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Contributing FAQ

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

Getting started

How can I contribute?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#HOW 
For how to volunteer, see Help:Introduction.
For how to donate, see m:Donations FAQ.

Why would I want to contribute?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#WHY 
See why on Earth would I want to contribute to a wiki.

Do I have to register to edit pages?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#REG 
No. Anyone can edit without any kind of registration (except disruptive users who have been blocked).

What, then, is the point of getting an account?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#WHYREG 
There are many reasons: see Wikipedia:Why create an account?

Is there a minimum age requirement to contribute or register?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#AGE 
No. Anyone of any age may edit articles or register. Wikipedia does not even require that users disclose their age when registering!
Note that users who identify themselves as minors (generally those under 16 years of age) are encouraged, and will be required, to protect their identities via safe practices where the posting of personal information is concerned. See Wikipedia:Protecting children's privacy.

Do I have to use my real name?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#NAME 
No. Real names are not required; some Wikipedians use real names, some don't: see Wikipedia:Username.

How do I change my own username?

See Wikipedia:Changing username.

What does that word mean?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#TERM 
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.
  • 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 means a small touch, and can also be 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"?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#ORPHAN 
An orphan is an article that no other article links to. Such articles can be found on Wikipedia, but it is preferable that another article should link to each article. You can find a list of orphans at Category:Orphaned articles.

What is a stub?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#STUB 
A stub on Wikipedia is a very short article, usually of one paragraph or less. For a more comprehensive explanation, please refer to Wikipedia:Stub.

What is disambiguation?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#DISAMB 
See Wikipedia:Disambiguation.

What is a minor edit? When should I use it?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#MINOR 
When editing a page, a logged-in user has the option to flag an edit as "minor." You should flag an edit as minor only when you believe it is an edit that no one would object to, such as fixing spelling or grammar.
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.
See also: Wikipedia:Minor edit.

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

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#RULES 
Yes. See Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines. There are a lot, but you'll get the hang of it!

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.

Are there any standard formats, for things like dates for example?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#FORMAT 
Yes. We have a Manual of Style that articles should follow.

What do I do if I find two articles on the same subjects?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#TWO 
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, use the procedure at Help:Merging. You can also make a mention of the problem on the list of Wikipedia:Proposed mergers.

What is the ideal/maximum length of an article? When should an article be split into smaller pieces?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#SIZE 
See Wikipedia:Article size.

Can we debate or talk about the subjects here?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#TALK 
No. Wikipedia is not a forum. Talk pages are for discussing improvements to the article.

I've found vandalism, or I've damaged a page by mistake! How can I restore it?

See Help:Reverting.

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, read the language proposal policy to find out how to create a new language edition of Wikipedia.

Should I use American English or British English?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#ENGLISH 
The official policy is to use British spelling when writing about British topics, and American English 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 that redirects to the main article.

How do I check spelling on a page?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#SPELL 
A spelling checker has been requested for Wikipedia, but has not been implemented yet, except as a third-party extension. The Firefox 2.0 web browser automatically checks spelling in forms such as Wikipedia editing forms. When editing a larger article, it may be more convenient to paste the text into your text editor or word processor first, to edit and check the spelling there, and then paste your corrected text back into Wikipedia editor to complete your contribution. You can also use an online spelling checker.
There is a list of common misspellings, which you can use to check if a listed misspelling is on any page in the database, although this process fails to identify any misspelled words not on that list.

Why are some links red?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#LINKS 
A page with that name has not yet been created. 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:Article titles for information on naming pages, and Wikipedia:Red link for more guidance on red links.
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.

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, and instructions on how you should proceed. It's virtually impossible to lose any data.

What happens if my computer or browser crashes mid-edit, or if the server does not respond?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#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. Opera and 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).

How do I learn about changes to certain topics without having to go there from time to time?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#WATCH 
If you are a logged-in user, on every page you will see either a link that says "Watch this article", or a small five-pointed star next to "View history". 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?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#FORMAT 
For images, use JPEG for photographs, and SVG for drawings and logos. PNG can also be used. Use GIF for inline animations.
For video, Ogg Theora is currently the only recommended format. See Wikipedia:Image use policy for more.

What file format should I use for sound?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#SFORMAT 
Multiple encodings are encouraged. WAV and Ogg Vorbis are allowed, but MP3 is not.

One of the contributors is being unreasonable. Help!

See Wikipedia:Etiquette and Wikipedia:Dispute resolution.

I've made a suggestion on an article's talk page, but have not gotten any responses. How long should I wait before implementing my suggested change?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#WAIT 
Per Wikipedia:Be bold, there's no need to wait at all. Simply make your change. If someone else disagrees with it, they can always revert the change, and then you can talk the issue out with that person.

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

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

Why was the article I created deleted?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#DELETE 
New articles are deleted for not following Wikipedia policies and guidelines. See Wikipedia:Why was my article deleted?

Why was the edit I made removed?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#REMOVE 
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?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#TRANS 
Yes, it's a good idea to cross-pollinate. Please give credit to the contributors of the original article by noting that you have done so, with a link to the original, in the edit summary or at the article's talk page. See Wikipedia:Translation for further information.

What about using machine translation?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#MTRANS 
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. 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 left 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?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#OTHER 
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.
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 to edit a page for different ways to create external links.
See the relevant guideline for more examples on when external links are appropriate.

How do I link from book articles to the online text at Project Gutenberg?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#BOOK 
Use Template:Gutenberg.


I have, or can get, special permission to copy an image or article to Wikipedia. Is it OK to do that?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#IMAGE 
Unless the article you want to copy to Wikipedia is covered by Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License (CC-BY-SA), a CC-BY-SA-compatible license or is in the public domain, it cannot be used on Wikipedia. Images, too, must be public domain or licensed under one of allowed licenses at Wikipedia:Image copyright tags. You have to ask the copyright holder of the material to license it so it can be used. See Wikipedia:Requesting copyright permission. Under very limited conditions we can use copyrighted material even if it is not licensed compatibly; see Wikipedia:Non-free content for how and when.
The text of Wikipedia is covered by the (CC-BY-SA) and, in most cases, the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) (unversioned, with no invariant sections, front-cover texts, or back-cover texts). Images are covered by various free licenses (see the Wikimedia Foundation Licensing Policy).

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 its patent?

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


Can I really change whatever I want on Wikipedia?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#ALL 
Yes, you can on almost any page. 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. Some pages are also semi-protected, so that anonymous and new users cannot edit them, to reduce vandalism. The vast majority of pages on Wikipedia are editable by anyone, at any time, and any changes made will be reflected instantly.

How do I get a count of my edits?

 Shortcut:   WP:COFAQ#COUNT 
Your edit count, including deleted edits, is displayed when you enter your preferences.
There are a number of tools called edit counters that can display the total count of your edits as well as the number of edits in various namespaces.

How do I edit the Main Page?

See Wikipedia:Editing the main page.

More FAQ topics