Wikipedia:Plain and simple

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For a similar guide for editors with a conflict of interest, see the Plain and simple conflict of interest guide. For a similar guide for medical editors, see the Plain and simple guide for medical editors

Welcome to Wikipedia! This page will tell you about the amazing project called Wikipedia, how it works, and how to make it better. Wikipedia is a free, volunteer-created encyclopedia, consisting of articles written in a particular style. Wikipedia is a continuous process with no end. If you write something good, it could be around for centuries and read all over the world. It might also be improved or incorporated into new revisions by other editors. Part of the fun and challenge of editing here is watching what happens to your contributions over time.

The Wikipedia community continues to evolve as well. Policies and customs have developed over the years which reflect the experience of thousands of editors who are constantly learning and refining how to create balanced, well-sourced, informative articles, and how to work with others and resolve conflict when it arises. While there are rules or guidelines that cover almost any situation, a few are really important. If you learn about our policies and practices, you will likely be treated with kindness and respect.

A great place to start learning is with Wikipedia's approach to sources. Wikipedia does not have its own views, or determine what is "correct". Instead, editors try to summarize what good sources have said about ideas and information. Differing views are presented objectively and without bias as they are reported in reliable sources — sources that have a reputation for being accurate. Good sources are the base of the encyclopedia, and anyone must be able to realistically check whether contributions can be backed up by one. This is generally done by citing where you found information. With reliable sources at the center of what we do, editors' original ideas, interpretations, and research are not appropriate here.

The basic mechanics of Wikipedia can take a few days to become comfortable, but once mastered, they open up the entire encyclopedia to you. This page will try to simply explain what you need to know to start editing quickly and avoid major stumbling blocks. Don't worry if you don't understand everything at first. As time goes on, you'll learn how to be a great contributor to Wikipedia! If you do get stuck, there are volunteers available to answer your questions, see asking for help for more information.

Core principles

Further information: Wikipedia:Principles

While, theoretically, anything can be changed, the community up to this point has been built on certain principles. Much thought has been put into them, and they are unlikely to change in the future. They have worked for us so far, so give them a fair shake before attempting radical reform or leaving the project.

  • Five pillars: The foundations of the Wikipedia community are summarized in 5 simple ideas: Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia; it has a neutral point of view; it is free content that anyone can edit and distribute; all Wikipedians should interact in a respectful and civil manner; and Wikipedia does not have firm rules.
  • Founding principles: The Wikimedia Foundation, the global organization which oversees Wikipedia and other projects like it, is based on important common ideas as well: neutrality is mandatory; anyone can edit (most) articles without registration; we make decisions through the "wiki process" of discussion; we want to work in a welcoming and collaborative environment; our content is freely licensed; and we leave room for particularly difficult problems to be resolved by an authority. On English Wikipedia the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) has power to make certain binding, final decisions.
  • Copyright: Wikipedia uses opensource licensing under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike license and the GNU Free Documentation License. Content on Wikipedia can be used and re-used freely, as long as attribution is given; it can even be modified and used for profit, as long as all future re-users can do the same. Everything editors contribute must be compatible with Wikipedia's licenses and cannot violate others' copyrights, except under very particular circumstances.
  • Ignore all rules (IAR): Rules at Wikipedia are not carved in stone. The spirit of a rule trumps the letter of the rule, and the purpose of building an encyclopedia trumps a policy. This means that any rule can be broken if the action improves the encyclopedia, provided a discussion shows that there is a sufficiently good reason for the action. It does not mean that anything can be done by claiming IAR.

Creating and editing articles

Further information: Wikipedia:Core content policies
  • Neutral point of view: Write from a neutral point of view. Make a fair representation of the world as reliable sources describe it. All articles should be balanced to convey an impression of the various points of view on a subject. Some views may get more attention than others, depending on the attention they receive in reliable sources. Wikipedia has no "opinion" of its own; it just accurately summarizes reliable sources.
  • Verifiability: Articles should contain only material that has been published by reliable sources. These are sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy, like newspapers, academic journals, and books. Even if something is true our standards require it be published in a reliable source before it can be included. Editors should cite reliable sources for any material that is controversial or challenged, otherwise it may be removed by any editor. The obligation to provide a reliable source is on whoever wants to include material.
  • No original research: Articles may not contain previously unpublished arguments, concepts, data, or theories, nor any new analysis or synthesis of them if it advances a position. In other words, you can't make a point that hasn't already been directly made somewhere else in a reliable source. You can summarize, but it has to be based in the sources.
  • Be bold in updating pages! Go ahead, it's a wiki! No mistake can break Wikipedia, because any edit can be undone. Encourage others, including those who disagree with you, to likewise be bold! If you find yourself disagreeing with someone's boldness or they with yours, discuss it on the talk page.

Getting along with other editors

Further information: Wikipedia:Etiquette
  • Be civil to other users at all times. If you have a criticism, comment about content and specific edits. Don't make negative remarks about other editors as people. Be constructive and be respectful.
  • Assume good faith: Try to consider the person on the other end of the discussion as a thinking, rational being who is trying to positively contribute to Wikipedia. Even if you're convinced that they're an [insert insult of your choice], still pretend that they're acting in good faith. Ninety percent of the time you'll find that they actually are acting in good faith (and the other ten percent of the time a negative attitude won't help anyway). Be gracious. Be liberal in what you accept, be conservative in what you do. Try to accommodate other people's quirks as best you can, while trying to be as polite and straightforward as possible.
  • Discuss contentious changes on the talk page: Mutual respect is the guiding behavioral principle of Wikipedia. Although everyone knows that their contributions may be edited by others, it is easier to accept changes when you understand the reasons for them. Discussing changes on the article's talk page before you make them can help reach consensus even faster, especially on controversial subjects. We have all the time in the world, so always make an effort to explain changes to other editors, and feel free to ask them to do the same.
  • Undo others' edits with care: Undoing someone's work is a powerful tool, hence the three-revert rule that an editor should never undo the same content more than three times in twenty-four hours (ideally, even less). Try not to revert changes which are not obvious vandalism. If you really can't stand something, revert once, with an edit summary like "I disagree, I'll explain why on Talk", and immediately take it to the accompanying talk page to discuss. If someone reverts your edits, do not just add them back without attempting discussion.
  • Try to understand why your article or edit was deleted: Many topics do not meet our inclusion guidelines. Some of the same bad article ideas show up and get deleted frequently in articles for deletion and speedy deletion discussions. New editors may benefit from the Articles for creation helper. Other contributions are often just not neutral or just not well-sourced. In general, finding better, more reliable sources and summarizing them neutrally is almost always the best response.
  • Resolve disputes: Disagreements happen but they need not be ugly. Find out what others think about an issue and try to address it. If you still disagree, seek input from other editors informally, or through a third opinion, mediation, or an open request for comment.

Working efficiently together

  • Use clear edit summaries: Straightforward, simple explanations are greatly appreciated. Other editors need to understand your thinking, and edit summaries also help you understand what you did after a leave of absence or a complex series of changes. Please state what you changed and why. If the explanation is too long, use the Talk page to add details. Since anyone can edit articles, even without registering, there are a lot of changes to watch; good edit summaries simplify things for everyone.
  • Sign your posts: Sign on talk pages (using ~~~~, which gets replaced by your username and timestamp when you hit "Save page"), but don't sign in mainspace articles.
  • Preview your changes: Repeatedly saving small edits clutters the page's history, which makes it difficult for some editors to follow along with changes. Several small changes without edit summaries are even harder to follow. Use the Show preview button rather than saving many times.
  • Use noticeboards to get input: On Wikipedia certain types of issues come up very frequently and have their own noticeboard where experienced editors gather to discuss those topics. If you need input, use them. WP:NPOVN is for neutrality issues, WP:RSN is for reliable sources, WP:ANI is for specific issues needing administrator input; others are listed at the noticeboard page and at the end of this page as well.
  • Join the community: Find out what's going on in the community. The Community Portal is a good starting place, where you can find ongoing community discussions, the weekly Wikipedia newspaper, and plenty of tasks that need work. There are also mailing-lists which feature project and organization-wide discussions, and internet relay chat for a variety of topics. WikiProjects are places editors gather to work on specific areas of the encyclopedia; they're also good places to ask for input. New ideas are often put forth at the Village pump, and hot topics at Jimbo's talk page.

How to do anything

Editing most Wikipedia pages is easy. Wikipedia uses two methods of editing: the WYSIWYG VisualEditor (VE), and classic editing through wiki markup (Wikitext language) using the Wikipedia text editor. The explanations on this page deal with wiki markup editing (the method most used). For instructions on using VisualEditor see the VisualEditor user guide.


Click here!
  • Edit. Nearly every page on Wikipedia has two edit links on it, either in the page itself or at the top of the screen. Click [edit] (if there is only one edit link) or [edit source] (if there are two edit links) and you will see a place where you can type and make changes. It will look a little different since Wikipedia uses a language called "markup". Don't worry if it looks intimidating. Just try a few small changes and copy what others do that gets the result you want. Press the Page preview button until it looks right. If you cannot get it the way you want it, click on the Cancel link.
  • Basic markup. Markup language is a very simple way to add formatting with symbols. These can be inserted using the editing tool bar or manually. Otherwise, just type normally.
    • Looks
      • For italics, type two apostrophes ( ' ) around the word like this ''italics''.
      • For bold use three apostrophes: '''bold''' .
      • For bold and italics use five: '''''bold and italics''''' .
    • Sections and lists
      • Section headers are made with the equals sign ( = ) on each side. == This is a level 2 header ==. More equals signs make smaller sub-sections. === This is a level 3 header ===, and so on. You won't use a level 1 header, since that is the title of the page itself.
      • Bulleted lists are made by putting * at the beginning of each line.
      • Numbered lists are made by putting # at the beginning of each line.
    • Links
      • Links from one Wikipedia page to another are made with two brackets on each side of the word like [[wikilink]]. To make a link go to a different page than the word it shows, use a pipe: [[Page|word]].
      • Links to external websites are made with one bracket on each side like [external link]. These are used in the External links section of an article.
      • Images are added with [[File: IMAGENAME|thumb|Image caption]]. The "thumb" part is just a size and should be left in.
    • Paragraphs and references
      • Line breaks and paragraphs require hitting [return] or [enter] twice (showing an empty line in between).
      • References go between ref tags: <ref>References here.</ref> Place these after the punctuation of the sentence they are used in.
  • Preview and save. If you want to see a draft of your changes, click [Show preview]; otherwise click [Save] and your edit will go live.
  • Page structure. Articles follow a common format. Start with the introduction, a few paragraphs summarizing the page. Make the first mention of the page's subject bold. Place the article's content in level 2 headers like == Section title here ==, only capitalizing the first word unless there are subsequent proper nouns. The last sections can add information such as See also, References, and External links, in that order. Place those sections in level 2 headers as well.


Further information: Wikipedia:Talk page guidelines
  • Talk pages. In addition to the pages you read for information, for almost every Wikipedia page there is a corresponding talk page where discussion happens among editors. To use the talk page, click [edit] and add your comments. To create a new topic, click [new section] at the top of the page, give the section a title, and leave your comment. New topics go at the end of the page.
  • Indenting. To make conversations easier to follow, place your comments below the one you are responding to and indent it using a colon (:). Each colon moves the comment farther to the right, so if the person above you used 3 colons ::: you should use 4 ::::. To start a new talk page topic, click [new section] at the beginning of the page and type a title with your comment, or start a new level 2 heading for the same effect.
  • Signatures. On talk pages but not article pages, all comments should be signed with ~~~~. Once saved, this will turn into your username or IP address with a timestamp.
  • Edit summaries. Leave a brief note about what you did and why any time you make an edit. Place it in the edit summary box before you click Save.

Adding references

  • Good sources: Newspapers, books, journals, magazines, industry publications, and expert websites; independent of the subject, with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy; somewhere or someone you would trust if you read it, knowing that they did their homework and don't want to get the information wrong.
  • Manual references: Use reference tags after the period: ...end of sentence.<ref>Reference info here: author, publication, date, title, place, web address, etc.</ref> Place at the end of the sentence after the punctuation.
  • Better references with templates: These are thorough and easy to use. Click [edit], and place the cursor at the end of the sentence you want to reference. Using the editing toolbar, click [cite] or {{ }} and choose the source type (web, book, television…). Fill out the fields you know, click [enter], and [save] when ready.
  • Reference section: References should appear at the end of the page. Make a level 2 header: == References ==. Then place {{reflist}} below the header. You don't have to type out the references there; instead, place them inside the article after the sentence they support. They'll appear automatically.

Adding images

To use a picture on Wikipedia, you need permission from the owner/photographer:

  • If it is your own picture, then you can just upload it yourself, from WP:UPLOAD, saying "It is entirely my own work". This link will take you to Commons, where free files are hosted.
  • If it is not yours, then you need permission from the owner one of two ways:
    1. They could put it on a website like Flickr, or their own website with a compatible license that permits commercial reuse and modification — meaning others can replicate it, change it, and even sell it, as long as others down the line agree to the same and to give attribution to the original owner. A Flickr compatible license is Creative Commons Share Alike (CC-BY-SA 2.0). Then we can upload it.
    2. Have the owner email permission with the attached picture to: [email protected] saying they permanently release it to Wikipedia under an open license which allows commercial reuse and modification with attribution. Releasing it under Creative Commons Share Alike is an easy way to do that. The e-mail should say that they are the creator and/or sole owner of the exclusive copyright of the photograph(s) of the attached photo (or the photo at EXACTWEBSITEADDRESSHERE), give the name of the uploaded file on Wikipedia (File:EXACTNAMEHERE), and be signed and dated. Then we can host it.
  • After uploading, put the file in a Wikipedia page by adding [[File:FILENAME|thumb|FILEDESCRIPTION]] to any Wikipedia page.

Navigating Wikipedia

  • Article: Where content happens. These contain encyclopedic material which must be backed up by sources. Don't sign your name on these.
  • Talk: Where talk happens. Every article page has one, linked at the beginning of the page. Use them for collaboration and dispute resolution by clicking [Talk] at the beginning of the page.
  • History: Where prior versions of an article are stored (talk pages have them too). Click [View history] at the beginning of a page and you'll see all prior edits to the page.
  • User: Your personal page (or someone else's). Linked at the top right of every page, with a blue link and your name. Put stuff here to explain what you are about and why you are here.
  • User talk: Your personal talk page. Use this to facilitate discussions and collaboration. Also used for notices and warnings.
  • Wikipedia: Information about policies, guidelines and advice for editing. These are quite detailed. They come in handy eventually.
  • File: Where images are. These store all of the details about photographs and other media. The name of the file page is also the name of the file.
  • Special pages: Specific functions such as Recent changes, and Page logs. You can spot them because they don't have talk pages.

Finding pages

  • Search: The easiest way to get around. Type your query in the box at the top right and pick from the results.
  • Directory: The full department directory and quick directory are good tools. Or just ask someone and they'll give you a link.
  • Google: Wikipedia is very well indexed by Google and searching for a term, even about an editing question, followed by "wiki" or "wikipedia" usually pulls up what you need.


Static help

The Help:Contents may be accessed by clicking Help displayed in  Interaction at the top left of all pages.

There is the editing tutorial if you would like to know more about how things are done. There is also the comprehensive missing manual that can guide you step-by-step on just about anything.

Interactive help

Further information: Wikipedia:Requests

If you do get stuck, there are volunteers available to answer your questions, see asking for help for more information.

See also

Information icon.svg Help desk

Further reading (external links)

  • The Bookshelf - A vast collection of high-quality, freely licensed, user-generated informational material about Wikipedia
  • Mission statement - The Wikimedia Foundation
  • Wikimedia values - The six values of the Wikimedia Foundation
  • In a nutshell, what is Wikipedia? And what is the Wikimedia Foundation? - The Wikimedia Foundation
  • Wikimedia founding principles - Principles generally supported by all of the Wikimedia communities

Find this page confusing? Just use this link to ask for help on your talk page; a volunteer will visit you there shortly!
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