Using Wikibooks/Contributing To An Existing Wikibook

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New or Existing?[edit]

You have the urge to write. You have information that you want to share with the world. The first impulse for most new writers is to simply start a new book and start writing. However, this is not always the best idea. Wikibooks contains hundreds of books on dozens of subjects. You should check to see if there are any existing books on your subject before you start to write a new one.

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

If there is already an existing book with a similar subject and similar goals as you want, try to contribute to that book first. It is always better to consolidate and create one good book than to separate and write many small unfinished books.

This page is going to talk about how to contribute content to existing books. However, this isn't the only task that The Wikibooks Author will want to perform. Later chapters will talk about how to create new books from scratch also.

Book Definitions[edit]

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A book needs a definition. The definition helps to set the goals and the directions for the book, so that all contributors can work together collaboratively. A definition should include, either explicitly or implicitly, all the following pieces of information:

Target Audience
Who the book is written for. Certain audiences are going to have 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 prerequisites for your readers. If everybody starts off on the same foot, you don't need to cover as much background information in your book, and you can focus on writing new and more advanced information.
This is self-explanatory. What topic are you writing about?
Scope and Depth
We know what subject we are writing about, but how much of it do we want to cover? How much depth do we want to go into? How many details do we want to cover? The scope of the book defines how much of the subject we want to cover, and the depth defines how many details we want to discuss.

Two books on the same subject can have completely different definitions. If there is already a book on your subject, but with a different definition, you can start a new book. If the book already exists with the same definition, you could contribute to the existing book and not start a new one.

Books and Communities[edit]

If the book doesn't have any active contributors, take charge and do what you can do to fix it up. Read any local style or formatting policies (some books go to great length to list this information), so that the content you add will fit nicely with the content that already exists in the book. It is typically better to build on and expand existing style guidelines than it is to reformat the entire book from scratch. Sometimes, major aesthetic changes can come from simply improving some of the existing book templates. Be wary of making changes to global templates, however, because those changes may affect other books in a negative way.

Many books will not have any style guidelines written down. In these cases, feel free to make any changes that you need to make to improve the book. Just keep in mind that if you undertake a project that is too large to complete, you might leave the book in worse condition than when you started.

Remember that in order to improve a book, you may need to be bold and make some substantial changes. If you need to move a page, or delete a page, or replace some content in order to make the book better, don't hesitate. Of course, if there are other editors contributing, it would be best to seek consensus before making any major changes.

Existing Book Community[edit]

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Wiki is a collaborative environment, and many projects that you join may have existing contributors. These contributors will all have different work schedules, activity levels, and vested interests in the book. Making massive changes to things could upset people who spent a lot of time putting them that way in the first place.

Books with no existing community are easy to edit. 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. When multiple people are all working on the same book, it's 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 your work as well. You may find that the book has an emergent property, 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 not cover 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 can avoid any of the individual weaknesses.


Consensus is difficult to understand, and it's even more difficult when you and your book-writing peers are trying to pursue it yourselves. The first thing to understand is that for most issues there isn't a right or wrong answer, and most decisions are more complex than yes or no, my way or the highway. Your idea is not correct, and other competing ideas are not incorrect. No single opinion in a book is ever "optimal" by itself. Wiki is 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 other editors, are going to be better than your ideas by themselves.

When working together don't pick one viewpoint or one perception, find a way to incorporate many. The benefit will be seen among the readers, who are all going to need a different explanation of the same concepts in order to learn. The more ideas and points of view that you can cover in your book, the better a resource the book will be.

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 competing ideas and find compromises. If you don't, you are hurting the book, hurting the book community, and wasting your own time.

Rewriting a Book[edit]

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Some books on Wikibooks were created but later abandoned by their authors. These books are in various states of disrepair, and often need more than just a little bit of help to become successful. If you think that you can do much better, and that the existing book is irreparable, you can rewrite the book 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 that has active contributors.

Merging Books[edit]

Sometimes, two or more half-completed books can be merged together to form one book that is in much better condition. Also, when you start to write your own book, you may find that certain stub books or half-books would be better off if they were merged into your book.

Nominate book mergers with the {{Merge}}, {{Mergeto}}, and {{Mergefrom}} templates. The purpose of these templates is to alert other contributors about a possible merge. Sometimes, people may disagree with a merger for any number of reasons, and then you 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 templates and to participate in the discussion.

When time comes to perform a merge, redirect the old pages to the new pages, combine the book content, and ask an administrator to help merge the history pages (if needed).

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