Using Wikibooks/Contributing To An Existing Wikibook

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New or Existing?[edit | edit source]

You have the urge to write. You have knowledge and information you want to share with the world. The first impulse for most new writers is to simply set up a new book and begin writing. However, this is not the first thing to do. Wikibooks contains thousands of books on a multitude of topics. Browse/search in the Wikibooks holdings to see if there are any existing books on your subject matter that your knowledge could enhance before setting out on the task of writing a new one.

As the saying goes, "there is no need to reinvent the wheel".

If you find an existing book, covering a similar subject or focus and has similar intentions and goals to yours, peruse the content to determine if there is a suitable place for the information you have; if you are able to pinpoint such a place, consider contributing to and expanding that book first. If you are unsure about adding your contribution(s), continue reading this guide and don't be afraid to address any questions or concerns you may have with the Wikibooks' Community! Experience has shown that it is always better to consolidate information by creating one good book, rather than dividing knowledge and writing many, small, unfinished books.

This page is going to focus on how to contribute content to existing books. However, it is important to remember, contributing content isn't the only task that the Wikibooks Author will want to perform. Additionally, later chapters will provide details on how to create new books from scratch.

Book Definitions[edit | edit source]

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Each book needs a definition — a purpose. The book's definition provides the groundwork needed to set goals and direction for the final product; this enables all contributors to work together collaboratively, efficiently, and successfully. A definition should include and cover, either explicitly or implicitly, all of the following information and details:

Target Audience
Who the book is written for. Each audience (i.e. the reader or group of readers) has certain background information that you can use to build more advanced lessons on. Sometimes, instead of specifying a particular audience, you will want to specify particular pre-requisites for your readers. If every reader starts off with the same level of knowledge on the main topic(s) the content covers, you don't need to provide as much basic or introductory information within the book. Thus, you are able to focus on writing new and more advanced content.
Subject
What topic or topics will you be writing about? It helps to detail as specific of a subject as possible.
Scope and Depth
You've determined the subject you are writing about, but how much of it do we want to cover? How deep or advanced do you want the book to go? How detailed do you want the content to cover? The scope of a book defines how much of the subject we want to cover and the depth defines how many details we want to discuss.

An important detail to consider when trying to determine if an existing book is suited to your contribution, is that two individual books, although written about the same subject, may have completely different definitions. If there is an existing book on your subject, but with a different definition, it is often best to start a new book. If there is a book that already exists with the same definition, it is safe to assume it would be most beneficial for you to contribute to the existing book rather than beginning a new one. Our primary goal when contributing to Wikibooks is to enhance and expand on the material being provided to readers and users!

Books and Communities[edit | edit source]

If the book you have found doesn't have any active contributors, take charge and do what you can to fix it up! Look to see if a local style guide or any formatting policies have been outlined (some authors go to great length to list this information). This ensures that any content you add, will fit nicely with the content already provided and flows seamlessly for readability and understanding. It is typically better to build on and expand existing style guidelines, than it is to re-format an entire book from scratch. At times, major aesthetic changes can come from simply improving some of the existing book templates. However, be wary of making changes to global templates, because changes of this calibur may have a negative impact on other books that use them, as well.

Many books do not have any style guidelines written down. In these cases, feel free to make any changes that you need to, in order to improve upon the existing book. Additionally, keep in mind that if you undertake a project that is too large to complete, you may end up leaving the book in worse condition than when you started.

Remember, in order to improve a book, you may need to be bold and make substantial changes. If you need to move or delete a page, or replace content in order to enhance or update the information within, don't hesitate! The Wikimedia software that powers Wikibooks, makes it easier to revert and/or change edits that don't have the desired outcome. Of course, if there are other editors actively contributing to it, maintain respect and consideration by seeking consensus before making any major changes.

Existing Book Community[edit | edit source]

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A wiki is a collaborative environment and many projects often have existing contributors. These contributors will all have varying work schedules, activity levels, and vested interests in a particular book or project. Making substantial changes to things could upset people whom have spent extensive time, effort, and energy into formatting and content to create the particular work as it was when you found it to begin with.

Books that do not have an existing community are often the easiest to edit or contribute to. You find a page and you make any changes you want. Books with an existing community are quite different, although, they can be just as rewarding and at times, even more so! When multiple people are all working together on one book or project, it is greatly important to communicate and collaborate. Use other authors as a sounding board for new ideas. Improve the contributions of others, and be prepared for them to improve upon your work, as well. You may find that the book has an emergent property; therefore, gaining a higher level of quality than it would have under only one author.

Being the sole author of a book means that the book will show all the strengths and weaknesses that you write into it. The book will contain only your perspective. It will only cover the information that you know, and will lack information or examples that you are not as familiar with. By collaborating with other authors, the book can benefit from each author's strengths, and has a stronger chance of avoiding any individual weaknesses.


Consensus[edit | edit source]

Consensus can be a difficult process to understand, and is made even more difficult, when you and your fellow authors are trying to pursue it individually. The first thing to understand is, that for the wide majority of issues, there isn't a right or wrong answer and most decisions are more complex than "yes or no" or "my way or the highway". Your idea is not definitively correct and other competing ideas are not definitively incorrect. No single opinion about a work is ever "optimal", by itself. Wikis are founded on the idea of emergence; that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Your ideas, combined with the ideas of others, are going to be better than any individual's ideas by themselves.

When working together, don't pick one viewpoint or single perception — instead, find a way to incorporate many perspectives. The benefit will be seen among the readers, who will often need a different explanation of the same concept in order to effectively learn or understand. The more ideas and points of view that are included in a given book, the better of a resource the book will be upon completion.

Consensus requires an understanding of this idea of emergence. If you want the book to improve, grow, and succeed, you are all but required to listen to and openly consider competing ideas and be willing to find and agree to compromises. If you don't, you are hurting the book, hurting the book community, and wasting your own time.

Rewriting a Book[edit | edit source]

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There are several books to be found on Wikibooks, that were created but later abandoned by their orignal author(s). These books are in various states of disrepair and levels of completion, and often need more than just a minor effort or help to become successful. If you believe that you can create a much improved version and have concluded the existing book is irreparable or would take considerably more work, time, and effort to reach its full potential, feel free to create a new book and rewrite it according to your own vision.

Notice that, you should only attempt to completely rewrite a book that is in very poor condition; such as, a stub. You should never try to delete and rewrite a book that has substantial content or active contributors. Additionally, if a book has substantial out-dated content, it is also worth considering creating a new book rather than making substantial edits and/or changes to the existing content. Oftentimes, in these instances, it is better to write a new, up-to-date version. Not only does that enable the existing, outdated version to be used as a historical reference, but not all of the information contained within the work may have changed. It is also worth considering, and making the effort to, refer to the pre-existing book — either explicitly, in-reference, or even both — in order to provide a greater context to the readers and learners it targets.


Merging Books[edit | edit source]

When two or more, half-completed books, contain complimentary information that can be consolidated to form a single book that is in better condition, the best option available is to merge them. Merging is beneficial in many ways and enhances access to information for everyone. This may come from multiple existing books on Wikibooks, or you may find after starting to write your own, that certain stub or half-books would be significantly improved through being merged into yours.

To nominate book mergers, use the {{Merge}}, {{Mergeto}}, and {{Mergefrom}} templates. The purpose of these templates is to alert other contributors about a possible merge. There are instances when others may disagree with a merger for any number of reasons, leading to the need to seek consensus before continuing. The merge templates should stay on the books for at least one week (preferrably longer), to ensure that contributors have plenty of time to see the template(s), and to adequately participate in the ensuing discussion.

If consensus determines that performing a merge is appropriate and the best course of action, follow the steps below:

  1. Create a redirect from the original page(s) to the new page(s)
  2. Combine the book content
  3. Ask an Administrator to help merge the history pages (if needed)

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