Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Editing, creating, and maintaining articles/Editing for the first time

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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (Discuss)

Anyone can edit Wikipedia—including you. That's right. There's no fee, and you don't have to register. You don't even have to have an email account (but if you're reading this book, you probably have one). As the Introduction explains, all Wikipedia articles are collaborative efforts. You can jump right in and add your own knowledge with just a few clicks and some typing.

This chapter explains what you see when you look at an article in Wikipedia's editing window and how to practice, preview, and save your edits. You'll also learn a few more basic editing skills—how to create a link from one article to another, and how to edit a section of an article rather than the whole article. Once you've got these skills under your belt, you're ready for the first step in for-real Wikipedia editing: identifying an article in need of an edit.

Tip:
You can dive right in and start editing without setting up a Wikipedia account (that is, getting a user name). However, there are advantages to having a user name—increased privacy and the ability to create new articles and a personal user page, to name two. So you have an option: You can follow the chapters in the order they appear, or you can skip to Chapter 3: Setting up your account and personal workspace and get a user name first, and then read this chapter and Chapter 2: Documenting your sources.

The Wikipedia way of editing[edit]

Experienced Wikipedia editors understand one thing above all else: Wikipedia is a collaboration. There's no need to be intimidated, because you've got the support of an entire community of researchers, fact-checkers, and proofreaders. Keeping the following points in mind will get you into the right mindset for effective editing:

  • You don't need to know everything about Wikipedia to edit an article. Wikipedia has literally hundreds of pages of policy, guidelines, and how-to information on topics such as capitalization, categorization, citations, copyrights, disclaimers, foreign language characters, headings, indentation, links, lists, neutrality, pronunciation, quotations, tags, and templates, to name just a few. If you don't get something exactly right, don't worry—no one else gets everything right every time, either.
  • You don't need to know everything about your subject to edit an article. If you add something that's constructive and 90-percent right, that's far better than not doing an edit at all. As in sports, you don't need to hit a home run or score a goal on every play to be a valuable contributor. If you don't get something exactly right, someone else is likely to come along and help by fixing or finishing it.
  • You can contribute without editing at all. If you see a problem in an article, but you don't (yet) know how to fix it, or you do know how to fix it, but you can't edit the article (some articles are fully protected, typically for short periods of time), you can still help by posting a constructive comment on the article's talk (discussion) page. (Chapter 8 discusses talk pages in detail.) If you don't want to or can't edit an article directly, you can still help to improve it.

Practicing in the sandbox[edit]

Even if you've done a lot of writing and editing with various types of software in the past, you'll need some practice with Wikipedia's tools. Fortunately, Wikipedia has a page called the sandbox, where editors can practice without worrying about damaging anything. In this chapter, you'll do your work in the sandbox, rather than editing actual articles.

Remember as you go through the book (or whenever you're editing), if you encounter a feature that you don't fully understand, you can always go to the sandbox and do some testing there. You won't break anything, and you can experiment as much as you want until you figure out exactly how things work. You can even practice duplicating the actual edits that are shown throughout this book.

From any page in Wikipedia, you can get to the sandbox in one of two ways:

  • In the "search" box at the top right of the screen, type WP:SAND, and press Return. Make sure to type it with all capital letters and no space after the colon.
Tip:
WP:SAND is a shortcut, and you'll see others like it throughout the book. If you feel you need to burn a few more calories, type in the search box the full name of the page you want to go to, in this case Wikipedia:Sandbox. Also note that Shift+Alt+F [Shift-Control-F on a Mac] will take you directly to the search box.
Where is the search box?

If you are just getting started with Wikipedia you are probably using Wikipedia's default preferences, which place the search box at the top right of the screen. However, if you have a user account with Wikipedia, you can place the search box somewhere else by changing your skin in Wikipedia's preferences. If you use the Monobook skin, the search box is shown on the left. If you use the Nostalgia skin, you must scroll to the bottom of the page to see the search box.

Your choice of skin also affects other aspects of how Wikipedia looks. See the section about skins for more information.

  • Click the "edit this page" tab at the top of any page to go directly into edit mode. You'll see, toward the bottom of the screen (scroll down if necessary), "Your changes will be visible immediately." Immediately below, it says "For testing, please use the sandbox instead." The word "sandbox" is a bolded link—just click it.

Both ways get you to the sandbox quickly. Just use whichever method you find easier to remember. Figure 1-1 shows the sandbox before editing starts.

Figure 1-1. The top of the sandbox page, in normal mode. In normal mode, you can read what's on the screen, but not make any changes to it. To enter edit mode, just click the "edit this page" tab.

Starting, previewing and saving your edit[edit]

Editing in Wikipedia is much like using a very basic text editor, with a few word-processing tools thrown in. You type text into the edit box (less commonly written editbox), and then click buttons to preview and finally save your work.

Adding text[edit]

You edit Wikipedia articles in a big, white text box in the middle of the window. To get to that box, you must go into edit mode.

1. In the search box on the top right of the screen, type WP:SAND, and press Return to go to the sandbox.

You'll do all your work in this chapter in the sandbox, so you won't actually change any Wikipedia articles.

2. From the sandbox page (Figure 1-1), click the "edit this page" tab.

You're now in edit mode, complete with the edit box shown in Figure 1-2.
Figure 1-2. The sandbox, in edit mode. The text in the box (the edit box) is only an example—what you see will depend on what the other editors have just done to the page. The edit toolbar along the top of the edit box is standard; it provides one-click options for the most common kinds of formatting of content. Also standard is all the text between the sentences "It will be deleted" and "Your changes will be visible immediately."
Note:
If the bottom of Figure 1-2 looks intimidating, don't worry: There are only about two dozen items that editors actually use, except in exceedingly rare circumstances. If you're curious, Appendix A: A tour of the Wikipedia page provides a complete cross-reference to everything on the bottom of Figure 1-2, as well as all the icons on the edit toolbar.

3. Delete everything but the first three lines, which are instructions.

The edit box contents should look like Figure 1-3. In this box, you'll type some text that includes bold and italic formatting, and section headings.
Figure 1-3. The edit box after deleting all but the top three lines. Now the edit box is ready for you to add text. Of what remains, the first line is a template (see the section about templates, below), and the second and third lines are an invisible comment—visible, that is, only when you're in edit mode.
Note:
If someone else has deleted part or all of the top three instructional lines in Figure 1-3, don't worry—the steps on this page will work just fine without them. But you may want to add them back to help others using the sandbox.
If you compare Figure 1-1 to Figure 1-3, you may be puzzled about a couple of things: What is the purpose of the curly brackets (the first line in the edit box in Figure 1-3), and why is the text in Figure 1-1 ("Welcome to the Wikipedia Sandbox! This page allows you to carry out experiments") not the same as the underlying text in Figure 1-3?
The answer to both questions is essentially the same: The curly brackets indicate a template, and the purpose of templates, generally, is to add standard text to a page. Because templates are so important—you'll find them everywhere at Wikipedia—there's a separate section on them later in this chapter (see the section about templates).

4. Type the text shown in Figure 1-4 (except the first three lines at the top, which should already be there) into the edit box.

For this example, you don't have to type all the text if you don't want to. You can even type some text of your own invention, as long as it includes each of the following:
  • Section headings. Type two equal signs at the beginning and two more at the end of a line of text. (If you create at least four headings, Wikipedia automatically creates a table of contents, as you'll see in a moment.)
  • Boldface. Type three apostrophes (') before and after the text you want to bold.
  • Italic. Type two apostrophes (') before and after the text you want to italicize.
Figure 1-4. Typing this text into the edit box is a quick lesson in the three most common types of Wikipedia formatting. Putting equal signs on both sides of text turns it into a section heading (after you save your edit). Text surrounded by three apostrophes gets bolded; text surrounded by two apostrophes gets italicized.
Note:
Never put a blank space at the beginning of a line unless you want that line of text to stand out (which you never want in an article). With a blank space at the beginning, Wikipedia displays a line of text in a box with a light blue background. If it's a long line of text, the text goes off the screen to the right, requiring the reader to scroll to see it all.

Previewing[edit]

One of the most important things after doing an edit is to preview it—to see how it's going to look. For edits involving formatting, previewing is absolutely essential. But even if you've added only plain text, you should still preview it because you want to get in the habit of previewing every time.

Experienced editors often skip previewing when making small, routine edits. Usually that's okay, but sometimes, to their embarrassment, after seeing what the page looks like after being saved, they realize they need to do another edit to fix their own mistakes. So, until you've become an experienced editor, preview your work every time.

Before you click the "Show preview" button, however, you should do one more thing—provide a summary of the edit you just made. You should do this now, rather than later, because previewing will also show you what the edit summary will look like. Think of the edit summary as a way for you to explain your edit to other editors. The explanation can be very brief ("typo," "revert vandalism") or it can be lengthy (up to 200 characters). Keep it as short as you can, and make it as long as you need to.

1. In the "Summary" box (Figure 1-5), type a few words to describe the purpose of your edit.

In other words, follow the instructions in fine print: "Briefly describe the changes you have made." For example, in this case you might type Test edit – first time using the Sandbox. (See the box below for information about edit summaries.)
Once you've added an edit summary, it's time to check your work.
Figure 1-5. When you add an edit summary, make it descriptive but concise. (The checkboxes for "This is a minor edit" and "Watch this page" are visible only if you're a registered user who is logged in.)
In Summary

Filling in the "Summary" box, to explain your edit, takes only a few seconds but can save other editors lots of time. These summaries show up on each article's "history" tab (see the section about page histories), on the page that lists a given editor's contributions (see the 'User contributions' section), and pretty much everywhere else that a list of edits appears within Wikipedia: They're important.

Edit summaries should be meaningful to all editors. If you encounter an abbreviation or other text you don't understand, check the page Wikipedia:Edit summary legend (shortcut: WP:ESL), which has a pretty comprehensive list.

Here are some common edit summaries:

  • "Copyediting"
  • "Removed duplicate text in section"
  • "Splitting section in two with subheadings, adding new information and sources"
  • "Added material, changed section heading"

If you start editing articles regularly, here's another advantage to creating your own Wikipedia account: Once you've created an account, as described in Chapter 3: Setting up your account and personal workspace, you can change a setting so that you get a reminder to add an edit summary, if you've forgotten one. When logged in, click the My Preferences link (in the upper-right area of the screen), then click the "editing" tab, and at the bottom of the list of options, turn on the "Prompt me when entering a blank edit summary" checkbox. Click Save. Once you've done that, you'll never have to worry about inadvertently forgetting to fill in the "Summary" field.

2. Click the "Show preview" button just below the edit window (the button is shown in Figure 1-5) to see what the Wikipedia page will look like after you save your edit.

A Wikipedia preview screen has three parts. The very top of the screen (Figure 1-6) shows a warning that you're not looking at a saved version of the page. The middle and bottom of the screen (Figure 1-7) show both what the page will look like after you save it (if you don't change it further) and the edit box and related tools.
Figure 1-6. At the very top of the preview screen there's always a warning, in red, that you're looking at a preview, not something that has been saved.
Figure 1-7. The middle and part of the bottom half of the preview screen, showing how the edit from Figure 1-4 looks after saving the page. Wikipedia automatically adds a table of contents for articles that have four or more section headings. At bottom is the now-familiar edit box, so you can make corrections or improvements to your article.

3. Now's your chance to fix mistakes before anyone else can see them. Just make any changes you want in the edit box, and click "Show preview" again.

When you're satisfied with what the preview shows, it's time to save the edit, which will change the version that readers see when they come to the page.

Saving[edit]

Click the "Save page" button (see Figure 1-5 for the location of this button, if you need to). At this point, one of three things happens:

  • Most of the time, the page changes, incorporating your edit. That is, the page looks like it did when you looked at it in preview mode, except now there is no preview warning on top. Your edit is complete; you're done.
  • You might see a cached version of the page. You'll see a version of the page that looks like it did before you edited the page. In this case, you should refresh the page in your Web browser; typing Ctrl-R (⌘-R on the Mac) does the trick in most browsers. Once you see your edit has taken effect, you're done. (In the rare case where refreshing in your browser doesn't work, you need to tell Wikipedia's servers to refresh their cache as well. See the page Wikipedia:Purge; shortcut WP:PURGE.)
  • The worst case scenario is that Wikipedia refuses to make the change because someone else changed the page while you were editing it. Figure 1-8 shows what the page will look like in case of an edit conflict.
Figure 1-8. The top of a page when there's an edit conflict. If you're logged in, you see only the top paragraph of information.

The "edit this page" non-issue[edit]

"Edit this page" is non-destructive and non-contentious, depending on your clicking the Cancel button. It has basically the same effect as if it had displayed "View Source". Don't hesitate. It's OK.

It's best to press the Cancel button as soon as you're done viewing, in case you accidentally alter the wikitext source and then accidentally press "Save page". But be bold and feel free, for vandalism is more likely than viewing accidents. Even if you ignore the edit screen and browse away from it, it's probably going to be OK, even if you come back to it later and then accidentally press the Save page button. If this happens and there was a change to your page version and there was a change on the server's version, this would trigger an Edit conflict screen. But it's OK, because the default of an Edit conflict screen makes Save page do the same thing as Cancel: nothing. You can "edit" (view) the busiest, most content-changing page, and have it be completely harmless. Just use the Cancel button.

To truly edit, you complete 1) an alteration, 2) an editing comment, and then 3) an activation of the Save page button. Because intentional editing is so common, the <Enter> key becomes a shortcut to the Save page key at step-2. So now you know how Save page can get accidentally triggered.

To "edit this page", then, is really just to "view source". To get a feel for this reality, you could edit a watchlist. There is no "Cancel" option. Finally, there is the rare case of the Copyrights article, where administrators changed "edit this page" to "view source". So when editing a page, make some effort to press Cancel, but don't worry about it if you forgot.

Dealing with an edit conflict[edit]

Some articles are very (temporarily or permanently) popular with editors—perhaps the article is about a current event (say, a hurricane) or a person suddenly in the news. Such articles may be edited as frequently as once every minute or two. For such an article, if you as an editor take a while to do an edit—say, you begin editing and spend ten minutes at it, or do something else for five minutes then come back to editing—your chances of an edit conflict are quite high when you attempt to save your edit.

If there is an edit conflict, the Wikipedia screen has four parts:

  • The warning at the top (Figure 1-8).
  • A text box with the text for the current version of the page. It's Wikipedia saying "Here's what you can edit—the current version," plus all the other editing stuff (edit summary box, buttons, wiki markup symbols, and so on.)
  • A Differences section that shows how your version (the one you saw in "show preview") now differs from the existing page (the one revised by someone else while you were working on your revision).
  • At the very bottom, an additional text edit box, with your edit in it (Figure 1-9).
Figure 1-9. When there is an edit conflict, your screen will have an additional edit box, at the bottom of the screen, with the label "Your text." (Not all the text in Figure 1-4 is shown here, but all of it would be in the edit box.)

The best way to handle an edit conflict depends on the circumstances. Here are two common approaches:

  • If you were adding information, then you should copy that information from the lower text box to another place (a word processing document, Windows Notepad, TextEdit, or similar) or just copy it to the clipboard. Once you have the information in a safe place, go back to the page (in reading mode) and review whether what you were adding still needs to be added. If so, go back into editing mode, paste from the clipboard or edit the section or page again (this time more quickly, if possible), do a quick preview and save the edit.
  • If you were doing a small amount of copyediting, just go back to the page (in reading mode), go into edit mode, and do your edits again, saving more frequently. Of course, before you go into edit mode, you should check that what you were trying to fix still needs to be fixed.
Basically, you haven't lost any text that you added (you can simply copy it), but if you did a lot of copyediting, you may have to do that over again, because the alternative is to overwrite what another editor or other editors just did. You absolutely don't want to do that, assuming that the other editor(s) improved the article.

Of course, the best way to settle a conflict is to avoid it in the first place. You can avoid edit conflicts entirely by using the following techniques:

  • Edit a section of an article, not the entire article (editing of sections is discussed in the 'Editing article sections' section).
  • Click the "history" tab to see if an article is getting a lot of edits; if so, do a series of small (quick) edits rather than trying to do a lot of changes within a single edit.
  • Prepare lengthy additions offline, in a word processing document or Windows Notepad or something similar, or on a subpage (see the section about creating your personal sandbox). After the text is ready, you can then go into edit mode for the article, copy and paste the text into the edit window, preview, and save, all in a short amount of time.
Tip:
There's also a way to tip off other editors that you're working on an article. That way, they can make the choice of whether to start editing and risk an edit conflict. It's an advanced technique, explained in the box below.
Locking Out Other Editors

In Figure 1-3, you can see (in the top line) an example of a template used to display a message on a page. You can add the {{inuse}} template to the top of an article to tell other editors that you are in the process of making a large edit. It asks that other editors not edit for a while; the Wikipedia page on edit lock recommends using this template for no more than three hours.

In practice, use of this template is very, very rare. Wikipedia etiquette says you should never use it with a popular article (one that gets a lot of edits) or an article involving a breaking news story. But you might experiment with it for articles that get relatively few edits, assuming you really do want to do a major revision. And if you do come across this template—the message at the top of the page will say "This article is actively undergoing a major edit for a short while"—you can check the article history (the section about page histories) to see how long the template has been in place. If it's been more than three or four hours, someone's hogging the article; if so, you have every right to delete the template so other editors can feel free to make changes.

Wiki markup: From edit box to screen[edit]

Earlier in this chapter, you learned how to create section headers, and to format text as bold or italic (see Figure 1-4). Such formatting is called wiki markup. As you continue through this book, you'll learn about every type of markup you're likely to encounter. As a new editor, though, you need to learn three things right away: to recognize the types of markup, how templates are used, and how to create links between articles.

Types of markup[edit]

Besides headings, bold, and italic text, you'll encounter the following types of markup as you edit articles:

  • {{template}}. The double curly brackets indicate a template. An example of a template can be found in Figure 1-3 and was discussed immediately thereafter (see the section about adding text). Templates are discussed in more detail later in this chapter (the section about templates).
  • [[Article name]] or [[Article name|other name]]. Double square brackets create internal links (wikilinks), which are hyperlinks between pages in Wikipedia. They're described in the next section.
  • [http:url] or [http:url some text]. Single square brackets around a URL create external links. This formatting is discussed in Chapter 2: Documenting your sources (see the section about external links).
  • <ref> text possibly with a URL </ref>. These are footnote tags—the text between the tags is the footnote itself. Later in the article will be an instruction as to where to display the footnotes, which will look like this: <references />, or like this: {{reflist}}; normally that instruction is in a section titled "References". Footnotes are described in detail in Chapter 2: Documenting your sources.
  • <blockquote> text </blockquote> and <math> numbers and symbols</math>. In articles, you'll find a few other types of paired tags besides the <ref> tags for footnotes; blockquote and math tags are among the more common. Tags normally come in pairs, and the ending tag must have a slash character ("/") as its second character if it is to work properly.
Tip:
One exception to the rule of pairs is the <br> tag that inserts a new line (for example, in a template). It's just the single <br> tag with no closing tag. If you type <br/> or </br>, that does the same thing as <br>. (The "br" stands for "break," as in "line break.")
  • <!-- Your comment text goes here -->. This markup turns the text inside into an invisible comment; an example appears in Figure 1-3. "Invisible" means that the text doesn't display in normal viewing mode; you can see it only in edit mode.
  • {| bunch of stuff with lots of vertical lines |}. This formatting creates a table. Chapter 14 goes into the details.
  • One or more rows starting with an "*" or a "#". These characters create lists within an article (the "#" numbers the list, while the "*" just puts a bullet at the beginning of a line). Chapter 14 goes into the details.
  • [[Category:Name]]. This markup looks like a wikilink, and it is, in a way, but it puts a category link at the bottom of a page. Chapter 19 goes into the details.

How to create internal links[edit]

Linking one article to another is very easy—with good reason. Links to other articles can add a lot of value to an article because readers can follow the links whenever they come across a word they don't know a lot about. Good places to add internal links include the lead sections of articles and at the beginning of new sections within articles. A reader should always be able to get to important, related articles via a link.

In the edit box, just place paired square brackets around the name of the article you want to link to, for example: [[Winston Churchill]]. Figure 1-10 shows the sandbox again, in preview mode with some internal links sprinkled in.

Figure 1-10. Compare what's been typed into the edit box (bottom) to what's in the preview portion of the page (top).

Another kind of internal link—a piped link—is extremely useful for situations where naming varies by country. For example, you've typed the following sentence in your article: "San Francisco has an extensive public transportation system," and you want to link the words "public transportation" to the relevant article. Trouble is, there's no article in Wikipedia named "public transportation." There is, however, an article named "public transport," which was probably written by someone who speaks British English. You don't care what it's called, you just want your readers to be able to go to that article. Here's how to create the link while having the article read "public transportation": San Francisco has an extensive [[public transport|public transportation]] system.

To link or not to link

Wikilinks make writing on a wiki much easier than writing on paper, because you don't have to explain jargon (just link to the relevant article), and you can provide a smidgen of contextual information on people, places, and things by linking to separate articles. The resulting wiki page is easier for more people to read, since advanced readers can skip explanations they don't need, and the less advanced readers can follow links as necessary to get more context.

As helpful as links are, it's counterproductive to create internal links for a large percentage of words or phrases in an article—Wikipedians call that overlinking. You don't want your readers to spend more time hopping around to other articles than reading the one they came for.

To help decide whether you need to insert a link into an article, think of a link as a cross-reference in a book: "see such-and-such." If you wouldn't ask readers to turn to another page to read about something, don't provide a link for it either. Here's a case of excessive cross-referencing:

Mahatma Gandhi was a major (see "major") political (see "political") and spiritual (see "spiritual") leader (see "leader") of India (see "India") and the Indian independence movement (see "Indian independence movement").

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Don't link plain English words or phrases; do link technical terms.
  • Don't link the same word or phrase multiple times, at least not in the same section of an article.
  • Avoid linking two words that are next to each other, because these will look to the reader as if they are a single link (if necessary, reword the sentence).

Understanding and using templates[edit]

As mentioned in the section about making an edit, if you go into edit mode and see some text surrounded by two curly brackets, like this: {{pagename}}, you're looking at a template. A template tells the software to get text and formatting instructions from another place and insert that formatted text into the article when the article is displayed.

Here's a common example: If you see the {{fact}} template in the edit box when you're editing an article, it's telling the software to go to the page [[Template:Fact]], get the text there (including formatting), and insert that text into the article when the article is displayed for readers. The {{fact}} template, displays the following text: [citation needed]

Templates are widespread for a number of reasons:

  • Consistency. Every cleanup template looks the same, each type of infobox (see the section about article appearance) looks the same, and so on. Editors don't have to constantly figure out how to present a particular type of information in an article.
  • Time savings. You don't have to type out standard information, and you don't have to know how to format information in standard ways (such as superscript or message boxes). You just have to find out the name of the template and put it in double curly brackets. The software does the rest.
  • Automatic updating. If the Wikipedia community decides to change a template, changing just one page—the template page itself—automatically changes what's displayed on every other page that uses the template. (High-use templates are protected from being changed by normal editors, to prevent easily-done extensive vandalism.)
  • Categorization. Templates can include text that puts a page into a category (see Chapter 18: Better articles: A systematic approach). Then you and other editors can go to the category page to find, for example, all articles that have been categorized as needing copyediting.

Templates are everywhere in Wikipedia. In this book, you'll find discussions about templates in a number of chapters, for example:

That's a lot of uses of templates, and that's just in the first 11 chapters. At the moment, you just need to know these two main principles of templates:

  • Templates add text and formatting, which are stored on another page. To add a template to an article, you type its name between double curly brackets, at the place in the wikitext where you want the template to appear.
Figure 1-11. A common use for templates is infoboxes. Here's the infobox template for the article Winnowill, viewed in edit mode, on the top, and what it actually looks like in the article, on the bottom. The template has 15 parameters; the first two are for putting an image into the infobox, and are not being used here.
  • If the template contains parameters, you can edit the text that has been added to those parameters just like you can edit other text in the article, without understanding any of the complexities of templates. For example, take a look at Figure 1-11, which shows a template with a lot of parameters.

In Figure 1-11, each parameter has a name that ends with an equal sign. The infobox will display only the text that follows the equal signs. You can edit text that appears after the equal signs, including adding text, but don't mess around with a parameter name. Also, be careful not to delete or add a parameter separator (the vertical bar symbol "|"), which marks the beginning of each parameter.

Editing article sections[edit]

Inexperienced editors often work on entire articles in edit mode even though they're making changes only to one section of that article. Not only does this make it more difficult for other editors to understand what an editor did, if the edit note is insufficiently detailed, but it can make the preview much slower to load and also significantly increases the chances of an edit conflict (see the section about edit conflicts, above). So, an important rule of editing is: Don't edit an entire page if you're changing only one section of the page.

Editing one section[edit]

Figure 1-12. An article with three sections that can be separately edited. To edit a specific section, click an "edit" link on the right side of the page.

You'll know an article has sections if you see a table of contents near the top of the article. Even if there is no table of contents, if you see headings within an article, then the article has sections that can be edited. Figure 1-12 shows an article with no table of contents but with three headings that indicate sections that can be edited.

If you click one of the three "edit" links in Figure 1-12, then the edit box shows only the text in the section, not the text of the entire article. That makes it easier to edit (less text in the edit box), and it significantly lessens the likelihood of an edit conflict, because if another editor is editing a different section, your two edits can't collide.

Tip:
Sometimes editing an entire article at once is necessary—for example, if you're moving sections around, or moving text from one section to another. But often when you plan to edit two or three sections of an article, you can efficiently do these as separate edits of individual sections, rather than editing the entire article. If nothing else, it makes previewing much easier (but the preview shows only part of the article, not the entire article).

Editing the lead section[edit]

From the previous section, you know the importance of editing only a section rather than an entire article, whenever possible. But you may have noticed that in Figure 1-12 there was no [edit] link for the first sentence in the article, what Wikipedia calls the lead section. So, it appears that if you want to edit that section, you have to click the "edit this page" tab, just as if you wanted to edit the entire article.

In fact, it is possible to edit only the lead section of an article, though most editors don't know how. There are actually three different options:

  • The manual way is to click the [edit] link for a section below the lead section, then go to the URL at the top of the screen and change the number at the end of the URL to "0". (The lead section of an article is always numbered section "0".) Press Enter, and you're then editing the lead section.
  • The most complicated way is to add JavaScript code to your personal JavaScript page (see the section about your personal JavaScript page), to give you either a special tab (the "0" tab) or an "edit" link. You can find these scripts in the "Navigating to Edit page" section of the page Wikipedia:WikiProject User scripts/Scripts (shortcut: WP:JS). (Note: To do so, you must be a registered editor; see the section about reasons for registering.)
  • The easiest way is to click the "Preferences" link on the upper right of the page (which you won't see unless you have a registered account and are logged in), go to the "Gadgets" tab. Select "Add an [edit] link for the introduction section of a page", and then click Save button. Thereafter, whenever you're editing an article, you'll see something similar to Figure 1-13.
Figure 1-13. After you've selected the option to add an edit link for the lead section on the Gadgets tab of the "My preferences" page, you see a new edit link to the right of the title of every article. Clicking that link will open the top section of the article for editing. (If you don't see such a link, make sure you bypassed your browser's cache as described at the bottom of the Gadgets tab.)

Editing for real[edit]

Now that you've read about the basics of editing, and (hopefully) followed the step-by-step instructions for doing a sandbox edit, you're almost ready to start editing actual articles. Before you do so, you need to understand a bit more about the rules of Wikipedia. Then you'll be prepared to find some articles that you can improve.

Wordsmithing versus adding information[edit]

Taken to an extreme, there are basically two kinds of edits (other than removing vandalism, spam, and other problematic material):

  • You can change the wording and/or formatting of an article, leaving the information in the article more or less intact.
  • You can add new information.

But before you start adding new information, you should read Chapter 2: Documenting your sources. If you want to jump right into wordsmithing, read on.

A few words about content[edit]

Wikipedia has three core policies for content. Two of them, no original research and verifiability, are discussed in the next chapter. The third, neutral point of view, is worth mentioning now, because wordsmithing is often about a point of view.

Consider, for a moment, the goal of the people doing public relations or in a marketing department: to write about organizations, products and services, and leaders in a way that casts them in the best possible light. Or consider the wording of a press release by a political party, which tries to make the opposition look as bad as possible. In both of these situations, the writers have what Wikipedians call an extreme point of view (POV). By contrast, Wikipedia's policies require editors to follow these principles:

  • Present significant viewpoints in proportion to the (published) prominence of each. Fringe theories, for example, deserve much less space (word count) in an article than mainstream/conventional theories.
  • Represent fairly any differing views about a topic. Fairly means presenting the best case for each view, while avoiding extreme rhetoric from either side.
  • Write without bias. The best way to do this is to write about facts, not about opinions. For example, instead of saying "X murdered Y," which is an opinion (was it self-defense?), write "X was convicted of murdering Y," a documentable fact.

Wikipedia has much, much more detail that you can read about this policy (type the shortcut WP:NPOV in the search box on the left of the screen). Many (probably most, maybe even all) editors at Wikipedia have very strong opinions about one thing or another—cultural values, religion, politics, science, whatever. Good editors avoid problems by either focusing on making articles as factual as possible or working on articles where their potential biases aren't triggered. So if you're absolutely, positively sure you're right about a topic where many, and possibly most, other editors at Wikipedia wouldn't agree with you, it's a good idea to work on the other three million (or so) articles in Wikipedia that aren't about that topic. (Keep in mind that there are lots of places on the Web—blogs, personal pages, wikis other than Wikipedia, and more—where proactive opinions are welcome.)

Selecting a random page[edit]

Ready to edit? If so, you'll want to find articles that you can improve with copyediting. One way is to click the "Random article" link on the left side of the screen (see Figure 1-14).

Figure 1-14. The "Random article" link. Click this to go to one of the about three million articles in Wikipedia.

When you click this link, there's a good chance you'll get a very short article (a stub), or a list, or a page that starts "XYZ may refer to ..." followed by a list of related topics (a disambiguation page), or a very specialized article. You can edit these, of course, but you may want to try again. When you get an article that you're not interested in editing, just click the "Random article" link again. (Do this twenty or so times, and you get a reasonable sense of the variety in the over three million articles in Wikipedia.)

Tip:
If you encounter vandalism, you might want to look at Chapter 7: Dealing with vandalism and spam to learn your options for fixing it. Or, if you're very new at editing, there's nothing wrong with leaving the vandalism for a more experienced editor to fix.

Working on a known problem[edit]

An alternative to using the "Random article" link is to go to articles that other editors have identified as problematic. Several good places to find such articles are:

  • Wikipedia:Pages needing attention (shortcut: WP:PNA)
  • Wikipedia:Requests for expansion (shortcut: WP:RFE)
  • Category:Wikipedia articles in need of updating (shortcut: CAT:UP)
  • Category:Wikipedia maintenance (shortcut: CAT:M)

When you see the name of an article that seems interesting, just click the article name to go to it and start editing as described earlier in this chapter.

Spelling doesn't (always) count

If you find what looks like a spelling mistake, don't leap into edit mode and correct it. What you think is an error may be a perfectly legitimate spelling in context. For example, you may have stumbled upon a national variant of a word: What is "analyse" in the United Kingdom is "analyze" in the United States; neither is wrong.

Wikipedia's spelling rules are mostly based on consistency. For example, don't mix variants of the same word within a single article. If an article is about (say) a major city in Australia, then spellings used in that country are correct for the article; if an article has evolved primarily with one variety of English, the whole article should conform to that variety. (For more details, use these shortcuts to get to two guideline pages: WP:SPELLING and WP:ENGVAR.)

Alternative method of editing[edit]

VisualEditor (VE) is a way to edit pages without needing to learn wikitext markup. It is only available to registered logged-in users if they opt-in, by changing your preferences. For instructions on using VisualEditor, see Wikipedia:VisualEditor/User guide. (Note: VisualEditor is in the beta testing stages and does not currently work with Internet Explorer).