How Wikipedia Works/Chapter 5

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Basic Editing

Editing wiki pages is at the heart of all activity on Wikipedia, from working on articles to participating in community discussions. Here's where Wikipedia becomes more than a reference tool. The Edit This Page tab above Wikipedia articles invites everyone to contribute.

Editing a Wikipedia page is not difficult. And whether you're interested in copyediting, research and writing, fact-checking, or fixing vandalism, you shouldn't have any trouble finding articles to improve and expand. This chapter describes the basic mechanics of editing existing pages—opening and understanding the edit window and using wikisyntax to format text. We'll also discuss how to perform both major and minor edits, how to revert edits to fix mistakes, and how pages are protected. The information in this chapter forms the basis for understanding the more advanced editing techniques described in the next five chapters.

Editing a Page[edit]

The term edit refers to a single change made to a wiki page: the act of modifying and then saving a page. Edits range from fixing a typo to rewriting an entire article from scratch; you can change any amount of text with a single edit to a page. In other words, you have permission to modify any article as you see fit. What you do with this editing permission naturally reflects on you.

By editing, you become a Wikipedia editor. You'll find a whole gamut of editors on the site, from those just trying out the system to those who are effectively on Wikipedia full-time. This free-form editorial process contrasts with the editorial layers found in other forms of publishing. You should be aware, though, that there are some expectations of any editor: Obviously, Wikipedia doesn't want editors to damage the pages or the project. The community of editors has values and norms, embedded in a strong tradition, and editors should also be good colleagues.

To edit an article, simply select the Edit This Page tab at the top of a page, modify the text by typing changes into the source text box (this box is called the edit window), add an edit summary in the field provided, and then click the Save Page button to create a new version of the page, which is immediately visible to everyone. The edit is then logged on Recent Changes, and others working on the article can see it immediately.

When you click Save Page, not only is your saved version viewable online right away, but it is also stored in perpetuity as a revision in the page history associated with your name or IP number and visible from the History tab. If someone subsequently makes an additional revision to the page, that new revision will display as the new "live" article, but your version is retained by Wikipedia and is accessible by anyone at any time by reviewing the page history.

Contributors vs. Editors

The terms contributor and editor are mostly used interchangeably on Wikipedia. Every editor acts as a contributor, and vice versa; the term editor can be roughly equated with "someone who uses the Edit This Page tab." The traditional publishing roles of author, illustrator, editor (who makes substantive changes), copyeditor (who fixes grammar and style), and proofreader (who fixes typos) may be filled by any participant. Many contributors become specialists over time and choose to work primarily in one area or within structured projects on the site.

Once edited and saved, pages are immediately and automatically updated. (If this doesn't happen, you are very likely experiencing an artifact of article caching caused by overloaded servers. Clear your browser cache, if necessary, by pressing CTRL-F5 in Firefox, Internet Explorer, and most other browsers.)

Understanding the Edit Window[edit]

The display that appears when you select the Edit This Page tab consists of several parts (see Figure 5.1, “The edit window view”). At the top, an editing toolbar displays buttons for easily adding common syntax and formatting. The edit window is next; this window gives you a single undivided view of the wikitext, or source text, of the page you're editing. Here, you can change the text, the formatting, or both. Wikitext is formatted in a special markup language (wikisyntax), which is described in the second half of this chapter.

Below the edit window, you'll find the edit summary field and three buttons that allow you to view or save your changes. At the bottom of the page, you'll find several other syntax options along with a menu of special characters. When you edit, you change the article's text in the edit window. First, however, you need to understand a typical article's structure.

Reading Article Wikitext[edit]

Take a moment to orient yourself in the edit window. What are the first words of source text? They may not be the actual first words of the article, which sometimes puzzles new editors. Instead, you may see some formatting syntax before the article itself.

To understand what you're seeing, consider the different layers of a typical article, as described in Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article. The actual article content is often between two layers of wikitext. At the beginning of the source text but before the first words of the actual article, you may see some structured information: cleanup templates, hatnotes, image links, or an infobox with data presented in tabular form. Scrolling past this information and past the article text, you'll find another layer of wikitext at the very end of the page; this information includes categories, stub templates, and possibly interwiki links. You can simply ignore this layer for the moment.

The first layer of wiki formatting can be the most confusing. But you can just scroll down until you reach the beginning of the article and the place where you want to make a change. In other words, in basic editing, you can simply ignore the formatting and improve the content.

Naturally, not all articles have these elements; many articles contain the bottom layer of wikitext, but not the top layer. If you're confused about a piece of syntax or formatting, you can always compare the source text to the rendered page (that is, the page as it appears on the Article tab). You might find it helpful to open two copies of the article you want to edit in different browser tabs or windows; use one window to edit and the other as a reminder of how the article appeared before you started editing.

Figure 5.1. The edit window view The edit window view

Using the Edit Window Tools[edit]

Above the edit window is the editing toolbar—a collection of buttons that provide various pieces of wikisyntax (Figure 5.2, “The editing toolbar”). Hover your cursor over each button to find out what it does. Like the menu of options in a word processor, these buttons can be extremely helpful, both as timesavers and if you can't remember the exact formatting of a particular piece of wikisyntax. To use the buttons, place your cursor in the edit window where you would like the syntax to appear. Then click the appropriate button, and the syntax will appear on the page. (Each piece of syntax will be described individually throughout the next several chapters.)

Figure 5.2. The editing toolbar The editing toolbar

Below the edit window, you'll see a warning about the GFDL and the edit summary field. This is for summarizing your changes for the benefit of other editors who are working on the page. Although not mandatory, it's good etiquette to add a short summary after making any edit. Simply type a brief description of what you changed. We describe edit summaries in Chapter 4, Understanding and Evaluating an Article; see Appendix C, Edit Summaries Jargon for some common terms and Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research for more on using edit summaries to communicate with other editors.

Next are three buttons: Save Page, Show Preview, and Show Changes:

   Save Page saves your work and publishes a new version of the page immediately.
   Show Preview allows you to preview the page with your changes before saving them. You can also click Show Preview to experiment and test the effects of a change when you're not sure of the exact syntax to use—but be careful not to save accidentally! Once you've edited a page, we strongly recommend previewing your edits before saving, especially if you are new to wiki markup or are doing something unfamiliar with complicated syntax.
   Show Changes displays the differences between your unsaved version and the current version in the source code, which is handy if you can't figure out exactly how your changes will affect the page—or if you can't remember what changes you made!

If you decide to do nothing, instead of saving the page, click your browser's back button, or click the Cancel link next to the Show Changes button. No changes will be made to the page or the version history.

If you need editing help, you'll find a link below the edit summary field. Click the Editing Help link to open a help document in another window; until you become more familiar with marking up pages, keep help documents open in a separate browser window or tab. Above and below the edit summary field, you'll find some brief but important messages about verifiability, the GFDL, and violating copyright—this information should be familiar if you've read Part I of this book.

Below the buttons, you'll also see many pieces of wiki markup and special symbols. This display is provided for easy access to common or complicated syntax and characters. To add one of these characters to your text, such as an accented letter, place your cursor at the appropriate spot in the edit window. Then click the character you wish to add, and it will show up in the text.

Below this and the final note on the GFDL, you'll find a list of the templates used (or transcluded) on the page you're editing (if any have been used). To view one of these templates by itself, simply click the template name to go to the template page.

If you're a fan of keyboard shortcuts, you can use them to navigate various parts of Wikipedia and to edit pages. For instance, pressing ALT-S-ENTER will save a page in Internet Explorer (or pressing ALT-SHIFT-S in Mozilla Firefox), while pressing ALT-V-ENTER (or ALT-SHIFT-V) is equivalent to clicking the Show Changes button. More shortcuts are described at Wikipedia:Keyboard shortcuts; the shortcuts depend on your browser and on your chosen skin.

Customizing the Edit Window

By default, the edit window displays 25 lines of text, and each line is 80 characters wide. If you have a large monitor, setting the edit window to be wider and longer can be helpful; if you're using a smaller device to edit, you may want to make the window smaller. You can change the edit window settings in your user preferences if you're logged in. Click the My Preferences link in the upper-right corner of the page, select the Editing tab, and enter new numbers of rows and columns in Editbox dimensions. You can also set other editing options here; for instance, you can choose to open an edit window by simply double-clicking a page, which, if you're a fast editor, can save time.

Losing your place in the source text when editing very long documents is easy, so work on longer articles one section at a time. To edit within only a single section of an article, click the Edit link that appears to the right of any section heading in an article (Figure 5.3, “Section header with Edit link”). Only the wikitext of the section you are working on appears in the edit window.

Figure 5.3. Section header with Edit link Section header with Edit link

The Sandbox

To gain editing experience, visit Wikipedia:Sandbox. As its name implies, the sandbox is a dedicated page for playing around without altering a real article. The sandbox is also a good place to go if you want to test your wiki markup and you are not sure what it will look like once saved. The sandbox is regularly cleaned out, so you don't need to worry about your tests lingering. (Because of this, the sandbox is not a good place to start work on something you would like to keep; see "Drafting the Article" on Section 1.5, “Drafting the Article” for how to set up your own personal sandbox.) 1.2. Major vs. Minor Edits

A minor edit is an edit that the editor believes requires no review by other editors. Typical minor edits are spelling or grammatical corrections, adding a single internal link, fixing punctuation, or making small formatting or presentational changes. Though most minor edits change only a small amount of text, not all small edits are minor. Changing a single date in an article, say 1776 to 1667, is small but not minor. A minor edit should never substantially change the meaning of an article, and it should never be the subject of a debate.

Registered users who are logged in can indicate edits as minor when saving the page by checking the This is a minor edit box. That edit will then show up in the page history marked with a bold lowercase m. The purpose of minor edits is to allow others to filter out simple spelling or format fixes from lists of edits such as personal watchlists and Recent Changes. If a minor edit comes up on your own watchlist, you should not have to bother checking it.

Minor edits deserve an edit summary, the same as any other change. In general, if a change requires a long edit summary, the edit is not minor. With experience, you'll get a feel for what others consider minor. Making serious cuts or inserting anything likely to be contentious under cover of a minor edit description is considered heinous (just as full edit summaries are better than too-scanty ones), so err on the safe side in not calling an edit minor. If in doubt about whether an edit qualifies as minor, don't check the box. Logged-in users can choose to mark all of their edits minor by default on the User Preferences Editing tab, but we advise against doing this: Sooner rather than later it could cause you trouble by marking a major edit incorrectly.

Major edits comprise all other edits. Any change that affects the meaning of an article is major (not minor), even if the edit is a single word. Think of it this way: A major edit is a flag to all concerned editors that the modifications ought to be checked. 1.3. Handling Major Editing Tasks

Wikipedia's editors are encouraged to be bold: Wikipedia:Be bold is an editing guideline and one of the oldest slogans on the site. Sometimes articles are poorly written, and piecemeal changes are not enough—a complete transformation is called for. In that scenario, boldness is the order of the day. Still, editors can and should take steps to ensure that they perform really major editing jobs smoothly and acceptably.

We strongly recommend breaking large editing jobs into small stages. This is not the same as frantic saving; you shouldn't save every few seconds, unless your Internet connection is really bad. Saving your work every few minutes is reasonable, as leaving an edit window open for a long period of time without saving can cause a session error message. When making major changes, copying the wikitext into a word-processing document as a backup can also protect against saving mishaps.

Before implementing a major edit, you should seriously consider discussing proposed changes on the article talk page first by posing the question "Would anyone mind?" Wait a little while (at least a few days) for any responses. When editing, divide big edits into a series of smaller edits that you explain. Ideally, all major rewrites occur in a number of steps, each of which is clear. Others working on the site are then able to pick out, for example, a more specific point where they don't like or understand what you've done.

Edit Conflicts

Edit conflicts may occur by accident when two editors try to edit and save the same page at the same time. If this happens, you'll get an edit conflict notice at the top of the page, and you won't be able to save your change. Don't panic! First, copy the text of your change into a word-processing document so you don't lose it. To see the wikisource with your changes, you must scroll down to the lower of the two windows on the page (the upper window contains the other editor's conflicting text). Then you can cancel the edit by clicking the back button in your browser. Next, refresh the page and check the last diff to see what changed in the previous version. Re-edit the page, integrating your change and the previous editor's work; don't simply paste your version on top. Edit conflicts are common only on high-traffic pages. Be warned, though, that if you save a page twice, perhaps thinking the first Save Page click didn't work, you might be in conflict with yourself! Note also that an edit conflict is not the same as an edit war, when two editors cannot agree on changes.

We also recommend working section-by-section in longer articles. If no sections exist in a messy or unstructured article or new sections need to be added, add this section structure first. You can follow this edit by sorting material into sections and then copyedit each section and add references.

Once you've completed the editing process, write an overall, final edit summary to document the changes. Including a final summary is good etiquette and will help to ensure that particularly major edits are well received by the other editors working on the article. Even if they disagree, they'll still see that you're trying to work with others, with the goal of reaching consensus on the article. Put any longer comments on the discussion page. For more advice on structuring articles and making major changes, see Chapter 6, Good Writing and Research.

Work in Progress

A systematic approach may mean working on an article over an extended period of time. If this is how you prefer to edit, type

at the top of the page, which will create a template message stating that the article is under construction. Just don't forget to remove it when you're done! You can also leave a note on the talk page detailing your editing plan. Other editors will patiently let you finish.

Fixing Mistakes and Other Reasons to Revert[edit]

If you accidentally save a version of a page with a mistake on it, or your edit does not work the way you intended, don't fret! Because all versions of every article are saved, you can always revert a page back to a previous version. You can never make an irreparable mistake just by editing. Any page can be reverted to any older version, including the first version—the initial posting. Standard good practice, however, is to revert only when necessary to the latest good version: the version of the page before bad changes were made.

To revert an article, choose a previous version from the edit history and then restore that older, saved version, as described here.

Sorting Through Old Versions

You might find it helpful to use the radio buttons and compare version features on the page history to figure out which precise version you want to restoring. Keep comparing old versions of the page to the current version until you find the one that you want. In the page history display, the most recent version is always on top. When paging through diffs, the right-hand side is the more recent version. See tips for sorting through page histories on pages Undoing Vandalism and Section 1.3.3, “Edit Summaries and Minor Edits”.

Once you have found the page version that you want to make the current version, select it: From the page history, click the linked date and time to view that version of the page. If you're comparing two versions, click the header that says revision as of (date and time) for the version you'd like to edit. You should get a warning message that you are viewing an old revision of the article (see Figure 5.4, “A warning message appears when you view an old version of a page.”).

Next, select the Edit This Page tab at the top of the article. The text of the old version will display in the edit window. You will now see a warning message that you are editing an old version (see Figure 5.5, “A warning message appears when you edit an old version of a page.”). You are going to ignore these warnings.

To revert a page back to an old version, you don't have to make any changes to the text—you just have to resave the page. After you have retrieved the text of the version you'd like to revert to, scroll down, add an appropriate edit summary ("reverting because …") and click Save Page, without making any other changes. The version you were just looking at will become the newest latest version, and you're done!

Figure 5.4. A warning message appears when you view an old version of a page. A warning message appears when you view an old version of a page.

Figure 5.5. A warning message appears when you edit an old version of a page. A warning message appears when you edit an old version of a page.


Use previews! Most self-reversions and editing accidents can be avoided by pressing the Show Preview button before saving changes.

Reverting to a previous version is also how most vandalism is undone. If you see a vandalized article, go to the edit history and find the last good version, which is often simply the next-to-latest version, and then revert back to it. Be careful not to lose any "good" information or changes by doing this. Compare a few earlier versions with your latest save to make sure all the vandalism is removed and all the good content is kept. Sometimes vandalism can be spread over two or three edits, often by the same editor. Be sure to add an appropriate edit summary; rvv vandalism is common.

If you are logged in, you can undo most edits in a similar fashion. Go to the page history and compare two versions. The most recent version of the two pages you are viewing will display an Undo link next to the Edit link on the right-hand side. Clicking the Undo link will automatically remove the inserted text (or replace the removed text) with that version. Click the Save Page button to finish undoing the edit.

The Undo link is most useful for removing obvious vandalism or fixing a mistake in the most recent revision. Be cautious about using this link for anything else; although any change can be undone, making mistakes and inadvertently undoing good changes when reverting to versions in the middle of the page history is easy to do.

Overuse of Reverts

Statistically speaking, as many as 20 percent of edits to Wikipedia are now reverted. Much of this is due to vandalism on popular articles. However, reverts should not be used to try and win arguments or impose your view on articles. To reinforce this, an official Three-Revert Rule (3RR) has been created, meaning that three reverts by any one person to a single article in a 24-hour period (except for vandalism control) is quite enough. In practice, editors with differences of opinion should discuss the issue and come to consensus on talk pages instead of reverting each other's changes in an article. A good rule of thumb is to revert only once before going to the talk page and making a rational case for your version. See Wikipedia:Three-revert rule (shortcut WP:3RR). Trying to get around 3RR is severely frowned upon, and users can be blocked for excessive reverting of the same article. This policy has gone a long way toward preventing edit wars, disputes between two or more editors where the same content is continually inserted and removed over a period of time.

Who Can Edit What?[edit]

The vast majority of Wikipedia pages can be edited by anyone, whether they're logged in with an account or not. The rare exceptional pages not open to editing include some system-generated pages and a few key pages that are permanently restricted, such as the site's disclaimers at Wikipedia:General disclaimer and the main page.

Apart from those, a small number of other pages at any given time have been closed to editing with an administrative action called protection. This is usually a temporary measure that is generally prompted by a surge in vandalism to a page. Protection comes in two flavors: full protection and semi-protection. Protected pages should be clearly identified with gray-bar template messages at the top of the page. If you ever find that you can't edit a regular article, the page is probably protected; instead of an Edit This Page tab, you'll see a View Source tab.

A fully protected page is editable only by site administrators and is effectively out of circulation for a while. Such temporary protection is, these days, almost always a reaction to an intractable edit war over an article's content and is quite rare. For example, Burt Reynolds was protected after a serious dispute over the actor's birthplace. Here is a sample of the dispute between two editors on the talk page:

   As JSDA added above, Lansing, Michigan is now on his "Official Web Site" as his place of birth. How do you explain this one away??? Are you going to continue the hype? And as I've mentioned before, it's fine that he claims he's from the south, but it is not the truth. Again here's the website link. Burt Lugnut215 00:47, 6 July 2007 (UTC)
   It is obvious the person doing the page is just regurjitating [sic] facts found on the web and not fact checking. Because here is another "LIE" that is in the personal FAQs .. Bottom line is in his televised interviews when asked his birthplace, he says Waycross, Georgia. He has said it about 10 different interviews, and there isn't one televised interview where he says Michigan. Rogue Gremlin 03:33, 7 July 2007 (UTC)

Only arguments that prove to be very contentious, with much edit-warring between two or more people, will result in protection. Protection allows a time-out for content disputes to be resolved by discussion and fact-checking, rather than changing the article itself back and forth.

Semi-protected pages, on the other hand, are editable by the vast majority of logged-in users. They are not editable by those who are not logged in (anonymous editors editing from an IP address) or by editors who have an account that was only created within the last four days. Semi-protection is now quite common for pages on subjects in the news headlines, for example, celebrities that are at the center of a short-lived media storm. Such articles attract bad edits, and semi-protection filters out a high proportion of vandalism.

In these cases, protection is generally removed when media attraction to the topic lessens. Some other pages are semi-protected when they are highly visible or prone to constant vandalism, and these pages may be protected for longer; for instance, the article about the current President of the United States is subject to a constant stream of vandalism. Other articles may also fall under semi-protection because they are often vandalized by school students (some articles about elementary and high schools are particularly vulnerable). Some very visible page components, such as high-use templates, are also protected to prevent vandalism; sometimes this is done automatically through a mechanism called cascading protection in which the components that make up a fully protected page, such as the main page, are also protected.

Semi-protection, therefore, compromises the purist wiki principle of anyone can edit anything, but protection has been necessary essentially because of Wikipedia's own prominence. Administrators are responsible for protecting pages and for reviewing the protection status of pages. You can find out more at Wikipedia:Protection policy (shortcut WP:PROT). The Wikipedia:List of indefinitely protected pages (shortcut WP:PERMPROT) lists pages with long-term protection. You can discuss any case of semi-protection on the talk page of the article, which will not be protected. If you feel an article needs semi-protection—for instance, if it is attracting a few dozen incidents of vandalism a day—add a note to Wikipedia:Requests for page protection (shortcut WP:RFPP), and an administrator will take a look and decide what to do.

Further Reading A summary of basic syntax and instructions on how to edit a page Keyboard shortcuts for editing Wikipedia Information about minor edits The Be Bold guideline for updating pages The Protection policy The sandbox, for experimenting with editing


Wikipedia uses a special markup language for formatting pages; this syntax is variously known as wikisyntax, wiki markup, or simply wikitext. It styles wiki pages and determines how text will appear on the screen. This syntax is common to all wikis that use MediaWiki software (though it will not work on wikis that use other software).

A Quick Word About Templates

Over time, Wikipedia has moved toward the presentation of structured information and messages to the reader using templates, or special page elements (such as navigation elements or message boxes) that can be included on other pages. You can recognize templates by their appearance in the markup: A template placed in another page appears in the source text as the template name enclosed in double curly brackets, like Template:Message or Template:Mystatsbox. You can simply edit around these for the moment. Throughout the next several chapters, we'll refer to useful templates for formatting and styling pages. If you want to use one, simply place it on the page by typing in the curly-bracket syntax exactly as it's given, replacing any variable text as necessary (use the Show Preview button to see how it looks before you save the page). To learn more about templates and how to edit them directly, see Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters.

You don't need to know HTML, the standard web page markup language, to become a proficient Wikipedia editor. The fundamental markup is very simple and can be used both for simple formatting tasks—such as whether text will appear indented, italicized, or bold—and for more complicated tasks—such as displaying images or math formulas and coding templates to be reused on many pages. What we cover here is enough to start editing and writing. If you need an additional reference as you work, wikisyntax is documented extensively at Help:Editing and Help:Wikitext examples.

Fundamentals of Text Markup[edit]

Here we introduce the first things you need to know about markup.

Bold and Italic[edit]

Text may be rendered bold by placing three apostrophes on either side of it, like this:

bold text goes here

In standard Wikipedia article style, bold text is always used for highlighting the article topic in the initial paragraph. Bold text for emphasis should be used very sparingly in articles.

Make text italic by using two apostrophes:

italic text goes here A Farewell to Arms

Italics are used for the titles of works, as well as for emphasis.

You can combine the two by using five apostrophes to make text bold-and-italic:

a highlighted title

Bold-and-italic text is appropriate for highlighting an article's subject when the article is about a particular work. For example, in the first sentence of the article about War and Peace, the book's title would be rendered in bold-and-italic.

Underlined and strikethrough text are not commonly used. Create underlined text by enclosing the text with the and tags. In articles, italics are preferred to underlined text. Strikethrough text is convenient in threaded discussions on talk pages to retract something that was said (simply deleting something can be mystifying if other editors have already replied to it). Enclose the strikethrough text with the and tags.

Indentation, Line, and Paragraph Breaks[edit]

Line and paragraph breaks are created on Wikipedia by simple newlines (or carriage returns, if you are old enough to have used a typewriter). Create a space between paragraphs by leaving an empty line, which will display as entered in the source code.

To produce an indented line, place a colon (:) before the line you wish to indent. Two colons (::) will produce a line that is indented two steps, and so on. For example,

This is a comments
This is a reply
This is another reply

produces formatting like that in Figure 5.6, “Indentation on Wikipedia”.

Figure 5.6. Indentation on Wikipedia

Indented text is commonly used on discussion pages, when you want to produce a more-readable threaded discussion. Indentation is also used in articles for setting off quotations and mathematics or computer code examples, but you do not need to indent the beginnings of paragraphs.

Displaying Quotations

To display quotations in articles, use indenting for a quick solution. For longer quotations, you can enclose the quote in the tags


, which will display the quote more attractively by indenting both margins. You can also use the template

quotation text goes here

, which centers the quote and adds some graphical quotation marks to the text. Don't forget to cite a reference for the quote! More quotation templates can be found at.

Numbered and Bulleted Lists[edit]

Lists are commonly used on Wikipedia, both by themselves and for sections of articles such as See also and External links. Bullet points are used more often in articles than in ordinary prose; bullet points can improve readability, though at the cost of some typographic elegance.

To create a bulleted list, use an asterisk for every new item:

  • Example 1
  • Example 2
  • Example 3

To indent an item in a bulleted list, use more asterisks:

  • each new item starts with a star
    • more stars mean
      • deeper levels
  • which can be combined

This produces a list like the one in Figure 5.7, “A bulleted list”.

Figure 5.7. A bulleted list

You can also indent text using both asterisks and colons:

  • Example 1
  • Example 2
  • Example 3

This will produce the same effect and is commonly seen on discussion pages.

To make an ordered numbered list, use a hash mark (#). (To ensure sequential numbering, do not use empty lines to separate the list items.) For example,

  1. Example 1
  2. Example 2
  3. Example 3

produces a list like the one in Figure 5.8, “A numbered list”.

Figure 5.8. A numbered list

For indented levels, use more hash marks. Using more hash marks will start the numbering over for that level, but as long as you don't separate list items, you can continue the numbering for each level. For example,

  1. List item A1
    1. List item B1
    2. List item B2
      1. List item C1
  2. List item A2

produces a list like the one in Figure 5.9, “A more complex numbered list”.

Figure 5.9. A more complex numbered list A more complex numbered list

Internal and External Links[edit]

Links were introduced in Chapter 3, Finding Wikipedia's Content as the key to browsing and discovering Wikipedia. Links are very simple to add to articles, and wikifying a page by adding appropriate internal links is one of the easiest and most helpful tasks for getting started on Wikipedia. Links build the hypertext web of Wikipedia articles, and they build Wikipedia into the Web. Correspondingly, Wikipedia has two types of links: internal links to other Wikipedia pages and external links to other websites.

Internal Links[edit]

Create an internal link (also called a wikilink) to another page on Wikipedia by enclosing the name of the page you wish to link to in double square brackets:

Article name

When you save the page, the article name will show up as a blue underlined term in the article text; clicking that link will take you to the page you linked to.

The article name that you use to create the link is the part of the page URL after /wiki/. Therefore, Article name links to

Internal links should not contain underscores: Article_name is equivalent to Article name, and in article text, the underscore is unwelcome. Only the first letter of an article name is automatically capitalized, so wikipedia goes to the same place as Wikipedia.

To display linked text that is different from that of the link itself, use the pipe character (|) in between the page name and the text you wish to display:

display name

For instance, if you type this:

Walt Disney's Mickey

Walt Disney's Mickey will appear in the text, linked to the Mickey Mouse article.

The pipe character is also known as the vertical bar and is usually found on the backslash key on standard (QWERTY) keyboards.

Be sure that any alternate or display text makes sense and doesn't break the flow of the article; use descriptive text rather than "click here" or "this link," which should not appear in articles.


You can also link to a page that doesn't exist yet. To do so, simply enclose the name of the page that you think should exist in double square brackets. A link to a nonexistent page will show up as red instead of blue; consequently, these links are called redlinks. Clicking one will take you to a screen where you can create the new page. Redlinks help Wikipedia grow. A redlink may disappoint a reader; but it challenges an editor to create a needed article.

Redlinks can also be piped, just like regular internal links. Occasionally, you will find that two or more article-worthy subjects share a name, but only one is already an actual article. In that case, go ahead and create a redlink for the second subject. For instance, if you're writing an article about Samuel Smith, the Mayor of Brooklyn in 1850, you don't want a link to the already-present article on Samuel Smith (chemist), co-inventor of Scotchgard, or any of the other dozen Samuel Smiths who have articles. In this case, you might make a redlink to Samuel Smith, which is less misleading for the reader than linking to the wrong historical figure and is also more likely to provoke the creation of an article about the politician.

If Wikipedia has no article on a particular topic, creating a redlink asking for one is appropriate if the site ought to have such an article. Create a redlink only if the topic deserves an article itself. For example, fans of an author often wikify all the titles in a bibliography, implying each work is worthy of its own article. Opinions may differ on that. Still, redlinks introduced by others should only be removed if overlinking within the article is evident, or you can make a strong case that an encyclopedic article cannot or should not be written about the topic. Occasionally text will be mistakenly linked, and the link can be removed while keeping the text intact. In general, though, if you start removing redlinks, you're making a statement that the proposed growth would be a negative for the site, and except in some clear-cut cases, others will tend to question your authority to decide that.

Tricks with Internal Links[edit]

Text that you type immediately after an internal link without spaces will display as part of the link. This trick is handy for making plural words out of links. For instance, if you want to link to the article Horse but need the word horses in the text, simply type:



This trick applies only to text characters and doesn't work with apostrophes.

To link to other namespaces outside of the main article namespace, include the full namespace name: For instance, link to User:Phoebe to access the user page for the user Phoebe. Use the pipe character and alternate text if you do not want the prefix to display as part of the link. Alternatively, for pages with prefixes, to create a link that produces the name of the page without the prefix (without having to retype the article name), you can use the pipe character at the end of the link, with nothing after it:


Typing this will produce a link named simply Phoebe in the text. Inserting a space after the pipe character hides the link entirely.

To link to a category page (rather than placing a page in a category), use a colon before the link. For example,


will display a link to on the page. Without the initial colon, no text will be displayed; instead, the page will be placed in that category and the category name will appear at the bottom of the page.

Internal links work to create links in nearly all situations. You can include them in image captions and template text.

Internal Linking Policy[edit]

There is a Goldilocks-style policy for wikilinks in articles: not too many and not too few. Adding too many wikilinks (overlinking) is usually caused by novice over-enthusiasm. Here's the basic idea: Link any term once per article, at most, and usually on the first occurrence. This excerpt from a lead section shows the style:

   "'Tom and Jerry'" are an animated cat ("Tom") and mouse ("Jerry") team who formed the basis of a successful series of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer theatrical short subjects created, written and directed by animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (later of Hanna-Barbera fame). One hundred and fourteen "Tom and Jerry" cartoons were produced by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio in Hollywood from 1940 until 1957, when the animation unit was closed down. These shorts are notable for having won seven Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (Cartoons), tying it with Walt Disney's "Silly Symphonies" as the most-awarded theatrical animated series.

The piped link animated is enough about animation: The words animators, animation (in animation unit), and the second use of animated do not need links. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio are different articles (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio might have been a redirect, but actually isn't), so they both get links. The words cat and mouse will not need to be links later in the article.

In a long article with multiple sections, the rule on only linking once is sometimes relaxed. If a reader would have to scroll a long way back to find a wikilink, repeating the link is kinder.

What should be linked? You do not need to link every common noun: Tree doesn't always need a link, if there is nothing special about the tree. Every year of modern time has a page, but 1966 does not need to be a wikilink whenever it occurs. A rule of thumb is to reserve links of dates for events having some historic weight. In general, link to the most specific concept you can: Adding a link to London or Paris adds little value to an article when compared to a link for a particular neighborhood or suburb of a major city; readers are almost certain to know something about London, but they may have no idea where Kensington is in relation to Buckingham Palace.

Avoid splitting up a single concept. It should be Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, rather than Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. If a single concept is suitable as a topic in its own right, make it a single internal link, even if the article hasn't been written yet. Sometimes you'll need to change awkward syntax: Wikifying Professors Bohr and Einstein as Professor Neils Bohr and Professor Albert Einstein makes a lot of sense, but then you should wonder why Professor is used at all. Does knowing that Einstein was a professor add anything useful? Ending up with Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein is actually much better.

Don't introduce self-links—links that lead back to the same article. These are quite easy to notice if they simply consist of the article title: In that case, the software displays them as bold type rather than as a link. Usually self-links occur when an editor inadvertently links to a page that redirects to the article you are linking from. For instance, in the article Romulus and Remus, the name Remus should not be linked because Remus redirects straight back to Romulus and Remus. The only exception to this ban is when you link to another section of the same article, as described in "Sections and Headings" on Section 2.3, “Sections and Headings”.

Check Wikilinks as You Introduce Them

Sometimes problems with self-links will only show up when you check the links; this is a good habit to develop, anyway, because wikilinks will not always lead where you expect.

External Links[edit]

To link to an external website, you can simply paste the URL (with the http:// prefix) into a wiki page:

and it will appear as a clickable hyperlink.

You can also enclose the link in single square brackets:


The URL will show up as a number in square brackets, like this: [1]. The numbers will automatically increase serially as more links are added to the page.

The preferred method for displaying an external link is to label it. To produce alternate text for external links, leave a space in between the URL and the text you wish to display. For example:

Google's search engine

will display Google's search engine as the link in the text. Do not use the pipe characters for external links.

External Linking Policy[edit]

Wikipedia articles often include a section called External links that is conventionally placed near the end of an article and should include links to web pages outside Wikipedia that are relevant to the article.

Prefer Internal Links

Don't use external links in place of internal links. If Wikipedia doesn't have an article about a concept or entity, create a redlink rather than creating a link to an external site; any external links can be used as references instead.

Wikipedia has several guidelines about which external links to include. Types of sites that are welcome include pages directly relevant to the topic of the article (such as a company homepage for an article about a company), pages from reputable sources that contain further description or research that is accurate and on-topic, pages with information that could not be added to the article because of copyright or density of detail (such as professional athlete statistics or full film credits), or any other relevant content that may add to a reader's understanding of a topic but is not suitable for inclusion in an article (such as an interview). If an external page is used as a source for information in an article, it should be listed as a source and placed in the References section of the article rather than in the External links section. The sites in External links should provide additional information beyond that provided by source citations.

Though some external links are welcome, Wikipedia is not the place to include a comprehensive list of external links related to each topic—Wikipedia is not a directory. Typically, commercial pages or sites that only exist for selling a product are not included; the article about television should not include a list of links to companies that sell television sets (such link inclusions are generally removed as spam). In general, you should remember that Wikipedia is not meant for self-promotion; webmasters and web authors should not add links going to the websites they work on or for.


Wikipedia uses nofollow tags, which means that search engines do not take into account whether a site is linked to from Wikipedia when they calculate rankings. From a search engine optimization standpoint, including a site in a Wikipedia article has no benefit. This decision was made in order to discourage zealous webmasters from trying to use Wikipedia to boost their sites.

If you do remove a link from an article, take care the author didn't use it as a source, whether as an inline link in the text or a link in the External links or References section. If you're trying to decide if a link is useful, check the page history to see who added the link and whether they provided an explanation for adding it. Removing links is a tricky business; if you're unsure, you can always post a quick message to the talk page.

Some whole sites should not be linked to. Wikimedia maintains a blacklist of these sites, which is incorporated into MediaWiki software. If a link to one of these sites is included in a page, you'll be unable to save the page; instead, you'll get a message prompting you to remove the offending link(s). (You might occasionally get this message even if you're not the person who added the link originally, for instance, if the link was not removed after blacklisting). The vast majority of blacklisted sites are pornography sites and commercial sites that have been consistently "spammed" on one or more projects (typically by being placed as links, sometimes automatically, on many unrelated articles). As the explanation for the list on Meta wiki says, "The spam blacklist exists primarily to control widespread spamming of Wikimedia Foundation projects. It is intended as a last resort for spam which spreads across multiple projects, and which is pursued by multiple individuals or IP addresses." See Wikipedia:Spam blacklist to suggest any additions or to appeal a decision. In addition to this restriction, any site that violates another's copyright (such as an illegally posted copy of a work) should not be linked to.

Links to sites in languages other than English are somewhat discouraged, but that does depend on the topic. If a topic is connected with Germany, German speakers, or the German language, a link to a site in German is generally fine. Other instances where you might want to include a link to a non-English site are when the material the site covers is not available in English on the Web, authoritative information on the topic is typically published in that language, or the site is obviously scholarly and important.

One helpful trick is to preface the link with a language icon template such as Template:De icon, which warns the reader that (in this case) the site is in German. Templates for many languages can be found at.

Attack Sites

One long-running debate is over the loosely defined term attack site, meaning a site containing pages or isolated pieces of aggressive text and biased criticism or even defamation. In effect, an attack site is a propaganda website. Wikipedia does not wish to link to such sites, although some critical pieces may be linked to from articles, and some sites attached to organizations are mentioned even though their content may be offensive. Whether linking to some inoffensive parts of a site that offers links to worse material is acceptable has not been settled. These matters are typically decided by reference to Wikipedia's mission to compile an encyclopedic work and whether a link has anything to do with that. There is some trade-off between informing, on the one hand, and avoiding links to material that may offend, on the other. Linking to sites in order to harass other editors is entirely forbidden (Wikipedia:Harassment, shortcut WP:HARASS, is a guideline dealing with onsite harassment).

Sections and Headings[edit]

Sections divide articles into readable pieces. They also have other uses such as dividing conversations on talk pages. A section marks out a subtopic and also serves to define an editable unit on a page. You can create internal links to a specific section by adding a hash mark (#) and the section name; external links to sections also work, though the section name must then use underscores instead of spaces.

You can click and open any section on a page to edit separately, except for the top section (lead section or introduction). By convention, the page does not start with a section heading but with the first words of an article. Editing a page by section is more convenient in several ways: It saves excessive scrolling and produces an automatic prefix in the edit summary.

Sections are produced by using equal signs, like this:

==Section== ===Subsection=== ====Sub-subsection====

Although you can use just one equal sign, using only one produces a title that is the same size as the automatically generated page title and is not recommended for articles. The section headers are in bold, so you don't need to add other formatting (and indeed, this doesn't work). Headings should not use uppercase except when ordinary English does: Fried eggs, not Fried Eggs. You can include wikilinks, or even external links, in headings. This is somewhat ugly, though, and is not recommended in articles. Section headings show up in the table of contents for the article.

If an article has four or more sections, a table of contents (ToC) will automatically be generated; this table of contents contains links to the sections that are present. The table of contents provides an easy way for readers to navigate long articles. You can hide the ToC by clicking the Hide link.

Formatting the Table of Contents

You can entirely remove a ToC from an article by including the special syntax somewhere on the body of the page. You can also format or modify the ToC (for instance, to display as an alphabetical A–Z list) by using special templates, as described in Chapter 9, Images, Templates, and Special Characters.

For a clearer writing style, you should introduce sections (as a good first step) in editing a badly organized article. Expanding and varying the existing section structure of an article can also help clarify the text. The Template:Sections template is the cleanup message used to request the introduction of sections; see Help:Section (shortcut WP:SECT) for some more detailed advice.

Linking into and out of Sections[edit]

Sections of pages serve as anchor points and can be linked to. For example,


is an internal wikilink to the section Cubs in the article Lion. In an article, you'd certainly pipe such a link:

lion cub

to end up with a wikilink that reads lion cub but that takes you directly to the Cubs section of the Lion article. The full URL for this link would be:

which takes you right to the section.

Occasionally, you will want to direct readers to another article from a section, for instance, when a top-level article on a topic, such as History of the United States, provides an overview of a broad topic that is addressed in more detail by several more specialized articles. In this case, the section of History of the United States that deals with the Civil War era directs the reader to the main article History of the United States (1849–1865) for more information.

These links are generally produced by templates, such as

Main page: page name

which points the reader toward the main article on a topic with a message saying Main article: page name.

Another template is

For more details on this topic, see page name.

which creates a message saying For more details, see page name.

A related template,

Further information: page name

renders For further information: page name.

Simply place the template at the beginning of the section you want to link from. In each case, replace page name with the name of the page to link to.

Linking from sections to other articles plays a major organizational role in building Wikipedia as a piece of hypertext. This structure is widely used to place invitations in high-level articles to explore details in other articles.

Hypertext Is Not Prose

Some criticisms of Wikipedia have appeared based on the incorrect premise that articles are stand-alone prose. The notion is that, for example, History of the United States really represents what Wikipedia has to offer on the topic—that readers will read through it all, looking at that article in isolation. But that article is also there to give access to other articles. Although long articles in traditional encyclopedias might be assessed in such a fashion, Wikipedia is designed for surfing between many interlinked articles. 2.4. Removing Formatting and Hiding Comments

Sometimes you may want to display wikisyntax on a page, without it actually functioning as markup. For instance, you may want to discuss a formatting issue on a talk page or write help pages with examples for other editors.

The easiest way to do this is to use the tag, which ignores wiki markup and reformats text by removing newlines and multiple spaces. To use <nowiki>, enclose the text you want to display with markup between <nowiki> and . The syntax you put between these tags will be displayed just as you type it.



tags are similar, except that they do not reformat newlines or multiple spaces.

You can also produce constant-width text that stops newlines and spaces from being reformatted but still interprets wikisyntax. Simply place a leading single-space indention at the beginning of a line. This creates text with a dotted-line box around it that is not formatted like the rest of the page. You'll only see this occasionally in articles, but it is good, for instance, for displaying snippets of computer code. You will also see this formatting when a space is accidentally left at the beginning of a line of formatted text.

Hidden comments can be left on a page with the comment tags: . Replace comment text with the comment or remark you wish to leave. Text in between the tags will not display for readers in the rendered page, but it will show up in the wikisource when others edit the page.

Usually, leaving comments in the raw text of a page is inappropriate; anything addressed to readers or editors should be left on the talk page instead. Comments left in the page wikitext can be useful, however, as a note on how a particular template is being used or as a note to yourself for quick drafting. The comment tag is rarely used and should not be confused with comments left on talk pages, separate comments pages that sometimes exist as part of rating pages, or the Request for Comments process.

Further Reading

Lists and Sections


Wikipedia pages are editable by everyone quickly and directly, whether they are logged in to Wikipedia or not. There is no moderation before a new version of a page goes live and replaces the previous version. Only a few pages are protected in any way from editing. You can start editing by clicking the Edit This Page tab to access the edit window. The source code that appears when you edit a page is called the wikitext or wikisource.

Most markup for the wikitext can be learned as you need it. Knowing the basics of formatting text and the layered approach of wikitext will serve you well, making quick edits possible. Understanding lists and headings also helps you organize articles and contribute to discussion pages