Some FAQs to help you when editing Wikipedia.
Before you begin
What do I need?
Internet access and curiosity are all you need to edit Wikipedia! While a laptop is easiest, particularly for new editors, you can edit Wikipedia from most devices with internet access, including iPads and mobile phones.
How much time do I need to commit?
It's totally up to you! Once you have an account you can edit whenever you like, ranging from adding an interesting fact you just read to long format writing where you work on an article over several days or weeks.
Is my writing good enough?
Writing style on Wikipedia is supposed to be accessible, simple and clear. If in doubt, keep to short, factual sentences. The community helps each other with finding typos, editing grammar and re-structuring pages for clarity, so enjoy editing knowing that you have a whole community of amazing copyeditors supporting you!
How do I become an editor?
Click on "Create account" at the top of this page. This helps you to keep track of your editing and helps others to communicate with you about your editing. Then start making contributions to pages - that's all it takes to become an editor!
Should I use my real name as my username?
You do not need to reveal any identifying information about yourself. As Wikipedia is volunteer-led, and ‘self-governing’ you should consider the community in a similar way to a public online forum. Feel free to edit anonymously. Just don't use the name of an organization because all accounts should be for individuals rather than groups.
How to edit
What are the easiest things I can do?
In order of time commitment and effort, here are the simplest things:
- Add links between Wikipedia pages. For example, a biography about the inventor of a vaccine could be linked to and from a Wikipedia page about the disease. A biography that has no links to help people find it can be lost in Wikipedia (these are known as ‘orphan pages’) so ensuring visibility of the page by making links is crucial yet simple.
- Do some copyediting. Fix typos, grammatical errors, and split overly long or complex sentences down to make information easier to comprehend.
- Edit and expand existing pages by adding a fact and/or citation.
How do I add a reference? What is the citation style?
When you are editing a page and want to cite a piece of information, make sure your cursor is placed after the punctuation and click the Cite button. You can often just paste in a URL or DOI and Wikipedia will generate a citation for you. Sometimes this doesn't work (or you may be using a physical reference!) so just click the Manual tab and fill in as many of the blanks as you can to help people to find your source. Wikipedia takes care of the citation style and will place the references at the end of an article for you.
What can I reference? What sort of information can I use?
Think about what sources you would trust for information on important topics – a peer-reviewed academic journal article from a trusted title is ideal. Books published by academic presses, broadsheet newspapers and scholarly society magazines are usually good sources. University news pages can be a helpful starting point but must be supplemented with independent sources.
Avoid use of sensationalist tabloid sources and avoid using personal websites, blogs, or social media accounts.
Can I add a picture?
If you personally took a photograph of someone then you can add it to their Wikipedia page.
If you did not personally take the photograph then you cannot add it yourself. You could ask the person who did take it to upload it, or ask the place that has the archive, in the case of very old images.
Can I practice somewhere?
Yes! Your Sandbox (see the link at the top of any Wikipedia page, near where you log in) is the place to practice. The first time you go to your Sandbox, you may be told it doesn’t exist yet so just click the button to create the page and start drafting your content. You can then copy your drafted content (whilst in edit mode, so Wikipedia picks up all the handy formatting), go to the article where you would like to add it and click edit, then paste in your content.
How do I save my changes? Have my changes saved?
You must press the big blue ‘Publish changes’ button to save. A good habit is to always write an edit summary, i.e. corrected a typo, added a citation. To resume editing, you can just click the ‘Edit’ button and start to add more information to your article.
If you try to click and go to another page or close your tab whilst editing, you will be warned if your changes have not yet been saved.
You can see all changes in the View history tab of any Wikipedia page and see all your own edits by clicking the contributions link at the top of any Wikipedia page, near where you log in.
What mistakes should I avoid?
- Do not write your own biography or create or edit a page about someone close to you or organisations of which you are a member
- Do not copy and paste chunks of text from elsewhere, write everything in your own words
- Do not add information without a reference...
- ... but do not use social media or a source you don't trust as a reference
- Do not forget to write a short edit summary because this explains to other Wiki-editors why you are changing a page and makes edits much more likely to stick!
What if I make a mistake?
The Wikipedia community works together to review, edit and manage articles, and they will help to fix mistakes if and when they happen.
If you are not sure about the change you want to make to a page, you can share your suggestions and ask questions in the ‘Talk’ page that accompanies every page.
If you haven’t pressed ‘Publish changes’, then no permanent changes have been made. Simply close the window or press back in your browser to go back to viewing the article as it was before you began editing.
If you have published the change and it is live, you can edit the page again and delete your mistake. You can also revert to a previous version by clicking ‘View history’ tab and then ‘undo’.
How do I get a Wikipedia article about [insert topic here]?
First, check if your topic is notable... For any new page, the first thing to do is to check the notability criteria - is the article subject notable enough right now to warrant a page? As a simple notability check, can you find five sources that are all about the person/organisation/thing? They should be mainly about the subject, not just mentions, they should be independent rather than written by the subject/an employer/employee/member, and they should be published in a reliable source like a broadsheet newspaper, academic journal or magazine, etc. Can you find at least five sources that meet these criteria? If not, it's possibly too soon for the subject to be notable (see the next question for suggestions of what to do now), but if you can find your five sources then read on!
Next, figure out who should write the article... If the article is about something you're interested in, but have no personal connection to, then you are a great person to write the article! Take a look at the next section to find out how.
You should not create a Wikipedia article about yourself, your employer, or any organisation that you help to run though - you have a conflict of interest that means you will find it very hard to be impartial in your writing, and the article will likely sound promotional rather than encyclopaedic - which is one of the most common reasons that a page will be nominated for speedy deletion. To avoid a lot of wasted work, instead think who else might be interested in the topic and create the page: there are lots of WikiProjects where groups of editors are often looking for pages to create and improve. For instance, check out WikiProject Women in Red, WikiProject LGBT studies, WikiProject Science and WikiProject Medicine. Once you've found a relevant Wikiproject, click on the "Talk" tab and then "New section" to create a message suggesting your topic - if you leave links to your five sources there, that will really help other editors to be able to get to work creating the page more quickly.
Is there anything I can do if my topic isn't notable?
Yes! There are lots of things you can do in the meantime to increase the visibility of your topic:
- Just because something doesn't warrant its own page yet, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be mentioned within another Wikipedia page. For instance, you could cite a researcher's work in a relevant article, add a sentence about someone into the article of an organisation of which they are a prominent member or prize-winner, or check that events and organisations are mentioned in places if they are geographically specific. These mentions can then be linked to if/when your topic becomes notable and means that it will begin life as a more visible, better-integrated article. Also, these pages on broader topics might get more pageviews anyway!
- Often, things are not notable because there are not enough independent sources that talk about them so think about what power you have to change this. Encourage journalists or editors of scholarly publications to commission articles or features on your topic or draft an article yourself and submit it to a trustworthy publication to help generate sources.
- Consider how else you can act as an ally, especially for underrepresented people or organisations that represent them. As well as trying to help improve press coverage you could also nominate them for awards (which can then generate articles as a result!).
- Create a Wikidata entry for your person/place/thing because this is how a lot of Wikiprojects source their redlists (lists of pages to aim to create). Wikidata is a database rather than an encylopedia and the criteria for inclusion are less stringent but it is a great place to gather key information and references.
How do I create a new article?
The best place to draft a new article is in your Sandbox. You can get to your Sandbox from any Wikipedia page by clicking the link at the top right of the page. The first time you go to your Sandbox, you may be told it doesn’t exist yet so just click the button to create the page and start drafting your new article.
The best way to create a new article is to use an existing page on a similar topic as a model. You could use similar headings and even copy chunks of a page such as templates to adapt the content to fit your subject.
You can use your Sandbox as a place to make sure you are putting all of the information into your own words (so that you avoid plagiarising!). Your Sandbox is also a great place to gather all the references that you need to show notability and save them so that you can find them again later.
Publish changes often to save your progress: your article won't be public until it has been moved out of your Sandbox (see next question) so click Publish as many times as you like.
What do I do when I've finished a new article draft?
You have three options when you have finished a draft:
- Submit your draft for review. There should be a big blue button at the top of the page when you are not in edit mode. You can click this and follow the steps to have a random reviewer take a look. As with any peer review, there can be a bit of a wait for a review, so be prepared to be patient!
- Ask a friendly experienced editor to review the article. It's always nice to have someone you know take a look at a draft and advise you of any improvements. You can always contact me by leaving a message on my Talk page because I love to help new editors and review new articles!
- Move the page yourself. If your account is four days old and you have done more than 10 edits on Wikipedia, you will be an Autoconfirmed user, which means that you have the ability to move pages. Look for the Move button to the right of the edit button and click it: change the dropdown box to show Article instead of User or Draft, use the next box to enter a name for your new article, and then give a reason like "draft complete, moving to mainspace". Your new article will still be patrolled by an experienced editor who will check that it meets notability criteria and who will probably also do a little tidying up of details.
credit to Dr. Alice White, Wellcomm Library, 2020 CC-BY-SA 3.0.