Wikipedia:Learning the ropes

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Welcome to Wikipedia! This lesson is specifically about how to use Wikipedia to learn about Wikipedia. Here we will point out all the resources dedicated to help you help Wikipedia. This isn't just for beginners; below we cover how to learn in general, which can be applied to any particular skill or area of activity on Wikipedia. For the article on how and where you can help see contributing to Wikipedia.

Shortcuts:

Learn your way around...[edit]

Here's a quick overview of Wikipedia's structure...

To access an encyclopedia article directly, type the topic or subject into Wikipedia's search box, and click "Go". If an article by that name exists, it will be displayed on your screen. If an article with that exact name doesn't exist, the program will automatically look for near matches (in the titles and content of pages) and display the matches it finds in a list for you to choose from. If you pressed "Go", and got an article you weren't looking for, press "Search" - that'll bypass the viewing and will execute the match search just described.

For instructions on how to access other page types besides encyclopedia articles, see the section immediately below...

By namespace[edit]

Wikipedia can be considered to be two levels deep. The top level is the encyclopedia itself (the collection of articles about every subject under the sun, and beyond), and it is therefore the easiest to access - simply enter the name of the article you wish to view in Wikipedia's searchbox. The section of Wikipedia that the articles are on is called the "main namespace". It is Wikipedia's default namespace - pages from all other namespaces must have their namespace specified in searches or links (followed by a colon). But not articles in the main namespace. Because they're the whole point of Wikipedia.

All of Wikipedia's namespaces other than the main namespace can be considered Wikipedia's 2nd level. For a list and explanation of these, see Help:Namespace.

By link structure[edit]

Almost every page on Wikipedia is connected within a massive web of links. Some pages are more centrally connected than others and serve as tables of contents or directories to the information on Wikipedia. These pages are presented in Wikipedia's 3 main navigation bars, found at the top of the very same pages, the navbars allowing for easy movement between and browsing of these pages. Each of these navbars is just one-click away...

The following navbar presents the tables of contents to the encyclopedia itself, and is accessible from the Contents link on the sidebar, or from the top of the Main Page.


The next navbar shows the Wikipedia community's main directories and resource pages, and it is accessible from the Community Portal link in Wikipedia's navigation menu (in the sidebar). Note that policies and guidelines are listed on the shortcuts directory.


Wikipedia's main help pages are available on the navbar below, which is accessible from the Help link on the Main Page and on Wikipedia's navigation menu (in the sidebar).

The template below outlines Wikipedia's help pages and can be viewed at the bottom of most related pages.


Other major link structures[edit]

When looking for subjects relevant to any particular page you are viewing, be sure to check the page's "See also" section (if it has one), and also the "What links here" command in the toolbar menu on the sidebar on the left-side of your screen (the location of this command on the page varies if you have selected a skin in "my preferences").

Learn by reading and doing[edit]

The most direct way to learn is to just jump in and try to do things. Instructions on just about every aspect of Wikipedia are available to assist you in your endeavors...

Help pages[edit]

Wikipedia's instructions manuals, and recorded know-how:

Pre-answered questions[edit]

Just about every question you can think of has probably already been asked and answered on Wikipedia, somewhere. Save time by looking them up directly. Here's where to find them and their answers:

  • VFAQ - the questions asked the most often about Wikipedia, and their answers.
  • FAQ - If you have a general or fairly basic question about how to do something on Wikipedia, the chances are that your question is asked and answered here.
  • Wikipedia:Help desk/Archive - all the questions ever asked at the help desk are kept here. If you read through a few hundred questions and answers, you will have a pretty good feel for Wikipedia's operations.
  • Wikipedia:Village pump (technical)/Archive - like the help desk, but the questions and advice are far more complex, tricky, or expert-level. If you read a few thousand of these questions and their answers, you'll be a Wikipedia expert (or well on your way).


Learn by asking[edit]

If you can't figure something out or are having trouble finding what you need to know, ask. Keep in mind that most questions that have been asked before, and their answers, are immediately accessible. See Pre-answered questions, above. Here's where to ask new questions, or questions you can't find the answer to:

Help forums[edit]

Volunteers are standing by...

  • Wikipedia:Teahouse - a "very friendly place" for new editors to become accustomed to and ask questions about editing.
  • Wikipedia:Help desk - the "main" place to ask questions about how to do something on Wikipedia, and receive answers fast.
  • Wikipedia:Reference desk - where to ask encyclopedic questions (real-world-subject-related, like "How many species of porcupine are there in North America?")

For a comprehensive directory of interactive services that can be requested on Wikipedia, see requests.

Asking users directly[edit]

Another approach to asking questions is to ask specific users directly. There are many places to find the right user to ask:

  • Wikipedia:Welcoming committee/members - these are experienced Wikipedians dedicated to assisting newcomers and to answering their questions.
  • List of Wikipedians by number of edits - the most prolific (and most experienced?) Wikipedians can be found on this list.
  • List of administrators - one of the prime requisites for becoming an administrator is a willingness to help other users. That's what they're here for.
  • WikiProjects - most WikiProjects have a list of members. Wikiprojects are devoted to particular subjects in the encyclopedia. If you have a question related to the editing of articles in a particular field, these are the people to ask.
  • Departments - to find someone to answer departmental questions, check the edit history of a department's main page to see who works on it the most. Chances are they know the department well.
  • Category:Wikipedians - many users identify their areas of expertise and the level of their expertise using userboxes or category tags, which automatically lists them in the directory of Wikipedians presented in Wikipedia's category system. You can find experts by subject (such as historians) or by skill type (such as programmers).

Learn by example[edit]

Where to find mentors and role-models:

  • Wikipedia:Adopt-a-User - if you are new, you can get "adopted" by a more experienced editor, who will help teach you the ropes.
  • Study the contributions of the experts - when you are viewing a userpage or user's talk page, the "user contributions" command is displayed in the toolbox menu on the sidebar. Click on it to see a record of all the edits a user has ever made to Wikipedia. To learn how such user operates, go to each of the pages he or she has edited and study their edits. To find someone to study, see the Asking users directly section above.

Learn by teaching[edit]

As mentioned in the previous section, the following programs are for receiving training. What may not be as obvious is that the trainers may learn from the experience as well. Like, what do you do if students ask questions you don't know the answers to? You find out the answers, so you can teach them! And your students will probably ask about things you've never even heard of, taking you in new directions.

  • Wikipedia:Adopt-a-User - as long as you have 500 edits and haven't been blocked in the past 6-months, you can be an adopter.

Learn from feedback[edit]

Learn from your mistakes, by having others point them out to you...

See also[edit]