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Help: Reading

One of a series of quick guides: General introductionReadingEditingAdding new textsAdding imagesOther help

Wikisource is full of books, essays, poems, and more, all waiting to be read. These include (among others):

How to find what you want


We will assume that you are familiar with getting around Wikipedia and concentrate on what makes Wikisource different. If you need a refresher, look at Getting started on Wikipedia.

The Search box, a text field found on every page, including this one, takes you primarily to the title of a work. But there are also disambiguation pages where there are several works with the same title. As with Wikipedia, while you type you will see a list of possible matches (which you may select) and the last item on the drop-down list, "containing ..." will search the site for titles and text containing those words.

But there are other pages in Wikisource that aren't the works (i.e. texts, audio etc.) The most obvious group of these is Author. If you simply type the name of an author in the search box, you probably won't find it. To find it you must prefix the name with "Author:". e.g. type Author:Charles Dickens (it's not necessary to capitalize). If you do that, you will get a page which lists all the works by that author. Those that have blue links are in Wikisource, those with red links aren't yet.

There are many names which are also the titles of books (e.g. biographies). If, for instance, you look up Charles Dickens you will get a disambiguation page, with biographies and articles in encyclopedias and at the bottom there will usually be links to the Author pages as well.

The prefixes such as "Author" are called namespaces and there are several others that are useful in Wikisource. If you want to find a collection of books on a particular topic, or subject, the namespace for articles about this is Portal. So for instance, if you type Portal:Horror you'll get a listing of ghost stories, gothic fiction, vampires, etc. These pages have been compiled by people at Wikisource and so therefore may not be complete, particularly for recent additions. The top of the tree is Portal:Portals and you can browse down from there. This follows the Library of Congress Classification. There is also an Portal:Index.

A second way to explore works about a particular topic is by using the wiki categories given for the works. This is also like searching a library catalogue. The major categories are currently on the front page of Wikisource. These are:

These categories are hierarchical, in that many categories have subordinate categories as well as works (or authors) that are in the named category. At each level the next level is indicated by an entry such as

[+] Fiction‎ (10 C, 301 P)

This indicates that in the fiction category there are 10 sub-categories and 301 items (not including sub-categories). The categories are listed first alphabetically followed by the items. You can explore by clicking on the subcategories and using the "back" button on your browser. Alternatively by scrolling down to the bottom of a category window you will see a list of the categories that it belongs to. The top level of the categories "tree" is Category:Categories.

One last way to browse the library is by clicking on random book, random author or random page in the navigation menu (normally at the left top). As the name suggests, each time you click on it you will get a different one.

Reading your text


In Wikisource, many texts are divided up into chapters and even books. The first page will often include a context list so that you can skip to any chapter or part. Once you are reading, there are "previous" and "next" pointers at the top and bottom of each page, as shown below:

You can always get back to the first page by clicking on the title of the book (or the backward link) and you can look at the author's page by clicking on the name.

Many books contain illustrations and an increasing number include audio recordings. There is a link to audio on the front page of Wikisource.

If you want to read the item on paper or another device, then you can eliminate menus and extra headers by clicking on Printable Version in the navigation menu at top left, under print/export and then by using your browser commands to print or save the page. Note that this only works for the currently visible page, not a whole book.

To save the whole book to an ebook or other format, and for creating a book out of separate articles, refer to Help:Reading offline.

Contributing while you read


Many works on Wikisource are backed by scanned images of the pages of real books. You can easily tell if the work you have chosen does: just look for a tab called "Source" at the top of the page, or numbers enclosed in brackets going down the left side of the page.

If your text has page scans, then you are in luck! You can read it page by page, just like you might read a book or magazine and if the book has not been properly verified you can help Wikisource by checking it as you go. Click on one of the page links going down the left side of the screen, and you will be taken to a page showing the scanned image from which the Wikisource text was transcribed, and the text itself. You can navigate forward and backward through the work by clicking the arrows at the top of the screen.

If the page is marked with a red or yellow strip at the top it means it hasn't yet been proofread or verified (respectively). In this case you can check that the transcription is accurate and correct any errors. See the Beginner's guide to proofreading to get started.

Another way to change your view of the work is to look for a box called "Display Options" on the left side of the screen. There you will see two links: "Layout" followed by a number, and "Hide/show page links":

  • Layout: This link allows you to cycle through several viewing options, each one with a different screen margins that may make it easier for you to read the text on the screen. Many people find that shorter lines of text are easier to read than longer lines. If you find the default line unsatisfactory, try clicking this link a few times. The option you choose will be saved for all the pages you visit, but you can change it at any time.
  • Hide/show page links: This link allows you to hide or show the page links that go down the left side of the screen, just to the right of the menus. These links make it possible for you to view the scanned image of the page you are currently reading. If you find them distracting, you can hide them (and bring them back) by clicking this link.