Wikipedia:Academy/NIH 2009/Welcome

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Members of the NIH, welcome to Wikipedia!

We hope that you'll enjoy your visit and decide to contribute to Wikipedia. Wikipedia's goal is to offer well-referenced, comprehensive, accurate articles that are intelligible to lay-people but also useful, at times, to the specialist. All content in Wikipedia — words as well as images and other media — is free, both in terms of cost and in terms of copyright.

Getting started on Wikipedia is fairly easy, but there are areas where some people have trouble. This page explains how to navigate through those areas.

How to find help[edit]

If you have a question or need help, a team of friendly, experienced Wikipedians has volunteered to assist you. Your coordinator has the list of their names, expertises and contact information. We've also arranged a software tool for you to contact them directly. If you'd like that tool, please change "Proteins" in the following box to your user name and click "Help please"; on the following page, click on "Save page" to finalize the installation. (You may need to reload the page after saving it.)

Afterwards, a "help me!" tab will be added to the top of every page you visit; clicking on that tab will connect you with a Wikipedian who has volunteered to help you.

This sign-up form will also give you several helpful software tools, which will be explained during the workshop.

Reasons to contribute[edit]

Wikipedia is a powerful tool for educating the general public, students, and other scientists. An article on a current topic (such as swine influenza) may have millions of online readers per day, while basic articles such as lung cancer, Down syndrome, or Alzheimer's disease are read by millions of people every year. Wikipedia articles are usually the top hit returned by search engines such as Google. This reach presents a unique opportunity for scientists to explain important research to those that fund their research, to generate enthusiasm for their field, to recruit students, and to inspire the next generation of scientists. Accurate Wikipedia articles also help people better inform themselves about diseases, preventative medicine, and public health.

Contributions to a Wikipedia article extend far beyond how often it is read online. Reporters use Wikipedia as background for their news stories. Teachers may use a well-developed Wikipedia article in their lessons, passing its information to students. Wikipedia exists in hundreds of languages, and contributions to the English Wikipedia may be translated and used for teaching in Spain, Cote d'Ivoire or Vietnam.

Some of Wikipedia's articles are among the best Internet resources available on their topic. They are accurate, comprehensive, well-illustrated, referenced to the scientific literature, and professionally written. They strike an excellent balance between being intelligible to the lay person and yet still detailed enough to remain helpful to students and scientists. Wikipedia articles also allow scientists to integrate disparate resources on a topic into a single coherent presentation with a consistent nomenclature. Unfortunately, the majority of articles are poorly written, poorly referenced, incomplete, and inaccurate. Although experts can distinguish between the two, it is not always possible for the lay person to do so. Protecting the public from scientific and medical misinformation is another reason to contribute.

Finally, contributing to Wikipedia is fun. Wikipedia volunteers include many witty, gracious and well-educated people, selflessly committed to developing high-quality articles. They may help you to improve your writing, especially its intelligibility for the general public, and they may show you different perspectives on your focus area.

Ways to contribute[edit]

Probably the best and most obvious way for you, as a scientist, to contribute to Wikipedia is to edit articles related to your field. There are many ways to do that, depending on your editing skills and the time you wish to invest. Click on "show" (far right) to read more.

Simple contributions

A simple but powerful way to contribute is to review existing articles and offer suggestions for their improvement. Reviewers are especially needed for Featured Articles, Good Articles, and peer review, but editors can also provide constructive criticism of any Wikipedia article by leaving a message on the article's Talk page (just click the "discussion" tab, then the "new section" tab). You can also make corrections yourself, although large-scale changes should always be discussed first.

Another basic way to contribute is to add references to support the text of an article. Scientists are well-suited for this, knowing the scientific literature in their field. References are a little tricky to format, but the skill is learned quickly and this online tool will do all the work given the PMID code (or many other database codes).

A third way to contribute is to upload images, preferably to Wikimedia Commons. Scientists are again well-suited for this, having access to many unusual images, such as electron micrographs of exotic archaea. Uploading images is relatively easy to master, and doesn't take much time.

Medium contributions

Scientists wishing to make a more substantial contribution can do so in several ways. First, many articles are incomplete. You can contribute by adding new sections (with references to the literature) to fill in those gaps. Second, many articles are poorly organized and lack coherence. You can contribute by rearranging sections into a logical order and writing good transitions between the sections. Third, the writing of many articles is poor, particularly in the lead (top) section, which often consists of but a sentence or two. Ironically, the lead section is the one most often read in an article.

Major contributions

Scientists are particularly suited to focusing on a single article and developing it into a Good Article or even a Featured Article. The latter may appear on the Main Page, which is viewed by more than five million people per day. Featured Articles undergo rigorous reviewing by the community, and typically have over a hundred references. Even an expert may spend many weeks bringing an article to that level and going through the review process.

The pinnacle of Wikipedia authoring is the Featured Topic, which is a collection of Good and Featured Articles on a specific topic. As a hypothetical example, a Featured Topic on polio could have Featured Articles on the history of polio, the life-cycle of the virus, vaccination and treatment methods, etc.

Besides articles and topics, another major way to contribute is to design and create media, such as animations and skillfully drawn educational diagrams of the kidney or of the gluconeogenesis pathway.

Alternative ways to contribute...

The preceding suggestions have focused on article contributions. However, you can contribute in other ways as well. Here are a few examples:

This is only the tip of the iceberg! As you become an experienced Wikipedia editor, you'll discover many other dimensions to Wikipedia.


The scientists and physicians contributing to Wikipedia often form small communities dedicated to improving the coverage of certain fields. These communities are known as WikiProjects and in some ways resemble a scientific society. WikiProjects also can also have sub-communities (task forces) working on more specialized topics. For example, the WikiProject for Molecular and Cellular Biology might have task forces dedicated to enzymology, signalling pathways, and structural biology.

WikiProjects are excellent venues to discuss Wikipedia's coverage of a topic, and to find collaborators. Five WikiProjects may be particularly helpful:

Medicine Welcome page Popular pages Selected articles Ask a question, or for help
Molecular and Cellular Biology Welcome page Popular pages Selected articles Ask a question, or for help
Neuroscience Welcome page Popular pages Selected articles Ask a question, or for help
Pharmacology Welcome page Popular pages Selected articles Ask a question, or for help
Microbiology Welcome page Popular pages Selected articles Ask a question, or for help


Let's break the ice by showing you how easy it is to contribute to Wikipedia. There are three steps.

  1. Click on the [edit] link at the far right, and you'll see these lines as they are stored in the computer, in "wiki-markup".
  2. Add your name (or anything else) below these lines in the edit box.
  3. Click on the button "Save page" just below the edit box, and your new text will be added to this section. Congratulations, you're a Wikipedian!

Of course, there's much more to editing. You can add images, references, break the article into sections, make links to other articles, etc., etc. Those skills are covered in the workshop, and in the online materials above.

Online help[edit]

Practical tutorial in editing Wikipedia; click on "show" to reveal

This tutorial outlines the practical steps of writing a new Wikipedia article and developing it into a Featured article, that is, one of Wikipedia's best articles.

Please begin by getting a user account

Without a user account, you won't be able to create or move pages, which would make this a very short workshop. ;) If you haven't already, please start a user account by clicking on the blue link in the topmost right-hand corner, the one labeled Log in / create account. On the following page, click on the blue link labeled Create one. On the final page, please read the information, fill in the form, and click the button labeled Create account to start your account. On the next page, you should see that the Log in / create account link has been replaced by your user name highlighted in red, followed by some user commands such as my talk, my preferences, my watchlist, my contributions, and log out. These steps are shown in the video above.

Edit in your sandbox

If you are viewing this page for the first time, the following link Wikipedia:Academy/NIH 2009/Tutorial_sandbox should be colored red, meaning that Wikipedia has no article under that name. Open that link in a new tab, type in a few characters, and click on the Publish page button near the bottom. Your "tutorial sandbox" page should have been created and your text should have been saved and published there. Congratulations — you're a Wikipedian! You can return to this sandbox to write drafts for articles, to try out new editing methods, or simply to experiment.

Let's add a link to another article on Wikipedia! Edit your sandbox and add the text "[[mitochondrion]]". After saving, you should see mitochondrion highlighted in blue. Clicking on that blue link will take you to the Wikipedia article by that name.

By custom, topics on Wikipedia are usually given in the singular, e.g., mitochondrion rather than mitochondria, or proteasome rather than proteasomes. Plurals and other variations on the article name can be made in two ways...

  1. by adding letters after the closing double brackets of the link. Thus, "[[proteasome]]s" produces proteasomes.
  2. A completely different name can be given to a link using a vertical bar within the double brackets. For example, "[[chloroplast|random cellular organelle]]" will appear as random cellular organelle.

Checking whether an article on your topic exists already

You're the world's authority on a topic and you'd like to share your expertise with the world — great! But before you create a new article on your topic, you should check whether it exists on Wikipedia already. Here are two ways to do that:

  • Use Wikipedia's own search box in the left column. Enter “mitochondrion” in the box and click the Go button.
  • Conduct a Google search restricted to Wikipedia. Enter “mitochondrion” in the search box for Google.

A third, more serendipitous, technique is to identify a related article, and click on the most appropriate Category at the bottom of that article. That will take you to a list of many of Wikipedia's articles under that category. For example, Golgi apparatus is categorized under Category:Organelles; going to the latter link reveals many of Wikipedia's articles on organelles.

Regardless of the method, your search will reveal one of three possibilities:

  1. your topic has its own article (possibly under a synonym),
  2. your topic is covered as a subsection of another article, or
  3. your topic isn't mentioned on Wikipedia.

In the first two cases, you can improve the article, whereas in the latter two cases, you may wish to create a new article.

You may find that an article on your topic exists on Wikipedia under one name but is missing a key synonym. For example, the “Krebs cycle” article may exist, but a “citric acid cycle” article may not. To introduce the synonym, you can create a redirect page. Click on the red link for the synonym, type the words #redirect [[article name]] and save this text by clicking "Publish changes". After that, any visitor to Wikipedia who searches for your synonym will be taken to the correct article. More details on how to create an article are given in the next section.

Redirect pages are also useful for smaller topics that might not merit their own article. You can create a redirect to a specific sub-section of a larger article using a pound sign "#". For illustration, clicking on the link Golgi apparatus#Vesicular transport takes the reader to the "Vesicular transport" section of the Golgi apparatus article.

You may also find that your chosen topic has an alternate meaning in an entirely different field, e.g., “primer”. For such cases, Wikipedia has “disambiguation” pages, which direct the reader to the relevant article. Usually, the field of a term is specified in parentheses, e.g., primer (paint), primer (gasoline engine) and primer (molecular biology).

Creating an article

Creating a new article is relatively easy on Wikipedia. Wikipedia has two types of internal links: blue links that point to another article and red links that point to nothing. Clicking on a red link and beginning to edit creates an article. You may get such a red link from the Wikipedia search in Step 1, or by editing another article to add the link, e.g., "[[new article name]]". The latter method is useful when the article has unusual characters not found on an ordinary keyboard. Many unusual characters, such as Å or μ or ±, can be found at the bottom of the editing screen, under the Publish page button; select the set of characters you wish to use from the drop-down menu and then click on the desired character to add it into the text at the cursor position.

If your topic has its own article already, you should generally work on improving that rather than creating a new article. However, if you create a redundant article inadvertently, this can be fixed by merging the two articles. Merging is best done with the help of a friendly WikiProject and an administrator.

Basic editing

Once you've opened an edit window, it's relatively easy to add text: simply type and then click on the "Publish page" button below the edit box. Before you do so, though, please add a short edit summary into the box just above the button, describing the change you made. That will help you and others to remember or identify when changes occurred.

When you reach the edge of the edit window, you don't need to hit return; just keep typing! The text will automatically format itself when you click "Publish page". To break the text into paragraphs, add exactly one blank line before starting the next paragraph. Adding two or more lines is feasible, too, but it leaves too much white space on the page.

Writing the article

Wikipedia articles have two parts: a lead section of 1-4 paragraphs and a body or main article section that follows. The lead section is an abstract of the article: technical details, caveats and the like are usually omitted; it should be comprehensible to a broad audience. The body of the article is written as a mini-review article, almost always fewer than 50 kilobytes in readable prose; for scientific or other scholarly topics, the writing is typically aimed at junior-level undergraduates.

A Wikipedia article differs from a mini-review in two key ways:

  1. Wikipedia does not allow speculation or original syntheses of the data. Assertions must be citable to scholarly literature.
  2. Wikipedia articles are not aimed at fellow experts, but rather at interested lay-people. Examples of such readers include high-school students who might join the field someday, college students taking their first course, adults trying to educate themselves and citizens whose taxes support scholarly research. Consequently, authors cannot assume an extensive background knowledge. To supply that background, the wiki-editor can either include it themselves, or include a wiki-link to another article that explains the topic.

For some topics, the length restriction of 50 kilobytes may seem too short, especially when writing out explanations for the non-scientific reader. However, Wikipedia wants its articles to be able to be read in one sitting. To keep the article length short, major sections may have to be spun off as sub-articles and and replaced with a 1-2 paragraph summary.

Wikipedia articles make liberal use of sections and subsections to organize the article. The section and subsection titles are automatically collected at the top of the article in a Table of Contents, giving an outline of the article. To create a section, place the section name enclosed by at least two equal signs at the beginning of a line, e.g., "==History==". Subsections are created by adding an equal sign on either side, e.g., "===Medieval conceptions===". At the lowest level, sections typically have a few paragraphs and typically one image.

You will likely have company in writing the article; other Wikipedians may join in and try to help you. Often their help will be as simple as correcting typos, categorizing the article, or formatting the article to give it a consistent "look and feel" with related articles. With more involved editors, you may wish to discuss the article's scope, organization or emphases on its talk page, which is found under the "discussion tab at the upper left of the article. More detailed suggestions for collaborative writing are given at the end of this tutorial.

Adding links, categories, images, and references

Aside from the text, four elements are important in improving a Wikipedia article: links, categories, images and references.

Internal and external links

Links are called "internal" if they point to another Wikipedia article and "external" otherwise. Wikipedia encourages internal links for relatively unknown topics mentioned in the article. If readers don't understand a given term in a sentence, they may click on the link to get a quick overview before returning to the original article. This is one reason to make the lead section of an article an easily accessible summary of the entire article.

Wikipedia articles typically end with a few standard sections. The first of these is the “See also” section, which links to other articles in related fields that were not mentioned in the main body. This section is usually followed by the "Notes" or "References" section.

The final section of a typical Wikipedia article is the “External links” section. These external links are generally not those cited in the References section; rather, they are often online tutorials or other educational resources that complement the Wikipedia article. There are usually between 5 and 15 external links, although fewer and more numerous sections are sometimes seen.


At the very bottom of the page is a light blue bar with the categories of the article. Categorizing an article allows you and others to find related articles. To find good categories, look at articles on related topics, or ask a friendly Wikipedian for help.

Images: Illustrating the article

A three-dimensional image of the proteasome

Wikipedia articles are generally well-illustrated, even when the text is relatively poor. Many articles have one image for every few paragraphs of text.

The most important issue for images is their copyright status. Images in the public domain, or released under one of the free licenses compatible with Wikipedia, can be uploaded at will. In other cases, the uploader should own the copyright and be willing to release the image. The various issues surrounding image copyright on Wikipedia are discussed here and at the linked articles.

Incorporating images into an article
For more details, see the tutorials Wikipedia:Picture tutorial, Wikipedia:Graphics tutorials, and Wikipedia:How to improve image quality.
The syntax for images is described here.

To include an image in an article, add the image file name between double square brackets, preceded by the word “Image:”, e.g., “[[Image:Proteasome.jpg]]". The image can be aligned with the right or left margin using those words as arguments, as in “[[Image:Proteasome.jpg|right]]"; right alignment is the default. Wikipedia's image policy strongly encourages using the 'thumbnail' size for most images, as in “[[Image:Proteasome.jpg|right|thumb]]", but an image that requires larger display, such as a map or diagram, can be scaled by specifying a pixel size, as in “[[Image:Proteasome.jpg|right|250px]]". Captions are desirable, and are added at the end, after another vertical bar, as in “[[Image:Proteasome.jpg|thumb|A three-dimensional image of the proteasome]]", which appears at right.

Hemoglobin t-r state ani.gif
Creating graphs, diagrams and animations
See also Wikipedia:How to create graphs for Wikipedia articles.

Graphs and diagrams are used frequently to illustrate concepts in Wikipedia's science articles. The preferred format for such images is SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), since such images retain their precision even at different sizes. Alternative image formats include PNG, GIF and JPG.

Animations are also welcomed at Wikipedia, such as the animation of the conformational change between the R and T states of hemoglobin. However, large animation files are discouraged, since they require a long time to download. Typically, image and animation files should be fewer than a few megabytes.

Providing references and footnotes for the article

Full instructions for adding references to Wikipedia articles can be found here and here.

Wikipedia's authority as a reference source derives mostly from its citations to the scholarly literature; hence, accurate references are essential for the quality of Wikipedia's articles. The density of citations in the best Wikipedia articles (Good articles and Featured articles) is typically 3 citations per kilobyte of readable text, which is roughly equivalent to that found in scientific review articles.

A review of Wikipedia's Featured articles shows that the prevailing form of referencing in Wikipedia is what Wikipedians refer to as "inline citation"; these are small numerical superscripts that link within the page to the reference section at the bottom of the page.[1] Such references may be added at a point in the article using an HTML-like tag :

<ref>...text of the reference...</ref>

To make the text appear at the bottom, you must add a "references" tag to the References section near the bottom of the article, e.g.,


Using this approach, the references are automatically numbered in order of their appearance within the text.[2]

In some cases, you may wish to cite a reference more than once. This can be done by giving the reference a name at any of the places it is cited

<ref name="Thompson">...text of the reference...</ref>

At the other positions where this reference is cited, the whole reference need not be written out; instead, you can write[1]

<ref name="Thompson" />
Citation templates

Several citation templates have been developed to enable a uniform format for references across articles. These templates have the form

{{cite journal
| author= [[David Baltimore|Baltimore D]]
| year = 1970
| title= RNA-dependent DNA polymerase in virions of RNA tumour viruses
| journal= [[Nature (journal)|Nature]]
| volume= 226
| number= 5252
| pages= 1209–11
| pmid= 4316300

which appears as

Different templates are used for different types of sources, such as journal articles, book chapters, and books. Such templates can be written automatically using the freely available Zotero software or this server. Zotero has the advantage of maintaining a database of references, similar to the proprietary software EndNote or Reference Manager, and can be used to format scientific journals.

Developing the article into a Featured article

The highest level of Wikipedia article is the Featured article. In principle, these articles have been vetted by the active Wikipedia community for excellent writing, accurate and complete coverage, and for consistency with Wikipedia's style guidelines. A complete list of the criteria can be found here. Each candidate for Featured article undergoes a detailed scrutiny, often lasting weeks, before it is certified as Featured — or not. Only Featured articles may appear on the Main Page of Wikipedia, which gives them vast exposure to the world at large (typically 5 million page views per day) with commensurate impact for scientific outreach.

To reach this level, the first step is to write a comprehensive, well-written, well-referenced and well-illustrated article. The topic can be quite specialized, such as a single organism, single organelle or even a single type of enzyme; it is not necessary to write only on general topics such as bird or dinosaur. The requirement for excellent writing is a common stumbling block, but many Wikipedians are willing to assist experts in making their prose flowing and accessible to non-experts, while maintaining its accuracy. Another common stumbling block is the requirement for consistency with Wikipedia's style guidelines; again, Wikipedians have formed groups such as the FA-Team to assist with this.

The instructions for nominating an article as a Featured article can be found here. During an article's candidacy for Featured article status, Wikipedians can express their opinion whether the article meets the criteria or not, by indicating Support, Neutral, or Oppose. Frequently, improvements are made to the article in the process. Approval as a Featured article is governed by consensus rather than a vote: the directors must be satisfied that all valid objections have been overcome.

Tips for collaborative writing

This brief tutorial just scratches the surface of Wikipedia; there's lots left to learn! Fortunately, Wikipedia is full of friendly, knowledgeable people who will help you navigate its highways and byways.

Your conversations and collaborations with other Wikipedians are a key part of the pleasure, and the strength, of Wikipedia. You'll enjoy the company of fellow enthusiasts and benefit from their often complementary expertise; you won't have to do everything yourself! Here are some tips to help you succeed brilliantly in Wikipedia society:

  • Develop a network of friends who will help you copyedit, peer-review, and generally improve your articles. WikiProjects are a good starting place. As Tim says, do good turns, and you'll receive the same. One of the most helpful services academics can provide is steering other editors towards the best sources to use for an article and helping them gain access to those materials.
  • Be open to different perspectives and emphases A cell biologist might have a different view of a topic than, say, a physiologist, a biochemist, a physicist, or a medieval historian; but together they can find common ground. The article doesn't have to be perfect. Be willing to accommodate your fellow Wikipedians, and remember that you do not write for yourself but for the public. Most Wikipedia editors are not academics and therefore the feedback you will receive is not always similar to what a professional peer reviewer would offer. However, what these non-professionals can offer you is a sense of how well you have communicated your basic ideas to a lay audience.
  • Stay grounded in facts and reliable sources. Agree on a common nomenclature and descriptive variables. Be cool and professional, even if others are not.
  • Make use of article talk pages and other fora If you are writing an article with a group of other people, it is best to discuss the structure of the article, the sources for that article, the prose, and the images on the article talk page. WikiProjects also help articulate the principles behind a good article in their particular subject areas. The most fruitful discussions reflect a sharing of knowledge, brainstorming, a willingness to compromise, and the excitement of discovering the best way to present the information to the reader.
  • Be willing to adapt to Wikipedia culture Wikipedia is a community like any other: it has explicit expectations of its users laid out in the five pillars but it also has unwritten social taboos and internal politics. Writing with other editors means that you will have to navigate these expectations and unwritten rules to some extent. No one expects new editors to know the internal workings of Wikipedia's community, so mistakes are inevitable; however, it is crucial to understand that there is an entire society behind the encyclopedia.


  1. ^ a b This is the first example of a reference.
  2. ^ This is another example of a reference.

See also[edit]