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Editing Wikipedia

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A guide to improving content on the online encyclopedia

I've been a Wikipedian since 2004. I contribute because I like helping to create a free, reliable reference work for the entire world. I'm happy to help you learn how to contribute, too, so you can add your knowledge and make Wikipedia better.

Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment.

This is the vision for Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects, which volunteers from around the world have been building since 2001. Bringing together the sum of all human knowledge requires the knowledge of many humans — including yours!

What you can learn Shortcuts
This guide will walk you through how to contribute to Wikipedia, so the knowledge you have can be freely shared with others. You will find:
  • What Wikipedia is and how it works
  • How to navigate Wikipedia
  • How you can contribute to Wikipedia and why you should
  • Important rules that keep Wikipedia reliable
  • How to edit Wikipedia with the VisualEditor and using wiki markup
  • A step-by-step guide to adding content
  • Etiquette for interacting with other contributors
Want to see up-to-date statistics about

Wikipedia? Type WP:STATS into the search bar as pictured here.

The text WP:STATS is what’s known on Wikipedia as a shortcut. You can type shortcuts like this into the search bar to pull up specific pages.

In this brochure, we designate shortcuts as | shortcut .

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia—the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit—is one of the largest collaborative projects in history. With millions of articles and in hundreds of languages, Wikipedia is read by hundreds of millions of people on a regular basis.

A lot of content already exists on Wikipedia, but many important topics have poor coverage and some have no article at all. Wikipedia relies on contributors like you to keep information current, expand short "stub" articles, and create new articles on topics not already covered in your language Wikipedia. Contributions you make to Wikipedia can enlighten hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people worldwide.

What you contribute to Wikipedia is free content and becomes part of the commons. It may be edited and reused by others under a free license.

When you make an edit to Wikipedia, you're joining a community of hundreds of thousands of people—Wikipedians—who have freely contributed their knowledge to Wikipedia. What Wikipedians are doing has the potential to change the world. But there's still a very long way to go before we collect the sum of all knowledge. That's why we need your help.

Why edit Wikipedia?

Navigating Wikipedia pages

As you get started, it's helpful to familiarize yourself with the interface and how to navigate Wikipedia pages.


1: Each article has a corresponding Talk page where contributors can leave comments and suggestions, discuss changes, and ask for help from one another.

Featured content

2: Here you can find some of the best work on Wikipedia: articles, photographs, and other content that meet the community's highest standards.


3: The Help pages, just like the articles, are written by Wikipedia contributors.

Community portal

4: The community portal lets you explore what's going on across Wikipedia, from news to collaborations to policy discussions.


5: This section has useful tools for getting more information about a page and its history.


6: These are the other language versions of Wikipedia—out of more than 280 — that have an article on the same topic.

Language settings

7: These settings allow you to change the language used for menus and select your keyboard layout.


8: Many readers never notice the Edit button, but it's the most important part of any Wikipedia article. Click the Edit button at the top to edit the whole article, or click one of the inline links to edit a particular section.

View history

9: The history of a Wikipedia article includes every contribution since it was created. You can see who changed what when, and compare any two versions side-by-side.

Create account

10: If you haven't done so yet, create your account. With an account, you can keep track of your contributions, create a personal User page, and receive Notifications when other contributors reply to you or build on what you've done.


11: Find articles by name, or find pages that include your search terms. You can also enter shortcuts to bring up specific pages that we reference throughout this brochure. A useful one is | shortcut WP:HELP .

What Wikipedians do

Volunteers contribute in more ways than one. Here are examples of what it takes to make Wikipedia happen.

Why edit Wikipedia?

Preparing to edit

Anyone can edit Wikipedia, but there are some basic rules. Here are some of the most important ones to follow as you start editing:

Neutral point of view

Everything on Wikipedia must be written from a neutral point of view. Articles must not take sides, but instead should describe — accurately and without bias—all the significant viewpoints on the topic published in reliable sources. Argumentation or advocacy does not belong in Wikipedia articles.

No original research

Simply put, Wikipedia is not a place to publish original ideas. Rather, you should summarize what others have published in reliable sources about the topic. Articles may not contain any new analysis, and they should not synthesize published materials to reach broader conclusions beyond what the individual sources say.

Copyright and plagiarism

Since all contributions are freely licensed, no editor owns any article; all of your contributions can and will be edited and redistributed. Except for brief quotations, copying content from copyrighted sources onto Wikipedia is not allowed. Whether direct copying or close paraphrasing, plagiarism and copyright violation are disruptive and time-consuming for volunteers to clean up. It's important that all content you contribute to Wikipedia is written in your own words. (Public domain and freely licensed content may also be added to Wikipedia as long as it is properly attributed.)

Reliable sources

Information in Wikipedia needs to be verifiable, based on reliable published sources. You should include citations for the information you add to the encyclopedia, so that others can check it for themselves. The most reliable sources for Wikipedia are third-party sources with a reputation for fact-checking, such as books published by academic presses, peer-reviewed academic journals, and international newspapers. You should be using sources that represent significant viewpoints, rather than one-off studies or fringe work. Try to find the best and most reliable sources available on the topic.

Conflict of interest

If you have a conflict of interest about a particular topic—such as an employer or an organization you are a part of—you should avoid editing articles about it.

We've developed these policies and principles over the years so we can be sure that Wikipedia is as reliable and useful as possible.

What is encyclopedic style?

Writing in an encyclopedic style and a formal tone is important when adding new content to Wikipedia. Instead of essay-like, argumentative, or opinionated writing, Wikipedia articles should have a straightforward, just-the-facts style. Here are examples of the do's and don'ts of encyclopedic writing.


Britannica and the Future of Encyclopedias

Encyclopædia Britannica, although a celebrated and historically significant encyclopedia, has little relevance in modern society. Instead, most experts agree that the future of the encyclopedia genre belongs to Wikipedia and other wiki encyclopedias — created by regular folks like you and me. Ironically, while it was a great influence on Jimmy Wales and the intrepid new generation of amateur encyclopedists who created—and continue to create — Wikipedia, Britannica in recent years has come to symbolize everything wrong about the old ways of creating and distributing knowledge: top-down control, unaccountable gatekeepers who decide what does and does not merit coverage, copyright restrictions and high prices that limit access to the wealthy, and—in its current online form—intrusive advertising that undercuts the reliability and usability of its content.

What to avoid
  • Don't create new essay-like articles or sections.
  • Don't structure your writing as an argument.
  • Don't use "weasel words" (like "most experts agree" or "some people say").
  • Don't use colloquial language or slang.
  • Don't use "peacock terms" (like "great", "extraordinary", or "intrepid").
  • Don't inject personal opinion into the writing.
  • Don't use overly complex language and sentence structure.


Since the early 1990s, the Britannica has faced new challenges from digital information sources. In rapidly changing fields such as science, technology, politics, culture, and modern history, the Britannica has struggled to stay up-to-date, a problem first analyzed systematically by its former editor Walter Yust. [1] Although the Britannica is now available both in multimedia form and over the Internet, its preeminence is being challenged by other online encyclopedias, such as Wikipedia. [2]

  • Use plain language
  • Be brief
  • Cite sources to back up factual claims
  • Attribute viewpoints to the people who hold them
  • Avoid stating conclusions, except when attributed to a specific source

Editing with VisualEditor

With VisualEditor, you can see what your changes will look like as you edit, so you can focus on the content. Just click on the parts you want to change and start editing.

Editing toolbar

In edit mode, the toolbar lets you add formatting, references, images, and special page elements called templates (such as the infoboxes at the beginning of many articles). When you are finished editing, press the "Save page" button.

Lead section

The first sentence provides a definition of the topic, and the lead section goes on to summarize the key points covered in the article. This is the only section without a heading.


Freely licensed images and other media files can be added to Wikipedia articles from Wikimedia Commons.


Inline citations in the body of the article are used to show where the information in each part of the text came from. The citation details appear as footnotes at the end.


Reusable pieces called templates are used to format information in standard ways, and to insert things like the banners that alert readers to problems with an article.

Body of the article

Headings—and sometimes sub-headings—break the article up into sections, and are used to generate the table of contents. Each section usually covers some significant aspect of the topic, so that readers can jump right to the information they are looking for.

Appendices and footnotes

After the main body of an article come sections with additional information, such as related Wikipedia articles ("See also"), footnotes with details on the sources used ("References"), and a list of other websites readers could turn to for more information ("External links").

Editing with wiki markup

Wiki markup is the original form of editing Wikipedia articles (and on some browsers, it will be the only form available). It gives you precise control over the content and appearance of the page, once you understand how it works. Some of the underlying wiki markup for an article is pictured below. See how many of the corresponding elements you can find in the VisualEditor illustration.


A Image

Double square brackets around the title of a photo from Wikimedia Commons will insert the image. Pipes separate optional parameters to control how the image is displayed. The most common way is with two parameters: the word "thumb" to use the standard thumbnail format, and a descriptive caption that appears beneath the image.


B Bold

Three single quotation marks before and after a string of text makes that text bold. The article's subject is usually bolded in the first sentence.

'''bold text'''

C Citation

Opening and closing ref tags are used to cite a source. An automatically-numbered superscript appears at the location of the ref tags, and the content appears as a footnote in the references section.

<ref> citation text </ref>

D Internal link

Double square brackets around a term create a link to the article of that name. Adding a pipe and another string of text before the closing square brackets changes the link text.

[[article title|text]]

E Italic

Two single quotation marks begin and end a segment of italic text.

''italic text''

F Heading

A pair of double equals signs mark a line as a heading. Triple equals signs make a sub-heading.


G Template

Double braces are used for templates, which are reusable page elements that serve many purposes. The first item after the opening braces is the template's name. Pipes separate the parameters, which are additional inputs that can change the way the template works or what it displays.

{{template name|parameter}}

H References

The references tag, or an equivalent template, sets the location where the footnotes show up — typically in a "Notes" or "References" section.

<references />

I External link

A single square bracket, followed by a URL, a space, label text, and a closing square bracket makes a normal hyperlink. Typically, they are only used in footnotes or an "External links" section.

[ text]

J Category

At the end of an article, double square brackets around a string that starts with Category: adds an article to the specified category. Categories organize Wikipedia articles into related sets.


For more wiki markup help, see the cheatsheet on page 19 or visit the reference page | shortcut H:MARKUP .

Adding content, step by step

These images show how one contributor added new information to the article on Penny Cyclopaedia.

The article before editing…

…and the article after changes were saved.

This image shows what the contributor added and the markup they used. Follow these steps and you too can add content to a Wikipedia article.

Step 1: Pick a topic you want to write more about.

Step 2: Find a reliable source that covers the topic better than the current Wikipedia article.

Step 3: Now comes the fun part. Click the Edit button! A

Step 4: Add some of what is missing. Using the source you've found, summarize the information you want to add in your own words. B

Step 5: At the end of your new block of text, add a reference. In the edit toolbar—whether you're using wiki markup or the VisualEditor — you can click the 'cite' icon to cite your source. C

Step 6: In the 'edit summary' field, add a brief description of what you've done in your edit. D (With VisualEditor, you'll be prompted for an edit summary after you click Save page.) The edit summary helps other editors understand what you are doing.

Step 7: Now it's time to save your changes. Be sure to click Save page. E

Don't worry. If you make a mistake, you can always make more changes or restore a previous version of the article.

User pages and Talk pages

Wikipedia has other types of pages beyond articles. As you start editing, you might also want to create your User page to let others get to know you a little bit.

At the top right (if you are logged in) you will see your username, which you can click to reach your User page. Links to pages that do not exist — such as your User page if you have not created it yet—are colored red, instead of the typical blue.

If you click the Create button on one of these pages, you can start from a blank page. A User page is a place to write a little bit about yourself, to give other contributors an idea of who you are and what you're interested in. You can share as much or as little as you like.

When you Save the page, your red link will turn blue!

You also have a User Talk page, where other contributors can leave messages for you. If you want to contact another contributor, you can navigate to their Talk page and leave a message at the bottom.

This icon on the edit toolbar is the Signature button

You should sign your messages on Talk pages; clicking the Signature button in the edit toolbar will insert four tildes ( ~~~~ ), the special wiki markup for inserting your username along with the date and time of your message.

Interacting with the community

Every article has its own Talk page, too. These Talk pages can be used to make suggestions, post new sources, point out problems, and discuss changes that contributors disagree about.

Look, a new Notification! These let you know when someone mentions your username, thanks you for an edit, or leaves a message on your User Talk page.

One important guideline for community discussions on Wikipedia is to be respectful and civil. Even if you get into disagreements, you should assume good faith on the part of other contributors. They almost always have the same goal you do—to make Wikipedia better. Keep the discussions focused on content, rather than making them about individual contributors.

Mobile editing

In addition to the traditional desktop interface, Wikipedia has a streamlined mobile version that you can use to both read and edit. Just visit Wikipedia on your smartphone or tablet, then log in.

Show and hide menu options

Edit articles
Upload and add photos
Add articles to your watchlist
Check your Notifications

Why edit Wikipedia?

More about English Wikipedia

Each language version of Wikipedia is different (although there is a lot in common across languages as well). These are some of the things specific to English Wikipedia that you may find useful.

Creating your first article

Starting a new article on English Wikipedia—and making sure it doesn't get deleted—can be tricky. For a detailed guide on creating your first article, see | shortcut WP:FIRST .

Wikipedia Signpost

The Signpost | shortcut WP:SIGNPOST is a weekly community newspaper, covering Wikipedia-related news and research, important discussions, new Featured content, and more. You can even subscribe to have it delivered to your Talk page each week.

Uploading non-free images

In general, only freely licensed or public domain images can be used to illustrate Wikipedia articles, and these should be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons ( However, limited exceptions are allowed on English Wikipedia under the non-free content rules | shortcut WP:NONFREE for things like album covers. Non-free images uploaded to Wikipedia without a clear justification under the rules will be deleted.


WikiProjects Directory

WikiProjects are groups of contributors who have a common interest when it comes to editing Wikipedia. Browsing the existing WikiProjects | shortcut WP:WIKIPROJECT and joining ones that interest you can be a good way to find things you want to work on and connect with other Wikipedians.

Wikipedia 1.0 assessments

WikiProjects on English Wikipedia have a system for rating the quality and importance of articles, known as the Wikipedia 1.0 assessments | shortcut WP:ASSESS . For quality, these ratings go from Stub (just the beginnings of an article) to Start to C-class to B-class, and then the formally reviewed ratings of Good article, A-class, and Featured article.

You can see the ratings for an article at the top of its Talk page, and most WikiProjects maintain a table showing how many articles related to that WikiProject have each rating. Browsing WikiProjects for Stub and Start articles is a good way to find new topics to work on.

Evaluating Wikipedia article quality

The quality of Wikipedia articles varies widely; many are very good, but some lack depth and clarity, contain bias, or are out of date. In general, high-quality articles have these elements:

  • a lead section that gives an easy-to-understand overview,
  • a clear structure,
  • balanced coverage,
  • neutral content, and
  • reliable sources.

Additional information about article quality is available by consulting the "Evaluating Wikipedia" brochure (see below).

Additional resources

Evaluating Wikipedia: Tracing the evolution and evaluating the quality of articles

How articles evolve, elements of good quality articles, and signs of poor quality articles are all covered in this guide.

Illustrating Wikipedia: A guide to contributing content to Wikimedia Commons

I took this great photo I can use to illustrate Wikipedia! That means I'll need to upload it to Wikimedia Commons.

A companion guide covering Wikimedia Commons, the media repository for images used on Wikipedia. The brochure covers what Wikimedia Commons is, how to upload files, how to use files, and the basics of free licenses.

Instructor Basics: How to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool

This brochure offers best practices for educators looking to assign students to contribute to Wikipedia as part of their course curriculum.

Wiki markup cheatsheet

These examples cover the formatting needed most often when editing Wikipedia articles with wiki markup. For more help, see | shortcut H:MARKUP .

Description What you type What you get
Italic ''italic text'' italic text
Bold '''bold text''' bold text
Section headers ==Heading text==

Heading text

===Heading text===

Heading text

====Heading text====

Heading text

Link to another Wikipedia page (Internal link) [[Denis Diderot]] Denis Diderot
Internal link with different text [[Denis Diderot|Diderot]] Diderot
Link to another website [ Library of Congress website] Library of Congress website
Bulleted list * Wikipedia

* Encyclopédie

  • Wikipedia
  • Encyclopédie
Numbered list # A - Azymites

# B - Cézimbra

  1. A - Azymites
  2. B - Cézimbra
Image with caption [[File:Example.jpg|thumb|Caption text]]
Caption text
Signature and timestamp (for Talk pages) ˜˜˜˜ Username (talk) 19:50, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
To make a citation What you type What you get
Insert a citation Page text. <ref>[], more text.</ref> Page text.[1]
Display citation footnotes <references />
  1., more text.


edit summary

A brief explanation of an edit to a Wikipedia page, which helps other contributors follow the development an article and understand the intention of the edit.

free license

A public copyright license that ensures the freedom to use and study a work, to make and redistribute copies of it, to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works, by any person for any purpose. Wikipedia—and each individual contribution to it—uses the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, which is a free license. See | shortcut WP:CC-BY-SA to learn more.


The record of a Wikipedia page, accessible through the View history tab, that shows every edit made. Any two versions can be compared to see the specific differences (known as a diff), and previous versions can be restored.


The special code used to format a Wikipedia page. See the cheatsheet (page 19) for the basics, or go to | shortcut H:MARKUP for more detail.


A message for you that shows up at the top of a Wikipedia page. If you want to let someone know you replied to them, you can create a Mention Notification by including a link to their User page in a signed Talk page message.


A bit of text, separated from other bits with a pipe character (|), that is used to control how images, templates, and other wiki markup appear on a page.


A short, undeveloped article with plenty of room for expansion. Adding content to stubs is a good way for new contributors to get started.

Talk page

The discussion space for an article or other Wikipedia page, where you can talk about the contents of the page with other contributors.


A way of automatically including the contents of one page within another. For instructions on using them, see | shortcut H:T .

User page

The personal page of an individual contributor, which begins with "User:" followed by their username. Wikipedians can use their User pages to share information about themselves and their interests, list the articles they have worked on or want to work on, and much more.

Wikimedia Commons

The media repository for Wikipedia and many other wikis, where you can contribute freely licensed photos, diagrams, videos, and other media files for illustrating Wikipedia.


Someone who helps build Wikipedia. Common synonyms include contributor, user, editor, and community member.

All images from Wikimedia Commons are under a CC BY-SA license or public domain unless otherwise stated. The content contained within is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License v.3.0 ( or any later version.

The trademarks and logos of the Wikimedia Foundation and any other organization are not included under the terms of this Creative Commons license. Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia, Commons, MediaWiki, Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikidata, Wikisource, Wikinews, Wikiquote, Wikiversity, Wikivoyage, Wikispecies, and Meta-Wiki are pending trademark registration or are registered trademarks of Wikimedia Foundation. For more information, please see our Trademark Policy page, For other questions about our licensing terms or trademark policy, please email

Design by David Peters, EXBROOK

Portraits of Wikipedians by Karen Sayre, Adam Novak, and Victor Grigas. CC BY-SA 3.0

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