Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (Discuss) About this book Introduction Part I: Editing, creating, and maintaining articles Chapter 1: Editing for the first time Chapter 2: Documenting your sources Chapter 3: Setting up your account and personal workspace Chapter 4: Creating a new article Chapter 5: Who did what: Page histories and reverting Chapter 6: Monitoring changes Chapter 7: Dealing with vandalism and spam Part II: Collaborating with other editors Chapter 8: Communicating with your fellow editors Chapter 9: WikiProjects and other group efforts Chapter 10: Resolving content disputes Chapter 11: Handling incivility and personal attacks Chapter 12: Lending other editors a hand Part III: Formatting and illustrating articles Chapter 13: Article sections and tables of contents Chapter 14: Creating lists and tables Chapter 15: Adding images Part IV: Building a stronger encyclopedia Chapter 16: Getting readers to the right article: naming, redirects, and disambiguation Chapter 17: Categorizing articles Chapter 18: Better articles: A systematic approach Chapter 19: Deleting existing articles Part V: Customizing Wikipedia Chapter 20: Customizing with preferences Chapter 21: Easier editing with JavaScript Part VI: Appendices Appendix A: A tour of the Wikipedia page Appendix B: Reader's guide to Wikipedia Appendix C: Learning more

Wikipedia: The Missing Manual is a how-to guide that explains the process of contributing to the English Wikipedia, both for novice users and experienced editors. It was originally written in 2008 by John Broughton, but has since been expanded and updated by many other Wikipedia contributors.

Wikipedia has a myriad of pages documenting policies, guidelines and processes. It's hard to know where to start to learn about contributing to Wikipedia. That's what this book is for: It provides a clear learning path for the essentials, and tells you where to read more if you need it.

About Wikipedia[edit]

Wikipedia formally began in January 2001, as a project to produce a free content encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute. Eight years later, Wikipedia pages seem to turn up near the top of almost every Google search. Wikipedia has become the first place millions of people go to get a quick fact or to launch extensive research.

Editions of Wikipedia exist in more than 300 languages, with a combined total of more than thirteen million articles. All the editions use the same underlying software, MediaWiki. All are owned and supported by the Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit organization that also operates a number of other online collaborative projects, including Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikivoyage, and Wikidata.

Each language edition of Wikipedia operates separately, almost entirely through the efforts of tens of thousands of unpaid volunteers. The Foundation has 350 employees,[1] including several programmers. It buys hardware, designs and implements the core software, and pays for the network bandwidth that makes Wikipedia and its sister projects possible, but it doesn't have the resources to do any of the writing for those projects. All the writing and editing are done by people who get no money for their efforts, although plenty of intrinsic satisfaction.

Wikipedia has never lacked skeptics. Why expect quality articles if everyone—the university professor and the 12-year-old middle school student—has equal editing rights? Won't cultists and fringe theorists and partisans take control of controversial articles? Won't vandalism become rampant, driving away good editors? How can tens of thousands of people work together when there is no hierarchy to provide direction and resolve disputes?

These questions point out the inevitable disadvantages of the "anyone can edit" approach to creating an online encyclopedia. Wikipedia will always be a work in progress, not a finished product. What the skeptics overlook, however, is that letting anyone edit has proved to be an incredible strength. In a world where a billion or so people have access to the Internet, millions of people have contributed to Wikipedia, and their numbers are increasing every day.

As a result, the vast majority of the millions of articles in all the different Wikipedias are of at least reasonable quality although many are quite short. The domain is among the most visited on the Internet, because there's no free alternative for most of the information in Wikipedia. The critics' predictions that Wikipedia's limitations will cripple it have not come true.

What makes Wikipedia so successful? Here are some of the reasons it works:

Figure 0-1. Editors express the great feeling editing Wikipedia gives them.

The success of Wikipedia may seem surprising. There's that famous pseudonymous quote by the Slashdot user geekoid, "the problem with wikipedia is that it works in practice, but not in theory."[2] It's true that a naive application of a theory like the tragedy of the commons would predict failure. But in the case of Wikipedia the inverse outcome is observed because the cost of a contribution is much less than its value over time. For example, it costs very little time (and no money) for a contributor to add information to Wikipedia, and it costs relatively little for Wikipedia to serve that information over and over again to readers, generating great value over time. Unlike the pasture of a physical commons, information isn't degraded when it is used. Thus the value of Wikipedia increases over time, attracting more readers, some of whom become contributors, forming a virtuous cycle.

As Wikipedia grows, its focus is likely to continue to change. Wikipedia already has articles covering most of what its readers think are important topics. (For exceptions, see WP:EIW#Missing.) So the focus is shifting away from quantity and towards quality—improving articles rather than creating new ones. As the definition for success shifts, Wikipedia's processes will adjust as well. The consensus approach has proven flexible enough, so far, to deal with problems as they arise. Emphasizing quality—in ways that affect most editors' everyday editing—will be one of Wikipedia's biggest challenges.

About this book[edit]

This book is about the English edition of Wikipedia—the oldest, largest, and most complicated edition of Wikipedia, but not (since March 2001) the only edition. In other words, this book is about the domain, not the entire domain. For simplicity, when you see the term "Wikipedia" on this page it refers to the English edition of Wikipedia. Just remember that other language versions exist.

Why do you need a book about editing Wikipedia? Wikipedia certainly doesn't lack for pages that document policies, technical matters, instructions, and agreed-on processes. Wikipedia depends on volunteer editors to write and update virtually all the documentation for Wikipedia and its underlying software, and plenty of editors enjoy doing this valuable work. If printed out, Wikipedia's online reference pages would make a multivolume set of books that might be titled Everything you might possibly want to tell millions of volunteers from around the world about how to write an encyclopedia, together, including how to organize and govern themselves, and how to change the software that underlies the encyclopedia, avoid legal pitfalls, and enjoy themselves.

What's missing, however, is structured guidance for people who want to learn the "core curriculum," the information you absolutely need to avoid running afoul of the rules, and a structured process for learning all about editing, including all the tips and tools that can make editing easier. Wikipedia doesn't offer anything that charts the path from novice to expert, with step-by-step illustrations for every topic along the way.

For example, there are dozens of pages in Wikipedia that describe the three different processes for getting an article deleted. There are no designated pages for novices and experienced editors, and there's no editorial board responsible for maintaining consistency and deciding how much duplication is appropriate. Newcomers to Wikipedia often find the large collection of massively hyperlinked online reference pages intimidating. With so many entry points, it's hard to know where to start.

This book provides a clear path to all the essentials, with numerous additions to choose among. Tens of thousands of Wikipedians have gotten off to a rough start, yet persevered, going on to become solid contributors. This book helps you learn from those mistakes without having to personally live through them.

Wikipedia: The Missing Manual is designed to accommodate editors at every level of experience. If you're just starting out, that's fine: The early chapters will make your editing experience more productive as well as enjoyable. Nor do you have to be a computer whiz. The really great editors are good at one or more of several things, including research, editing and writing, organizing, and working with other editors; technical matters are simply one realm of specializing as a Wikipedia editor.

If you've already done quite a bit of editing of Wikipedia, and learned—by trial and error as well as reading documentation—what to do and not to do, even the earlier chapters are likely to offer you useful tips and tricks. In the later chapters, you'll learn about things you've never run across before, simply because you've never had time to read through all the Wikipedia documentation. Check out the table of contents to spot unfamiliar aspects of Wikipedia, so you can turn immediately to the parts of the book most likely to help you work better and faster.

About the outline

Wikipedia: The Missing Manual is divided into six parts, each containing several chapters.

The very basics[edit]

You'll find very little jargon or nerd terminology in this book. You will, however, encounter a few terms and concepts that you'll encounter frequently in your computing life:

Mac OS, Windows, browsers, and keyboard shortcuts

Wikipedia works in all modern Web browsers on Windows, Linux and Macintosh computers. The screen may look slightly different from the illustrations in this book, depending on your browser. The screenshots in this book were taken while using Firefox and Opera, on a computer running Windows XP.

The tutorials and other instructions in this book don't use keyboard shortcuts, because shortcuts vary not only between operating systems but between browsers (Firefox 1.5 vs. Firefox 2.0 vs. Opera, for example, in their Windows versions). If you like using shortcut keys, see the details in Appendix A: A tour of the Wikipedia page (in the 'Keyboard shortcuts' section) on how to learn them.


In this book you'll find sentences like this one: "Go to Tools→Preferences→Advanced tab." That's shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to navigate through menu commands and dialog boxes, like so: "Click to open the Tools menu; choose Preferences. In the Preferences dialog box, click the Advanced tab." This kind of arrow shorthand helps to simplify the business of choosing commands in menus.


  1. ^ "Staff and contractors page (Wikimedia Foundation website)". Wikimedia Foundation. September 21, 2017. Archived from the original on June 2, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  2. ^ geekoid (March 10, 2006). "Re:Sustainability". Slashdot. Geeknet, Inc. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
Top of page