How Wikipedia Works

And How You Can Be a Part of It
by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yates

September 2008, 536 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-59327-176-3
Contents | Reviews | Updates

"This wonderful book resolves Wikipedia's paradox: Anyone can edit it, but to make your edits stick, you need to know what you are doing. Editing Wikipedia means navigating a minefield of implicit norms, tacit knowledge, secret lore, suggested policies, and enforceable regulations."
—Barry Wellman, director of Netlab, University of Toronto

Download Chapter 12: "Community and Communication"

Myxomatosis. The Order of Canada. Noble gas. Catherine de’ Medici. The History of Superman? Whether you’re doing serious research on the Web or just settling an argument, it’s easy to get caught up in Wikipedia’s two million articles. And that’s not such a bad thing. But how’d all the information get there in the first place? And how can you tell if it’s reliable?

Or say you want to become a part of Wikipedia and make your own contributions. Where do you begin?

In How Wikipedia Works, you’ll learn the skills required to use and contribute to the world’s largest reference work—like what constitutes good writing and research and how to work with images and templates.

With insight, anecdotes, and tips from three Wikipedia veterans, you’ll learn how to:

  • Find information and evaluate the quality and reliability of articles
  • Contribute to existing articles by copyediting, writing new material, and fact-checking
  • Add new articles that conform to Wikipedia’s guidelines and best practices—so that your hard work won’t be deleted
  • Communicate with other Wikipedians through Talk pages, discussion forums, direct messaging, and more
  • Understand Wikipedia’s policies and procedures and how they’re created and enforced
  • Resolve content disputes and deal with vandals and other malicious editors

Wikipedia is made up of people just like you: students, professors, and everyday experts and fans. With about 10,000 articles added to Wikipedia each week, there are plenty of opportunities to join this global community. How Wikipedia Works explains how you can make the Web’s go-to source for information even better.

About the Author

Phoebe Ayers (user:phoebe) is a science and engineering reference librarian at UC Davis. She has been editing Wikipedia since 2003 and is an organizer of the Wikimania conferences.

Table of Contents


Part I: Content
Chapter 1: What's in Wikipedia?
Chapter 2: The World Gets a Free Encyclopedia
Chapter 3: Finding Wikipedia's Content
Chapter 4: Understanding and Evaluating an Article

Part II: Editing
Chapter 5: Basic Editing
Chapter 6: Good Writing and Research
Chapter 7: Cleanup, Projects, and Processes
Chapter 8: Make and Mend Wikipedia's Web
Chapter 9: Images, Templates, and Special Characters
Chapter 10: The Life Cycle of an Article

Part III: Community
Chapter 11: Becoming a Wikipedian
Chapter 12: Community and Communication
Chapter 13: Policy and Your Input
Chapter 14: Disputes, Blocks, and Bans

Part IV: Other Projects
Chapter 15: 200 Languages and Counting
Chapter 16: Wikimedia Commons and Other Sister Projects
Chapter 17: The Foundation and Project Coordination

Appendix A: Reusing Wikimedia Content
Appendix B: Wikipedia for Teachers
Appendix C: Edit Summaries Jargon
Appendix D: Glossary
Appendix E: History (List of Wikipedia Pages Referenced in This Work)
GNU Free Documentation License

View the detailed Table of Contents (PDF)

View the Index (PDF)



Jumping Monkeys, a weekly show devoted to parenting and the digital age, interviewed How Wikipedia Works author Phoebe Ayers about how kids and teens can use Wikipedia wisely. Listen to Episode 68 here!

"This book was created by Wikipedians, and as a result, I have never read a better summary of how Wikipedia works. Anyone who wants to understand this miracle of the Internet should buy this book!"
—Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales, founder of Wikipedia

"To write every day is good advice, but to publish every day is even better. This book shows how your casual scholarship and the Wikipedia community work together so that you can be read tomorrow."
—Ward Cunningham, creator of the wiki

"Frank, helpful, honest, endlessly informative—this book embodies the best of Wikipedia's values."
—David Weinberger, author of Everything is Miscellaneous

"This wonderful book resolves Wikipedia's paradox: Anyone can edit it, but to make your edits stick, you need to know what you are doing. Editing Wikipedia means navigating a minefield of implicit norms, tacit knowledge, secret lore, suggested policies, and enforceable regulations."
—Barry Wellman, director of Netlab, University of Toronto

"As Wikipedia has grown, its processes, policies, systems, and tools have become inscrutable to many existing and would-be editors. How Wikipedia Works provides an accessible window onto these processes and thoughtful tour through the maze of Wikipedia policy pages. It's the thoughtful, comprehensive, and freely licensed manual that I've been waiting years for. Wikipedia would be much improved if every Wikipedia editor, new and old, were given a copy."
—Benjamin Mako Hill, free software activist, hacker, and scholar

"How Wikipedia Works provides plenty of clear step-by-step lessons. [It is] probably the best and most complete book on Wikipedia to date."
—The Sacramento Book Review (Read the October 2008 Issue Here)

"Okay, so you've been editing Wikipedia for a while now, but with all that content and all those participants, do you understand how the information behemoth really works? How Wikipedia Works could be the ultimate road map to a higher Wikipedia consciousness for the dead tree set that feels more comfortable when their online enterprises are backed by words written on paper."
—J. Scott Orr, (Read More)

"Whether you are interested in supporting Wikipedia in improving standards or just fancy adding your own articles about your favourite long-lost cartoon hero, How Wikipedia Works is a great one-stop source for information on the world’s go-to source for information."
—The Register (Read More)

How Wikipedia Works is "very interesting, and although it is not a light read or a quick read, it is an in-depth look at Wikipedia that is sure to get you on your way to using it and maybe even contributing to it."
—Laura Williams' Musings Blog (Read More)

"The authors do not disappoint. It is all there in an easy-to-read, well-written, and detailed analysis. As a constant and active user of Wikipedia, I was thoroughly impressed and informed."
— (Read More)

"I highly recommend How Wikipedia Works to anyone with any interest in Wikipedia. It is a must have for anyone that would like to give editing Wikipedia a try."
— (Read More)

"I think new users, and those interested in learning more about Wikipedia, will find this book to be a great guide to understanding Wikipedia, and the community behind it."
—Wikipedia Signpost Book Review (Read More)

"I think this is a fabulous contribution to the canon of online literature and recommend it to anyone interested in the subject area."
—Stephen's Web (Read More)

"Whether you are simply interested in the process or you're a power editor, this book has a little something for everyone. From the very basics to the most complex it's an interesting read and a great resource."
—Kevin Doyle, (Read More)

"Put simply, if you want to know what all of those people who contribute to Wikipedia are so busy doing, here's your answer."
—Dennis Wurster,

"For me, the selling feature would be the History section. It highlights what How Wikipedia Works and No Starch Press seem to be striving for, to take some of the mystery out of "The Internet." Of course I can make my way through the world just fine without knowing what GNU stands for, but I do feel just a little better having a handle on what some of these terms mean."
— (Read More)

"How Wikipedia Works is a fine reference guide to writing articles for Wikipedia. If you've ever had the urge to add your two bits to Wikipedia, get this book. Your contribution will be written according to Wikipedia's guidelines, and so will be taken more seriously."
—MyMac Magazine (Read More)

"[The authors] provide a well-laid-out, detailed user manual for editing Wikipedia."
—Choice, March 2009 Issue

"How Wikipedia Works is "a terrific and detailed explanation of the intricacies of Wikipedia's structure, ethos, rules, and hierarchy."
—Joho the Blog (Read More)

"From understanding its policies to resolving content disputes and handling malicious editors, How Wikipedia Works is packed with insights."
—The Midwest Book Review (Read More)

"Written by people who routinely edit Wikipedia articles, this book provides a thorough grounding on every aspect of the site, including how to tell if the information you are reading is reliable."
—The Kleper Report

How Wikipedia Works is a "well-laid-out, detailed user manual for editing Wikipedia...Recommended."
—Choice Magazine, March 2009

"How Wikipedia Works is a good introduction to the mechanics of the Wikipedia. It contains a lot of useful material that is presented clearly and in a practical way."
— (Read More)