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Wikipedia:Contributing FAQ

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See also the Help page for help in the nuts and bolts of how to edit pages and more.

Table of contents


  • Getting started
  • Terminology
  • General
  • Links: External and International
  • Copyrights

Getting started

How can I contribute?

By editing pages, creating new pages, publicizing Wikipedia, and many other ways, but not yet financially.

Why would I want to contribute?

See why on Earth would I want to contribute to a wiki, and why Wikipedia is so great.

Do I have to register to edit pages?

No. Anyone can edit without any kind of registration.

What's the point of getting a user ID?

There are many reasons: see Wikipedia:How to log in

Do I have to use my real name?

Real names are not required; some Wikipedians use real names, some don't.

How do I change my username?

The only way is to create a new user account.

Terminology See also Wikipedia:Glossary

What's the difference between a page and an article?

The term "page" encompasses all the material on Wikipedia, including encyclopedia topics, talk pages, documentation, and special pages such as Recent Changes. "Article" is a narrower term refering to a page containing an encyclopedia entry. Thus, all articles are pages, but not all pages are articles. See Wikipedia:What is an article for more.

What is an orphan?

An orphan is an article that no other article links to. These can still be found by searching the Wikipedia, but it is preferable to find another article where a link can be added. You can find a list of orphan articles here.

What is a stub?

A stub on Wikipedia is a very short article, generally of one paragraph or less. Most people hate stubs, even though they are a probably a necessary evil. Many excellent articles started out as short stubs. Existing stubs should be expanded into proper articles: there is a hand-made list at Wikipedia:Find or fix a stub, and a generated list at special:Shortpages. If you want to write a stub article, there are some helpful suggestions on Wikipedia:The perfect stub article

What is disambiguation?

See Wikipedia:Disambiguation.

What is a minor edit? When should I use it?

When editing a page, a logged-in user has the option of flagging the edit as a "minor edit". When to use this is somewhat a matter of personal preference. The rule of thumb is that an edit of a page that is spelling corrections, formatting, and minor rearranging of text should be flagged as a "minor edit". A major edit is basically something that makes the entry worth relooking at for somebody who wants to watch the article rather closely, so any "real" change, even if it is a single word.

This feature is important, because users can choose to hide minor edits in their view of the Recent Changes page, to keep the volume of edits down to a manageable level.

The reason for not allowing a user who is not logged in to mark an edit as minor is that vandalism may be marked as minor edit, in which case it may longer stay unnoticed. This limitation is another reason to log in.

General Where do I find more information beyond this FAQ?

You can start by reading the introduction at Wikipedia:Welcome, newcomers. The Wikipedia:Help page has a useful selected index, and there is a huge list of of different links at Wikipedia:Utilities.

Are there any rules or guidelines I should be aware of?

See Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines. That includes:

What is "Recent Changes", and what do the abbreviations used there mean?

See Wikipedia:Recent Changes for info

Are there any standard formats, for things like dates for example?

See the Manual of Style

What do I do if I find two articles on the same subjects?

Well, you could merge them yourself if you are feeling bold. Pick the most suitable page name (which may not necessarily be one of the existing ones!). If you're not sure which name to use, or whether the two articles should really be merged, mention it on the talk page of one of them (and put a quick note with a link on the talk page of the other), and see what other Wikipedians think. You can also make a mention of the problem on the list of Wikipedia:Duplicate articles.

What is the ideal/maximum length of an article? When should an article be split into smaller pieces?

See wikipedia:page size

Can we debate or talk about the subjects here?

This is an encyclopedia that strives to present subjects from the neutral point of view. Debate intended to convince someone else of your point of view on a certain subject may take place on Meta-Wikipedia. Discussion intended to improve articles is welcome here, however; it takes place in the Talk: pages attached to every article.

I've found vandalism, or I've damaged a page by mistake! How can I restore it?

See Wikipedia:How to revert a page to an earlier version

Which languages can I use?

On the English Wikipedia, use English, unless you're mentioning a name or abbervation that has no known English translation. If you want to write using other languages there are many other Wikipedias in different languages. See Multilingual coordination for links to these versions. If your language is not active yet, and you would like to change that, you can sign up for the Intlwiki-L mailing list and make your desire known.

Should I use American English or British English?

People are writing in all sorts of English. However, it is good form to keep usage consistent within a given article. The official policy is to use British spelling to British-related topics, and American for American-related topics. More general topics can use any one of the versions, but should be consistent within the article.

Use of one English variation in article titles can cause a Search in another variant to fail. In this case, it is recommended that you create a new article using the alternative spelling which is a redirect to the main article. Then, in order to prevent this redirect being an orphan, create a link to the redirect from the top of the Talk page of the main article. -- For an example, see Electronic colour code.

How do I spell-check a page?

A spell checker has been requested for Wikipedia, but has not been implemented yet. When editing a larger article, it may be more convenient to paste the text into your favorite text editor or word processor first, edit and spell check there, and then paste back into your browser to preview. You can also use an online spell checker such as Spellonline (http://www.spellonline.com).

There is a list of common misspellings, which you can use to check if a listed misspelling is on any page in the database. Unlike a spell checker, an unrecognized word is considered correct.

Why are some links red? What are the ? links?

They both indicate that a page with that name has not yet been started. Which one you see depends on your Special:Preferences. If you have "Highlight links to empty topics" checked, you'll see red links. Otherwise, you get the little blue question marks.

Either way, you can click on that link and start a page with that name. But be careful -- there may already be articles on similar topics, or an article on the same topic under a different name. It's pretty important to hunt around for similar topics first. See Wikipedia:Naming conventions for information on naming pages.

Ok, what about the green links?

Those are external links; i.e. those that link to pages outside Wikipedia.

What happens when two users edit a page at the same time?

This is called an "edit conflict". You'll get a conflict screen that displays both versions in separate windows, along with a summary highlighting the differences (typically showing the edits of both users, except those which both have made exactly the same), and instructions on how you should proceed. It's virtually impossible to lose any data. The Wikipedia software developers have suggested that there may be a more advanced system that automagically merges in the future.

What happens if my computer or browser crashes mid-edit, or if the server does not respond?

You'll lose your edit. To some extent, you can guard against this by editing in Notepad or some other text editor , for major work (but note that with regard to a system crash this does not help, unless you save frequently to disk). When you get a time-out when you try to save, you lose your edit also. You can protect against this by copying the text (at least to the clipboard of your system). If you did not do this, you can at least recover the latest reviewed version by using the back-button of the browser and refreshing the page.

How do I learn about changes to certain topics without having to go there from time to time?

If you are a logged-in user, on every page you will see a link that says "Watch this article". If you click on it, the article will be added to your personal watchlist. You watchlist will show you the latest changes on your watched articles.

What file formats should I use for pictures/videos?

For images, use JPEG for photographs, and PNG for drawings, logos and the like. GIF can be used instead of PNG, but it is discouraged because of patent reasons. As for video, good question; it hasn't come up yet. See Wikipedia:Image use policy for more.

What file format should I use for sound?

Ogg Vorbis is prefered for sound; MP3 is tolerated but also discouraged for the same reason as GIF. See wikipedia:sound help for more

One of the contributors is being unreasonable. Help!

See Wikipedia:Staying cool when the editing gets hot.

Can I change the default number of contributions displayed in the "My contributions" list?

Currently not. You can, however, change the setting on the page and bookmark the resulting page.

Links: External and Multilingual

Is translating pages from other Wikipedias that have more information than ours a good way to add to the project in general?

Yes, it's a good idea to cross-pollinate.

What about using machine translation?

Machine translation is useful for obtaining the general idea of a text in an unfamiliar language, but it produces poor translations and should not be used on its own. If you want to use machine translation as a translation aid and intend to edit the result, please go ahead if you think it would be helpful.

How can I tell if an article exists in another language wikipedia?

We try and build links between different language pages -- that's one way of seeing if an article exists elsewhere. If you don't see the language links at the top of a page, go looking for the corresponding article(s) on foreign wikipedias. If you find them, make a link both ways; if not, you can translate. Bear in mind that article may not be in one-to-one correspondance between Wikipedias. See:

Is it OK to link to other sites, as long as the material is not copied onto Wikipedia?

External links are just fine. Arguably, they increase the usability of Wikipedia. Keep in mind, however, that Wikipedia is not a web directory; external links should support the content of the article, not replace it. The current convention is to place external links in a separate section at the bottom of the article. However, sometimes they are placed within the article as a footnote. See Wikipedia:How does one edit a page for different ways to create external links.

How do I link from book articles to the online text at Project Gutenberg?

See Wilfred Owen for an example. Further discussion: Wikipedia:WikiBiblion, Wikipedia:Don't include copies of primary sources.


I have, or can get, special permission to copy an image or article to Wikipedia. Is it OK to do that?

The text and images of Wikipedia are covered by the GNU Free Documentation License. Unless an item is covered by the same or a similar license, or is in the public domain, it cannot be used on Wikipedia. So you have to ask the copyright holder of the material to license it under GFDL.

I have an out-of-copyright image (or text) that is reproduced in an in-copyright book. Can I scan / type it into Wikipedia?

Providing they haven't altered the image then they can't claim a copyright on it. If it was in the public domain before they used it, it's still in the public domain afterward.

Does using a GIF image in Wikipedia violate the GFDL because of its patent?

Note: the LZW patent has expired on June 20, 2003 on the US, and will expire on other coutries until July 7, 2004. Some of the below may no longer be relevant

The LZW compression algorithm used with the GIF format is patented . It is nevertheless legally permissable to produce gif's and release them under GFDL, just like it is legal to produce a CD-ROM with GFDL material even though the CD-ROM format is patented. People who write or use gif creation programs are bound by the patent. That is why free software generally does not support the format anymore. That being said, we encourage Wikipedians to use the technically superior and patent-free PNG format instead of GIF.

Under the copyright law in Japan, copyright holders cannot make their works public domain, therefore there is no public domain in materials covered by Japanese copyright law. What can I do?

Technically, there is still expiration in Japan too. So if the works exceeded expiration term, they are considered public domain. Otherwise, they cannot be public domain -- Taku (I am not sure. Someone helps)

Miscellaneous Wikipedia is great but I no longer have a life. I feel the urge to spread this affliction to my fellow human beings. How do I spread the word?

See Wikipedia:Building Wikipedia membership for some ideas. Good luck with your insidious plot. Mwahahaha!

How do I donate to Wikipedia?

Plans are in the pipeline for the Wikimedia group to accept donations, but currently it's not really possible. Sorry!

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