Skip to main content

Contributing to Wikipedia & Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia is the sixth most popular website in the world and we almost all use it. But, do you know how to contribute to it? This guide will help you get started making edits and additions to Wikipedia and uploading content to Wikimedia Commons.

Introduction

Wikipedia

Since its debut in 2001, Wikipedia has grown to be a very popular and well-known online resource. All of the content on the site is created and edited by and offered under a Creative Commons Attribution / Sharealike 3.0 license. It has:

  • Over 4.6 million articles;
  • Over 33.9 million pages; and
  • Over 22.7 million user accounts with 73,251 active users as of May 2014.

A 2010 survey found that "[a]bout 23% of contributors have completed degree-level education, 26% are undergraduates and 45% have secondary education or less. 87% are men and 13% women."

Wikipedia is a a good source of:

  • Basic reference information on a wide range of topics;
  • Links to sources to start your academic research on a topic; and
  • Creative Commons-licensed media that can be reused in other projects.
Wikipedia

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons logoWikimedia Commons is a database of content that is licensed such that it can be reused outside of Wikimedia projects. Anyone can contribute materials that are in the public domain, Creative Commons-licensed or otherwise available for reuse and based on these contributions, Wikimedia Commons already has over 23.3 million media files available. You can search for items or browse through the available items by media type, subject, location, license, or author.

Getting Started

Should I Create an Account?

While you do not need to have a Wikipedia account in order to make edits to the site's content, there are some advantages to creating an account. If you opt to edit a page without creating an account or logging in, your IP address will be recorded and made public on the "View History" tab of the page that you edit. In addition, you will not be able to receive messages from other Wikipedia users or make use of all of the community features and beta tools that are available with an account. There are also some other advantages to creating an account detailed on the "Why Create An Account?" page. Below you can see the message that appears if you start to edit a page without logging into an account.

Screenshot of message that shows if you start to edit without loging in

Creating an Account

If you decide to create an account, the process is very streamlined. You will need to select a username and a password, but that is the only information that is required. You have the option to also supply an email address, which is needed to receive email notifications or reset your password if you lose it. You can see the "Create Account" screen below.

Screenshot of Wikipedia Create an Account page

Creating A User Page

Creating a User Page

Creating a User Page will help you to get involved with the community of Wikipedia editors and is also a helpful step in ensuring that other Wikipedia users can contact via your User Page to discuss changes you make. It is also the first step to ensuring that your edits are not deleted. As with articles, you can edit your User Page either using wiki markup or using the Visual Editor, which is currently in beta. You can learn more about these options on the Making Edits tab

You can get to your User Page by clicking on your username and then clicking on the first option, which says "Start the User:______ page." Once you click on that option, you will see a page that looks like the page below. You can then add any information you would like to your User Page.

screenshot of how to create a Wikipedia User Page

Here is an example of one librarian's completed user page:

User page screenshot

Making Edits

Making Your First Edits

Wikipedia is designed to make editing very approachable for new users. When you create your account, Wikipedia will automatically offer to take you to a suggested article for editing.

screenshot showing Wikipedia request to edit an article

If you do decide to edit the article that is suggested for you, this will launch a guided tour of the editing process, which can make the process easier if you aren't sure how you can contribute. This process also emphasizes how you can become a Wikipedia editor without needing extensive background knowledge in any particular field.

Do you prefer to learn through games? Check out the Wikipedia Adventure to learn to edit while you play!

Visual Editor

The simplest way to edit Wikipedia content is using the Visual Editor, a feature that is currently in beta. This tool allows you to edit Wikipedia articles by clicking on the Edit tab to the right of the Edit Source tab. You will not be able to see this tab until you enble Visual Editor.

Enabling this feature on your account is straght forward. First, click on the "Beta" link in the upper right corner of the page as seen in the image below.

Wikipedia screenshot showing how to edit with Visual Editor.

This will take you to a page that lists all of the features that are currently in Beta. At the top of the page, you can check a box to enable all beta features.

Wikipedia screenshot showing features available in Visual Editor.

Alternatively, you can scroll down to the description of the Visual Editor and only select this single Beta feature by clicking the check box next to it and then clicking save at the bottom of the page.

Wikipedia screenshot showing alternative way to enable Visual Editor

Edit Source

If you would prefer, you can edit Wikipedia content using the Edit Source tab that appears at the top of each page.

Wikipedia screenshot showing Edit Source tab.

You can do this even without creating an account, though if you do not log into an account, your IP Address will be recorded and made public with your edits. If you choose to edit Wikipedia this way, you will need to use wiki markup or wikicode to make changes. Wikipedia maintains a list of basic wiki markup syntax in their help section. While the learning curve for this approach is greater, it will also give you somewhat greater control over your edits.

Find Ways To Contribute

The easiest way to get started on Wikipedia is by choosing small, approachable projects. But, these can be tough to find on your own. If you want to hone your editing skills without searching out projects, check out the Community Portal, which offers a wide range of suggested projects from fixing spelling/grammar errors to adding references. They are currently running a special project to add pages on frequently cited female scientists who are not included on Wikipedia.

The Community Portal is also a great place to find help, learn more about other WikiProjects and exchange peer editing services.

Wikipedia screenshot showing Wikipedia Community Portal.

Creating An Article

Tutorial

While editing existing articles is the best way to get started as a contributor to Wikipedia, once you have made some edits, you may wish to create a brand new article from scratch. This tutorial from Wikimedia Commons gives a quick introduction to creating such an article on Wikipedia.

Let The Wizard Help You!

If you still aren't sure about writing an article on your own, Wikimedia offers the Article Wizard. This tool will walk you through the steps to create a new article on Wikipedia. If you still feel nervous, it also offers an option to submit a request for an article in the hopes that someone else will write it.

Wikipedia screenshot showing Article Wizard
(Click on the image to try it out!)

Uploading Content

Wikimedia Commons

Once you have your Wikipedia account, you can also add images to Wikipedia's sister project, Wikimedia Commons. Log in to Wikipedia, and then scroll down to the bottom of the main Wikipedia page to find the Wikimedia Commons link.

Screenshot of Wikipedia sister projects, highlighting Wikimedia Commons

To get started, click on Upload File from the left menu, or the blue Upload button. Wikimedia Commons will then walk you through the process of uploading material and choosing the appropriate license.

Wikimedia Commons screenshot hightlighting how to upload images

Not sure what you can upload? Check out this helpful infographic to decide which content to upload.

Tips & Best Practices

Be Prepared For Feedback, Edits & Deletion

Wikipedia is a collaborative platform that is continuously updated and improved. Beyond that, it is a community made up of a wide range of people who are bound to disagree on a whole host of topics. This means that changes you make or articles you write may be edited, commented on, or even deleted. If this happens, DON'T PANIC! This is all part of the learning process for becoming an active member of the Wikipedia community.

When this happens to you (which is almost certainly will at some point), instead try to learn from the experience. First, try to see why the change was made. This can be done through the edit summary on the page that was edited or on your talk page. Then, if you want to know more, ask the Help Desk or visit the IRC channel for live assistance. Finally, get more involved with the Wikipedia Community to learn about the community norms and practices.

Best Practices for Creating An Article

While you may not want to take on the creation of a completely new article as your first project on Wikipedia, it is an approachable project once you have spent some time editing existing content. The first step to creating an article is selecting a topic. When selecting a topic, keep in mind these dos and don'ts adapted from Wikipedia's Starting an Article page.

Do:

  • Pick a notable topic;
  • Adopt a neutral tone;
  • Include references and citations to reliable sources; and
  • Organize, proofread, and edit your article (you can even start in your sandbox before you publish it).

Don't:

  • Write an article about yourself, your organization, or your friend;
  • Advertise a product, company or group;
  • Violate copyright;
  • Reference original research; or
  • Attack individuals (in fact, be careful writing about any liviing person).

Get Involved In The Community

The more involved you are in the Wikipedia, the more you will learn about how you can contribute and speciality projects that you can join. To best resources for becoming a part of the Wikipedia community are found on the Community Portal and the Teahouse, which is a sub-community specifically for new editors. Dive in and find your place in the Wikipedia ecosystem!

Getting Help

Contact Us!

 

Ask Us!Submit a question or search the knowledge base.

CallReference Desk, 617-495-4516

TextAsk a Librarian, 617-702-2728

Emailresearch@law.harvard.edu

Meet Consult a Librarian

Classes View Training Calendar or Request an Insta-Class

Visit Us Library and Reference Hours