Getting Started with Wikipedia

Anyone who knows me knows I really like Wikipedia. I read it, I edit it, I research it, and I promote it. But I’m in a minority of just over 125,000. I can understand why others are hesitant to join the community of Wikipedians (or any other new online community, really).  There’s always the “newbie” period everyone fears. There are norms that must be realized and adopted. There are technological barriers, as well. How does one use wiki markup language? Well, in an effort to encourage others to join Wikipedia, I have devised a list of ten steps that will facilitate the process.

1. Explore the site (and not just the articles). 

If you’re going to use the site, you have to get used to it. Find an article, and become familiar with what it offers. Don’t simply look at the article’s content; browse the links, the talk pages, edit histories, references, and the side bar. There’s so much on the site, and clicking from link to link is what it’s all about. Get a good understanding of what you’ll be working with.

 2. Create an account.

While it’s possible to edit pages and create content without an account, having one provides more opportunities to develop the community. At the top of every page, there’s a simple “Create account” link. Follow the short steps and you’ll be able to track all your edits and develop relationships with other Wikipedians with ease.

 3. Create your userpage.

One’s userpage is one of the few spaces on Wikipedia that allows for complete creativity. This is your profile. Describe yourself, showcase your interests, and explain your contributions or planned contributions to the project. Establish a personality.

4. Learn the five “pillars” of Wikipedia.

There are hundreds of rules, policies, and norms on Wikipedia. It’s impossible to learn them all by sitting down and reading through everything. Instead, you’ll learn them as you edit and collaborate with others. Soon, it will all be second nature. But to start, you should know the core principles of the project, why it exists, and how it works. One quick way to do this is by knowing the five “pillars” of Wikipedia. Read more about them here

5. Learn the language.

If you can learn intermediate HTML (you definitely can), you can learn wiki markup language. While the project recently dropped its WYSIWYG text editor, the tried-and-true classic editor is manageable and intuitive. There is plenty to learn, but the basic commands can be gleaned from this handy cheatsheet

6. Start with links and formatting.

It’s time to edit. To get started, focus on linking and formatting. Links are a breeze to add, and they hold the site together. The connection of so many pages is how Wikipedia has become so easy to use and popular in the eyes of millions of users. Similarly, formatting pages to have proper (and aesthetically pleasing) structures and outlines is important. Users like pages that are easy to read and navigate, and contributing in this manner is a great way to get started. If you need a space to test out the wikicode, you can use your “sandbox” page. This is simply a blank canvas that the public cannot see. Experiment and try new things here.

7. Move on to citations.

Everyone knows about the issues of reliability on Wikipedia. Help to address this concern by providing citations to articles. Believe it or not, much of the information provided on Wikipedia is already accurate; it simply isn’t cited properly. Protip to those in academia: If you’ve done your own research and have work published, cite yourself! It helps build your reputation and gets more eyeballs on your contributions to the world.

8. Upload a picture.

Wikipedia has a ton of text, and that’s great. To complement this text, add a photograph or picture. Wikipedia has a lot of information posted about what images can be added to the project; copyrights are taken very seriously. So upload something you’ve created to get started. In doing this, you actually upload your work to the Wikimedia Commons page. This will allow anyone to access the photo and add it to pages where it applies. This page will walk users through the process and ensure that the image is scaled down properly and saved to the database in the correct format.

9. Explore categories.

To help users navigate and organize information, there is a complex system of categorization that the site uses. However, this system is easy to learn, and if you’re going to become a full-blown Wikipedian, it is critical to master. A particular page can belong to a number of categories or categories within other categories. It’s all about layering and hierarchies. For example, the page on Star Wars belongs to the following categories: Elstree Studios films, 1977 introductions, Science fiction films by series, Adventure films by series, Fantasy films by series, and Disney franchises. You can create any category you feel will help the project, but thousands and thousands already exist. These are easily searchable, and if you see something is missing, you can start something new. Like many other elements of the project, this process has conventions that go along with it to ensure consistency.

10. Create a new page!

Well, that’s it. After experimenting with these critical aspects of Wikipedia on other pages that already have lots of code and structure to build on, start from scratch. Take something that is unique to you and create a page. It doesn’t need to be a complete and thorough look at something; other Wikipedians will fill in the gaps in no time. Create an outline and structure that makes sense to those who will later contribute.

As the title of this post suggests, you have now “started” using Wikipedia. There’s still stuff to learn and the project is constantly evolving. Jumping in and studying the foundation is the most challenging part. Like everything else in life, practice and usage will help more than any tutorial could manage to do. So what are you waiting for? Start contributing!


6 thoughts on “Getting Started with Wikipedia

  1. Thanks Nick. You explained it very well. Your blog encourages me to add something to Wikipedia. I wanted to add Iran to the list in this Wikipedia page (, but I didn’t know how to do it! I’ll probably do it in the future by using you blog information!

  2. Very nice intro guide, thank you!

  3. Excellent guide, Nick. Now all I need is time… 😉

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