbound links update themselves.

A few particular research resources are worth mentioning:

For academic articles

Google Scholar, available at, indexes citations to research articles in all fields. Note that the articles themselves may not be freely available online, but often the abstract will be. This source is good for finding recent scientific literature, though search results are almost always something of random assortment of potentially relevant material. Google Scholar is general; the article Academic databases and search engines covers other databases, which are often available through libraries, for finding articles in many specific fields.

Recent Research and NPOV

Use cautious language regarding announcements of contemporary scientific discoveries. Be careful not to overstate the importance of any particular research you find simply because it's easily available online. For scientific research especially, new findings must be vetted by others; it sometimes takes many years before it becomes clear whether or not new research is truly notable. Additionally, remember that part of NPOV is balance: You are seeking to provide an accurate and broad overview of a topic for a general reader, not catalog all the research that has been done or the most recent discoveries in a subject. Rumors, preprints, and scientific research reported in the news are not reliable sources.

For websites

In addition to using search engines (a long list of which can be found at List of search engines), try a directory such as the Librarians Internet Index, at This site, like other web directory building projects, collects websites by topic, but each site is reviewed by librarians to make sure the content seems reasonable before it is posted. Another well-known, volunteer-edited web directory is; other directories can be found at List of web directories.

For books

WorldCat, at, is a combined catalog for libraries all over the world and is now free online. If you have a particular book in mind, this catalog can point you to libraries nearby that have that book, and books are searchable by subject. Three good sources for online books are Google Books, at, which scans books held in libraries around the United States and makes their full text searchable (though if the work is under copyright, only a snippet of the book will be viewable); the Internet Archive's Texts project, at, which scans public domain and freely licensed books and makes them available along with other online collections; and Project Gutenberg,, which has the full text of 20,000 public domain books available.

For reference works

Category:Wikipedia sources lists some common sources used in articles, whereas Category:Reference works in the public domain lists reference works in the public domain, which are often available online and can be reused freely for articles (though often require some cleanup).

Other good sources for finding books and articles are general textbooks or overview sources about a topic, which almost always include a bibliography of core sources that you can then turn to. And as with any research project, local libraries and librarians can also help suggest and locate possible sources.

ISBNs and Book Sources

An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 10- or 13-digit number that is used to uniquely identify books by publishers and libraries worldwide. You may notice on Wikipedia that linked ISBNs are often listed after references to books. Clicking one of these linked ISBNs takes you to a special page, Wikipedia:Book sources, which is a long list of library catalogs from all over the world. If you arrive at this page by clicking an ISBN, clicking any of the library catalog links will search for that book in that catalog automatically. If you have access to one or more of these libraries, this can be a great timesaver. Some online book retailers are also listed. If you have a book's ISBN, you can also search it directly at Special:BookSources. To insert an ISBN into a reference, simply type ISBN and the number, without punctuation. The number will automatically be linked to the Book Sources page. 3.3. Reliable Sources

Some sources are better than others for verifying information. Always use the best possible sources you can find. In addition, Wikipedia has a few general preferences for sources:

   Given Wikipedia's global availability as a research tool and the possibility that collaborating researchers will have access only to publicly available sources, try to use sources that are freely available to everyone online (usually in addition to printed or subscription-based sources). Beware, however, that many resources accessible through universities or libraries, such as online magazines, are paid for by subscription and not available to the general public.
   Up-to-date sources are preferable, though deeper coverage of a topic may depend on older scholarly sources. New sources can always be added in as they are published.
   Use a mixture of sources whenever possible: A combination of external links to websites, references to standard textbooks, and specific references to academic books and journals is ideal.
   Don't rely on blogs or any other sources that are led more by opinion than factual reporting; editorials may be good sources for discussing viewpoints about a controversial subject, but they are generally not the best sources for factual information. When researching a very controversial subject, be extremely careful to double-check the origins of sources and present both sides of the story.
   For any source, ask about the expertise of the author writing. The idea of who an expert is will clearly vary in context; an expert in current popular musical culture might be a music journalist, not an academic professor. Regardless, be clear on where information is originating from.
   Don't randomly cut well-referenced information or reasonable sources. If you find a better source than the one listed, by all means add it, but in most cases, don't remove the old source. If the sources disagree, note this in the article or on the talk page.

Debates are ongoing on Wikipedia about what a reliable source is and what claims need to be sourced within an article. Scholarly sources are, for the most part, going to carry more conviction than (say) what a columnist once wrote. But you should also be reasonable about sources: Reliability is not the same as infallibility. Note

Don't self reference by using other Wikipedia articles as sources. This kind of self referencing defeats the point of getting information from outside reliable sources. Links to other articles should go in the See also section.

For a detailed discussion, see Wikipedia:Reliable sources (shortcut WP:RS). This guideline on reliable sources and the concurrent debate around it (unfortunately but maybe inevitably) has been dominated by extreme cases, which are not helpful for most articles. The guidelines for sources tend to deal with areas where it makes the most sense to take a tough line on reliability, such as religion, politics, or biographies of living people.

A related guideline deals with sources for biographies. The following is from Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons (shortcut WP:BLP), which is official policy (accessed October 3, 2007):

   Material from self-published books, zines, websites, and blogs should never be used as a source about a living person, unless written or published by the subject of the article.
   Editors should avoid repeating gossip. Ask yourself whether the source is reliable; whether the material is being presented as true; and whether, even if true, it is relevant to an encyclopedia article about the subject. When less-than-reliable publications print material they suspect is untrue, they often include weasel phrases. Look out for these. If the original publication doesn't believe its own story, why should we?

3.4. Referencing Styles

Once you have the perfect source in hand, you then need to actually add a citation to it in the article. A variety of referencing styles have been adopted and ultimately rejected over the years on Wikipedia—not to mention the half-dozen styles commonly used in academia being added to the mix and technological solutions such as templates being introduced. What all these referencing styles have in common, however, is they attempt to make it clear where information in an article comes from and what sources were used. Getting the specific style of the reference right is much less important than making sure the reference is present in the first place; other editors can always come along and edit it stylistically.

That said, we recommend the inline referencing style, where specific references are noted in the main body of the text using numbered superscript links to footnotes. These footnotes appear at the end of the article (usually grouped in a section called References or Notes) and contain the specific references used for each piece of information that has a footnote. This style is gradually becoming the most common on Wikipedia today, and it has several advantages. In-text links to footnotes means a reader can easily click to the source for any particular piece of information and that you can make very specific citations—each sentence in an article could conceivably have a footnote to a different specific source. The citations for each fact can appear directly next to that fact. This style also means that an article can easily acquire more sources over time; if an editor finds a perfect source for documenting a single fact in an article, he or she can easily insert a footnote to that source, and the list of footnotes and their numbers will automatically update. Additionally, if a footnote is deleted through text being edited or moved, the footnote numbers will automatically update. This makes it a good style for collaborative referencing work.

How Much Should You Reference?

Several long-running debates have occurred over the years on whether everything in an article (including common knowledge) needs to be cited to a source or just the key points. Questions have also been raised over whether having a large number of footnotes in an article detracts from its readability and even its usefulness to the reader, who does not have to query every fact to learn the material. These arguments aside, having a specific source immediately accessible is useful, and footnotes make this possible.

Along with footnotes that only contain a reference, they can also comment on or include asides to the main text, though these are less common in articles. For a comprehensively referenced article, the footnote section (which in this case would be called Notes) can also be combined with a separate References or Further reading section, where works can be listed as general references for the whole article. Figure 6.3, “The References, Further reading, and External links sections of the article Phineas Gage” shows this style used for the end sections of the article Phineas Gage (about a 19th-century man famed for surviving a large iron rod puncturing his skull and brain).

Figure 6.3. The References, Further reading, and External links sections of the article Phineas Gage The References, Further reading, and External links sections of the article Phineas Gage

Wikipedia has no default style for the citations themselves; several different variations on academic styles are common (see Wikipedia:Citations for more information). How a work is cited will depend on what it is; a typical Wikipedia article includes sources from web pages, books, and perhaps periodicals and learned journals. Here is some advice for styling citations on Wikipedia:

   Remain consistent. If one referencing method or style is already used in the article, stick to that style.
   Inverting names is not necessary. Although many academic styles call for putting the last name of an author first in a reference listing, this style is unhelpful for readers who may be searching the site for a specific author.
   Wikilinks can be used judiciously; many famous authors and well-known sources have their own articles, and in these cases, names within the citation can be linked for the curious reader.
   Include a URL if you can, but make sure the URL is stable and accessible to everyone (not just subscribers to a magazine, for instance). Include the date that you accessed the URL.
   Spell it out. Cryptic abbreviations often used in scholarly journals are unhelpful for a reader who may be new to a field of study. Give as much information about the source as you can (the full name of the author, journal name, or ISBN for a book, for instance). Readers from all over the world may ultimately try to find the source.

Reference Sections

There are several standardized sections for references at the end of a typical article: See also, for links to other Wikipedia articles; References, which includes all sources used for the article; and External links, which contains links to external websites. The sections should appear in that order. Occasionally, References will be split into a Notes section (for footnotes), References (for any non-footnoted references), and Further reading (for extra relevant sources not directly cited). 3.4.1. Using Footnotes

The workhorse of the inline style is the <ref> tag. Notes and citations are placed in between a pair of <ref> tags in the text itself, where you want the footnote to appear. For example,

According to scientists, the Sun is pretty big[1], however the moon is not so big.[2].

This example cites two sources: a work by E. Miller published by Academic Press and a work by R. Smith published in Scientific American. The references will only display in the text as a numbered link to a footnote, which appears directly where you have placed the first <ref> tag. These numbers automatically update whenever a new footnote is added.

For a reader to actually see the references cited, you must add a second piece—the <references/> tag, which is inserted at the bottom of the article in a section called References or Notes. The text of all footnotes will appear wherever you place this tag (though placing <references/> before <ref> doesn't work). For instance, for the previous example, you would create a section that looks like this:

Notes edit

  1. Miller, E: "The Sun", page 23. Academic Press, 2005
  2. Smith, R: "Size of the Moon", Scientific American, 46(78):46

Don't add anything to the <references/> tag; the linked references from the text will automatically display here:

Notes edit

  1. ^ Miller, E: "The Sun", page 23. Academic Press, 2005
  2. ^ Smith, R: "Size of the Moon", Scientific American, 46(78):46

Each footnote starts with a caret (^), which is automatically linked back to the text where the reference was placed. To edit the reference, you change it directly in the article text rather than in the References section.

Though you don't need to add anything to the <references/> tag, you can list other, non-footnoted references in this section as well. Creating two sections, one called Notes (for footnotes) and one called References (for all other references) is better, however. This form also enables you to use short references in the footnotes (such as "Smith, p. 47"), as long as you spell out the full reference in the References section.

You can use the same footnote (that is, the same citation), and hence the same footnote number, more than once. To do this, insert the name variable in the <ref> tag, like this:

According to scientists, the Sun is pretty big[1], however the moon is not so big.[2].

To refer to each of these citations at a later point, you only need to refer to the abbreviated form of the reference with ref name:

The sun is also very hot [1]. The moon, however, is cold [2].

Be sure to add that last ending slash, or all the text after the reference won't display when you save the page!

These two references then use the same footnote numbers as the first reference using that name. In the footnotes section, links to each instance of the reference will appear next to the footnote that is used multiple times, labeled alphabetically: a, b, c, and so on.

Using ref name is the best way to cite a source multiple times within the text. The old academic convention of ibid. (short for ibidem, meaning this is the same book as mentioned in the previous note, but on a different page) is not robust enough. Someone could later add a footnote between your successive notes, and the second note wouldn't make sense. The inline system works because if text is edited or moved, the numbers follow automatically. Unfortunately, one limitation of the current footnoting system is that if you want to change any part of the cited reference (such as to cite a different page number) ref name doesn't work; you have to type out the entire reference again. If this becomes time consuming in a long article, consider using the short reference style in a Notes section with the full references in a separate References section. 3.4.2. Referencing Templates

Many templates have been developed for formatting citations. You can use templates to ensure that cited references for different types of sources (such as newspapers, books, etc.) are clearly displayed in a standardized way. You can also use citation templates both for formatting citations in footnotes or citations listed separately in a References section.

In a citation template, the editor fills in the template parameters with the source information (such as the author, title of the work, and so on) and the template automatically arranges the citation appropriately, according to the type of source. For instance, here is the wikitext of the citation for an online newspaper story using the Template:News template:

Plunkett, John (2005-10-27). [ story/0,14173,1601858,00.html "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying"]. The Guardian. story/0,14173,1601858,00.html. Retrieved 2005-10-27. 

When you save the page, the reader sees the following citation:

Plunkett, John. "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying", The Guardian, October 27, 2005. Retrieved on October 27, 2005.

with the title of the article linked to the given URL. Templates do the work of making sure citations are correctly formatted. They also help ensure that references include all the necessary information—not just a URL for a website but also a date—so articles can be accessed from an archive if the URL no longer works.

Some templates have been created for specific sources that are commonly cited. In this case, the main source information is already encoded in the template, so the editor only has to add variable information such as author name or article title. The full source citation will appear when the page is saved. For instance, the template Template:Fishbase species is for adding a link to FishBase, a scholarly online database of information about fish. In the Guppy article, the following citation appears:

Link Rot

Link rot is what happens when websites go offline or restructure their content, and therefore the URLs that refer to them on other pages fail. This is obviously a problem for Wikipedia, which references hundreds of thousands of other websites. A few practical measures can be taken. All website references should also include the title of the site, the author or publisher (if known), and the date the site was accessed, so that if the site later dies, web archives such as the Wayback Machine ( ) can be used. For what to do if a link in a reference goes dead, see WP:DEADREF.

Template:FishBase species

The editor only fills in the genus and species information and the date that the site was accessed. The saved page renders this as the following citation:

"Poecilia reticulata". FishBase. Ed. Ranier Froese and Daniel Pauly. April 2004 version. N.p.: FishBase, 2004.

The title of the database, the editors, and the formatting of the citation are all encoded in the template. This is clearly useful if you're citing the same source multiple times. A list of specific source templates can be found at Category:Specific source templates.

One problem with templates is that they are inflexible; for instance, if you want to wikilink the author name in the news example given, you'll have trouble because the author first and last names are in different fields. There are two solutions for this particular problem: Either don't use the template and write the citation out by hand, or add an extra field that has been developed just for this called authorlink, which can be filled out like |authorlink=John Plunket (for joint authors, you can use authorlink1= and authorlink2=).

As you can see, templates can get complicated. They can also make the wiki markup denser and harder to read, especially if they are used for in-text citations, and they may not add that much to the presentation of references. Templates are certainly optional. They can also be added gradually: Existing references can be converted to templates over time. More information about citation templates can be found at Wikipedia:Citation_templates.

Further Reading The style guideline about references in articles The guideline about using footnotes in text and footnote style Information about citation templates

4. Editing Alongside Others

On Wikipedia, no article stands alone, and no editor works alone. Always consider your own work both in the context of working with others on the site and taking their perspectives into account and fitting new content into existing structures. If you create an article with wikilinks, are you going to be satisfied with all the pages you find when you click the bluelinks? The site has many articles that need to be improved, so you'll likely also fix up and expand deficient articles to support your own articles; you will also most likely come to work edit-by-edit in a piecemeal way. And as an editor you'll find yourself one of a crowd. In the collaborative environment of Wikipedia, taking into account the input of others is critical. One of the first questions that newcomers often ask is "What happens when two people disagree?" The answer is the editors involved try to work toward consensus, which is one of the cornerstones of how Wikipedia works. In Chapter 14, Disputes, Blocks, and Bans, we'll cover the general idea of getting consensus and resolving disputes in depth; here we'll give some specific advice on how to work with others productively when editing articles. 4.1. Changing What Others Write

Edit in logical steps rather than in single large edits. If a lot of work needs to be done on an article, many editing tasks will suggest themselves; if this is the case, you need a plan of action. For instance, restructuring the logical flow of an article is more fundamental than rewording and should take priority. Usually, you determine to change certain things about an article but probably not everything, nor all at once. This is the best way. Making changes in discrete logical steps, using good edit summaries (and sometimes a note on the talk page) can help others figure out, and accept, what you're doing to the article. Set yourself limited and reasonable goals, for instance, choosing a single section to improve content and wording.

Sometimes, a total rewrite of a page is definitely called for. You then are effectively pasting a new article on top, and the diff may show just a few words like and and the that were kept. This does pose potential problems. You should aim to keep anything of value that was already in the article, and the best approach is for the article to demonstrate a steady improvement, stepwise and sectionwise. Otherwise, you risk coming under suspicion that you are adopting a high-handed approach. If you hate some format or other minor convention being used, add a note to the talk page before going in and switching it all around. Making wholesale formatting changes across many articles without asking for input from others is likely to cause controversy. 4.2. Will Your Own Edits Be Kept?

Added text is not always kept on Wikipedia. Pages can always be rewritten or reverted back to how they were before. Whole articles are subject to deletion if other editors think they fail to meet basic site policies (though decently written, well-researched pieces are much less likely to be deleted). Articles you write will be changed by others, and at some point someone will redo or undo a major change that you have made. While this is a natural part of working on Wikipedia, adding material that is routinely taken out at some later point ultimately becomes fooling around. Will this wholesale rejection happen to you? If you spend any serious amount of time writing for Wikipedia, you'll feel you've wasted it if your edits or articles are not incorporated on the site in some fashion.

Be clear about a few things. The question "Does the encyclopedia need this article?" is quite distinct from the question "Does this addition or change to the article benefit the encyclopedia?" Articles are subject to deletion, but individual edits are also subject to reversion or rewriting. New additions to articles are subject to the same content and style policies as articles overall, but individual edits are discussed in a different way. Articles that have some deficiencies are given the benefit of the doubt and are in time worked on and cleaned up. Only articles that demonstrate a scanty grasp of basic policies should be dealt with harshly. Individual edits, though, may just be reverted as substandard. Try to understand why the edit was undone. Are you simply wrong about a point or inserting opinion as fact? Did you cite a reference?

Suppose your general edits to articles are often rejected by other editors. What can you do? If Wikipedia policies rewarded stubbornness, the site would have overloaded years ago. There are good approaches to editing that are not merely defensive and obstinate. First, you should watch and monitor articles you're interested in, as explained in Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian. Second, consider your choice of topics: Don't always head into controversy, and don't be a stormy petrel, bringing trouble with you. Some topics are certainly more contentious than others; as a new editor, you may want to start working on articles dealing with less controversial topics (starting with articles about politics or historical disputes is never a good idea). Third, be broadminded. Appreciate where other editors are coming from. They may be at least as reasonable and well informed as you, and they probably have a different perspective on the matter. Recognize that others might have a good reason for disagreeing with you: This is a core tenet of assuming good faith, which is fundamental for interacting on Wikipedia, as will be described in Chapter 12, Community and Communication. Finally, if you can't honestly be neutral on a topic, don't blame the encyclopedia—work on topics you're less invested in.

The best way to make sure your edits are kept is to submit good content in the first place; watch your writing style and incorporate our guide on writing well and other style tips. If you write on Wikipedia in a hurried way, then you can expect your edits to be transformed, if they are kept at all. Use careful, concise English, and place everything in context. This book contains more than enough advice to ensure that a reader who follows it will be a Wikipedian who adds welcome material.

If your submitted articles are deleted, you need to understand the article deletion process and how to contest deletions appropriately (see Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes). You should also make your pieces conform more obviously to content policies. Many newly submitted articles are deleted every day on Wikipedia: approximately one every minute. The reason for deletion is usually self-evident. The articles very clearly don't meet the site's guidelines, which means they often qualify for speedy deletion, or deletion without review.

Finally, seek satisfaction in the work you do on Wikipedia. In the end you should find an area where contributing is not too stressful socially and benefits writing and researching or maintaining the site in other ways. Wikihappiness is finding the work that best suits you, without preconceptions. 4.3. Edit Summaries

We'll now cover edit summaries in more depth; we introduced them briefly in Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article. An edit summary is simply a line of text that you supply when editing and saving a page. Edit summaries document the work of upgrading articles. Other editors will use them to check and assess your work and approach, which is only fair since you'll learn to do the same in return. Good edit summaries are a confidence-building measure and are particularly recommended if you're editing in a contentious area. Getting into the habit of adding summaries will help your reputation as an editor and will help others on the site.

Before you save a page, write a summary of what you're doing to the article in the Edit summary box underneath the Edit window. This edit summary is then carried along with your edit (or diff) and is displayed in the page history and in lists of changes to articles, such as Recent Changes and watchlists. Edit summaries have a 200-character limit, but you can say a lot in 200 characters. A good edit summary briefly describes the changes you made, and if those changes are not self-evident, why you've made them. Edit summaries are not searched or indexed, so all important information should be added to the discussion page as well.

Standard abbreviations and jargon are commonly used (but are not required). You will notice this right away. Some types of summaries are characteristic of automated (bot) edits or other semi-automated tools, and recognizing these edits is useful. For articles you are interested in, you also want to watch for any summaries relating to deletion processes. A list of edit summary jargon is in Appendix C, Edit Summaries Jargon.

Although no one can make you use edit summaries, they matter a great deal in social terms. Edit summaries make Wikipedia work more smoothly. Some standard situations pretty much demand a summary:

   Deleting the work of others
   Calling attention to talk page threads when a long, detailed explanation is required
   Revamping an article in a major way, saving each block of changes with a separate description
   Informing others when not everyone will have the background and knowledge about a topic you have, even if the change seems minor
   Tagging and untagging and site maintenance
   Splitting content out to form a new page, where edit summaries are required in two places to provide an audit trail, so anyone can see where the "new" content came from and where the "old" content went (under the GFDL license requirements, the original authorship should be accessible from the new page's history)
   Nominating a page to be deleted

Wikipedia adds an automatic prefix to summaries when you edit a section; in all such cases, you should supplement that with an explanation of what you did.

Edit summaries should answer the question, "Why was this edit made?"—particularly when corrections have been made to an article. For example, in correcting a date for a historical event, consider combining three things: adding an explicit reference in the article itself, writing an edit summary saying "date corrected according to scholarly consensus, see talk page for details," and supplying more backup in a talk page note. Give details at reasonable length. A more detailed explanation (up to a point) is generally better than a vague one: "Rewrote history section for clarity" is better than "rewriting." However, for minor edits, simply noting "spelling" or "typo" is fine. 4.4. No Ownership

Remember one thing: However much time you put in to writing or polishing an article, others will still be entitled to edit it. An article is never yours alone. The bottom line for authors is that the culture of Wikipedia is can do, including can edit, meaning that anyone is welcome to edit any page. Don't growl, be territorial, or kick up a fuss over this; obstinacy ("You cannot be serious about cutting my work") is not the wiki way.

Never seek to control an article on Wikipedia. Once posted, Wikipedia pages are not only released under an open license, but also they are released into the open and collaborative editing environment, where anyone is both free and encouraged to work on the page. If you disagree with someone's changes to an article you started, work to resolve this dispute on the talk page and come to consensus as you would on any other page. See Wikipedia:Ownership of articles (shortcut WP:OWN) for a fundamental policy on editorial behavior. And remember the positive benefits of working with others: They will bring a different perspective to the article, may fix mistakes that you never saw, and will add content to the page.

Further Reading The fundamental policy on getting consensus and advice on how to get there All about using edit summaries to communicate The policy on not assuming "ownership" of what you write

Summary edit

Much of what is needed to become a good contributor to Wikipedia derives from skills that are more generally useful, such as researching and organizing material, writing clearly and logically for a broad audience, and supporting claims with detailed references. Any logged-in user with a registered account can start a new article easily; the best way to begin an article is to start with a redlink on another page. Wikipedia has several style conventions for article titles and how they should be put together. The Manual of Style, a collection of style guidelines, provides guidance on how best to style an article. Both good writing and good research skills are critical to producing an excellent article.

A skilled Wikipedia editor must also be patient and consider the work and input of others as he or she edits. Editing is collective, so an editor should comprehend and use the spaces and forums to interact and should treat other editors as colleagues.

Chapter 7 edit

Chapter 7: Cleanup, Projects, Policy, and Processes edit

Please don't say you're at a loss for something to do on Wikipedia today. There is far too much that needs to be fixed for that! Wikipedia's broad concept of cleanup includes most tasks to improve articles once they have been created. Any time you need a break from writing new articles, you'll find plenty of work waiting for you on existing ones.

Work on Wikipedia is self-directed. You can create your own tasks or look into the wide variety of projects and processes for improving and maintaining Wikipedia content in particular areas. You can almost always find someone else who is interested in working in the same areas as you are.

In this chapter, we'll talk about some of the available cleanup tasks and the collaborative projects that have been set up for maintaining articles. We'll also introduce processes, the review structures that have been set up to allow interested editors to discuss articles and perform certain formal tasks. Processes are the practical implementation of policies and provide a structure for day-to-day work. We'll discuss two of the biggest processes: deleting articles and promoting good content. The activities described in this chapter are at the heart of the collaborative editing and article improvement that make Wikipedia work.

Cleanup edit

If you see a message with a yellow bar at the beginning of an article, along with the icon of a broom chasing out the dust, that's a tag indicating the article needs to be cleaned up. Although the majority of articles could be improved—after all, Wikipedia is never finished—some are clearly in more desperate need of help than others. These neglected articles require cleanup.

Cleanup is simply the general term for improving articles. The vast majority of tasks on Wikipedia fall under this broad heading: Sourcing, formatting, rewriting, and linking are all cleanup tasks. Although anyone is free to work on any task at any time, Wikipedia has developed a variety of mechanisms to sort out articles in need of help, so editors can find them and address cleanup issues more easily. In this section, we'll describe the basic mechanism for identifying and flagging articles as needing help, and then we'll discuss the broad categories of issues and how to find articles with these issues.

Spending at least some time on cleanup tasks is helpful for any Wikipedian. Working on articles that need to be cleaned up reveals the kinds of problems that Wikipedia faces, and dealing with similar issues and problems in a number of articles is an excellent way to learn Wikipedia style and develop proficiency at encyclopedic writing (and by extension, any type of writing). Cleanup is also one of the best ways to contribute; Wikipedia always has a tremendous backlog of cleanup needing to be done. Thoroughly improving a poorly written article can also be immensely satisfying: You can always compare the before and after versions of the article from the page history to see just how much you accomplished.

Most people start volunteering by exploring and trying out small cleanup jobs. Try different kinds of editing tasks to see what suits you. The authors of this book have different tasks they like to do on Wikipedia: Phoebe likes merging and fact-checking, whereas Charles prefers creating redirects. Many people end up focusing on one or two tasks—copyediting or referencing, for instance. As described in "Projects: Working to Improve Content" on Section 3, “Projects: Working to Improve Content”, many of these tasks have dedicated WikiProjects where groups of interested editors work on them: WikiProject League of Copyeditors (shortcut WP:LoCE) caters to those interested in stylistic editing, whereas WikiProject Fact and Reference Check (shortcut WP:FACT) is for fact-checkers. 1.1. Flagging Articles

When editors encounter articles that need to be cleaned up, they have two options: They can immediately fix the problems, or they can flag the article with a message describing the problem for another editor to clean up later. Once articles have been flagged, other editors can then systematically work their way through all the ones tagged as having a particular issue.

These flags or tags are the cleanup messages you'll see at the top of many articles. They are produced by templates, small pieces of code that can be included on pages to produce standardized messages. As noted in Chapter 5, Basic Editing, to add a template to a page, you simply enclose the name of the template in double curly brackets and place it on the page where you want it to appear.

For instance, you can find the generic cleanup template at Template:Cleanup. To flag an article as needing cleanup using this template, insert this code at the very top of the article:


This will create the message shown in Figure 7.1, “The cleanup template message”.

Figure 7.1. The cleanup template message The cleanup template message

If an article has several issues, multiple cleanup templates may be stacked on top of each other. An editor may also replace a general cleanup message with a more specific message as the particular issue becomes clear: For instance, if the article needs to be rewritten for clarity, you would flag it with the {{confusing}} template instead of the more general {{cleanup}} template. Template messages now exist for most conceivable problems. The long list of cleanup messages is available here (shortcut WP:TC); we also list some of these templates in the sections that follow.

If an editor fixes an article so the cleanup message is no longer needed, he or she can remove the template message by simply editing the page and removing the template tag. If the editor only partially addresses the problem, he or she may remove only the appropriate template message if more than one has been added to the article or add a note on the talk page detailing what's been done and what's left to do. Although an editor sometimes forgets to remove a template when cleaning up an article, be careful about removing templates if you aren't sure all the issues have been addressed because content-related templates also serve as warnings to readers.

Most cleanup templates can also be dated, so you can see how long an article has been in need of cleanup. For the general cleanup tag, adding a date looks like this:

{{cleanup|date=November 2007}}

This tag adds the date to the template message and sorts the article into a cleanup-by-month category.

Although the cleanup process is thus somewhat subjective—no hard and fast rules on when to add any particular template exist, and anyone can add or remove templates—using the template message system allows several different editors (who may otherwise never be in touch) to clean up an article using a loose process and helps readers know when an article has problems. 1.2. Cleanup Categories

Adding a cleanup message to an article will automatically place the article in an associated cleanup category. This way editors can easily find all the articles tagged as needing a certain kind of cleanup; they can simply go to the category and get to work. For instance, articles tagged with {{cleanup}} are placed in the category "All pages needing cleanup". Articles tagged with a dated cleanup tag are automatically sorted into a cleanup-by-month category as well so those with older tags can be worked on first. This also makes the large cleanup category more manageable. If you edit out the template to remove it, the article will automatically be removed from the cleanup category.

Of course, flagging articles is easier than actually cleaning them up. This is reflected in some of the large cleanup categories. These categories have backlogs—large numbers of articles awaiting attention. Wikipedia's rapid growth has perhaps made this inevitable. Because there is so much to do, adding a template for every issue isn't really helpful, as this may, in fact, mask an article's worst issues; if a quick edit can resolve the problem, instead of adding a template, go ahead and fix it (the sofixit principle described in Chapter 13, Policy and Your Input). Make sure, however, that you flag the biggest issues if you can't fix them right away. As of early 2008, roughly 31,000 articles are in the category "All pages needing cleanup". Working in this category can be overwhelming; on the other hand, 31,000 represents less than 2 percent of the total number of articles on Wikipedia at this time.

Cleanup Tasks edit

The most comprehensive place to look for a list of collaborative cleanup projects is Wikipedia:Maintenance (shortcut WP:MAINT). This page gives an overview of all sorts of cleanup tasks, from the simple to the complex. So many tasks are listed that you might not know where to start. What is WikiProject Red Link Recovery? Well, this project aims to turn redlinks to bluelinks by automating the process of finding close title matches and suggesting redirects.

If you would rather edit by topic, joining a WikiProject may be the best route (see "WikiProjects" on Section 3.1, “WikiProjects”). Alternatively, you can simply scan a list of articles in any topic area to find one that looks interesting and is in need of help. Try Category "To do", which shows articles with to-do lists on their talk pages or "Wikipedia:Cleanup" for a selected list of articles that need to be cleaned up, along with brief explanations of what needs to be done. If you can clean up one of these articles completely, simply edit the page to remove it from the list.

Cleanup may be basic Wikipedia work, but it still offers challenges and interesting insights. Sometimes articles will require complete restructuring. Some will need to be rewritten: Refer to "Handling Major Editing Tasks" on Section 1.3, “Handling Major Editing Tasks” for a general approach to handling major edits, and heed the advice in Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research about keeping the material that can be saved and working so cleanup doesn't leave big breaks and surprise diffs in the page history. 2.1. Rewriting

Every article in Wikipedia should aspire to elegant and clear prose that explains a topic gracefully and logically. Unfortunately, this aspiration is far from always being realized.

Poor writing creeps into Wikipedia in different ways:

An article may start with a poorly written draft. The original author may not be a proficient writer or English may be his or her second language.

An article may have gradually become unclear. Articles that have been copyedited in pieces over time, improving the wording but neglecting the logical flow, may still need to be thoroughly rewritten. Perhaps small pieces of information have been added over time, but the article now lacks structure.

Finally, an article may be clearly written but have an inappropriate tone or style for an encyclopedia. An article may lack a neutral point of view, demonstrating an editorial bias toward an event, a product, or a person. An article may also read like a press release, a product announcement, or even an advertisement.

Articles that need language help can be flagged in a variety of ways. Additionally, many of the articles flagged with the generic cleanup tag actually need to be rewritten.

Numerous explicit cleanup tags address the question of poor writing. To see articles flagged with any of these templates, you can go to the template page (such as Template:Copyedit); generally, the categories articles are placed into will be noted here, or you can click What Links Here from the template page. For instance:

{{copyedit}} Addresses any problem with grammar, style, cohesion, tone or spelling {{advert}}, {{fansite}}, {{gameguide}}, {{likeresume}}, {{newsrelease}}, {{obit}}, {{review}}, {{story}} Address problems with inappropriate tone and style

The "Fix Crappy Prose" Challenge edit

Everyone reading this who thinks they're a pretty good writer should click the Random Article link in the left-hand sidebar 20 times and rewrite any crappy prose in the articles you find, without sacrificing facts. Do this at least once a week. Detail and accuracy beat eloquence when the choice arises, but that does not justify bad prose. (Adapted from User:David Gerard)

{{abbreviations}}, {{buzzword}}, {{cleanup-jargon}}, {{inappropriate person}}, {{quotefarm}}, {{toospecialized}} Address composition problems

{{contradict}}, {{misleading}}, {{unbalanced}}, {{limitedgeographicscope}}, {{weasel}} Address problems with content and presentation

Depending on the level of problems, many approaches to rewriting articles exist. Guidelines for good articles are given in the Manual of Style and a variety of essays on the subject (see Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research), but the most important goal is that information be clearly conveyed to the reader, in line with the content policies. For unclear wording, consider clearer ways to provide explanations without sacrificing facts or ideas. Readers will benefit when you're done. To find other editors interested in writing and copyediting, consider joining the League of Copyeditors WikiProject.

Expanding Stubs edit

Stub articles are beginning articles that need to be expanded with more information on the topic. Hundreds of thousands of articles have been marked as stubs in all topic areas—so many that stub-sorting by topic is itself a key maintenance task. If you don't want to write an entire article from scratch but enjoy the research and writing process, try expanding one of these articles. Don't forget, however, that new information should be well referenced.

A list of all stub types (which, in turn, links to specific categories for each type) is maintained at Wikipedia:WikiProject Stub sorting. When working on these articles, review more mature articles in the same topic area. What information is missing? Does an article about an author, for instance, contain a bibliography of the author's work?

Wikipedia has no hard-and-fast rules about how long a stub can get before it is no longer a stub. If an article seems reasonably complete or it seems like a long article, you can probably remove the stub message. If an article seems longer than a stub but still needs to be expanded, flag it with the {{expand}} template.

Wikification edit

Wikification is the changing of any text into wikitext, including marking it with wikisyntax, structuring the article into logical sections, and adding internal links. Wikification can easily turn into rewriting and fact-checking because, fundamentally, you are converting ordinary prose into Wikipedia hypertext. Wikification, in this broader sense, means "formatting according to Wikipedia style." Experienced Wikipedia editors probably wikify before serious rewriting for prose style because wikification brings articles closer to encyclopedic considerations and helps flag related material in other articles.

When you wikify, be alert to other issues:

If the article is a dead-end article with no wikilinks leading from it, check What Links Here to make sure the article isn't also an orphan article without incoming links. These two problems often occur in the same article. Part of wikifying may be adding appropriate links to the article from other pages.

You may need to add sections to the text or rewrite the lead topic sentence to be more encyclopedic. If the whole logical flow of an article is wrong, give that the highest priority of all.

Poorly formatted content should usually also be examined for compliance with notability standards and factual accuracy as well; poor formatting is often a sign that the content was added by someone unfamiliar with Wikipedia.

Wrong tone can be a clue to copyright issues; see "Copyright Violations" on Section 2.4.2, “Copyright Violations”.

Formatting Articles edit

Sometimes articles in need of stylistic help turn out to not be suitable for the encyclopedia: They may duplicate other older articles, be about non-notable topics, or even be hoaxes. If you see an article with a questionable topic, don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion before spending a great deal of time formatting it. You may also need to add other tags to the article as you edit, such as Citation Needed for questionable statements.

Flag articles that need to be wikified by using the {{wikify}} template (Figure 7.2, “Wikify template message”). The article will then be added to Category:Articles that need to be wikified. The Wikification effort is supported by Wikipedia:WikiProject Wikify (shortcut WP:WWF). A related cleanup tag is {{sections}}, which places articles in Category:Articles needing sections.

Fact-Checking and Referencing edit

Good sources boost the quality of articles. Sources give the reader a place to find more information when they have finished reading the Wikipedia article, as well helping to ensure stated facts are accurate. Verifiability and Reliable Sources (shortcuts WP:V and WP:RS) are key content policies, as discussed in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?. However, verifiability, which means the ability to verify something in principle, differs from actually providing verifiable sources. Many Wikipedia articles fall a little short here. Older articles from the more free-wheeling days on Wikipedia may not cite sources at all, whereas other articles may cite sources for only a few of the ideas in the text or not contain footnotes in the text itself.

Sourcing is an ongoing process: Compiling a good bibliography for any topic, even a small one, is a big task. For some topics, you may have trouble finding any reliable sources, and accurate referencing work in these instances is particularly valuable. When original authors do not source their facts, various fact-checking projects perform this work.

Wikipedia has several templates that alert both editors and readers that citations are needed in an article:

{{unreferenced}} This template places articles in Category:Articles lacking sources. Use when an article doesn't cite any sources at all.

{{refimprove}} This template places articles in Category:Articles lacking reliable references. Use when some sources exist but more are needed.

{{citeneeded}} The more usual {{citeneeded}} or {{fact}} both place an article in Category:All articles with unsourced statements. Unlike the first two templates, add these templates inline in the article text wherever the problem occurs. For instance, if an article contains a questionable or controversial statement that needs a reference, you can insert the {{fact}} template at the end of the sentence in question.

Sourcing can be time-consuming, but you can add sources to articles gradually. If you can find an outside, reliable source for just one fact mentioned in an article, adding a footnote with this source is quite helpful. If you have a more general source for the article's subject but haven't used it as a source for specific facts in the article, consider starting a Further reading or External links section and listing the source as a place for readers to get more information. For instance, you may want to list definitive biographies for articles on noteworthy people in Further reading or add links to online primary source documents for historical articles in External links. Every article should be as well sourced as possible.

If you are knowledgeable about a particular topic area and want to concentrate on finding sources for that area, joining a WikiProject (as described in "Projects: Working to Improve Content" on Section 3, “Projects: Working to Improve Content”) is the easiest way to find articles on that topic that need to be improved.

Help, an Article About Me Is Incorrect! edit

Wikipedia does not want articles to include mistaken statements, particularly those damaging to people or commercial ventures. On the other hand, Wikipedia content is not determined by outside pressures; neutrality is a key principle, and Wikipedia is not a mechanism for promotion. Therefore, inaccurate information and unfair criticism without a factual basis should not appear in Wikipedia articles; but fair criticism, properly sourced and presented in a balanced way, is not going to be removed from Wikipedia just because the subject or anyone else wants it removed.

If an article about you or your company is factually incorrect, you have several options, but you should first assess the best way to get corrections made.

Discussion edit

First, remember to take into account the guidelines and policies presented in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?. All articles must be neutrally presented, factually accurate and verifiable, and about notable, encyclopedic topics. Issues regarding factual inaccuracies can be discussed on the talk page for any article. This is the best first step toward getting a problem resolved. Give a calm account of where the article is factually wrong, and back up your argument with outside references. This should prompt those editing the article to correct it.

Editing edit

You can also, of course, simply edit the article; but before doing so, please consult Wikipedia:Conflict of interest (shortcut WP:COI). This guideline distinguishes defamatory comments (which anyone, including you, may remove) from other inaccuracies. Two further relevant pages are Wikipedia:Biographies of Living persons (shortcut WP:BLP) and Wikipedia:Autobiography (shortcut WP:AUTO). Wikipedia has strict guidelines on what can be written about living people, and WP:BLP will help you argue for deletion if someone has posted a hostile piece about you. On the other hand, WP:AUTO (subordinate to the conflict of interest guideline) explains why autobiographical writing is strongly discouraged—under most circumstances, you should not edit an article about yourself.

Email route

If discussing the issue on the talk page does not resolve it, even after you have drawn an administrator's attention to it, do not be tempted to force the issue, make threats, or abuse the editors who are working on the article. Those approaches are likely to be counterproductive. Your best recourse is to send an email, as explained at Wikipedia:OTRS (shortcut WP:OTRS), detailing the problem. This channel is the official complaint mechanism. If your complaint has any substance, an experienced volunteer will review the article and work to resolve problems. 2.4.2. Copyright Violations

You can often spot copyright violations on Wikipedia simply by their tone. Material from another source usually doesn't read like an encyclopedia article. Most copyright violations are caused by people cutting and pasting material from other sites into an article, which you can detect by searching the Web for the passage. Be sure to search for selected phrases from middle or particular unlikely sounding sentences; editors tend to change introductory and concluding sentences.

If you locate a probable source for some article text, the next question is how much text was copied. If only a sentence or two was copied and the source is simply unattributed, then rewriting and citing the source may solve the problem. If, however, an entire article or most of it has been copied from a single source (as is more common with cut-and-paste violations), then a copyright violation has occurred. Be aware, though, that Wikipedia does include, legitimately, much public domain text and that other sites mirror Wikipedia content—double-check that the other website is not copying Wikipedia, rather than the other way around!

You have a few options for removing copyright violations:

First, the text can be reverted to a good version. Check the page history to see if a clean version exists; if so, simply revert to this good version, adding an appropriate edit summary.

If you're having trouble figuring out if a good version exists, you can always rewrite the text yourself. Be careful that you aren't simply paraphrasing. Strip out most of the detail and start over, citing each fact to a source as you reinsert it. Be sure to add a note to the talk page explaining why you cut article text.

If you are unable to revert or rewrite, flag confirmed copyright violations using the {{copyvio}} tag, which will place the article in a category of possible copyright violations for experienced editors to check.

If you aren't certain that a copyright violation has occurred, use {{copyvio|url=}}, which will trigger a more measured deletion process. After the equal sign, paste in the URL from which you think the material may have been copied. Detailed instructions can be found at Wikipedia:Copyright problems (shortcut WP:CP).

If you are sure the article violates copyright and that the text or topic doesn't seem to have any redeeming value, you may want to use the speedy delete tag {{db-copyvio}}, which will ensure rapid administrator attention (see "Deletion Processes" on Section 4.2.1, “Deletion Processes”).

See Wikipedia:Spotting possible copyright violations (shortcut WP:SPCP) for more information. If your copyright is being infringed in an article, see Wikipedia:Contact us/Article problem/Copyright; several experienced editors work on resolving copyright issues

Vandalism Patrolling edit

Vandalism patrolling, though formally neither a project nor a process, is some of the most important ongoing work on Wikipedia. Vandalism is, by definition, a change made to Wikipedia with the malicious intention of having a negative effect on the content. Disputes over content may lead to accusations of vandalism, but no editor should ever use the word lightly—always assume good faith unless you have very good reason not to. Any good-faith effort to improve the encyclopedia, even if misguided or ill-considered, is not vandalism. See Wikipedia:Vandalism (shortcut WP:VAN) for a general perspective on the topic and Wikipedia:Administrator intervention against vandalism (shortcut WP:AIV) for a place to file reports against the most problematic editors.

Anyone can just revert obvious vandalism that they see, of course; check the history page and then edit or use the undo version if you're logged in to revert an article to a version before the vandalism occurred, as explained in Chapter 5, Basic Editing. (With either method, check the diff of the current version with the version you are reverting to make sure you're only undoing vandalism, and then add an edit summary: rvv vandalism is common.) Many editors use their watchlists for just this purpose, scanning the list of changes on a regular basis to check for suspect edits that might be vandalism. Others devote substantial time to watching Recent Changes and other logs. Most vandalism is obvious: cutting content for no reason or inserting obscenities, crude humor, or nonsense. If you find a vandalized page, you should spend a couple of minutes reviewing the page history; vandal edits tend to be clustered, and you may have to revert several edits to find the "latest good version" or a version of the page that hasn't been vandalized at all (see "Fixing Mistakes and Other Reasons to Revert" on Section 1.4, “Fixing Mistakes and Other Reasons to Revert”).

If you can't tell whether an edit is vandalism, check the diff of the edit along with the editing history of the user who made the edit to make a final determination. If an edit seems potentially realistic but is unsourced and uncommented, you can always tag it appropriately (with the Citation Needed template, for instance), leave a comment on the talk page, or revert it but copy the text of the edit to the talk page for others to verify one way or the other.

Most vandalism follows a pattern. The soft security concept, which will be discussed again in Chapter 12, Community and Communication, is worth mentioning here. Wikipedia is open to everyone, so bad edits will happen. As noted in Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article, however, most of these edits are caught quickly. The offenders are often young, and most vandalism is juvenile. Some persistent or more subtle vandals can succeed for a while. But Wikipedia defends in depth, not just with one front line. Wikipedia works by self-healing.

Many tools and systems have been developed to detect (and sometimes automatically correct) vandal edits; the Counter-Vandalism Unit, found at Wikipedia:Counter-Vandalism Unit (shortcut WP:CVU), is a collection of editors interested in this work (Figure 7.4, “Counter-Vandalism Unit logo” shows its logo).

Cleanup Editing Tools edit

Besides vandalism repair, many cleanup editing tasks (such as correcting spelling or fixing typos) are repetitive, and for these you can use editing tools. These tools help power editors get dull tasks done quickly (though editors are always responsible for the edits they make, regardless of whether they used an automated tool or not).

One popular application is the AutoWiki Browser. Here is a description from its page at Wikipedia:AutoWikiBrowser (shortcut WP:AWB):

The AutoWikiBrowser is a semi-automated Wikipedia editor for Microsoft Windows 2000/XP (or newer) designed to make tedious repetitive tasks quicker and easier. It is essentially a browser that automatically opens up a new page when the last is saved. When set to do so, it suggests some changes (typically formatting) that are generally meant to be incidental to the main change.

This tool and other automated tools are meant for experienced editors only; learn the ropes by editing by hand. You can find many other tools, including tools for editing quickly, at Wikipedia:Tools.

Further Reading

General Cleanup Tasks


Expansion and Stubs


Copyright Violations



Cleanup Editing Tools

Projects: Working to Improve Content edit

The fundamental problem of the Wikipedia method is that massive collaboration is *hard*. David Gerard, WikiEN-l mailing list, 9 October 2007

After being created by individuals, articles are often brought up to a much higher standard within the broader community of Wikipedia editors. Two types of systems, projects and processes, have developed to work on Wikipedia content from different directions. Projects are loose social groups on the site. In contrast, processes, discussed later in the chapter, focus on making editorial and other decisions following specific guidelines. In other words, projects use the more casual idea of workflow, but processes move articles or decisions from one stage to another, more like a factory.

WikiProjects edit

A WikiProject is a loose grouping of editors who have banded together. There isn't actually a WikiProject Frogs—but there is a WikiProject Amphibians and Reptiles. WikiProject Philately and WikiProject Skateboarding both exist as well. Some projects are quite specific, whereas others focus on a broad area, such as WikiProject Chemistry, which works on articles related to all areas of chemistry (Figure 7.5, “The WikiProject Chemistry page”). WikiProject Novels "aims to define a standard of consistency for articles about Novels." This aim is typical for a WikiProject: to prescribe certain aspects of structure or format for articles. Such a project takes an interest in developing helpful templates and guidelines for writing about a particular subject area. Projects may also work on rating articles in their area, developing portals and other navigational structures, and determining what articles are missing.

A Note on Naming edit

WikiProjects are pages that exist within the Wikipedia namespace. The convention for naming them is to use WikiProject (with the P capitalized) and then the name of the project. Thus the full internal page name to link to, for instance, WikiProject Chemistry, is Wikipedia:WikiProject Chemistry.

Wikipedia has hundreds of different projects, each addressing a topic area or specific maintenance or cleanup task. The best reason to participate in projects is that they operate on a smaller scale, whereas Wikipedia is enormous. Within the big city of Wikipedia, projects operate more like a small village, where it's easier to to get to know and work with other editors who are interested in the same topics.

There are two types of WikiProjects:

Topical WikiProjects edit

These projects focus on improving and managing articles in a single topic area. They usually serve as a place for documenting and discussing changes and provide a natural forum (on the talk page for the project's main page) for discussing a topic area. They may provide centralized "to-do" lists for coordinating articles among interested editors.

Maintenance WikiProjects edit

These projects focus on Wikipedia maintenance and general cleanup tasks by coordinating efforts to clean up needy articles, perhaps using several template types. These projects simply help aggregate the work with formal project pages that describe the tasks needing to be done and techniques for doing them.

A list of both types of projects can be found at Wikipedia:WikiProject_Council/Directory.

To join a WikiProject, simply add your username to the list of interested editors and take on one of the jobs that might be listed. Of course, you don't have to join a project before working on articles in that area! People generally take on tasks on their own initiative. Formal assignments and other kinds of top-down management are pretty much nonexistent. Projects vary in their level of formality and activity; some have editors who provide regular updates about a topic area and active groups who work on tasks or rate articles, whereas other projects simply provide an occasionally updated list of articles that need work.

Any editor who thinks they have a good idea for a project can create a project page, and then other interested editors are free to join the project and get to work. If you see a need for a new WikiProject, you can start one easily. You'll find more information at Wikipedia:WikiProject (shortcut WP:PROJ) and Wikipedia:WikiProject Council/Guide (shortcut WP:PROJGUIDE). You don't need special permission before starting a new project, but you might want to ask around—the success of any new project depends on attracting others to help out.

Wikiportals edit

Portals, those inviting pages with a collection of related articles and projects described in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content, are not generally under the direct control of WikiProjects. On the other hand, a natural relationship exists between a portal on a topic and a WikiProject on the same topic. WikiProject Poetry announces, "Help is needed in maintaining the Portal:Poetry, including adding quotes, poems, articles, and other material for future weeks." A portal is a natural entry point on the site for a browsing reader, so a WikiProject often aims to sustain and improve a matching portal or to set one up if needed. Portals also often provide a list of articles that need work in their particular subject area, so look here if you're searching for articles to work on. Portal:Contents/Portals provides a list of portals, organized by topic.

Most portals use a standardized layout that relies heavily on templates and subpages. Setting up a new portal does not require any special permissions, but you'll find that understanding templates before you begin is helpful. Try working on other portals first to get a sense of how they function. See Wikipedia:Portal/Instructions for a detailed guide on how to create a new portal.

Writing Collaborations edit

A writing or article collaboration is simply a drive to improve a particular article. Some people prefer to work on their own, but others enjoy the more focused push that a writing collaboration offers. When several people work on a particular article, it can improve very quickly.

Most of the WikiProjects use collaborations. Some are based on periods of time, such as an article of the week, where the group selects one article for dedicated improvement efforts that week. One long-standing project that is not topic-specific is the Article Collaboration and Improvement Drive, which picks articles to collaborate on that need work. Often the articles, selected by popular vote, are on core topics or important articles that have been neglected in favor of more specialized subjects. Broad topics can be surprisingly difficult to write about well! See Wikipedia:Article Collaboration and Improvement Drive (shortcut WP:ACID).

Another good place to find collaborations is Wikipedia:Community Portal, also accessible from the Community Portal link in the left-hand sidebar. Here, people are free to post collaborations, projects, and cleanup tasks that they want other editors to help with. On the Community Portal page, you can find an entire section devoted to collaborations; many are article collaborations in need of good editors. A further list of writing collaborations can be found at Wikipedia:Collaborations (shortcut WP:CO).

Further Reading edit

Processes edit

Editorial and management decisions have to be made all the time on Wikipedia, yet the site is far too large for a single decision-making center to be an effective solution. Decisions, small and large, are thus made in different forums, where discussions about specific topics are clearly structured. Processes are not formally directed, but they generally follow specific, agreed-on rules for making decisions. Processes are clearly structured, while projects rarely are, and are more like a conveyor belt for processing decisions. Several processes are based on official policy, such as the deletion policy. Anyone can participate in a process; interested editors simply go to the process page to add their views.

Technically, a Wikipedia process is a page, or a suite of pages, normally found in the Wikipedia namespace where editors discuss proposed decisions. Processes are public, open, and transparent. They are also confidence-building mechanisms, as they help ensure that the rules are the same for all editors and topics, and everyone can see (and double-check) that others are playing fair and that the rules do not suddenly change. As the essay Wikipedia:Practical process says:

We're here to write an encyclopedia. Process is the temporary scaffolding we put up to help us write an encyclopedia. Having no process or not working to established process leads to chaos. We use process: 1. To give some consistency in similar situations. This helps process feel fair, even though precedent is not binding on Wikipedia. 2. To reduce the redundant effort of making each and every decision from first principles. 3. To encourage institutional learning and lead to a higher overall quality of decision making.

Most processes rely on community consensus as well as policy for making decisions. Consensus, as used on Wikipedia, is an unusual and specific term. Within the context of processes, consensus means general agreement among participants within a specified time period (almost all processes put time limits on discussion). Sometimes a specific type of voting is used, as in article deletion discussions where editors include their name and whether or not they think the article should be deleted; but even in these situations, everyone understands this is not really a vote—compelling arguments that follow policy are treated with more weight than a simple yes or no.

Wikipedia's processes are, therefore, systems for getting certain things done. Process, community, and policy: These are key concepts for how Wikipedia works—the real Wikipedia, not a utopian clone. Although Wikipedia has very few committees, it has many processes, each open to anyone who is willing to do the work to understand the issues involved in that particular decision.

Processes should generally be followed, unless very good reasons are given for not doing so; for example, administrators can delete pages out of process, but they risk inciting controversy if they do. On the other hand, processes have a tendency to get out of control, and rule-bound processes should not exist for their own sake. The process is important—red tape is not. The anti-bureaucratic nature of Wikipedia is set in context on the official policy page, Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not. Searching on WP:BURO takes you directly to the section Wikipedia is not a bureaucracy. This section is worth quoting in full (from July 11, 2007):

Wikipedia is not a moot court, and rules are not the purpose of the community. Instruction creep should be avoided. A perceived procedural error made in posting anything, such as an idea or nomination, is not grounds for invalidating that post. Follow the spirit, not the letter, of any rules, policies and guidelines if you feel they conflict. Disagreements should be resolved through consensus-based discussion, rather than through tightly sticking to rules and procedures.

In other words, process should not become legalistic. Processes can get out of control and having processes that insist on following their own rules no matter what should be avoided. We'll return to this idea in Chapter 13, Policy and Your Input (see "Ignore All Rules and Be Bold" on Section 1, “The Spirit of Wikipedia”). 4.1. What Processes Cover

Wikipedia has numerous processes, dealing with both content and community. These processes include some that implement Wikipedia's official policies, such as the deletion processes, the Featured Article candidate process, the various dispute resolution processes, and the Request for Adminship process for administrator promotion. Other processes focus on making specific maintenance tasks routine, such as renaming categories or approving bots.

One notable exception is resolving disputes over article content. You might believe that an encyclopedic wiki should start with a clear idea of this process. No such process exists and will not likely ever exist. This design decision is one of the keys to Wikipedia's model.

Deletion processes deal with the question of whether a topic should be covered at all, and dispute resolution processes help editors who are arguing come to agreement. But Wikipedia has no formal form of adjudication for rival views of suitable article content. Editors are supposed to engage with others about their differing conceptions and deal with disagreements through discussion and common sense and with the assumption that everyone is on the encyclopedia's side. A content decision process would turn into an editorial board for the site, which is against the fundamental ideas of openness and community that are key to Wikipedia. Status on Wikipedia does not allow anyone to dictate content.

In this section, we'll cover the two major content processes that do exist: deleting articles and featuring articles. In later chapters, we'll look at community processes, including dispute resolution. 4.2. Deleting Articles

Wikipedia is growing at a tremendous rate, but a great deal of content is also deleted—hundreds or thousands of articles are deleted from Wikipedia every day. Clearly, not all articles that are created belong in the encyclopedia, but what should stay and what should go is not always obvious. The article deletion process is used to decide what should be deleted. Primarily used as a housekeeping measure, this process is mainly applied to poorly chosen topics—ones that don't, and can't, lead to proper encyclopedia articles.

Deleting an article is the only way to remove content from the encyclopedia entirely, so readers cannot see the page or the page's history. Deleting is not the same thing as blanking a page by saving an empty revision; in deletion, the history of a deleted article, with access to all revisions, is also deleted. All traces of contributions to that article also disappear from the site—changes to a deleted article won't appear in user contributions, watchlists, Recent Changes, or Related Changes. The articles do not vanish entirely, however; deleted articles are still visible to administrators, which allows them to review deletions and restore content (undeleting) in case a mistake was made. Each deleted article is also logged in a special list, the deletion log, at Special:Logs.

Only Wikipedia's administrators may delete articles, but the deletion process is open for anyone to discuss the fate of articles proposed for deletion. Wikipedia has very specific—and complicated—rules for how pages should be deleted and a large body of past discussion on the subject. Because Wikipedia leans toward including as much as possible, deletion is generally seen as a bad solution if the article can be salvaged. Articles are not deleted when the only issue is that they need to be cleaned up or are stubs. Articles are also not deleted based on anyone's personal dislike of the subject matter—Wikipedia has no censorship. How much emphasis to put on deleting content is a long-running philosophical debate on the site; see Chapter 12, Community and Communication for a broad discussion of the "inclusionism versus deletionism" debate.

What does get deleted then? Usually, deletion is for Wikipedia's worst content. Some articles can't possibly be cleaned up. Submitted pages may be nonsense, graffiti, not in English, life stories, advertisements, blatant copyright violations, and spam articles containing nothing but the URL of a website. These examples are not particularly contentious, and many of these types of articles are deleted almost as soon as they are submitted, as part of routine vandalism control (this falls under the speedy deletion process described in the next section).

Deleting articles that were submitted in good faith but that probably violate Wikipedia's content policies is more controversial. Sometimes the violation is clear; plain dictionary definitions or pieces of original research just don't fit within the scope of the encyclopedia. Many articles are deleted because they violate the principle of notability, and this violation is harder to determine. It can also lead to contention—no one likes being told that their company is "not notable." In these deletion discussions, editors discussing the deletion may need to do outside research to find out more about the topic and thoroughly assess the article and whether it belongs in the encyclopedia. Occasionally, editors decide that although the topic doesn't merit its own article, the content should be merged or otherwise incorporated into another article.

Notability can be a problematic notion. If an article's topic violates the principle of notability, then the article will likely be deleted. But turning that around, the best working definition of notability comes from which topics are and are not deleted. Applying notability is not an exact science. As discussed in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?, notability guidelines have been set up for various topics to help guide decisions, but these don't provide exact criteria. Saying that a TV actor is notable because he or she has 421 minutes on screen but not with 419 minutes on screen would be ridiculous, as would be declaring someone notable who has received 76 column inches of industry press but not with 74 inches.

On the other hand, precedent is not binding on Wikipedia—and particularly not in deletion discussions. Many Wikipedians argue that one article's existence does not mean another article on the same topic should be automatically included. For instance, just because an article about one actor is on the site does not mean an article about another actor should also be included by default. Each article should be assessed on its own merits and measured against the basic content policies. Thus deletion discussions are about individual articles, not whole classes of articles.

These complicated issues do help explain why deleting articles is a process—the process helps ensure a timely decision is made one way or another that settles the issue for the time being, if not forever. 4.2.1. Deletion Processes

Anyone can nominate articles for deletion, review the articles that have been nominated, and offer opinions on whether they should be deleted. Nearly every deletion requires some interpretation of Wikipedia policy (which is certainly not always clear-cut). Deletion processes are, however, fairly stable, well regulated, and reasonably consistent.

Of the three main ways to delete an article, Articles for Deletion (AfD) requires community discussion and a dedicated debate, whereas proposed deletions (PRODs; see WP:PROD) and speedy deletions (speedies, or sometimes CSD, which is short for Criteria for Speedy Deletion, the policy page) do not. Speedy deletions are the most common, due to the sheer volume of nonsense articles submitted. Articles that don't meet speedy deletion guidelines may get deleted though the Articles for Deletion process or the proposed deletion process instead, and contested speedy and proposed deletions are often referred to the AfD process. In other words, when the quicker deletion processes prove contentious, Wikipedia has the more serious AfD as a fallback.

Each deletion process is initiated by an editor tagging the article with a red-bar deletion template. This template adds the page to several lists for review, and in the case of AfD, the editor creates a page explaining why the article should be deleted.

Each specific deletion process covers a different type of problem article:

Speedy deletion

This process is for articles that definitely violate Wikipedia policies. Wikipedia maintains an extensive list of around 20 particular criteria for speedy deletion at Wikipedia:Criteria for speedy deletion (shortcut WP:CSD), along with the particular deletion templates that can be used. If none of these criteria are met, one of the other deletion processes should be used. Speedy does mean quickly, however. Speedy can also occasionally mean hasty, and it should never be applied to controversial or unclear cases.

The usual process for speedy deletions is that a new-page or other vandalism patroller will discover a clearly bad article. He or she will tag the page with a speedy deletion template (Figure 7.6, “Speedy deletion message”) to add it to a list that administrators check routinely. If an administrator agrees that the page should be deleted, he or she will delete the page, citing the appropriate criteria. Speedy deletion can also be requested for non-article working pages that are no longer needed, such as user space subpages; this kind of housekeeping work is rarely contentious.

Figure 7.6. Speedy deletion message Speedy deletion message

Proposed deletion

Proposed deletions (PRODs) are gentler than speedy deletions and give the community time to review the proposal. PRODs, like speedy deletion, are also designed for deletions that are not likely to be contested, but PRODs can be used for any type of article, not just those falling under the CSD criteria.

When an editor discovers an article that he or she thinks should clearly be deleted, the editor can begin the proposed deletion process by tagging the article with the PROD template (Figure 7.7, “PROD deletion message”) and explaining why the article should be deleted. You can find the template at Template:Prod. The editor should insert the template on the page to be deleted along with this code, {{ambox|type=content|text=Was this page created by accident or as a test? Please clarify what the intentions of this page are on the discussion page. The page might be able to remain at Wikibooks after 7 days when further development is likely. , replacing reason with the specific reason for deletion.

This template remains on the article for five days, during which time the article's talk page is open for discussion. If, at any point during this time, any involved party—the original tagger, the author of the article, or another editor—thinks the article should not in fact be deleted, he or she can simply remove the template and the case is closed. This is called contesting the PROD, and at this point, if the nominator wants to pursue it, he or she must submit the article to AfD for discussion in order to delete it. If, at the end of the five days, no one contests the deletion, an administrator will review the article, the reason for deletion, and make a decision. The process is explained at Wikipedia:Proposed deletion.

Figure 7.7. PROD deletion message PROD deletion message

Articles for Deletion

This thorough discussion process is for articles flagged for potential deletion; these articles are added to a list, and other editors review them on a dedicated page. Articles for Deletion (AfD) deals with the 5 to 10 percent of seriously contested cases, as well as any deletion case where the nominator wants input from other editors. If, during the course of about a week, consensus emerges, the discussion is closed, and the decision implemented. When no consensus emerges, general practice is to keep the article. Other outcomes are possible (for example, merges or redirections). A small proportion of cases become acrimonious.

Nominating an article for this deletion process requires a few steps. First, an editor adds the AfD template to the article in question (Figure 7.8, “AfD deletion message”). Then, the editor creates a dedicated subpage from the main AfD page for discussing the article (this page is created by simply clicking a link in the deletion template). After the editor has created the subpage, he or she explains why the page should be deleted and signs his or her username. (Detailed instructions can be found at Wikipedia:Articles for deletion, shortcut WP:AFD.) Once the page has been nominated, other editors discuss the matter, adding comments that indicate whether or not they think the article should be deleted.

Figure 7.8. AfD deletion message AfD deletion message

Anyone can discuss AfD nominations by simply going to the main AfD page and adding a signed comment with his or her opinion about whether to keep or delete the article being discussed (Section 1.5.3, “On-Wiki Forums” shows a sample comment). Participating in a few debates to see what kinds of discussions crop up can be quite interesting. Some editors routinely review all the current AfD nominations, whereas others just visit the list once in a while to check if any articles they are interested in have shown up there. If you are knowledgeable about a particular subject, giving an opinion on whether a particular article or topic should be kept can be quite valuable to the process, and AfDs are now sorted by topic for those who don't want to search through all of them. Good practice for reviewing AfDs is to read the article in question thoroughly, do any other research necessary (such as looking for information online, checking backlinks, and doing basic fact-checking), and then give a reasoned opinion based on the article's content and Wikipedia's policies. AfD discussions can be lively, but certain ground rules exist: The discussion should always be about the content, not the editor who posted or nominated it, and appeals to personal taste ("I like it; I don't like it") are not helpful.

If an article is no longer relevant, having been superseded by another article, or has a bad title, a deletion discussion is not needed. Instead, turn to Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web to learn how to move, merge, or redirect an article. 4.2.2. Help, My Article's Being Deleted!

Step one: Don't panic! You can often rescue an article under threat. Wikipedia has different procedures to follow if you want to contest a deletion; getting angry is not one of them.

Sometimes articles will be nominated for deletion immediately after being posted; other times, the article may have been on the site for years before someone decides it doesn't belong. Either way, contesting a deletion varies depending on the deletion process being used, but all require discussing and bringing the article up to Wikipedia's standards.

Deleting Other Kinds of Pages

AfDs, PRODs, and speedies are only for deleting articles or pages in the main namespace. Images and media are dealt with separately; see Wikipedia:Images and media for deletion (shortcut WP:IFD). Categories and templates also have their own process; see Wikipedia:Categories for discussion (shortcut WP:CFD) and Wikipedia:Templates for deletion (shortcut WP:TFD), respectively. For deleting pages in the Wikipedia or User namespace, see Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion (shortcut WP:MFD). A handful of debates occur here about unused or inappropriate material that has made its way into the project namespaces. A rare case is administrative blanking, not deleting, of project-space pages. For this, refer to Wikipedia:Deletion policy#Courtesy blanking (shortcut WP:CBLANK). This page provides a solution for old pages from deletion debates or other discussions that contain very pointed comments, for example, about specific people or companies. As a courtesy, administrators may replace the current page content to ensure that, over time, the old content becomes less prominent on search engines. Because the page itself hasn't been deleted, the content remains in the page history.

If your article is proposed for speedy deletion, don't remove the template. Instead, insert a Template:Hangon template at the top of the article in question, and then go to its talk page immediately to explain why the article is notable and worth keeping. Citing sources will also help a great deal.

You can always remove a proposed deletion tag, but then you ought to work on the article to address the issues raised by the nominator. If the article's notability has been questioned, add reliable sources that demonstrate notability. Notable sources depend on context; for instance, for a person, listing publications, awards, and honors helps to prove notability. Putting in enough effort to show the article meets notability and content standards should help prevent a subsequent nomination to AfD.

In an AfD debate, feel free to participate in the discussion. Argue your case clearly, and don't take others' comments personally. During an AfD debate, anyone can clean up the article under discussion, so you can use this opportunity to improve the article according to the critics' points. You can then explain how you've improved the article on the AfD discussion page. Asking people to reconsider based on your own cleanup and extra referencing may have very good results.

If you don't realize the article has been nominated for deletion until it's already been deleted, determine why and how it was deleted. Generally, a reason is given in the deletion log along with the deleting administrator's name. You can view this information by going to the article's title, which will now be a redlink page, displaying the Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name message. Click the Deletion Log link that appears in the middle of the page to see the deletion log entry.

Understand the common reasons for articles being deleted. Remember, you don't need to rush to get an article written and posted. Working on Wikipedia is not a race, and Wikipedia gives out no prizes for speed. Adopt a thoughtful approach, and learn the system rather than rage against it.

The most common reason articles are deleted is because they are judged to be non-notable or vanity topics. Articles about local musicians, minor executives, or other people who aren't in the news regularly are likely to be rejected. Remember not to write about yourself either; autobiographies belong on user pages or personal websites.

Here are some other common reasons for deleting articles:

Spam-like postings edit

Does the article read like an advertisement? Is it all about one project or company? Does it just talk about how great something is, failing to keep to a neutral tone? Content originally written for a company website or a press release is rarely suitable for Wikipedia.

Too specialist edit

If your article was judged as non-notable but is really part of something larger—for instance, if you're writing about a single college within a university—you may be able to include the information under the broader topic rather than write a new article about it.

Enthusiast edit

Specialism is a common problem with characters and elements from fiction, such as comic book and video game characters; TV episodes; individual songs; or batches of articles about minuscule parts of a fictional universe. Fancruft (sometimes shortened to just cruft) is a derogatory term for these types of articles, which are sometimes just barely tolerated. You will win friends by cleaning up the broader articles that already exist on the topic and adding detail to those first, rather than starting new articles. In some cases, the content might really belong on a more specialized wiki (see Chapter 16, Wikimedia Commons and Other Sister Projects).

They hate the way you write edit

Bad writing shouldn't be a valid reason for deletion rather than cleanup, but you can avoid deletion by submitting a well-written article in the first place. Many experienced editors make drafts in userspace, as was discussed in Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research, along with other writing advice.

Finally, if you're sure your article was good and was deleted by mistake, you can start a deletion review. For a PROD deletion, getting an administrator to revive the article with no special discussion is usually easy. For a speedy deletion, you'll have to show you can address the reason it was deleted. For AfD deletions, a serious appeal process has been developed (see Wikipedia:Deletion review, shortcut WP:DRV), in which another round of community discussion will take place. This process reviews and checks the procedural side of deletions, and contributors can comment on whether they think deletion was the best option or not. As the Deletion Review page says, however, the first step is to talk to the deleting administrator to see why the page was deleted. If nothing comes from the deletion review, you'll probably have to wait six months before trying to re-create the article.

If you do decide to try again, make sure you address all the criticisms brought up by reviewers and you are confident you can produce an article that meets content policies and guidelines, including Notability, Verifiability, and Neutral Point of View.

Of course, the six-month rule isn't absolute: The notability of a topic can change overnight due to current events or new reliable sources being published. However, repeatedly re-creating an article that was deleted by community consensus without improving it substantially can be considered a form of vandalism. Occasionally, repeated re-creation can lead to an administrator salting a page, which means protecting the page and adding a special template that conveys the message that Wikipedia sincerely, truly, hand-on-heart does not want an article about this topic (the term comes from the phrase "salting the earth").

A Deletion Case Study edit

Wikipedia is clearly not a business, but this has not stopped it appearing in a Harvard Business School case study. It was prepared by Andrew P. McAfee of the School, with Karim R. Lakhani.[22] Wikipedia's systems are put under the microscope, as they track a particular deletion debate from August 2006. This was one of the first occasions on which a Wikipedia internal process, AfD in this case, was dignified with such close academic attention. The paper used an analytical and historical approach (all the way back to Ephraim Chambers via Nupedia), amply supported by the case study of the particular deletion debate. The study is interesting for the clear picture drawn of the structures, community, admins, policies, and processes all interacting, focusing on the role of individual editors as a major factor.

The study concerns the fate of the article Enterprise 2.0, a neologism coined by McAfee himself. The topic lies on one of the fringes of Wikipedia's natural content. The classic debate on including new terms has two opposing views:

  • Wikipedia's mission is factual and has nothing to do with spreading neologisms.
  • Many people would like to refer to a discussion of a new phrase making the rounds, in Wikipedia's slightly distanced and neutral style.

These thoughts may be behind deletion debate positions, with "deletionists" (see "Wikiphilosophies" on Section 1.6, “Wikiphilosophies”) aiming to keep Wikipedia out of spreading jargon; but they have to be reconciled with the core content policies of No Original Research and Verifiability. For a neologism, you do have to go by usage in published texts, verifying that new jargon is actually used and used in the way the article claims so that the definition isn't "original research"; sometimes an article on a new phrase really should wait for good sources to appear elsewhere. Wikipedia's content and determinations of notability should never be based solely on a publicity effort.

In the end, this rather slight article survived AfD. The deletion process, decisive as it may seem, is in fact provisional. Enterprise 2.0 actually has had a checkered history since it was kept, suffering redirection to another article, then re-creation. A redirect to Enterprise social software is its status at the time of this writing.

Clearly, a neologism may flourish or it may not, and Wikipedia can and ought to update to reflect that. From this perspective, Wikipedia's social mechanisms are good, rather than weak, in their flexibility: The conclusions of AfD, or any other process on Wikipedia, are not set in stone. 4.3. Featured Articles

Rather than being deleted, some very good articles are promoted in status. Good articles (GA) and featured articles (FA) are two levels of articles that the community has determined to be some of the best content on Wikipedia. Reviewing and working constructively on articles is one of the key skills of an involved Wikipedian. This skill also applies in formal or informal peer review (as noted in Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research) and on WikiProjects. Gauge content with an eye to improving it. (Working on good articles is also recommended as an antidote to the burnout caused by the other extreme—immersion in deletion debates.)

Finding and browsing featured articles was described in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content. Wikipedia also has featured review processes for media, images, lists, and portals. Relative to the rest of Wikipedia's content, few articles have been designated good or featured, with only about 1 in 660 articles listed as good and 1 in 1,200 listed as featured. However, many good-quality articles aren't on these lists—those that haven't gone through the formal processes. The criteria for good and featured articles are basically those mentioned in Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research, but in the processes, you can experience the criteria in action, as debated through open peer review. For either process, anyone can nominate an article and anyone can review it, though featured articles require a more complex review. If it is difficult for you to receive detailed criticism of your own work, remember the no ownership rule. Most articles under review improve greatly, regardless of the eventual outcome.

Candidates for good articles are listed at Wikipedia:Good article candidates (shortcut WP:GAC). To nominate an article, simply follow the instructions on this page and place the corresponding Good Article Candidate template on the article's talk page. In turn, any editor can choose to review the article (typically, only one person will review the article). The criteria for review are listed at Wikipedia:Good article criteria (shortcut WP:GA?). The review process is supposed to be fairly informal. Reviewers read through the article and evaluate it based on the criteria, and then they have three options: They may pass the article as being a good article, fail the article if they feel it doesn't meet the criteria, or make suggestions for improvement by placing the article on hold. Often reviewers make detailed constructive comments. Articles that pass are added to the list of good articles at Wikipedia:Good articles (shortcut WP:GA). Articles that fail need to be improved. An article can be renominated once the criticisms have been addressed.

Featured articles go through a more formal community peer review process, typically with several different editors participating as reviewers. This review is based on Wikipedia:Featured article criteria(shortcut WP:FACR). The criteria include, for example, appropriate use of images. Reviews take place at Wikipedia:Featured article candidates (shortcut WP:FAC). Here, you can find between 50 and 100 candidates that are under current scrutiny. Reviewer comments are likely to be detailed and extensive, ranging from minor issues, such as formatting, to major issues, such as unclear writing or missing references. Anyone can nominate an article to be featured, but by convention, the nominator is supposed to stick around for the review and help out with fixing up the article. The process is intended as a dialogue, with the nominator responding to the critique by working on the article's issues. Others are also welcome to help, but an article that doesn't improve at all in response to criticism isn't likely to pass. Directions for nominating a new article are on the Featured Article Candidates page (shortcut WP:FAC), along with directions for commenting on nominations. An article should not be nominated for good article status and featured article status at the same time, but a good article can later be nominated for featured article status.

Articles that pass (sometimes only after several rounds of review) are then added to the list at Wikipedia:Featured articles (shortcut WP:FA). Any featured article may then be listed as Today's featured article on the main page of the site; the current month's selections are listed at Wikipedia:Today's featured article. Featured articles that degrade in quality may be reviewed through the featured article review process (Wikipedia:Featured article review), where anyone with concerns can nominate a currently featured article for discussion about whether that status should be removed.

Further Reading


Deletion Process

Good and Featured Articles

[22] The case study is online at

Summary edit

As part of the overall task of upgrading and updating Wikipedia, a vast range of jobs are accomplished by small teams or through local, open discussions. These collaborations and discussions are how the apparently anarchic Wikipedia works. Behind the scenes, a large and diverse population of supporting projects and processes are at work. What they all have in common is that editors operate within loose frameworks, communicating and pooling efforts to improve the encyclopedia.

Chapter 8 edit

Chapter 8: Building Wikipedia's Web edit

In Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content, we described many ways to browse Wikipedia. For instance, readers can explore Wikipedia via the links between pages or through categories of related articles. If an area of Wikipedia has been worked on for long enough, these browsing journeys go smoothly. But Wikipedia's content does not start out perfectly linked or classified, and new articles need to be integrated with existing content. Articles need care and attention to become fully usable in the context of the rest of the site.

This chapter turns to web-building techniques on Wikipedia. You can add to, alter, and mend Wikipedia as a piece of hypertext. We'll cover six concepts for building navigational structures, linking articles, and maintaining article organization. These concepts have been mentioned in previous chapters, but here we'll present them as editorial tools.

First, we'll cover redirecting one page title to another and building disambiguation pages, both of which help readers navigate, avoid duplication, and search the site more productively. We'll then focus on how articles are combined, split apart, or moved to better titles in order to comply with style guidelines and to make them more useful for the reader. In the next section, we'll discuss categories and categorization, which help readers navigate similar topics and editors maintain sets of pages. Finally, we'll review community processes for resolving problems that arise related to these topics.

Redirect and Disambiguate edit

Redirects and disambiguation pages, first described in Chapter 1, What's in Wikipedia?, play important roles in internal Wikipedia connections. A redirect page directly points the reader from one page title to another and is used when more than one possible page title exists. Disambiguation pages clarify the use of a keyword by pointing to all of the articles that are referred to by that term or a similar term.

Redirects edit

If you go to the article Norma Jeane Mortenson, you'll be automatically taken to the article called Marilyn Monroe instead.

Although a reader doesn't see it, a page does exist under the title Norma Jeane Mortenson, but not a regular article page. Instead, this page is a special, very short page that only contains a pointer to another target page. This page is a redirect, Wikipedia's equivalent of an index entry reading for Norma Jeane Mortensen, see Marilyn Monroe.

A redirect can be set from any page to any other page. Redirects are often used for name variants and common misspellings for people, places, or things. Although the article can only exist under one title, redirects automatically take the reader to the actual article from any conceivable title that he or she might search for. Redirects make it easier to find and search for content because they also show up in search results.

Wikipedia has a tremendous number of redirects. As of mid-2007, the site had more redirect pages than article pages, by somewhere between 5 percent to 10 percent. Historical figures, with their varying names, titles, and multiple spellings, are a prolific source of redirects. Other significant sources are Romanizations of names and terms from other languages. For instance, English does not have a standard way for writing Arabic names: Mohammed, Mohammad, and Mohamed are all accepted ways of writing the Prophet's name. All of these possible spellings redirect to the actual article title (currently Muhammad), saving the reader the trouble of figuring out which spelling variation to use.

As a small part of its mission, Wikipedia has to manage this huge system of redirects and disambiguations. Many reference works face this issue. For instance, an article in The Economist in 2007 talked about the problems confronting government intelligence agencies as they reconcile name variations:

"One of our biggest problems has always been variations of names," says Michael Scheuer, who was the head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden Unit from 1996 to 1999. Mr Scheuer says analysis was "backbreaking," especially for Arabic names, because it involved manually compiling lists of variations deemed worthy of tracing.[3]

Wikipedians know how Mr. Scheuer feels. Names matter to reference works, but names are complex. Previous reference works and printed encyclopedias dealt with the problem by developing See references to guide readers from one term to another in an index; Wikipedia, which doesn't have a printed index, has an automatic—and much more comprehensive—solution instead.

Redirects are also helpful when two pages with the same content are merged together, as described later in Section 2.1, "Merging Articles". When two pages are merged, the result is a composite article at one of the page titles and a redirect from the other one.

Creating and Editing Redirects edit

You can easily create new redirects. First create a new article using the title you want to become a redirect, as described in Chapter 6, "Good Writing and Research". Then type only this text on the page:

#REDIRECT [[title of page to redirect to]]

For instance, if you want to redirect the page Goldfishes to the article Goldfish (although article title convention uses the singular form of nouns, readers may search using the plural), you would create the page Goldfishes and type this text:

#REDIRECT [[goldfish]]

Then add an appropriate edit summary (rdr is common shorthand for redirect) and click Save. Now, if a reader tries to go to the page Goldfishes, he or she will instead end up at Goldfish. As a bonus, if a link to the page Goldfishes also appears somewhere in another article, when a reader clicks that link, he or she will be taken to Goldfish.

You don't have to start an entirely new page to create a redirect. If the page Goldfishes already exists, you can turn it into a redirect by replacing any existing text with the redirect code and clicking Save. Be careful, though; if an article is already on the page, you may want to move it to a better title or merge it with an existing page, as described later in Section 2.1, "Merging Articles".

If something goes wrong (or you change your mind), you can always edit a redirect. A redirect, like any other change you make to the site, can be reversed. But how?

Suppose Erik Weisz is a redirect to Harry Houdini, following Wikipedia's practice of titling articles about performers using their most common stage name. If you follow a link to Erik Weisz, you'll be redirected to Harry Houdini; but don't get frustrated! When you are taken to an article from a redirect, you'll notice the title of the redirected page is displayed below the page title, showing you how you got there (Figure 8.1, "A redirect title below a page title—Harry Houdini, redirected from Erik Weisz").

Figure 8.1. A redirect title below a page title—Harry Houdini, redirected from Erik Weisz A redirect title below a page title—Harry Houdini, redirected from Erik Weisz

Click the linked page title (Redirected from Erik Weisz) to access the redirect page itself (Figure 8.2, "A redirect page for Erik Weisz").

Figure 8.2. A redirect page for Erik Weisz A redirect page for Erik Weisz

When you access an actual redirect page, you'll see a special URL, similar to Adding ?redirect=no after the page title in the URL prevents the page from automatically redirecting.

You can then edit this redirect page like any other page, either to change the redirect target or to remove the redirect and start an article instead. You can also check the page history for the redirect page to make sure quality content wasn't accidentally lost when the redirect was created.

Here are some reasons for viewing and editing redirects:

  • Create a full article at the page title to replace the redirect to another page. (This often happens when articles about similar or related items all redirect to one central page; specialty articles may eventually be written about each item.)
  • Change the redirect to point to a different page (for instance, if the redirect was not quite right or had a typo).
  • Revert the creation of the redirect if the page contained content before the redirect was created, so you can restore an earlier version (for instance, if the redirect was created accidentally or restoring the original article is important).
  • Copy content from an earlier version of the article (before the redirect was created) onto some other page (you can find previous versions by browsing the redirect page's history).

Limitations on Redirecting edit

Redirects are not always called for. For instance, you shouldn't create a redirect to an article that doesn't exist yet unless you plan to write that article immediately. Creating a redirect in this instance is detrimental: It creates a useless dead end, and it turns the redirect page title into a bluelink, whereas a redlink might attract the attention of an author who would want to write the article. For a similar reason, when articles are deleted, redirects to them should also be deleted.

You should also be careful when creating redirects to sections in an article. For example,

#REDIRECT [[Ice cream#vanilla]]

is the text for a redirect page for Vanilla ice cream; it takes you to the Vanilla section of the page Ice cream. Section-specific redirects are useful, but they are not robust. This redirect could be broken easily by an editor retitling the section Vanilla flavor (Wikipedia has no way for you to discover What Links Here at the section level). For this reason, the Manual of Style recommends leaving a hidden comment, for instance, below the section heading when you redirect to it (see w:WP:MOS#Section headings).

One recurring theory is that you shouldn't pipe links to redirect titles. In other words, some Wikipedians think pilot of the first manned flight is worse than pilot of the first manned flight, given that Orville Wright redirects to Wright brothers. If the Wright brothers were given separate articles one day, however, the piped link to Orville would have been a better choice. As long as you don't create double redirects, you can create links to redirects. Some cases are discussed in depth at Wikipedia:Redirect. The point, generally, is to help readers rather than distract them.

Finally, two technical issues limit redirect creation.

Double redirects edit

Avoid creating a redirect to a redirect: The database software is unable to forward twice. You can check for double redirects by clicking What Links Here; for instance, if you create a redirect by moving a page, check What Links Here for the old title. As the page mover, you're responsible for updating any redirects to point to the new title.

Redirects across namespaces edit

Redirecting from one namespace to another is confusing because the whole point of namespaces is to separate different types of content. With a few exceptions, redirects should stay within one namespace. If a list page is replaced by a category, a redirect from the list page (in the main article namespace) to the category (in the Category namespace) could be created. Users may redirect their user pages to their user talk pages (from the User namespace to the User_talk namespace). A Wikipedia: namespace help page may be redirected to an existing help page in the Help namespace. Articles in the main namespace should not redirect to other namespaces, however. For more, see Wikipedia:Cross-namespace redirects (shortcut WP:CNR).

Disambiguation Pages edit

Disambiguation pages, colloquially known as dab pages, are one of the Wikipedia success stories. Their assigned role is humble enough. Many phrases or single English words are ambiguous because they have multiple meanings. Take, for example, the word bridge. Besides being a structure that allows you to cross over a river or other obstacle, bridge can be a card game, a piece of dental work, or the command post of a ship. With all these meanings, wikilinks to the article Bridge could often lead readers to the wrong article. The solution is to create several differently titled articles for each meaning of the ambiguous term along with a dedicated page to link to, or disambiguate, between all of them for readers.

Note: Wikipedia coined the term disambiguation early on in its history because the site needed a word for pages that served this function.

If only two or three articles may be confused, a lightweight form of disambiguation are hatnotes (see Chapter 4, "Understanding and Evaluating an Article"), which point back and forth between two or three articles. For terms with more meanings, a dedicated disambiguation page works better.

In this case, the disambiguation page is located at Bridge, which lists the possible articles that may be related to the term bridge. As of January 2008, this page included links to the following articles:

  • Bridge, a fixed prosthesis used to replace missing teeth.
  • Bridge, the area from which a ship is commanded.
  • Bridge, an interlude that connects two parts of a song.
  • Bridge, a structure built so that a transportation route can cross an obstacle.

But what article is on the page simply titled Bridge? In this case, Bridge redirects to the article Bridge; on Wikipedia, the default meaning of bridge is the structure. A hatnote on this default page points readers to the disambiguation page if they're looking for articles using a different meaning of the term. (Figure 8.3, "The hatnote on the Bridge article, pointing to the related disambiguation page" shows the hatnote that appears on the Bridge article.)

Figure 8.3. The hatnote on the Bridge article, pointing to the related disambiguation page The hatnote on the Bridge article, pointing to the related disambiguation page

Disambiguation pages can be created in more than one way, however. If no clear default meaning for a term exists, the main article may serve as the disambiguation page. For instance, if you go to Subway, you'll find that it is a disambiguation page leading to articles using these meanings for subway (among others):

  • Subway, underground railway, also known as a metro, underground, U-Bahn
  • Subway, an underground walkway, usually a tunnel

Descriptions on a disambiguation page do not need to be extensive. They do not serve as summaries of the articles they link to; they simply point to different possible meanings of a term and need only clarify the distinction between those meanings. Keep descriptions succinct: American film actor for an actor is probably sufficient; you don't need to include the films he has acted in. For pages that disambiguate between several people, include their profession, nationality, and birth and death dates (providing dates is especially important for an article on someone like George Williams, as half a dozen American politicians have that name).

Disambiguating Articles About People edit

Wikipedia has hundreds of thousands of biographies (approximately 20 percent of all articles). Because of this, special guidelines have been set up for disambiguating names. Wikipedia handles this complex area in a way that may initially appear unclear if you're creating or updating these types of pages. Note the templates used on pages and don't underestimate the issues involved with biographies.

Tidier Hatnotes edit

Hatnotes are small text messages at the top of an article. They are useful when only two articles might get confused and for directing readers to disambiguation pages. Wikipedia uses standard templates for hatnotes such as {{for}}, {{otheruses}}, and {{distinguish}}. These templates add standardized messages to a page, which can be easier than writing out your own message (also perfectly acceptable). See Wikipedia:Hatnote (shortcut WP:HAT) for hatnote templates and common messages. The term hatnote is specific to Wikipedia and was created to avoid ambiguity because a headnote (the opposite of a footnote) is used in legal work.

Many complete proper names require disambiguation: John Smith, Thomas Adams, and Juan González are all examples of common names that need disambiguation pages to distinguish between individuals sharing that name. But Wikipedia also lists articles by surname alone. For example, Category:Irish surnames contains around 200 pages, each devoted to a single surname of Irish origin. If you go to Nolan, you'll find an extensive list of articles on Irish, British, American, Canadian, and other Nolans.

Thus, a surname page is very much like a disambiguation page: Nolan refers to numerous people. Sometimes these surname pages include (surname) in the title. For instance, Cooper is a basic disambiguation page, listing the many places called Cooper, a handful of well-known people named Cooper, and a pointer to the page Cooper (profession), which is about the profession of making barrels. Because Cooper is a very common English surname, Wikipedia also has a separate page Cooper (surname), listing articles about people with that name. This page exists in place of List of people with surname Cooper.

Two other kinds of pages about people exist: listings by given names and family history.

Given names are treated differently than surnames. If you search for John, you'll find this page in Category:Given names. Listing every article about a person with the first name John would not be useful. Instead you'll discover that Juan is the Spanish equivalent—in other words, the article is about the name itself. The basic page John is a disambiguation page that lists historical figures known just as John, such as the English King who signed Magna Carta. Use the {{given name}} template to classify these pages.

These topics are extremely popular on the Web. We mentioned in Chapter 1, "What's in Wikipedia?" that Wikipedia believes that most family history is indiscriminate and only includes it when the family's history meets the standards of notability—and only in articles about specific families (not the general surname), such as Bancroft family, the owners of The Wall Street Journal until 2007. Family articles should be placed in Category:Families and its subcategories. That Bancroft article belongs in the categories Category:American families and Category:Business families.

Disambiguation Templates edit

Like other articles, disambiguation pages are tagged with templates that identify them as disambiguation pages and sort them into different categories. Here's how it all breaks down by template:

  • {{Disambig}} is the general disambiguation template. For example, Tom Thumb (disambiguation) lists articles about the folklore character, a railway locomotive, a feature film with Peter Sellers, a grocer in Dallas, Texas, and some Marvel Comics superheroes. In other words, miscellaneous lists are straightforward disambiguation pages.
  • {{w:Hndis}} is the template for human names. This template applies, for example, to Bill Gates (disambiguation), which lists not only Bill Gates of Microsoft but also "Swiftwater" Bill Gates, who took part in the Klondike gold rush, and various people more commonly known by the name William Gates.
  • {{w:Geodis}} is the template for pages that disambiguate the names of places.

Further Reading edit

Redirects edit

Wikipedia:Redirect: The style guideline for creating redirects.

Help:Redirect: Help page on how to create redirects.

Disambiguation Pages edit

Wikipedia:Disambiguation: The guideline for creating disambiguation pages, with page naming conventions.

Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Disambiguation pages: The Manual of Style page with formatting guidelines for disambiguation pages.

Wikipedia:WikiProject Disambiguation: For cleaning up disambiguation pages.

Wikipedia:Hatnote: The hatnotes guideline.

Merge, Split, and Move edit

Working with and cleaning up individual articles includes determining if each article covers an appropriate scope and does not duplicate other articles. If two articles are very similar, you may need to merge them. On the other hand, if an article grows too long and unwieldy (or covers several topics), you may need to split it into more than one article. And if an article should appear under a more appropriate title, you need to move it. Moves and merges both create redirects from former page titles and copy content and revision history to a new page title.

Merging Articles edit

Wikipedia has no special process for ensuring that new articles don't duplicate old ones (this is why, in Chapter 6, "Good Writing and Research", we suggest checking for other articles on the same topic before starting a new one). Editors who write new articles are responsible for making sure no duplicate articles (perhaps using a slightly different title) exist. If an editor doesn't check, however, and creates a duplicate article, other editors may eventually catch the duplication. In this case, they will most likely flag the two articles as candidates for a merge.

The goal of a merge is to end up with one good, coherent article that incorporates all facts, concepts, and references from both articles without duplicating material. The ideal merge results in a better article. No content should be lost in a merge; instead, all of the relevant facts should end up in one article, and the other, alternate title redirects readers to the new combined article.

Another, more complex case is when several small articles need to be consolidated into one more satisfactory and broader article. For instance, an article about a band member may be merged into the article about the band if little independent information about the musician in question is available. Sometimes a noun and antonym, or two similar terms, make more sense in a single article (e.g., Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism). These cases generally require more discussion and may be controversial.

A good merge is an unhurried, multipass procedure requiring many edits. Because merges require skill, a single editor often performs the merge once all the interested editors have agreed to it. This can vary from article to article; for articles where one title is misspelled or when the two articles are nearly identical, objections are unlikely. (William M. Ramsey and William Mitchell Ramsay is an example of this kind of duplication, where two articles were accidentally created about the same person.) Problems may arise, however, if you want to combine two similar concepts and another editor wants to maintain a distinction between the concepts. For instance, in mathematics, fractions and rational numbers are covered in separate articles—Fraction and Rational number—even though fractions are, in fact, usually rational numbers.

How to Merge Articles edit

Merging is a manual process that can be quite involved for longer articles. Assuming you want to perform the merge yourself, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Identify the articles you want to merge. Make sure they are, in fact, duplicate articles or otherwise need to be combined.
  2. Tag each of the articles to be merged with a special merge template. Insert the template at the beginning of the article: {{merge|otherarticlename|date=January 2008}} where otherarticlename is the title of the article that you want to merge with the article you're currently tagging, and the current month and year appears after date=.
  3. Tag the other article to be merged, replacing otherarticlename with the title of the first article. These templates alert readers and editors to the possible merge. (Figure 8.4, "The merge message template on the Bulgarian Education article, suggesting a merge to the article called Education in Bulgaria" shows this message at the top of the Bulgarian Education article.) Figure 8.4. The merge message template on the Bulgarian Education article, suggesting a merge to the article called Education in Bulgaria The merge message template on the Bulgarian Education article, suggesting a merge to the article called Education in Bulgaria
  4. In any merge, one article will become the destination article (mergeto page), where all the content will be combined, and the other will become the redirected article (mergefrom page), which will become a redirect to the other article. If you already know which article should be which, you can use more specific templates: {{mergeto|otherarticlename|date=January 2008}} on the redirected article

    {{mergefrom|otherarticlename|date=January 2008}} on the destination article

  5. The merge templates will place the articles into Category:Articles to be merged; adding the date means they will be sorted into a month-by-month category as well.
  6. Add a note to each article's talk page, describing why you think the articles should be merged if the reason is not apparent.
  7. After tagging the articles, wait a week (perhaps longer for obscure articles) for editors who have watchlisted the articles to comment on the merge. The idea is to leave sufficient time in case anyone disagrees with the merge. (If you get impatient in the meantime, you can find plenty of other merging work to do on older articles!)
  8. Review any comments left regarding the merge; if strong objections have been raised, don't merge the articles.
  9. If you have not yet decided, choose the destination article and the redirected article. If you aren't sure, discuss it with other editors on the relevant talk pages to resolve the matter.
  10. Edit both articles at once (use two browser windows or two browser tabs). First, copy the text from the mergefrom page to the mergeto page. Make sure to include all references, footnotes, external links, and see alsos (as for editing, you can draft the merged article first and save it later, or you can use subsequent edits to clean up your work). Add an appropriate edit summary when you save the article indicating where the content came from, such as "merging content," and include the title of the article you're merging from.
  11. Use several edits to work on the logical order of the new, combined page. Determine the extent of duplication, which sections need to be cut or moved, and if any new sections need to be started. Reducing the duplication in stages is best; sort the material by combining duplicate sections. It is best to determine duplication section by section rather than when you first combine the articles.
  12. Polish the text of the new article and work on readability. Try not to delete content, but focus on creating a quality article. Don't lose references and footnotes, and cite any questionable statements.
  13. Replace the text on the mergefrom article with a redirect to the new destination (mergeto) article. Save the page, indicating which pages are being merged in the edit summaries.
  14. If the two articles disagreed about a fact, include this information in a note on the talk page of the destination article. Also indicate any other changes, such as text cuts or deleted images.
  15. Check What Links Here from the redirected article to find double redirects that may have been created by the merge; fix these redirects by editing them to point to the destination article.
  16. When you're finished, remove the merge tag from the destination article, and add a note indicating that the merge is complete to your original threads on the talk pages.
  17. Congratulate yourself on completing the merge!

For major consolidations with more than one article, you can use the {{multiplemergefrom}} template. Proceed with the merge one article at a time; you will still need to determine a destination article.

Splitting Articles edit

An article should be split into multiple articles when it has become unwieldy to read and edit. An article should also split into multiple articles if it deals with several diverse topics better suited to individual articles. An article should not be split, however, if the resulting articles would be small stubs. For example, an article about an author should not be split into small articles about each of his or her books; in this case, one long article about the author and his or her work with redirects from the book titles is usually best.

Very long articles are undesirable for a variety of reasons: They are difficult to navigate and read, and in some older browsers and mobile browsers, you can't edit pages with more than 32KB of text. Long articles can also take a long time to load on slow Internet connections. The Manual of Style deals with these points at Wikipedia:Article size (shortcut WP:SIZE).

When a long article includes too much detail on a narrow subtopic, you might want to split it. Splitting is an important aspect of Wikipedia:Summary style, which was mentioned in Chapter 6, "Good Writing and Research". Long articles should generally follow summary style. Each section of the article should summarize the major topic points with links to specialized articles that fill in detail. For example, an article about a sports team should not be dominated by material on a famous coach: The coach should be discussed in a separate article and the material sensibly divided between the team's article (which would cover the coach's work with the team) and the coach's article (which would cover mostly biographical information).

Procedurally, a split is similar to a merge. First, post the {{split}} template on the page, perhaps at the beginning of the section you propose splitting into its own article. Add a note to the article's talk page before doing anything drastic. You should normally wait for any comments and discussion among editors.

If a section of text needs to be split into its own article:

  1. Give the new article an appropriate title.
  2. Edit the old article to obtain the wikitext for cutting and pasting, so any formatting is preserved.
  3. Add an appropriate edit summary, indicating that you're splitting the old article and giving the names of the two articles using wikilinks, for instance, "Split [[History of Alaska]] out from [[Alaska]]".
  4. Add a summary to the old article where you cut the text rather than leaving a gap, and add a wikilink to the new article.

Using the History of Alaska example, in the main Alaska article just add one or two short paragraphs summarizing the high points of Alaskan history. At the top of the section called ==History of Alaska==, include a link to the new, more specialized article, along with a message such as "Main article: [[History of Alaska]]". This message tells readers to click the link to go to that article if they want more information on Alaskan history. Use the template {{main}} to produce a neat message:


Moving Pages edit

If an article is located at the wrong title, you can move it to a new title as long as another article isn't already located at that title. Moving is the only way to rename a page.

Moving a page is simple but has several implications. To move a page, you must be logged in and have an account that is more than four days old (as of early 2008). Click the Move tab at the top of the page you want to rename. In the form that appears, type the new title that you want the article to have and the reason you are moving the article to the new title. Keep the Move associated talk page box checked. Check the Watch this page box to add it to your personal watchlist.

A typical move may be as minor as moving PT Barnum to P. T. Barnum, (adding periods and a space between the initials). Page moves are routinely used to fix title style (correcting punctuation, including the type of apostrophe, or using a hyphen for an en dash are common fixes).

Page moves accomplish three important things:

  1. Change the article title
  2. Move the page history to the new page title
  3. Create a redirect from the old title to the new title

They may also result in three other things:

  1. Turn redirects to the old title into double redirects
  2. Fill in redlinks, if the new title has been linked to on other pages
  3. Prevent future duplication

Creating double redirects is negative, but the other two are positive. If, for example, you move an orphan article with a poorly chosen title to a more reasonable title, you may be rewarded with a stack of new backlinks to the page if others have already linked to that new page title elsewhere. Broken links have suddenly become bluelinks thanks to your observant work.

Limits on Moving Pages edit

If you're trying to move an article and another article already has the title you've chosen, you won't be able to move your article there. Examine both articles: Should they be merged instead? See "When a Page Move Is Blocked" in Section 4, "Housekeeping" for what to do in that more complicated scenario.

The only time you can move an article on top of an existing page is when that page is a redirect with minimal history.

The move function is the only acceptable way to retitle an article, as moving transfers the version history along with the article itself. Although you can easily copy and paste article content into a new page and then redirect the old page to the new one, doing so is wrong. This results in an article with no history of previous versions, creating a confusing record. These so-called cut-and-paste moves can be fixed by an administrator through the history merge process; see Wikipedia:How to fix cut and paste moves. When merging or splitting an article, always provide a good edit summary detailing where the content came from.

Fixing Double Redirects edit

After you move an article, you're responsible for removing double redirects by checking What Links Here for the old article. After you've moved an article successfully, a message reminds you to check for double redirects and gives you the correct text to use. A good editor will not neglect this task, even though bots on the site may get to it within a few days.

Undoing a Move edit

Page moves can be undone. Immediately after moving an article, you will have the option to revert back if you realize you've made a mistake. Undoing is possible only if the article from which the original move was made has not subsequently been edited. If it has, you can reverse the move function by going back to the original title. If that is not possible, you will need an administrator's help. See Wikipedia:How to rename (move) a page#Undoing a move.

Contentious Title Changes edit

After you've worked on Wikipedia for a while, you'll get a feel for what is considered contentious and what is not. For article titles, the basic rule is to use the most common expression. Titles should not be changed to make a point—political or otherwise. Obviously, if the new title fails to describe the article's text in a neutral way, problems may arise. In case of doubt, discuss the new title on the article's talk page before moving the article.

For example, consider what type of article might justify including the word massacre in its title: frequent discussions about this type of issue have occurred, and nationalist opinions become involved. For example, the use of the word massacre has been contentious in relation to Deir Yassin massacre, which some have wanted renamed Battle of Deir Yassin. In this instance, Wikipedia engages with contentious history, and sharp debates cannot be avoided.

Wikipedia prefers to be correct rather than populist regarding some exceptions to using the common name or title, such as articles about aristocrats. But take, for example, the article J. D. Salinger. Moving it to Jerome David Salinger would cause annoyance because J.D. Salinger is never referred to by his full name. Although full names are often better than initials, in this instance, they aren't; Salinger's initials serve as a sort of pen name. (More examples of this can be found at List of people known by initials.)

Further Reading edit

Merging Articles edit

Wikipedia:Help:Merging and moving pages: Help merging and moving pages

Wikipedia:Merging: More information about merging pages

Wikipedia:Category:Articles to be merged: Articles to be merged, sorted by the month they were tagged

Splitting Articles edit

Wikipedia:Summary style: The section of the Manual of Style that deals with splitting articles

Wikipedia:Category:Articles to be split: The category of articles that need to be split

Wikipedia:Article size: About article size

Moving Pages edit

Wikipedia:Moving a page How to move a page

Categorize edit

Each page in the Category namespace represents, lists, and perhaps defines a category, or grouping of related pages. Categories place pages on related topics in one "container." A category page on Wikipedia should offer an overview of the coverage of a particular subject. How extensive is the coverage? How are articles organized? Is the particular topic you want there, but under a title that wouldn't be your first choice? Is there a subcategory that's a better fit for the area you want to research?

You learned how to navigate with categories in "Browsing by Categories" on Section 3.4, "Browsing by Categories"; in this section, you'll learn how to use them as an editorial tool.

All articles should be in at least one category; most articles are in more than one category. Some areas are particularly important to categorize: For instance, work is ongoing to track all Wikipedia's biographies of living persons in Wikipedia:Living people, with the number of articles running well into the six figures.

When an article is in one or more categories, this information appears at the very bottom of the article in an automatically generated section called Categories.

You Can Change Your Skin edit

Different skins—the formatting for how the site looks, which can be changed in your preferences (see Chapter 11, "Becoming a Wikipedian")—display categories in different locations. If you refer constantly to categories on articles, changing your skin to classic, which displays categories at the top rather than at the bottom of the page, will save you from having to scroll down to use them. Go to My Preferences in the upper right-hand corner of the page if you're logged in. To change back, go to Preferences at the top right in the classic skin and select Monobook (the default skin).

Clicking any category link will take you to the main page for that category. As described in Chapter 3, "Finding Wikipedia's Content" (see Figure 3.10, "Example of a category page (the category of Fictional Countries), showing editable sections" in Section 4.4.1, "Structure of a Category Page"), a category page has four parts:

  1. The explanation of the category; this text (along with the category's discussion page) is editable and is what you'll see if you click Edit This Page.
  2. A list of any subcategories within the category; these are listed alphabetically, but if the category is very large, the list may be spread over several pages.
  3. A list of links to articles in the category; this list is automatically populated. If the category is very large, the listing may be spread over several pages; only the first 200 links will appear on the first page. Click Next 200 at the bottom of the page to see the next page of entries.
  4. At the very bottom, you'll find a list of the categories that the category you're viewing is part of. These are editable by editing the category page.

Lists vs. Categories edit

The debate over whether categories or lists should be used to sort articles continues on Wikipedia. Because categories are automated, they are somewhat inflexible, compared to lists that are created as editable articles. The ability to edit means lists can be annotated and referenced, which is the main reason lists persist on the site.

Categorizing Basics edit

You can assign a page to any category simply by adding


to the page's wikitext. Substitute the actual name of the category in place of categoryname.

For example, to add the article Bozo the Clown to the Clowns category, you would edit the article and add the text [[Category:Clowns]] at the very bottom of the page.

Placing an article in a category by adding a category tag does two things:

  1. It automatically lists the article on the appropriate category page.
  2. It also provides a link to that category page in the list of categories at the bottom of the article.

Though no connection exists between the location of the category tag in the article source text and where the Categories box appears on the page, the general convention is to place categories together at the end of the source text (though before any interwiki links), one per line, so they don't affect the rest of the text and are all in one place. (Figure 8.5, "Article wikitext with multiple categories listed near the end of a page (after templates and before interwiki links), from the article Exploding whale" shows the placement of categories in an article's wikitext.) Wikipedia has no standard order for categories.

Figure 8.5. Article wikitext with multiple categories listed near the end of a page (after templates and before interwiki links), from the article Exploding whale

Articles can be included in more than one category by adding multiple category tags. For example, for a person no longer alive, the standard categories are year of birth, year of death, and occupation. Most articles are naturally in more than one category.

Most Categories edit

The page in the greatest number of categories can be found at the special page Special:Mostcategories. As of March 2008, a large number of Fauna categories were added to Red Fox, giving it 96; second as we go to print is Black Rat. Prior to this, the article in the greatest number of categories was Winston Churchill, with 67; these include Category:Knights of the Elephant, for holders of a Danish decoration, and Category:Nobel laureates in Literature, from 1953, as well as Category:Old Harrovians and Category:Members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.

To link to a category in wikitext without categorizing the page, type


Doing this is useful for "See also" sections in articles. This is also vital if you want to discuss a category on a talk page. If you leave out the first colon, the text of the link won't be displayed, and the page will be categorized in that category.

Categories and Content Policy edit

Like everything else on Wikipedia, categories are not canonical. Sometimes they are even incorrect or misleading, usually as the result of an honest mistake. Articles should be placed in categories simply to inform, never to make a point or forward a controversial position. Obviously, if an article about a person is in a category damaging to his or her reputation, the classification should be fully supported within the article. No one should just add Category:Murderers, unjustified, to a biography. Wikipedia doesn't allow its category system to be used as a way of commenting on content.

In general, anybody adding categories to an article should follow the same basic policies of Verifiability, No Original Research, and Neutral Point of View that govern the rest of Wikipedia. Categories are part of the informational content of an article and should be treated appropriately: They should be supported by references (or more properly by statements in the article's text that are themselves referenced), especially if the category is contentious. (One disadvantage of categories as opposed to lists: You can add sources to a list to support inclusion, but you can't annotate an article's categories directly.)

Wikipedia has many guidelines for categorizing articles; Wikipedia:Categorization FAQ is one place to find them. Wikipedia:Categorization of people, another guideline, explains the sensitive subject of placing people in categories that might affect their reputation. Especially for biographical articles about living people, use caution when adding categories other than very formal and descriptive ones.

Creating New Categories edit

You can start a new category easily. If you add a category to an article, but the category doesn't exist yet, it displays as a redlink in the article's list of categories. To turn the redlink blue, simply click it (or visit Category:New category name where new category name is the category you want to create) and add some content, such as a brief description of the category and the categories it is a subcategory of, to the category page. Any pages that you or others have already tagged with your new category name will automatically be listed on the new category page.

For example, Category:Poisoned apples could be created by adding this text to the new page Poisoned apples:

A poisoned apple is an apple that has been poisoned.
[[Category:Fairytale objects]]

The description will appear at the top of the category page, and adding the categories will instantly make poisoned apples a new subcategory of the Apples and Fairytale Objects categories.

All new categories should have their broader categories listed, but including a description is optional; in this case, the description isn't very helpful. In some cases, though, a good description (perhaps linking to the main article on the subject) will help the average reader, especially for obscure subjects.

Wikipedia also has naming and structural conventions for creating categories. Use plurals, for example Category:Pigs, for categories. This convention differs from the article title convention of generally preferring the singular form. Proper names such as Category:Vermont, which collects articles about the state, or collective headings such as Category:Greek mythology are also common category names.

Before creating a new category, make sure the category you want doesn't already exist under a variant name (check articles similar to the one you're trying to categorize). Creating categories that are not obviously needed is considered a nuisance.

Subcategories edit

Categories can have subcategories. Anyone can create or alter subcategories by simply categorizing the category page. For instance, you could make Category:Piglets a subcategory of Category:Pigs; simply tag the Category:Piglets page with [[Category:Pigs]]. Using the subcategory and supercategory structure is a good way to browse the site and is discussed extensively in Chapter 3, "Finding Wikipedia's Content".

Here, we'll discuss the issues around classifying articles using detailed categories. Are detailed subsubcategories a good thing or not? Certainly having categories that contain too many articles can be unwieldy; a category with more than 200 articles in it requires multiple pages. Subcategorizing the articles into more distinct categories can help keep categories manageable.

Subcategories are useful on Wikipedia to subclassify when the schematic being followed is fairly natural to the subject matter and the relevance is evident. Category:Politicians with blue eyes is not helpful—why would anyone be looking for this information? But Category:Canadian buskers is an acceptable subcategory of Category:Buskers or of Category:Canadian musicians. Subcategories should offer the general reader a convenient way to navigate a category and also provide information about the material included in a category.

Following a general but not quite universal convention, articles should not appear in both a category and a subcategory. For instance, Category:Beetles within Category:Insects classifies some insects more precisely. According to the convention, the beetle articles should not also be in the more general Category:Insects. Therefore, in searching Category:Insects for all the Wikipedia articles on insects, you would also have to search Category:Beetles and, within that, more than a dozen subcategories to find all of the beetle pages. Going through all the subcategories is the only comprehensive way to find all the articles related to a larger category, such as insects; if in this case you went to the page List of insects, you'd discover this list is a redirect to Category:Insects. While finding all Wikipedia articles about insects is probably unreasonable (as the category is enormous), creating extremely detailed subcategories for smaller topics can make it difficult to see all the related articles at a glance. On the other hand, articles should always placed in the most detailed category that applies: An article about a beetle found in New Zealand should be placed in the Beetles of New Zealand category, not the higher-level category Beetles.

Exploring a Category and Its Subcategories edit

Wikipedia has a way to show an extended view of the whole structure of a complex category. The special page Special:CategoryTree will show you all of a category's subcategories arranged in a clickable tree structure. Go to the page and type the name of the category you want to examine in the box provided (JavaScript must be enabled in your browser). This tool makes it easy to see related articles in different subcategories. You can also include an expandable category tree on a wiki page by using the tag <categorytree>Name of category</categorytree>. No brackets are needed around the name of the category with this tag.

Categorization Projects edit

You can find lots of information about projects to improve the use of categories at Wikipedia:WikiProject Categories/Current subprojects. You can also find an overview at Category:Wikipedia categorization.

One long-standing categorization project that crosses all disciplines is Wikipedia:WikiProject Stub sorting. This project maintains the article categories for stubs, a list of which can be found at Wikipedia:WikiProject Stub sorting/List of stubs. These special categories are applied to articles not with standard category tags but with templates, which are discussed in the next chapter.

Further Reading edit

Wikipedia:Categorization: The categorization guideline

Wikipedia:Categorization FAQ: Frequently asked questions about using categories

Wikipedia:Categorization of people: The guideline about categorizing people

Wikipedia:WikiProject Categories: The WikiProject dealing with categorization

Wikipedia:Categorization projects (current) Current categorization projects

Category:Wikipedia categorization The category of project pages dealing with categorization

Housekeeping edit

Now that you've seen how the six tools can be used for hypertext editing, we will discuss a few problems that can arise when you try to apply the tools discussed in this chapter and solutions to those problems.

When a Page Move Is Blocked edit

Suppose you want to move article P to title Q, but the MediaWiki software blocks the move. P and Q might be articles on identical topics; then you will need to merge the articles.

If the other article Q is on a different topic than P but uses the same title that you wanted to use for P, then you need to create a disambiguation page for the main term and move the other articles to appropriate titles, which will then be linked to on the new disambiguation page. For instance, you might want to move Jolly Green Giant to Green Giant—but you'd find that Green Giant is already taken up with a page about the company. You could move the page Green Giant to Green Giant (company), and Jolly Green Giant to Green Giant (symbol). Then you could go back to the page Green Giant—it will be a redirect to Green Giant (company) from the move—and edit it to be a disambiguation page pointing to the two articles. Any other articles about green giants could also be listed. The page Jolly Green Giant will be automatically turned into a redirect to Green Giant (symbol), but you'll need to check for double redirects and add hatnotes to the two articles pointing back to the disambiguation page. This series of actions will help this small corner of Wikipedia make more sense to the reader.

Sometimes the situation is more complicated. Page moves to temporary dummy titles can help. You can tag any unneeded redirects you create for speedy deletion when you're done. See Help:Moving a page for more guidance and Wikipedia:Requested moves to request administrator help with moving a page.

Default Meanings edit

Sometimes an article about a lesser character, say from an anime or comic, will be created before the article about a more important figure with the same name. A disambiguation page should be created in this case. For the good of the encyclopedia, the lesser character shouldn't become the default meaning, however. For example Thor, the Norse god, must have priority over Thor (Marvel Comics). Problems of this type have to be sorted out by someone who understands blocked page moves.

Moves are best made from a more general title to a more particular title: from John Jones to John James Jones, for example. That leaves the way open to making John Jones a disambiguation page. Moving uphill, or removing information from a title, is sometimes more problematic. Removing information can often make a title ambiguous, for example, moving George W. Bush to George Bush. If you remove information from a title, you risk deciding on the Wikipedia default meaning: You may be telling the world that John Jones should be read as John James Jones.

In other words, make titles more informative and specialized to the topic. But don't add titles like Dr., honorifics, or post-nominal letters like initials after names; this is against Wikipedia conventions. Moving articles to more general titles should be used mainly for verbose titles, like moving List of Japanese Government and Private institutions and Groups (from 1930s to 1945) to List of Japanese institutions (1930–1945).

Avoiding Disambiguation Pages edit

Wikilinks in articles should generally point to the exact article title meant, not a disambiguation page, since a link with a variety of possible meanings can be confusing to a reader unfamiliar with a topic. The process of changing wikilinks to point to precise articles instead of disambiguation pages is called avoid disambiguation pages. Generally, this work is done by checking What Links Here for disambiguation pages.

Here's an example from the article Rectangle. The initial text in the article was

A square is a special kind of rectangle where all four sides have equal length;

But Square is a disambiguation page, which includes the meaning Square (slang) for an un-hip person. To avoid the dab page, change the link to Square to the following:

A square is a special kind of rectangle where all four sides have equal length;

The text now reads the same as before, but the destination of the wikilink is precise and correct. If an article using the precise meaning of a term hasn't been created yet, use a red-and-piped link rather than linking to the disambiguation page (which would be confusing). The redlink may also prompt someone to create the new article.

Finding Disambiguation Work edit

To find lists of disambiguation pages, including the disambiguation pages that need to be improved, try browsing through CategoryDisambiguation]]; the subcategories at the top sort disambiguation pages by topic. If you want to work on disambiguation pages that need cleanup help, consider joining the disambiguation WikiProject: Wikipedia:WikiProject Disambiguation. See Wikipedia:Disambiguation pages with links (shortcut WP:DPL) for a list of disambiguation pages that have incoming links (which should instead be links to more precise articles).

Controlling Category Sorting edit

Pages within categories are displayed alphabetically by the first word of the page title, but this order can be modified by sort keys.

Category:Presidents of France may look quite ordinary (Figure 8.6, "Category:Presidents of France"), but a few things are going on here. Under the letter G, you'll find the article for Charles de Gaulle. Under N, you'll find the article on Napoleon III of France, but under S (not N), you'll find the article on Nicolas Sarkozy. The case of Sarkozy obviously fits sorting by surname, but what else is happening here? Napoleon III was a president before he was an emperor, but his surname was, of course, Bonaparte. De Gaulle is a surname, but using the appropriate convention for French names, the de is not considered here.

Figure 8.6. Category:Presidents of France

In a category, you would generally expect the article John Smith to be sorted under S for Smith rather than J for John. Wikipedia has two ways to achieve this result: magic words and sort keys. These two approaches have the same effect—making category listings treat the John Smith page article as if its title were Smith John—but magic words affect every category a page is in, while sort keys only work one category at a time. Each is highly flexible.

The magic word for default sort is used like a template:


For the page John Smith, it would be filled in like this:

{{DEFAULTSORT:Smith, John}}

and placed in the wikitext above the list of categories. To classify Charles de Gaulle under G, the template would be filled in this way:

{{DEFAULTSORT:Gaulle, Charles de}}

The use of this template affects every category page that Charles de Gaulle might be placed in (potentially dozens); the article will always show up sorted under G.

To only sort an article in a single category, or to vary sorting according to the category, use a sort key, which is added after a pipe character placed in the Category link in the article text:

[[Category:1900 births|Smith, John]]

If you want to list Napoleon III under B for Bonaparte, for this particular category, enter

[[Category:Presidents of France|Bonaparte, Louis-Napoleon]]

on the page Napoleon III of France; that will affect just how the article is sorted in the category Presidents of France. See Wikipedia:Categorization#Pipe tricks and sort keys for more examples and explanations.

Although titles usually consist of plain text, they may begin with other symbols. The ordering used for category sorting when extended to non-alphanumeric characters is ASCII order, a standard used in byte codes for computing. Article titles beginning with numbers come before article titles starting with the letter A and article titles starting with symbols are always displayed before these, using a particular order for symbols. The article (Like) Linus, beginning with an opening parenthesis and about a demo by The Deftones, would precede the article about @Home Network, a defunct ISP, beginning with @, if these two articles were ever placed in the same (unlikely) category.

The use of ASCII order explains one more thing about the Presidents of France category page. The listing starts with President of the French Republic, under an asterisk (*). This is because in the article President of the French Republic, the category tag reads

[[Category:Presidents of France|*]]

The asterisk is a device for bringing the article to the top of the listing so it is much more prominent. This method is commonly used for highlighting the main article in a category—the article that will give the reader an overview of the whole topic. A blank space after the pipe character is an extra refinement and has the same effect except no asterisk is included on the category page.

Categories and Templates for Redirects edit

Certain links on a category page may appear in italics. This is because these are links for redirect pages. If you click the link, you go to the page to which the redirect leads (not to the article with the title you expected).

The probable explanation is this: The redirect is anchored to a section of an article, and the category is right for that section but would be odd for the whole article. For example, the article might be about an author and the section about a film made from one of the author's books: Placing the author's name in a film category wouldn't be correct.

Another example of how to use this device is illustrated by the French Presidents example. Charles Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte is a redirect to Napoleon III of France. The category tag [[Category:Presidents of France|Bonaparte]] could be included in the redirect, so the category page would include the correct name for his time as president and be sorted under Bonaparte.

Templates on redirects are mostly used to flag redirects that could usefully become articles in their own right. See Category:Redirect templates.

Process-Style Resolutions edit

Your problem may have a resolution, if you only knew where to go to get an answer.

Category deletion edit

Annoying and useless categories and categories that need to be renamed (often required to apply conventions consistently) are handled via a process. Go to Wikipedia:Categories for discussion (shortcut WP:CFD) to apply for deletion, merging, and renaming of categories or to participate in discussions about those issues. The process takes about a week.

Problem redirects edit

Go to Wikipedia:Redirects for discussion (shortcut WP:RFD).

Disagreement about default meanings edit

Editors are supposed to discuss difficulties about default meanings and come to a resolution. Failing that, Wikipedia:Requested moves (shortcut WP:RM) is the place to discuss any contested title change.

Merges without consensus edit

Most mergers should be simply tagged and discussed on their respective talk pages, but proposed merges can also be listed on Wikipedia:Proposed mergers for wider discussion. If there is no consensus, the merge should usually not occur.

Contested title changes edit

Go to Wikipedia:Requested moves (shortcut WP:RM) to discuss moves when consensus is not clear. This page is where matters concerning moves can be sorted out if there is real disagreement. Just add the request along with a short justification, and refer back to this page for a few days. Any editor may comment.

Fixing cut-and-paste moves edit

Go to Wikipedia:Cut and paste move repair holding pen (shortcut WP:SPLICE) if you need page histories fixed after copy-and-paste moves.

Further Reading edit

Help:Moving a page#Moving over an existing page: How to move over an existing page

Help:Category#Sort order: Sort order guideline

Category:Redirect templates: The category for redirect templates

Wikipedia:Categories for discussion: Category discussion

Wikipedia:Redirects for discussion: Redirect discussions

Wikipedia:Proposed mergers: Proposed mergers, sorted by month

Wikipedia:Requested moves: Where to request help with moves

Wikipedia:How to fix cut-and-paste moves: Guidelines for fixing cut and paste moves

Summary edit

Improving Wikipedia can go beyond editing text. The techniques discussed in this chapter complement the more glamorous business of writing articles. They allow you to present the site's content to the readers more clearly by creating navigational structures and sorting existing content.

There are two special types of pages—redirect and disambiguation pages—that are used to help readers navigate Wikipedia. Redirects are a special type of page that take readers from one page title to another when more than one possible title for an article exists. Wikipedia has millions of redirects, all helping readers navigate and search the site. Disambiguation pages, on the other hand, pull together a list of articles with similar titles that could be confused. These pages can be created for any term with multiple meanings, as well as for common personal and family names that may refer to more than one person or family.

Part of editing articles is ensuring that each article's scope is appropriate. If Wikipedia has two or more articles about the same topic or with very similar content, these articles may need to be merged. Any editor can merge two articles by editing them and combining their text on one of the pages and then redirecting the other article to the new combined article. If an article gets too long and unwieldy or deals with multiple disparate topics, the article may need to be split into two or more separate articles. Any editor can do this by creating a new page and copying some of the old article's content to the new page. Finally, an article may be created using the wrong title or a later decision is made to rename an article. In this case, that article needs to be moved to a new title.

Finally, categorizing articles in appropriate categories is a fundamental part of sorting Wikipedia content, making it more accessible to readers and editors. Anyone can help with categorizing pages. Anyone can also create new categories, but understanding how the process works ensures your work is consistent with existing schemes.

For all of these editing techniques, Wikipedia has developed many guidelines detailing how they are done and has created several community processes for dealing with problem cases.

References edit

  1. a b Miller, E: "The Sun", page 23. Academic Press, 2005
  2. a b Smith, R: "Size of the Moon", Scientific American, 46(78):46
  3. See "What's in a Name?" The Economist, accessed March 8, 2007 (

Chapter 9 edit

Chapter 9: Images, Media, Templates and Special Characters edit

Articles on Wikipedia can include more than simply text. Images and media files enhance content whereas templates (such as the ubiquitous infoboxes) and tables can help you lay out articles more cleanly. Well-chosen graphics and neat presentations can improve articles significantly. You can also use a number of formatting tricks. For example, you can use some HTML successfully, display special characters, and add mathematical formulas to articles. These tasks all use advanced wikisyntax, which will be covered in this chapter.

Our best advice is to learn the more advanced syntax options when you need them. Much of what is covered in this chapter, particularly information about template syntax, is not usually necessary for basic editing, but you can generally learn how to apply these enhancements quickly if you want to use them to improve an article.

Images and Media Files edit

Images and media files are a welcome contribution to Wikipedia and complement article text in multiple ways. Images might be illustrations, diagrams, photographs, or maps; they can show the reader what an animal looks like, where a country is, or give a sense of a city's skyline. Media files might include sounds, such as the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word or a short clip of a composer's work, or videos, such as an animation of how a machine works. What all of these files have in common is that they exist to illustrate and clarify article text. Images should not be placed in articles simply for the sake of adding a pretty picture, but a good, clear image of the subject—or an appropriate sound or video file—can greatly enhance any article.

Like all other Wikipedia content, all media and images must be freely licensed. Though today you can find digital images everywhere on the Web, by and large you can't use these images directly in Wikipedia; such use is generally a copyright violation, much like copying someone else's text and uploading it as your own. A better tactic is to take photographs or produce drawings and diagrams yourself, license them freely, and then upload them to Wikipedia for use in articles.

In this section, we'll talk about how to find images on Wikipedia, how to upload your own work for use on the site (and the licensing guidelines to keep in mind when doing so, including whether you can claim a fair use rationale), and then how to embed images in pages, using the special image syntax. We'll then discuss media files such as sound and video clips.

Any discussion of images is incomplete without mentioning one of Wikipedia's sister projects, Wikimedia Commons, which serves as an image and media file repository for all of the Wikimedia projects. These days uploading and working on images on Commons, where images are more easily reusable and searchable, rather than on Wikipedia directly is preferable. A more detailed description of this project can be found in Chapter 16, Wikimedia Commons and Other Sister Projects.

Finding and Adding Images edit

As of early 2008, Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Commons had well over 3,000,000 images. With this many images, you can most likely find existing images to use in your article. If not, anyone is welcome to upload new images to the site, as long as the images can be used in an article and are freely licensed.

Searching for Images to Use edit

The Wikimedia Commons is probably the best place to start searching for images or media files. The easiest way to search is to use the Mayflower search engine ( you'll find a link to it on the front page of Commons); Mayflower searches image description pages on Commons for your keywords and returns a page of thumbnail-size pictures as search results. You can also go to Commons to browse media files and images by subject, as most images have been categorized extensively.

On Wikipedia itself, you can also browse images using categories. The topmost category for images is ; this category also contains images that are only used as part of the Wikipedia project (rather than in articles), such as images for WikiProject awards. Under this category you'll find and , which sorts images based on whether they are drawings, animations, and so on. One image collection especially worth visiting is Wikipedia:Featured pictures, which is a selection of some of the very best images on Wikipedia; here you can find the picture of the day and participate in image judging.

Finally, you can also search image descriptions directly on Wikipedia by searching the Image namespace, as described in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content. Whether you get any results depends entirely on how well the image has been titled and described.

If you enjoy contributing images and want to help track down needed pictures, there are two places to look for requests for pictures: on Wikipedia and Commons:Picture requests on Commons.

Image Licenses and Fair Use edit

A licencing tutorial used on Wikimedia Commons.

If you can't find an existing image for your article, you can upload a new one. But first make sure the license is acceptable. You shouldn't upload images to Wikipedia without knowing the license restrictions or without permission. All images you upload to Wikipedia must meet one of four criteria:

  • You (the person who puts the picture on Wikipedia) own the rights to the image (that is, you created it), and you agree to release the image under a free license, such as the GFDL.
  • If you didn't originally create the image, you can prove that the copyright holder has licensed the image under an acceptable free license, such as the GFDL.
  • You can prove that the image is in the public domain; this is the case with US government–created work such as photos from NASA, which are automatically placed in the public domain.
  • You produce a convincing fair-use rationale.

Playing fast and loose with the rules is very unhelpful. Do not copy images you find on the Web and call them your own. Although disregarding these points and uploading technically works anyway, many Wikipedians monitor the list of new image uploads, and without a proper license, the image will not remain on the site for long (typically, it will be deleted within a week).

The last of the criteria, fair use, is only accepted on the English-language Wikipedia (not on Commons) and is quite controversial, causing much discussion over the years. Under US copyright law, the term fair use refers generally to a limited use of a copyrighted work for educational or critical purposes. For instance, when a reviewer quotes a small segment from a book he or she is reviewing, the reviewer can do so because of fair use. On Wikipedia, the so-called fair-use policy documents when it is acceptable to use a non-free image on the site. For example, album covers appear in several articles about albums. Cover art is typically copyrighted, but the fair-use policy may mean that a small scanned image of the cover is acceptable so long as the album artwork itself is critically discussed in the article and an image of the artwork is necessary to help clarify this discussion.

Fair use is controversial on Wikipedia because the site aims to include only free content; including any copyrighted material at all is problematic given Wikipedia's license and values, and the legal aspects of what is and isn't fair use can be very difficult to determine. Given this, so-called fair-use images are only used in a very limited range of circumstances. If there is any possibility a free equivalent to a copyrighted image could be obtained instead at some point in the future (for instance, if the copyrighted image is of a living actor and another photographer might donate an equivalent photo), then the copyrighted image should not be used.

The full details of fair use on Wikipedia for images and media are something of a mouthful and are explained on Wikipedia:Non-free content (shortcut WP:NONFREE). Ten points are involved:

  • No free equivalent can exist.
  • Commercial opportunities for the copyright owner must not be affected.
  • Usage on Wikipedia must be minimal. An entire work is not used if a portion or sample would do.
  • The work must have been previously published outside Wikipedia.
  • General Wikipedia content requirements must be met, and the material must be encyclopedic.
  • Other aspects of the media-specific policy (Wikipedia:Image use policy, shortcut WP:IUP) must be met.
  • The content is used in at least one article.
  • The reader must gain significantly from the addition to an article, and the gain could not be achieved by text alone.
  • Non-free content is basically allowed only in articles and not in disambiguation pages.
  • The image description page must be completed properly.

Even so, fair-use images are often culled and deleted from the site.

The best alternative to fair use is to find a free image instead, in line with the site's mission of promoting free culture. For instance, for celebrities or politicians, releasing a single PR photo into the public domain (or under the GFDL) ensures that Wikipedia can use that picture free and clear, and everyone benefits.

Uploading Your Own Images edit

Images must be uploaded before they can be used on the project. You can't link to images on other websites. Images can be uploaded directly to Wikipedia, or alternatively to the Wikimedia Commons, where they may be used by all Wikimedia projects (not just the English-language Wikipedia). The latter option is preferable. A description of how to upload to the Commons, which is quite similar to the process described next, is in Chapter 16, Wikimedia Commons and Other Sister Projects.

File Types

The following file types can be uploaded to Wikipedia: PNG, GIF, JPG, JPEG, XCF, SVG, DJVU, PDF, MID, and OGG. The first seven are image file formats, whereas the last three are for documents and media. According to Wikipedia:Media, the preferred file formats are JPEG (*.jpg) for images and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG; *.svg) for drawings.

To upload an image, you must be logged in to the site. Click Upload File on the left-hand sidebar or visit Special:Upload.

The steps are simple:

Save the image or file you wish to upload to your computer.
Click Upload File on the left-hand sidebar and indicate how you got the image. Depending on the option selected, you'll be led through a series of licensing questions to answer before you get to the uploading form.
Figure 9.1. The image uploading form
The image uploading form
Once you reach the uploading form, scroll down past the warnings on the page to the form itself (Figure 9.1, “The image uploading form”).
Fill in the Source filename field; this field is for your original file. Click Browse to access the image on your computer. Once you've found the file, select it and click Open. The filename will then appear in the Source filename field.
Select the destination filename; this is the name the file will have on Wikipedia or Commons (this name will be prefaced by Image: automatically). The filename for the image on your computer is used by default, but you can edit the name to change it (see the advice on naming files below). Remember that image filenames, unlike article titles, cannot be changed once you've named them, so choose carefully.
Describe the image in the Summary field. What is the image of? When was the photo taken or the drawing created? Include as much useful information as you can—this is the only way that people searching for images will be able to find yours. This field may be pre-filled in with a template, depending on which option you chose in step 1; if so, you can fill out the appropriate parameters.
Choose the appropriate license; if you select I don't know, your image will be deleted.
Leave Watch this page checked; this way, you'll notice if the image has been tagged for deletion.
Click Upload File. You're done!

The image now resides in the Image namespace, using the filename you've given it. Once you've successfully uploaded an image, you'll be taken to its image description page; this page is located at, where yourimagename.jpg is the filename you entered in the Destination filename field. This page is also where your summary description of the image appears. Once an image is embedded in an article, anyone clicking it will be taken to this page (note that if you click an image from Commons, you will automatically see the description page from Commons instead). The information and description on this page can be edited like any other page. To link to an image description page directly (rather than displaying the image), add a colon (:) before the filename in the wikilink:


Files should be named descriptively; do not use a meaningless string of numbers and letters (such as you might get from a digital camera) or filenames such as image.jpg. Image filenames should clearly indicate the subject of the image, and image descriptions should clearly indicate the subject of the image, the photographer or image creator, and the image source. Other information that will also help document the image includes the date the image was taken, location, occasion, and so on. An image is often used in multiple articles, and obviously you have no more say in its use than any other editor does.

Though you cannot change an image filename after uploading it, you can replace an image by uploading a new version of the image with the exact same name; this change will show up in the image history. For an existing image, click the Upload a New Version of This File link, which appears under File history on the image description page.

Using Images edit

Once you've uploaded an image, you can insert it on a Wikipedia page. Use the following syntax to insert an image on a page:


This will display the image on the page, at the same size as the original.

Images may be floated to the left or right of the text. Laying out images on the right is more conventional for articles, though right-left alternation may also make sense, depending on the design of the article and the number of images used. For instance, standard infoboxes tend to be placed in the top-right part of an article, which will affect article layout. For an example of an article using multiple images, see Mandelbrot set, where numerous techniques are used to display and arrange images.

You can set image alignment by adding a parameter using the vertical bar or pipe character (|):




You can also display an image as a thumbnail, which will automatically size the image to 180 pixels with space for a caption at the bottom, using the thumb parameter. You do this by adding two parameters:

This is an image caption

This is an image caption will, in this case, display below the image. Captions should describe an image completely; they can include internal or external links as necessary. You can also combine this with the alignment parameter:

This is an image caption

This aligns the image on the right side of the page in a handy thumbnail size with a caption below it.

Rather than using the default thumbnail sizing, images can also be sized to any dimensions:

This is an image
This is an image

This will display the image at 300 pixels, left-aligned, with This is an image displayed as alternative text when a reader hovers the mouse over the image. To add this text as a caption to an image of any size, use the thumb tag with a size parameter:

This is an image

If you have many small images and you want to display them together, try using the

This will display these six images in a neat table. No double brackets are needed around filenames in an image gallery. Find out more at Wikipedia:Gallery tag.

If you want to include a particularly wide image, such as a panorama of a city skyscape, use the template Template:Wide image. Full details are included on the template page.

As for which images should be included in an article, Wikipedia's image policies mainly deal with copyright concerns. The guideline at Wikipedia:Images does define what encyclopedic images are: An encyclopedic image is relevant to the subject at hand, clear, and good quality. Don't overwhelm your articles with images; using the thumbnail feature also ensures that pages will load more quickly for readers. The Featured Pictures project lays out more criteria for good images at Wikipedia:Featured picture criteria; many of these criteria are related to the technical quality of the image. For help improving images, you can always ask fellow editors interested in images—try the Wikipedia Graphics Lab project at Wikipedia:Graphic Lab.

Using Multimedia Files edit

Other media files may also be used on Wikipedia. Audio files can be very helpful for some topics; for example, Wikipedia has numerous files designed to help you pronounce Chinese names properly. Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content covers how to play these files. Sound files must use the free Ogg Vorbis or the MIDI format, and video files must use the Ogg Theora format.

Considering approximately 70,000 articles are devoted to albums and singles, you might expect Wikipedia to have many music files. All music samples from copyright sources, however, have to be specifically tied into the article's description of a song or piece of music. Articles about albums are meant to inform, not to promote.

The fair-use policy also applies. The article on Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" does include a 14-second sample from the song. This short length conforms to the fair-use policy: The sample has to be minimal and not affect legitimate commercial trade.

Media files, such as sound files, are uploaded in the same way as image files. But when you link to them you replace Image with Media:


Though you can upload PDF files, they do not generally play a useful role on Wikipedia or the other Wikimedia projects.

To identify a sound link in an article, you can use Template:Listen, which adds a small sound icon and a handy menu for playing the file, as described at Wikipedia:Creation and usage of media files.

Further Reading edit

Images An overview of using images in pages A tutorial on formatting images More advanced image syntax The main help page for images A tutorial for finding images to illustrate articles Guidelines for using images from Commons The image use policy, "including format, content, and copyright issues" A short list of key points about images on Wikipedia

Media A help page for playing media files A template to use with sound files Another template to use with sound and pronunciation files The project to produce recordings of Wikipedia articles

Templates edit

Templates are generally used on Wikipedia as navigational and formatting aids and to add recurring or boilerplate messages to pages in a consistent way. They are versatile and, when properly used, help with the presentation of information. A template is a page—which could contain, for instance, a navigation menu—that you can insert into a wiki page and reuse multiple times.

Each template may be included (technically transcluded) in any number of other wiki pages, from just a handful to hundreds of thousands. For programmers, a transcluded template is comparable to an #include statement or a macro that is run at page view time. Templates that you are probably familiar with now are the cleanup messages that appear at the top of articles and the stub messages that are placed at the very bottom of articles. Templates can also help incorporate complicated formatting into articles to standardize them, since templates are created once and then reused. A template can provide a consistent, flexible solution for how information displays. Wikipedians, therefore, create templates whenever similar text appears in different places. Some templates that play a major role in the site are protected, but most are editable pages, residing in their own Template namespace.

Some familiarity with templates will help any editor. Although you don't need to learn how to build your own templates in order to be a knowledgeable Wikipedia contributor, knowing the function of templates and what you can expect from them is helpful. You should understand how to use and edit them.

Using Templates edit

If you want the same style of footer or boxed graphic to show up across all articles on a given topic, then you'll want to create a template. Similarly, if you consistently leave certain messages on user talk pages—greetings or perhaps advice—using a template provides consistency and also saves time.

To add a template to a page, just edit the page where it should go and embed the name of the template (without the Template namespace prefix) in double curly brackets where you want it to appear, like this: {{template name}}

A template can be used more than once on a single page. After saving the page, the template will display where you've placed it.

For instance, placing

{{cleanup}} at the top of an article will produce the message for readers that was illustrated in Figure 7.1, “The cleanup template message” on Section 1, “Cleanup”. The template message by itself may be viewed by going to the template page at [[Template:Cleanup]]. To see the actual source code of this template, click the Edit This Page tab (which is labeled as View Source for this protected page). The complicated-looking piece of formatting you see is actually what's being included in the rendered article when you use the shortcut {{cleanup}}. Checking Templates Used in an Article

To see all of the templates used on a page, first select the Edit This Page tab to see the wikisource. Then scroll all the way past the edit window and editing shortcuts. At the very bottom of the page, below all the other text and license information, you'll see the note Pages transcluded onto the current version of this page. Under this is a list of all the templates included on that page; click one to go to the Template page itself.

Using Parameters edit

As a beginning editor, you'll want to edit around templates, not start changing them right away. In time you may have to edit a template, modifying it to add new text. Many templates require you to input parameters, or variables, in a specified form, which then customizes how the template displays on a particular page.

Parameters indicate or allow you to include variables that are going to be different for each template use. For instance, the template Template:WPBooks is used on the talk page of articles about books as an aid to sorting them out. This template is a WikiProject template designed to help editors work on book articles. The template looks like this before it is filled out: {{WPBooks |class = |needs-infobox = }} Each of the choices that are followed by an equal sign is an optional field that can be filled in by the person who inserts the template. For instance, you can fill in the class field with a rating reflecting the quality of the article in question at the time that you viewed it. The possible ratings are listed on the main page of the Template:WPBooks template; they are described as "FA, A, GA, B, Start, Stub, Dab, Template, Cat, NA. If blank, this will default as Unassessed." In other words, if you are reviewing an article about a book and wish to rate it as Start class, type Start after the class parameter.

The infobox parameter, on the other hand, is a simple yes/no choice. If the article needs an infobox, which is another kind of template, type yes here. If it doesn't need an infobox, you could either type no or just leave the parameter blank.

Many templates have optional parameters. For instance, the cleanup template mentioned in the previous section works best with a date parameter like this: {{Cleanup|date=May 2008}} Dating cleanup articles helps ensure that the oldest issues can be addressed first, through the system of cleanup categories by month. 2.3. How Templates Work

When just the double curly brackets are used to include a template on a page, the process is referred to as a transclusion. Some templates may require you to substitute them instead, through a process called substitution. The template directions—generally found in comments on the template page itself—will usually specify when you need to substitute a template rather than transclude it.

Substitution is done by typing {{subst:template name}} Substitution means that the template is expanded and rendered on saving the page, rather than on viewing it. That is, the wikitext that the template produces is saved into the source code of the page where the template is used. This contrasts with transclusion, where you just see the double-bracketed template name when you view the source code.

When a template is substituted, updates to the template page will not automatically propagate to the pages where the template has been placed (when a page is transcluded, they will). Substitution can be useful for pages where you want the wikitext to be closer to the rendered view that the reader sees.

Other Transclusions In fact, any wiki page, not just those in the Template namespace, can be transcluded into any other page. Simply place curly brackets around a colon and the name of the page you want to include: {{:Yourpagename}}. Transcluding subpages onto a main page is sometimes done for long pages that are broken up into many parts in the Wikipedia project space (but it is not done for articles). For instance, if you look at [[Wikipedia:Featured article candidates]], each nomination is actually on a subpage, which is transcluded onto the main FAC page with template syntax in order to give a single view of all the nominations. This feature can be helpful when you're designing your own templates—simply work on the template in a subpage of your userspace, where you can experiment at will. To test your template on another page, type {{:User:yourname/yourtemplatename}}. Of course, you will move it to the regular Template namespace when you're done. Templates can—and often do—automatically categorize the pages they are used on, as well. For instance, in the books template, if you include an infobox parameter, the discussion page of the article will automatically be added to [[Category:Book articles needing infoboxes]]. Similarly, {{cleanup}} places articles into a large category called [[Category:All articles needing cleanup]]. If you use a date parameter of August 2007 in this tag, the article will be categorized into [[Category:Cleanup from August 2007]] as well. Once the template is removed, the article will be removed from the category too.

Varieties of Templates edit

We don't have space here to discuss all the possible uses for templates and still less space to list all the commonly used ones—Wikipedia has tens of thousands of templates. We'll review a few major types, however. Some should already be familiar to you, such as cleanup templates. Fact-checking notices are useful for interacting with the Wikipedia site, even if you have no intention of getting heavily involved. These templates raise queries about content. Besides the cleanup templates we already described in Chapters Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article and Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes, which can be placed at the very top of an article to produce cleanup message boxes, you can also insert small cleanup and fact-checking templates in the text itself. Apply the templates {{fact}} and {{who}} when the source for a statement isn't clear. Another such template is {{lopsided}}, which adds a query to the article about the neutrality of the treatment. Place these templates directly by the questioned text. For example The Moon is made of old blue cheese, with the dusty surface being a space fungus that has grown on it{{fact}}. displays an inline message, such as a superscript citation needed for {{fact}} (see Figure 7.3, “The inline Citation Needed tag” on Section 2.4, “Fact-Checking and Referencing” for how this tag is used). This template also adds the article to a maintenance category, [[Category:All articles with unsourced statements]]. An infobox organizes information to display it cleanly to the reader and at the same time standardizes the presentation of essential facts about an article topic. A variety of infobox, the taxobox, is an infobox used for articles on individual species of animals or plants that present taxonomic information about that species. Infoboxes are typically rectangular, right-justified, and placed at the top of the article. You can go to [[Template:Infobox NBA Player]] to see a basketball player infobox with enough documentation on the page to see how it works (see Figure 9.2, “The NBA player infobox for Dražen Petrović” for how this infobox displays in an article). Each piece of information is a parameter that is filled in by the editor placing the infobox. To set up an infobox, visit [[Help:Infobox]]. Creating and modifying infoboxes is a little more procedural than is standard for Wikipedia. Existing infoboxes may be found on [[Wikipedia:List of infoboxes]] (shortcut WP:IB), though this page may not be consistently maintained, or on [[Category:Infobox templates]] (shortcut WP:INFO), but infoboxes are perhaps most easily found by going to similar articles or the related WikiProject. Navigation templates are also very common, particularly for article footers. For example, the template {{Popes}} is placed near the bottom of pages for any article on a pope, above the listing of categories and interwiki links. This template displays as a box listing links to all the pages about popes of the Catholic Church. As a refinement, because the template contains links to 264 other popes and is thus quite lengthy, the template detail is only displayed when you click the Show link. This kind of hidden template is commonly used for large or unwieldy navigation boxes. Hidden templates can be responsible for odd artifacts if you are using your browser search to locate a phrase on a page, however, since the browser can't "see" the text listing all the popes if the template is hidden.

Figure 9.2. The NBA player infobox for Dražen Petrović The NBA player infobox for Dražen Petrović

Another navigation aid that is versatile and useful for related articles is the succession box, which is also usually displayed at the bottom of the article. Near the bottom of Abraham Lincoln, you'll see a box that could be created by these templates: {{start box}} {{succession box | before = [[James Buchanan]] | title = [[President of the United States]] | after = [[Andrew Johnson]] | years = [[March 4]], [[1861]] - [[April 15]], [[1865]] }} {{end box}}

This displays a message telling you that Lincoln followed James Buchanan as president of the US and so on (Figure 9.3, “The succession boxes at the bottom of the Abraham Lincoln article” shows the many succession boxes used in the Lincoln article). The parameters are filled in with wikilinks. To create a succession box for some other position, edit the box's parameters by replacing, for example, President of the United States with Emperor of Mexico. In fact, go to Maximilian I of Mexico to see a stack of such boxes—a useful graphical representation of relationships for which words alone might be clumsy. is full of similar templates, but probably most editors copy and adapt these boxes from other articles.

Figure 9.3. The succession boxes at the bottom of the Abraham Lincoln article The succession boxes at the bottom of the Abraham Lincoln article

Formatting templates help you with text layout. For example, {{TOCleft}} places the table of contents on the left side of the page. This may be useful if the article also includes a right-justified infobox. Many more complicated templates can also be used for formatting within other templates or for spacing page elements, much as how CSS functions on regular web pages. Wikipedia also has dozens and dozens of templates for projects rather than articles; most of these templates are collected under and . See "Formatting Columns" on Section 3.2, “Formatting Columns” for another example of using templates to format text.

How to Build Templates edit

You might want to postpone reading this section until you need to build your own template. Existing templates are very numerous and can easily be adapted to meet most needs. Editors are welcome to build new templates, however.

We'll use the example of building a template to place on a user talk page to welcome new users. A template already exists for this purpose at Template:Welcome, but you may want to customize it or build your own personal version from scratch. Templates may include variables, which allow the template to display different messages on individual pages depending on which parameters are input at the time the template is placed. This example illustrates how that works.

March of the Gingerbread Men

Not only are templates convenient and versatile, but they also promote a degree of uniformity that helps readers. Knowing how to navigate around a new page, based on your experience with similar pages put together from a common stock of elements, is handy, and templates also help ensure that related articles all contain similar information. Too many templates can, however, make an article hard to read and hard to edit. The pejorative cooker-cutter page also applies: Wikipedia articles should have a little more individuality than gingerbread men. See Wikipedia:Huge message boxes for a (humorous) warning to this effect.

To start a new template, begin a new page in the Template namespace. For instance, our template example will be called mywelcometemplate, and it will include a bold link to Wikipedia's help pages. On the page Template:Mywelcometemplate, you'd type the following:

click here for handy tips and help

and click Save. So far, so good. Now, when you type Template:Mywelcometemplate on any other page and click Save, you'll see this bold link rendered on the page: click here for handy tips and help.

You can then introduce a parameter. In the template definition, the formal parameter (the placeholder for the parameter value that is input) is a parameter name with three pairs of braces. So, for example, you would type {{{myVariableName}}} for a template parameter that you wanted to call myVariableName.

In this example, say you wanted to include a variable article name in your welcome message. You might type this:

If you need help with your article called "{{{articlename}}}", [[Help: Contents|click here for handy tips and help]].

When you include the template on a page, you'd type this:


and when the page is rendered you'd see this:

If you need help with your article called "the article name you want to display", click here for handy tips and help.

You can also include unnamed parameters by using sequential numbers: {{{1}}}, {{{2}}}, and so on. In this case, the user could simply place the variable text he wanted to include in between pipe characters with no parameter name. For instance, if your template looks like this,

Dear {{{1}}}, if you need help with your article called "{{{2}}}", [[Help: Contents|click here for handy tips and help]].

you can fill it out as follows:


And the following will display on page rendering:

Dear Mary, if you need help with your article called "Truly Tuesday", click here for handy tips and help.

Templates can become very complex, and it is beyond the scope of this book to give full instructions for coding them. Study existing templates first in order to get an idea of what is possible. Anything that may be included in a regular wiki page may also be included in a template—from ordinary text and images to wikisyntax, CSS, HTML, and even other templates. From the designer's point of view, wikisyntax still behaves as it normally would within templates. With template syntax and parser functions (template-like constructs that return a value based on at least one unnamed parameter) you can code extremely complicated templates.

The easiest way to learn how to build a template is to simply look at—and perhaps borrow—the source code of existing templates. If you are attempting to build a new infobox for a specific type of article, for instance, you can simply use existing infoboxes as a model, changing field names and sizes where necessary.

Further Reading A quick, clear guide to using and creating templates with parameters A basic guide to using templates on Wikipedia Help with templates—advanced, detailed documentation on template features An introduction to templates and the Template namespace on Wikipedia A list of standard template messages for articles and project pages, including standard cleanup templates Citation and reference templates

Laying Out Articles edit

Besides sections, paragraphs, and basic wikisyntax, templates and tables are the two primary tools used to lay out and format articles. Special layout templates have now replaced many of the functions that tables were once used for on Wikipedia (for example, infoboxes were once table-driven). However, tables are still very useful for presenting data, such as multicolumn lists. Templates and tables can also be combined; for instance, tables can be included in templates if necessary.

Tables edit

Tables provide a neat way to organize any information that is best presented in a row-and-column format. Tables should always be used judiciously, however, because they make the wikisyntax less readable. Many dedicated "List of …" articles use tables because they can display several data elements compactly (see Figure 9.4, “A multirow, multicolumn list that uses a table form List of best-selling singles in Japan”). They are not usually necessary in basic articles; generally you can use a simple list instead.

Figure 9.4. A multirow, multicolumn list that uses a table form List of best-selling singles in Japan A multirow, multicolumn list that uses a table form List of best-selling singles in Japan

A table is the easiest way to lay out any kind of data array or multicolumn, multirow list. "When to Use Tables," a guide in the Manual of Style, says, "if the information you are editing is not tabular in nature, it probably does not belong in a table." For visual layout (i.e., laying out a page to look pretty, rather than presenting data), tables have been replaced by templates and embedded wiki markup, such as image markup and CSS.

MediaWiki provides an integrated table syntax, special wikicode used for brevity. This code functions much like and is structurally the same as table markup in HTML (which also works in MediaWiki, though it shouldn't generally be used). Table syntax uses the pipe (|) as the main separator element and is thus sometimes called pipe code. This code will now be described in detail. You may also read about pipe code at [[Help:Tables#Pipe syntax tutorial]], which details more elaborate table syntax, including formatting individual rows and cells. The entire table is encased with curly brackets and a vertical bar (a pipe). So you use {| to begin a table and |} to end it. Each tag needs to be on its own line: {| table code goes here |} Table formatting information, such as border width, can be placed on the first line, after {|. An optional table caption is included by inserting a line starting with a vertical bar and plus sign, |+, with the caption after it: {| border=1 |+ The table's caption table code goes here |} To start a new table row, type a pipe and a hyphen,|-, on its own line. The codes for the cells in that row will start on the next line. {| border=1 |+ The table's caption |- row code goes here |- row code goes here |} Type the codes for each cell in the row on a new line, starting with a pipe: {| border=1 |+ The table's caption |- | first cell code in the row goes here | second cell code in the same row goes here |- | first cell code in the next row goes ... |} Cells can be separated with either a new line and new pipe or by a double pipe (||) on the same line. Both produce the same output: {| border=1 |+ The table's caption |- |Row 1, Cell 1 || Cell 2 || Cell 3 |- |Row 2, Cell A |Cell B |Cell C |} Finally, column headers may be added with a line beginning with an exclamation point (!) at the beginning of the table. For instance, in Figure 9.5, “The two math styles from a section of the article on E=mc2”, the column headers are: {| !Rank !Year !Sales !Chart Peak !Title !Artist |- ... |} Column headers can also be separated by a double exclamation point (!!) on the same line. Column headers will typically display in bold font and be centered at the top of the column. Styling information for the column (such as width, color, etc.) may also be placed in a column heading, using CSS formatting; see [[Help:Table]] for details. One new development (since 2007) are sortable tables, where a reader can sort any column of data in a table by pressing a button at the top of a table column, first in ascending order and then toggling between ascending and descending order. This is achieved by using JavaScript. To make any table sortable, add class=sortable in the header of the template, next to {|, where style information and CSS also go. You can find more details at [[Help:Sorting]].

Formatting Columns edit

If you simply want to format text into columns, rather than order it in table format, you can also use formatting templates. Templates or tables are the only ways to produce true column layout in MediaWiki. Any list of items can be broken into several columns with the templates {{col-begin}}, {{col-break}}, and {{col-end}}. These templates are a quick way to make a long list of short items take up less space on the page and save readers from excessive scrolling. Place {{col-begin}} to start the column section, {{col-break}} within the list at each column beginning, and {{col-end}} to close the column section. For instance, {{Col-begin}} {{Col-break}} Column 1 list items here {{Col-break}} Column 2 list items here {{Col-break}} Column 3 list items here {{Col-end}} will produce a three-column layout. More examples can be seen in the template documentation for the [[Template:Col-begin]] template. To produce a list of references in two or more columns, you need the {{reflist}} template, which can replace the <references/> tag when using footnoted references. For instance, if you have a long list of footnotes and you want them to display in two columns, use {{reflist|2}} in place of <references/>. Use {{reflist|3}} for a list of references in three columns, and so on. The {{reflist}} template also conveniently makes footnotes display in a smaller font, so they take up less space. Further Reading Help with tables Guidelines for using tables in articles Information about sortable tables Layout templates

Special Syntax edit

Because MediaWiki serves many purposes, it has many resources for expanding and presenting standard text.

HTML and CSS edit

Despite the encouraging remark made earlier, that you don't need to know HTML to edit Wikipedia, around 40 HTML tags are permitted. A full list is at [[Help:HTML in wikitext]].

HTML tags that are useful include <small> and <big> for making text small or large, respectively. In articles, these tags have few uses, but they can be helpful in laying out user pages or templates. Other HTML tags that are useful include <div> for making formatting divisions, <s> or <del> for strikethrough text, and <sub> and <sup> for making subscript or superscript characters. HTML should not generally be used for formatting tables or laying out pages. For most tasks that HTML can do, customized MediaWiki syntax exists instead. Whenever wikisyntax can do the job of HTML, the wikisyntax is preferred. Unnecessary HTML should not be used in articles. The use of Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) syntax is also widespread, primarily in formatting templates. The look of the site as a whole is styled with CSS skins that are individually customizable by any logged-in user; see Chapter 11, Becoming a Wikipedian. 4.2. Mathematical Formulas Science and technology articles may need a sprinkling of mathematical notations or symbols. As of 2008, the treatment of mathematics on Wikipedia is a mixture of two basic styles (and therefore is a potentially confusing work in progress). Definitive Math HTML is not yet in use. This is likely to remain the case until the development time is set aside to find a solution: In other words, it will be a while. The two ways to display mathematics are to use HTML coding or TeX markup, described here. A minimum requirement for writing basic mathematics is to be able to code exponents and subscripts, for example, to express a simple formula or to write numbers in scientific notation. Superscript text can be displayed with the <sup> tag. The text ''x''<sup>2</sup>

will display as



displays as

(otherwise known as a googol).

Subscript text uses the <sub> tags; so H<sub>2</sub>O

displays as

A number of mathematical symbols have HTML codes, which can be inserted by typing


where codename is a Greek letter or an abbreviation for some other symbol. For instance, √ displays as the square root sign (√), γ displays as the Greek letter γ, and Γ codes for the capital Greek letter Γ. For a list of supported symbols, see [[Wikipedia:Mathematical symbols]]. How these symbols are displayed depends in some cases on which browser you are using.

If you are interested in mathematics on Wikipedia, you can pick up more symbols as you go along; just consult articles such as [[square root of 2]] and examine the wikitext. Keep in mind, however, that more than one system is being used. In addition to HTML symbols, MediaWiki uses a subset of TeX markup (the standard for mathematical typesetting), including some extensions from LaTeX and AMSLaTeX. A full list of available TeX markup can be found at [[Help:Displaying a formula]].

Math markup in TeX goes inside the special <math> and </math> tags. A TeX formula is recognizable in the wikitext and looks something like this:

:<math>\pi = 3.141...</math>

Here the colon indents the formula, which is the convention on Wikipedia. This should display as

In TeX, extra spaces and newlines are ignored. The TeX code has to be put literally. MediaWiki templates, predefined templates, and parameters cannot be used within math tags, pairs of double braces are ignored, and # symbols produce error messages.

The Current Compromise

Here's the overall explanation of math symbols: Formulas can be displayed inline (with HTML formatting) or displayed as images, set apart from the text, which is the case if you use TeX formulas with the <math> tag. (Figure 9.5, “The two math styles from a section of the article on E=mc2” shows the difference between the two styles from the article [[Mass–energy equivalence]].) Unfortunately, TeX renders as PNG images, which can cause strange, disruptive effects in the page formatting. You may not see those effects; this is one of those cases where how a page looks depends on the browser you use. The working agreement, at least in the Wikipedia mathematical community, is a mongrel:

For displayed mathematics, use TeX or HTML.

For inline mathematics, use HTML or wiki markup only.

Because numerous symbols can also be used uncoded in the text, this means that three systems coexist in Wikipedia (rather like written Japanese, in fact, which uses two alphabets and a set of symbols).

Figure 9.5. The two math styles from a section of the article on E=mc2 The two math styles from a section of the article on E=mc2

Variables and Magic Words edit

To insert the current date in numeric form, insert {{CURRENTDAY}} on a page. This is not a template, however, but rather a variable. MediaWiki has a wide choice of such variables; a list can be found at [[Help:Variables]]. Enclose them in double curly brackets to use them. They return a new value each time the page is rendered. This value may vary, accounting for the name, and it changes according to circumstances, for example, with the time ({{CURRENTTIME}}) or the total number of articles on the site at that moment ({{NUMBEROFARTICLES}}). Variables are just a subset of the larger class of so-called magic words. A list can be found at [[Help:Magic words]]. Magic words are symbols recognized by the MediaWiki software. When they are seen in the text of the page, they trigger the software to do something specific. For example, when the command __NOTOC__ (note the two underscores before and after NOTOC) is placed somewhere on the body of a page, it keeps a table of contents from appearing on a page. Using the magic word __FORCETOC__, on the other hand, will force a ToC to appear when not enough sections appear to automatically generate one. Few other magic words are very commonly used in articles. Formatting the Table of Contents In addition to the magic words listed above, the automatically generated table of contents (ToC) in an article can be formatted or moved with the use of special templates. To force the ToC to move to the left or right side of the page, add the template {{TOCleft}} or {{TOCright}} at the top of the page. Moving the ToC may improve page layout and image placement (this, like all CSS rendering, is always browser dependent to some extent). If you are developing a long list page, the special template {{compactTOC}} is convenient; it turns the ToC into alphabetical sections A–Z that display on one line rather than 26 separate lines. Several variations on the {{compactToC}} and explanations can be found at [[Wikipedia:Template messages/Compact tables of contents]]. For guidelines on reformatting the table of contents, see [[Help: Section#Floating_the_TOC]]. Further Reading Help with special characters and unicode encoding in wikitext A table of special characters and how to produce them in wikitext A list of what HTML tags are permitted in wikitext Information about displaying math in articles All about mathematics articles A reference to all the magic words and variables available in MediaWiki

Summary edit

Images, templates, tables, and special markup can all be used to carefully and accurately format pages and produce visually appealing and engaging layouts. Although every editor should have a passing knowledge of how images and templates work, learning the more complicated aspects of how they function is not necessary for most editing.

Wikipedia's technical resources offer immense possibilities—with some limitations. Learning advanced syntax occurs in three stages: recognizing a construction in wikitext, gaining familiarity with the principles of how it works, and gaining a working knowledge of some possible applications that interest you. Although looking around while working on the site will help, the third stage generally only occurs when developing a project of your own.

Chapter 10 edit

Chapter 10: The Life Cycle of an Article edit

So far, we've broadly examined Wikipedia from the perspective of readers and editors. Of course, a Wikipedia reader can come and go as he or she pleases, and even the most ardent Wikipedia editor abandons his or her computer from time to time. But a Wikipedia article is always on the website, day in and day out.

So, how do things look from that article's perspective?

Let's follow Artie the Article, created by Eddie the Editor. Perhaps Artie's title is Gingerbread cottage architecture, the title used previously in Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research.

Birth of an Article edit

Eddie types Gingerbread cottage architecture into the search field. He discovers the article doesn't yet exist, follows the Start the Page link from the search page, and composes a few sentences. He clicks the Save Page button: Artie is born.

The moment Eddie saves his new article, it goes "live" and can be linked to and discovered through the search function. But, just as importantly, its title is immediately displayed at the top of a list called Special:Newpages. This page lists the 5,000 most-recently created articles. Gingerbread cottage architecture will slide down the list for two or three days as other editors—and possibly Wikipedia administrators on patrol—review these new articles.

After this preliminary review, many outcomes are possible.

Deletion edit

Wikipedia articles are created in a hostile environment, and stub articles—those short compositions of just a few sentences—are in particular peril. They are no more than tadpoles in the Wikipedia pond. New articles that do not seem appropriate for the site are often flagged for deletion as they are reviewed by other editors; this is the fate of hundreds of articles a day, many of them well meaning.

Eddie should therefore keep an eye on his article. If the content is very poor—if it contains graffiti or is un-encyclopedic, or if the topic does not seem adequately referenced for notability—a red-bar template might be added to the beginning of the text, nominating the article for deletion. (There are three types of deletion nominations, each using a different template; see Chapter 7, Cleanup, Projects, and Processes.)

Eddie should not remove a deletion template himself, but he can contest the deletion nomination. For example, he can contest a speedy deletion nomination by adding the Template:Hangon template to the article just below the deletion template and then immediately arguing his case on the article's talk page.

If a deletion tag is added to an article and is not contested, Artie's future is bleak, so Eddie needs to find out about any deletion nominations as soon as they happen. Eddie can keep track of changes to his article in a few ways:

Eddie can add the article to his watchlist by checking Watch this page (this is done by default for pages you create). Eddie's watchlist will reveal nominations for deletion and other edits to the article.
Eddie can check his user talk page. Any time an article is nominated for deletion, its creator should be informed via the creator's talk page (in this case, a message should be left on User talk:Eddie). This is not fail-proof, however, as not all editors may follow this custom.
Eddie can keep a braglist in his user space—a list of links to articles he has created. If he puts the braglist on its own page (for example, [[User:Eddie/Articles I created]]), then he can click the Related Changes link from that page for a convenient list of recent edits. This solution is even better than monitoring a watchlist for keeping an eye on just the articles you have created.

If other Wikipedia editors judge the article's content as being good enough, Artie will avoid immediate deletion. Now comes the work of improving the article.

Maintenance Tagging edit

As they come across articles that need attention, editors tag those articles for maintenance. Many of these yellow-bar templates might be added at the beginning of the article. For instance, if the article needs formatting work or rewriting for clarity, the {{cleanup}} tag might be added; if there are no good references, it is likely that the {{unreferenced}} tag will be placed on the article. Other yellow-bar templates may be more technical, for example, {{film-fiction}}: This film-related article may fail to make a clear distinction between fact and fiction. Particular criticisms of the writing standard may appear as orange-bar templates. For example, Template:Wikify may be added if the article could use more wikilinks. Eddie shouldn't take these templates personally—he's getting feedback on his work and now knows how the article needs to improve. It is a good idea for Eddie to do what he can to fix the article in response to any such messages.

If Artie is still a stub (in other words, just a beginning treatment, lacking something essential), editors may tag him with a {{stub}} template. But since stubs are actively sorted by category (Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web), this general stub template will probably be replaced by a more specific one. For example, {{fairy-tale stub}} denotes all stubs about fairy tales, and this tag would be an appropriate one to add to Gingerbread cottage architecture. One side effect of this template being added is that Gingerbread cottage architecture will be placed in a category with similar articles that still need work, such as List of mermaid supermodels and Great Pumpkin appearances in 2008.

Editing Improvements edit

As soon as an article is created, other editors may set to work improving and adding to the content. Basic formatting work is often done quickly. If an article is about something in the news or an ongoing event, an editor may add a blue-bar template indicating that the article is time critical. Time-critical articles are also likely to be edited a great deal.

If the article is not about a high-profile topic (the vast majority of topics are low-profile), it might not get edited for a while. Editing might also occur in fits and starts; another editor interested in substantively working on the article may not come along for months or even years. WikiProjects generally maintain a list of new articles in their subject area, so Eddie's article may be added to one of those lists and thrive from expert attention. (Gingerbread cottage architecture might be well received at WikiProject Fairytales, for example.)

Potential Merge edit

A typical symbol associated with merging on Wikipedia.

Artie is not out of the woods yet. He might still be merged into an existing article, for instance, Building in folklore. One editor might feel strongly that material about a common topic has been included in many Wikipedia articles and would be better presented in a single article. Sometimes a duplicate article might not be discovered for months if it is not properly categorized and linked to other articles—did someone else create Architecture of gingerbread cottages, with similar content?

The procedural side of merging was covered in Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web. If an editor proposes a merge, he or she will flag the article with a purple-bar template.

If Artie is merged, then the content created by Eddie will be included in a larger article that subsumes the gingerbread cottage architecture material. Artie will not be gone but will have become a humble redirect page. Eddie should dispute any hasty merge or redirect proposals by simply discussing them on the relevant article talk pages.

Discussion and Content Tags edit

A reader or editor, quite possibly someone visiting Wikipedia who is not a regular, may query what the article says. Is it true? Is it the whole truth? Is it slanted? Can a reference be provided for a specific assertion? These points will likely be added to Talk:Gingerbread cottage architecture; though in some cases, remarks might be added to User talk:Eddie—let us hope politely.

This kind of input is a further chance to improve Artie's clarity and accuracy. Comments may also take the form of orange-bar templates. For example, the template {{NPOV}} indicates that someone thinks the article fails to be neutral (does not conform to the Neutral Point of View policy). Whoever added that template should also add comments indicating his or her reason. Templates raising content issues, if not totally self-explanatory, should always be backed up by talk page comments that address the problem or slant in specific terms. Without such a detailed note, Eddie might be mystified as to what needs fixing.

If Eddie is still watching the article, he should respond to all reasonable queries rather than become annoyed. Certainly simply removing a tag requesting some sort of clarification does an article no favors, unless the tag is entirely undeserved. Having a tag on an article for a while does little actual harm, and it is normal for content to be rewritten on Wikipedia, even if the issue raised only relates to cosmetic improvements in writing style.

Categories edit

Readers can easily find an article about a broad topic (like the United States) but have more difficultly finding an article about a smaller or more specific topic—especially if they don't know the article's exact title. These less prominent articles are often found by editors searching a category.

The chance of an editor finding an article—and correspondingly editing it—improves if the correct category tags have been added. Eddie might do this himself. If you're starting a new article (or undertaking an edit of one), pay attention to the categories that similar articles have been placed in.

It doesn't matter if early categories aren't perfect. Even an approximate category can put an article into a position where an expert can apply the appropriate subcategories.

Bots Arrive edit

Icon representing wikibots.

Editors who happen to be programmers can write software for making certain types of procedural edits automatically. These programs are nicknamed bots, and Artie may be visited by a slew of them over his life. Some will make spelling corrections or small formatting changes in compliance with Manual of Style guidelines, while others analyze the content of a new page—by keywords, for example—and log it to various lists kept as project pages. (The logs can be detected in the backlinks.) Any edits made by bots will be clearly visible in the article's history, just like edits made by human editors; a bot is just another type of account. (A bot's username almost always indicates that it's a bot, not a human, for example, Sinebot, the bot that goes around signing comments on talk pages when editors fail to do so.)

If Artie hasn't been categorized, Artie's first bot edit might be the addition of an {{uncategorized}} tag.

Incoming Wikilinks edit

In our full review of article creation in Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research, you learned that wikilinks pointing to the new article should be added to related articles (which can themselves be found through the search function). In fact, these links should ideally be added before the new article even exists.

If Eddie is experienced at creating articles, he will consider incoming wikilinks from the outset. How many pages are displayed, as soon as Artie is created, when clicking the What Links Here link on the sidebar? Eddie should check. Being born an orphan would not be so much fun for Artie. If Eddie doesn't add links to his article, someone else might add the {{orphan}} yellow-bar template to it, placing Artie in [[Category:Orphaned articles]].

If there aren't any links to the article, there could be several explanations. For example, the chosen title for Artie the Article, Gingerbread cottage architecture, might be unconventional or spelled incorrectly. It is also possible that the concept or article title is in fact mentioned in other articles but simply has not been wikilinked. After creating the article, Eddie can still create links to Artie. Creating wikilinks will also (and subtly) draw attention to his article because the wikified pages are likely on the watchlists of editors already working in related areas. Eddie should create redirects to Artie from other possible titles, too.

An Example of Keyword Analysis edit

The article Carter B. Magruder, about an American general, was picked up shortly after its creation in September 2007 by a bot run by Alex Bakharev. The bot added the article to 22 logs, such as User:AlexNewArtBot/OhioLog, User:AlexNewArtBot/VirginiaLog, User:AlexNewArtBot/WWIILog, and User:AlexNewArtBot/ColdWarLog. These are simply short-term lists of new articles, kept in the User namespace and created by analyzing the article text. These logs are now routinely passed onto relevant WikiProjects, similar to the style of a Google Alert. The entry in User:AlexNewArtBot/OhioLog, a list of new articles related to Ohio, was not caused by the occurrence of Ohio in the text but by the occurrence of Cincinnati, in the phrase Society of the Cincinnati (which refers to a historical association, not the city in Ohio).

Thus bots clearly have limitations: They can suggest that articles are related to a topic area when they aren't, and they can occasionally make other mistakes a human would not make. Of course, anyone can undo edits that are not helpful and remove an article from a category or log if necessary.

Artie Is Moved edit

A Wikipedia move is actually a rename—something Artie might experience early in life. Particular conventions sometimes govern titles, and articles are often renamed by people familiar with those conventions. (For example, a lowercase title might be capitalized or vice versa.)

A page move, carried out by someone well meaning, might draw more attention to Artie, which might, in turn, draw more incoming links. (Artie will, of course, retain all his old wikilinks even after being renamed.) A move may also create double redirects (see Chapter 8, Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web), a technical problem that should be fixed by the article mover.

In Good Times edit

If all goes well, other editors will develop Artie further. Suppose Fred and Greta like what Eddie has written but think the article could be developed. Fred may standardize the formatting and add wikilinks, external links, and references, improving the article's appearance and its credibility. Greta may divide the article into sections, sorting the different aspects of the topic into some more consistent, logical order. Creating a conventional lead section that tells readers quickly whatthe content covers always helps an article. Greta will have a better idea about this once she is done with the restructuring. Perhaps, in a whimsical mood, she will even take her camera into the woods and shoot some photos of gingerbread cottage architecture.

Fred's efforts at wikifying will probably leave redlinks in Eddie's article—in other words, suggestions for more articles to write to develop Wikipedia. If these redlinks provoke Harold and Isabel, two more interested editors, to create useful new articles, Artie has really arrived in Wikipedia, and Eddie has contributed to developing the overall coverage of the topic.

In Bad Times edit

As editors insert additional information, the article might actually get worse, stylistically! When new facts are not integrated properly, they can upend the article's structure and muddy its writing style. (Sometimes this happens when the editors adding those facts aren't familiar with the topic or aren't fluent at editing Wikipedia.) If this continues, Artie could be destined for mere mediocrity. A strong-minded editor could step in and restore an earlier, cleaner version, do a thorough re-write, or take a red pencil to incremental changes that were not, in fact, beneficial.

When adding to articles, keep the article's overall structure in mind. Although adding a new fact onto the end of a convenient paragraph is easy, integrating that fact squarely into the article is much more helpful.

On a more positive note: Articles, on average, tend to improve over time.

Bad Times, and a True Story edit

Beginning on the day Artie is created, an edit war could erupt over his content, a passing vandal could deface the article, or a user could accidentally delete a chunk of vital content. These risks become more acute as more people read the article. In extreme cases, an article may be protected (or semiprotected), which halts the damage but also may prevent improvement. A gray-bar template indicates an article is protected, but full protection should only be temporary.

Another, more serious danger is that Artie may be nominated for Articles for Deletion. If the content really is worthy of an encyclopedia article, this will be a nerve-wracking time for Eddie. Even if Artie should by rights survive, the result can go the wrong way, especially if the writing is poor. That would be the end of Artie, unless a salvage mission during Deletion Review succeeds. (Deleted articles should not be re-created for six months.)

One deletion debate over a new article, which happened on September 17, 2007, has become Wikipedia legend.

During the heat of the debate, the discussion about whether a business was notable enough to have a Wikipedia page seemed typical. (Employees or others associated with a business often start these types of articles, raising questions of notability and conflict of interest.) Indeed, the article's first few hours were filled with the types of wiki perils we've discussed in this chapter. We've reprinted partof the article's edit history here; you can read what happened in reverse chronological order, just as the history would display on the site. At 11:51, less than three hours after creation, the article had been nominated for deletion, and subsequent edits were attempts to improve the article in order to influence the deletion vote.

The punchline, though, is at the bottom of the article history, in the first edit: Despite the typical arc of its debate, this was not a business trying to promote itself.

Article History:

12:13, September 17, 2007 Wikidemo (Talk | contribs) (2,206 bytes) (?Description - add material) (undo)
12:00, September 17, 2007 David Eppstein (Talk | contribs) (1,745 bytes) (?External Links - another blog entry, from Jimbo's old version) (undo)
11:54, September 17, 2007 Carcharoth (Talk | contribs) (1,610 bytes) (add three more) (undo)
11:51, September 17, 2007 ^demon (Talk | contribs) (1,529 bytes) (Nominated for deletion; see Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Mzoli's Meats.) (undo)
11:50, September 17, 2007 Cobaltbluetony (Talk | contribs) (1,312 bytes) (dunno how the tag got back on...) (undo)
11:49, September 17, 2007 Cobaltbluetony (Talk | contribs) m (moved Mzoli's to Mzoli's Meats: full name of establishment) (undo)
11:48, September 17, 2007 EVula (Talk | contribs) (1,327 bytes) (contesting prod; I think if we give this article a bit more than a couple of hours of existence, we might have something worthwhile) (undo)
11:46, September 17, 2007 Carcharoth (Talk | contribs) (1,695 bytes) (hmm, we don't have a category on butchers, I'm not surprised) (undo)
11:46, September 17, 2007 Carcharoth (Talk | contribs) (1,717 bytes) (ad