Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Appendixes/Learning more

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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (Discuss)

No book, not even the one you're holding, can tell you everything you'll ever need to know about Wikipedia, especially since Wikipedia is a work in progress, always changing and growing in the hands of a changing and growing community of editors. Being a Wikipedia editor is like being an eternal student, acquiring as well as transmitting new knowledge all the time.

Think of this appendix as a campus map. It shows you the myriad places you can go, both inside and outside Wikipedia, to learn what you need to know when you're ready. It focuses on three main areas of learning:

  • Finding exactly the right information. Wikipedia has many hundreds of pages of detailed policies, guidelines, technical advice, and essays, not to mention specialized pages that simply list other pages. You're more likely to find what you're looking for, among all these instructional pages, if you choose one of several good starting points.
  • Getting personalized help. An unspoken assumption about editing in Wikipedia, as you may have noticed, is that you're supposed to figure out things mostly by yourself. Still, you can get personal help, if you know where and how to ask.
  • Understanding Wikipedia as a community. You may be curious about what's going on in the Wikipedia community. This appendix shows you how to get the news (and the gossip) about Wikipedia, and even how to meet other Wikipedians face-to-face if you so desire.

Information pages[edit]

Wikipedia has help pages, FAQs, and other kinds pages offering information about editing and using Wikipedia. If you had to choose one place to go to first in your quest to find specifics about editing Wikipedia, a good candidate would be Help:Contents (shortcut: WP:HELP). The Help:Menu page does a nice job of organizing information you might need into a dozen subtopics (most are shown in Figure 22-1). For a comprehensive descriptive list-style of help pages, see the Help directory

At the Help:Menu You can use the search box. An option is to select one of the subpages, each of which contain a list of specific pages for a particular area. The fourth option is to go directly to an individual page; the navigation bar includes two particularly detailed individual pages, Wikipedia:Cheatsheet (editing markup) and Wikipedia:Glossary.

The Wikipedia:FAQ index page contains a list of frequently asked questions about using and contributing.(Figure 22-1).

Wikipedia has a number of compilations of frequently asked questions. If you're looking for information in one of these areas, you can probably get it, and also learn other useful things.
Editing instructional pages

If I see an "edit" tab at the top of an instructional page, can I really edit it?

Yes. If you're logged in, you can edit pretty much every instructional page. (Figure 22-1 is an example of an instructional page that's semi-protected, so that only editors who are logged in can edit it—note the small padlock at the upper right.) As for whether you should, the answer is generally not, until you're a more experienced editor. Until then, the most productive use of your time is probably helping improve articles.

Still, if you see a typo or something that you're absolutely sure isn't right (probably because it hasn't been updated), you may want to do an edit and fix the page. Given that there are thousands of such pages (this book only mentions a hundred or so), you'll probably find errors if you look. These pages are maintained in exactly the same way as Wikipedia articles—by editors like you; no editors "own" any page or are assigned to maintain any pages.

Another option, if you see anything in an instructional page that doesn't make sense, is to leave a question about the matter on the related talk page. Normally, experienced editors respond to your question, and often reword the instructional information for errors, clarity, or both. For a faster response, you can ask for clarification on the Help desk (WP:HD) rather than the talk page; just don't do both at the same time.

You should also fix instructional pages if you see vandalism or spam edits, as discussed in Chapter 7: Dealing with vandalism and spam. Unfortunately, registration isn't a guarantee of good behavior, so even semi-protected pages aren't vandalism-free 100 percent of the time.

Directories and indexes[edit]

The Help:Menu page and its FAQ brethren provide fairly tightly organized information. By contrast, three directories offer a jumping-off point for a much larger number of instructional pages. The Help:Contents/Directory and Wikipedia:Department directory (shortcut: WP:DIR) (Figure 22-1), lists hundreds of links to specific pages, organized by categories of general Wikipedia functions.

The Department directory page organizes more than 150 links to specific pages (more than two dozen links are shown here, at the top of the directory) into rough categories called departments. While there's no such thing as a department in Wikipedia (even informally), the groupings are a handy way to find your way around.

Figure 22-1 also has a top bar, similar to the one in Figure 22-1. One of the links listed there is to Wikipedia:Quick directory (shortcut: WP:QUICK). Figure 22-1 shows the Quick Directory.

The Quick Directory gives you a good overview of the ecology of Wikipedia, with relatively few links to follow.

The newest addition tool within Wikipedia for finding information is the Editor's Index to Wikipedia (shortcut: WP:EIW). Figure 22-1 is a snapshot of part of this index, which has over 2,000 entries.

The beginning of section "A" of the Editor's Index to Wikipedia. In addition to the links to specific pages, the index also has links from one major topic (like Administration) to others (in this case, Enforcement). All major topics also have shortcuts (not shown here) for easy linking from other pages.

Places to ask questions[edit]

Despite the many thousands of instructional pages with information for editors (some would say because of the thousands of pages), you may want to ask other editors how to do something, or why something is the way it is. Before listing the places where you can ask questions, here are two caveats:

  • If you have a question about a specific article, it's best to start by asking at the article's talk/discussion page (see the section about xx). If you don't get any response within a day or two, then ask at one of the pages listed below.
  • If you have a question about a specific policy or guideline, ask at the talk page for that policy or guideline. For example, if you have a question about articles that are lists, and the relevant guideline is Wikipedia:Lists, then ask on the page Wikipedia talk:Lists.

Here are five places for editors to ask (more or less) general questions:

  • New contributors' help page (shortcut: WP:NCHP)
  • The Teahouse (shortcut: WP:TH)
  • Help desk (shortcut: WP:HD)
  • Village pump (technical) (shortcut: WP:VPT)

In addition, for specialized questions about images and other uploaded media that Wikipedia can use:

Formulating your questions[edit]

Frequently asked errors

When you post a question at one of the five general help pages listed here, you can make things easier for yourself and the editors who answer questions by doing the following:

  • Read the information at the top of the page. There may be a link there that is more useful than asking a question. Or a good suggestion about asking your question somewhere else.
  • Start a new section for your question, using the "+" tab or pressing the new section tab.
  • If you have a question about a specific page, wikilink to it (put paired square brackets on either side of the page name).
  • Do not post your email address or any other kind of personal information.
  • Do not put spaces at the beginning of a line. You do not need any indentation when you ask your question.
  • Sign your question by adding a couple of spaces and then four tildes ~~~~ at the end of your last line of text. Do not start a new line for your signature; just put it at the end of the last line of text.
If you do all those things, you will come across as an editor who knows enough to ask questions right. And when you have gotten a good answer (or need to clarify your question), come back to the section and acknowledge the answer (click on the edit link for the section). Editors who answer questions particularly like to hear that their answers have been useful‍—‌or that you want to clarify so they can really give you the answer you need.

Using your own talk page[edit]

You can also post your question on your own user talk page (the section about xx). When you do, add the following template to the section of the page where the question is: {{helpme}}. That template adds the category Wikipedians looking for help to your user talk page, and then one or more editors who monitor that category will show up to answer your question.

Using Wikipedia IRC channels[edit]

Finally, if you are an IRC user, you can connect at irc://, one of the help channels for Wikipedians.

Shortcut WP:CHAT has the more complete list of English Wikipedia IRC channels.

For a complete list of Interwiki channels go to: m:IRC/Channels.

Coaching and classes[edit]

If you learn better in a one-on-one situation, you're not alone. Wikipedia has three pages where an editor can go for personalized advising. Consider one of these services if you're serious about honing your skills:

In addition, Wikipedia:IRC channels (shortcut: WP:IRC) has information about the freenode network's dedicated chat rooms. These are online meeting places, open 24 hours a day, in which Wikipedians can engage in real-time discussions with each other.

Wikipedia news and gossip[edit]

Like any place with lots of action (Hollywood and Washington, D.C. come to mind), Wikipedia generates a body of news and gossip. When people are interested in something, they crave reading and talking about it. If you've been bitten by the Wikipedia bug, you'll be glad to know there's plenty of official news and unofficial gossip to satisfy your craving to know more.


If you expect to continue editing at Wikipedia for any length of time, by all means subscribe to the weekly internal newsletter, the Wikipedia Signpost. You can get it in any of three ways:

Another way to keep up with what's happening with Wikipedia is to read the page within Wikipedia that tracks news stories, Wikipedia:Press coverage.


You can also get information about Wikipedia-related goings-on from the following sources (which Wikipedia's guidelines define as not reliable sources).

  • Planet Wikimedia ( is a Web log (blog) aggregator operated by the Wikimedia Foundation. Some of the posts are about wikis in general, and some are on topics peripheral to Wikipedia, but the quality is quite high, and interesting things are likely to show up here at least as quickly as anywhere else.
  • Wikipedia:Mailing lists (shortcut: WP:ML) provides links to subscribe to any one of a number of mailing lists. For the English Wikipedia, WikiEN-l is the most subscribed to (roughly 1,000 subscribers as of mid-2007). Before you sign up, read the threaded archives at You may decide that the signal to noise ratio is lower than you want (Figure 22-1).
The archived messages of the WikiEN-l newsletter offer a good preview, before subscribing, as well as a way to look back through old messages to see what topics were hotly discussed.

If you want to talk about Wikipedia face to face, your best opportunities are regional meet-ups. Future (planned) events are listed on the Wikipedia:Meetup page (shortcut: WP:MU). Wikipedians have roughly five to ten meet-ups per month, which may sound like a lot, but that figure is for all meet-ups across the entire world. Meet-ups that are not in North America, the UK, or Oceania are likely to focus on a non-English language edition of Wikipedia.