Wikipedia:Contributing FAQ

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This page of frequently asked questions is devoted to answering those questions commonly asked by contributors to Wikipedia.

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


Getting started

How can I contribute?

There are lots of ways! See Wikipedia:Contributing to Wikipedia.

Why would I want to contribute to this?

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 (except disruptive users who have been banned.) (See Wikipedia:Welcome anonymous editing.)

What is the point of getting a user ID?

There are many reasons: see Wikipedia:Why create an account?

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 own username?

See Wikipedia:Changing username.


On talk pages and in the edit summaries of a page history, you will often see editors using terminology and abbreviations which are unique to Wikipedia. The terms most likely to be unfamiliar to a new user are;
rv or revert, usually in an edit summary, indicates that the page has been reverted to a previous version, often because of vandalism.
NPOV means working towards a Neutral point of view, whilst its opposite, POV, is used to suggest that an edit was biased.
To Wikify means to add internal links and other formatting to an article which was mostly plain text.
dab is short for disambiguation, or improving a link so that it goes straight to the relevant article.
For a more comprehensive list see Wikipedia:Glossary.

What is 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 referring 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 dislike stubs, even though they are probably a necessary evil. Many excellent articles started out as short stubs, thus existing stubs should be expanded into proper articles. For general knowledge regarding stubs, please refer to Wikipedia:Stub.

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 to flag an edit as "minor." Use of this flag is largely a matter of personal taste. A general rule of thumb is that an edit that corrects spelling or formatting, performs minor rearrangements of text, or tweaks only a few words, should generally be flagged as a "minor edit". A major edit, in contrast, generally performs a change that close watchers of the page are likely to want to review. Of course, if an edit performs a major semantic revision, but is limited to only a few words (for instance changing "freedom fighter" to "terrorist" or vice versa (see Wikipedia:NPOV), then the edit should not be flagged as minor.
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 chooses not to log in to mark an edit as minor is that vandalism may be marked as such, and as a result, may remain unnoticed for longer than is desirable. This limitation is yet another reason to create an account and log in.
See also: Wikipedia:Minor edit.


Where do I find more information beyond this FAQ?

You can start by reading the introduction at Wikipedia:Welcome, newcomers. The main help page is Help:Contents.

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

See Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines, which includes:

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

Recent Changes lists all the edits that have been made over a given time period. 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:Article 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 the Wikipedia:IRC channels. 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 abbreviation 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 Wikipedia-L mailing list and make your desire known.

Should I use American English or British English?

People contribute to the English language Wikipedia in every possible variety and dialect of English. The English language Wikipedia particularly welcomes contributions from editors whose first language is neither American English nor Commonwealth English. Still, it is generally good form to keep usage consistent within a given article. The official policy is to use British (AKA "Commonwealth") spelling when writing about British (or Commonwealth) topics, and American for topics relating to the United States. General topics can use any one of the variants, but should generally strive to be consistent within an article. See Wikipedia's Manual of Style for a more detailed explanation.
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 redirects to the main article.

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.
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. Google also doubles as a spell checker. Type the word into the search input window and Google will return with possible corrections if it is misspelled.

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.
If you just registered, your username is probably shown as linking to a page that doesn't exist. Don't worry! This just means you haven't filled out your user page yet. Click on the link and tell the world all about yourself! See Wikipedia:User page for more information.

OK, what about the pale blue links?

Those are external links; i.e. those that link to pages outside Wikipedia. They look like this.

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?

In case of a crash you'll lose your edit. To some extent, you can guard against this by editing in a 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 might or might not lose your edit depending on your web browser. Some browsers (e.g. Mozilla Firefox) will recover the text you have tried to save if you use the back-button. In other browsers you will lose your edit. 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 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. Your 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?

Multiple encodings are encouraged. WAV and Ogg Vorbis are allowed, but MP3 is not. See Wikipedia:Media for more.

One of the contributors is being unreasonable. Help!

See Wikipedia:Staying cool when the editing gets hot and Wikipedia:Dispute resolution.

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

Currently, no. You can, however, change the setting on the page and bookmark the resulting page.

Why was the article I created deleted?

New articles are deleted for not following Wikipedia policies and guidelines. If your article was deleted, future contributions from you are still welcome.
The reasons that may lead to the quick deletion of an article are:
  1. A very short page with little or no definition or context (eg "He is a funny man that has created Factory and the Hacienda. And, by the way, his wife is great.").
  2. No meaningful content or history (eg "sdhgdf"). See patent nonsense.
  3. A test page (eg "Can I really create a page here?").
  4. Pure vandalism (see dealing with vandalism). Note that if you're not being malicious, then your article probably didn't fall under this category.
  5. Reposted content that was deleted according to Wikipedia's deletion policy. This does not apply to undeleted content that was undeleted according to undeletion policy.
  6. A page created and edited solely by a banned user, after they were banned (see bans and blocks). This is slightly controversial!
  7. An article which has already been moved via the transwiki system.

Why was the edit I made removed?

There are a variety of reasons (some common reasons). The first thing you should do is look at the history page for the article you edited. This will tell you who changed it, when they changed it, and hopefully a short reason why they changed it. If it says something like see talk, then you should look at the talk page for the article. Also, you should look at your own talk page to see if you have a message there. If you don't find a reason that is satisfactory, politely ask in the article's talk page about your proposed change, and maybe you will get suggestions about changes that you can make so that your change will go in, or you may get reasons why your change should not happen.

Links: external and multilingual

Should I translate pages across the various Wikipedias?

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. However, please do not paste a machine translation directly into an article.

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

We try to 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 correspondence between Wikipedias. See Wikipedia:Interlanguage links and Wikipedia:Multilingual coordination for more information.

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

External links are certainly allowed. Properly used, 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. An article should be more than a container for external links, and the content should not require the reader to leave the site to understand the subject.
Please do not place advertising links in Wikipedia. Commercial sites are obvious, but this prohibition usually includes links to fansites and discussion forums as well unless the site is a notable one in the field. As a general rule of thumb: if you wish to place the link in Wikipedia in order to drive traffic to a site, it probably doesn't belong here.
The current convention is to place external links in a separate "External links" section at the bottom of the article. Sites used as references for the article should be listed under a "References" section, or sometimes 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?

Use Template:Gutenberg as described at Template talk:Gutenberg.


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?

No. The patent of the LZW compression algorithm used with the GIF format has expired.

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. Please help clarify this if you can.)


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. Bwahahaha!

How do I donate to Wikipedia?


Can I really change whatever I want on Wikipedia?

Yes, you can. And your changes will be reflected instantly.

(Actually, this isn't completely true. There are some pages on Wikipedia that are protected, so that only administrators can modify them. This includes pages like the Main Page, which are permanently protected, or normal articles which are temporarily protected during the resolution of an edit war. However, the vast majority of pages on Wikipedia are editable by anyone, at any time.)

How do I get a count of my edits?

There is a tool called count edits that can count your edits automatically.
A manual tool to use is my contributions, found in the personal toolbar on the upper right, since there is no user statistics page.
Special:Contributions lists all your edits; you have to count them, but there's a trick to doing it quickly. Go to this URL:
Notice the bolded 50 there. Change that number higher to go further back into your contributions. That will let you count them. So if you think you've done 500 edits, you can count them quickly rather than paging through all of them. Starting out by putting in 500 and getting a blank page means you haven't made 500 yet. Further decrements will let you find the total of you edits; getting a list of 15 edits with 200 as offset, it means you have made 215 edits.
There is also a periodically-updated list of Wikipedians by number of edits.

Editing the Main Page

See Wikipedia:Editing the main page

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