Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Collaborating with other editors/Lending other editors a hand

Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (Discuss)

Most of this book is about articles—creating, improving, arguing over, deleting. But Wikipedia is more than just a large number of articles. It's a community of people—the editors. Wikipedia has a number of pages and activities to assist editors: to answer specific questions, to help editors learn more about good editing, to help resolve differences of opinion, and even just to show appreciation. As with everything else at Wikipedia, the people who run these pages and activities are also editors—volunteers just like you. This chapter shows you all the places and ways you can lend other editors a hand.

If you're not an experienced editor, you may feel that it's too soon to read this chapter. But many of the pages and activities described below don't require a lot of experience. More importantly, you can pick and choose where you want to help. For example, if you're looking at a page of questions by editors, you can just skip any questions that you don't understand. Furthermore, you have one advantage that many other editors don't—you've read this book.

Answering questionsEdit

One of the easiest ways you can help other editors is by answering their questions. If you don't know an answer, or don't have the time to research an answer, you can simply leave the question for other editors to answer.

You may find answers to other editors' questions in this book. But there's another general resource for researching questions—the Editor's Index to Wikipedia (shortcut: WP:EIW). With more than 3,000 entries, this index probably has a link to the page or pages you need to answer most questions. You must understand the subject matter well enough to get to the right section of the index, and you may have to click through several pages to find exactly the information you need.

General questionsEdit

The main place for editors to ask general questions is the page Wikipedia:Help desk (shortcut: WP:HD). On a typical day, editors ask and answer 10 to 20 questions. This section shows you how to answer Help desk questions. You can also answer questions on other Wikipedia pages, listed at the end of this section.

Helping at the Help deskEdit

To get started answering questions at the Help desk, first read the top of that page (Figure 12-1). The Help desk page starts out with a number of, er, emphatic announcements. As you can guess, a lot of folks have misunderstood the Help desk's purpose. It's for help using the online encyclopedia, not for help finding articles. People who are very new to Wikipedia should check the FAQ first, since the answers to their questions are probably already there. Self-help, however, doesn't come easily to people who are completely new.

Figure 12-1. The phrase "For factual and other kinds of questions" means that the Help desk is not the place to look for information contained in encyclopedia articles. For a question like, "How long do butterflies live?" use the search box to find the article Butterfly, which probably contains the answer.
Some questions aren't answered in articles because they're not really encyclopedic, like, "What's a good camera to buy for someone who wants to be a professional photographer?" Take those questions to the Reference desk (shortcut: WP:RD), which is similar to a librarian service (and another place to put your question-answering expertise to good use). See the box about the Reference Desk for more detail.

The Help desk also has its own talk (discussion) page (Figure 12-2). If you want to lend a hand answering questions, read the talk page to get a feel for what other volunteers have been doing and thinking for the past couple of months. If you have a question about answering questions, or you think of a way to improve the help process, bring up the issue on this talk page.

Figure 12-2. The top of the Help desk's talk page has instructions to help you get started using the page. The links at right ("Be polite", "Assume good faith", and so on) link to guideline pages. These norms of conduct (see the section about norms of conduct) apply throughout Wikipedia, as well as to editors working the Help desk and posting on the talk page.

The most important link for a helpful editor like you who wants to answer questions is hidden on the talk page, in small print at that. Look on the right, just below the first box of instructions in Figure 12-2, for the box that reads, "How-to guide for those answering questions". That page walks you through the process of answering questions from other editors (Figure 12-3): being concise, avoiding edit conflicts with other editors who are answering questions, providing links to relevant policies and guidelines, finding answers to questions about Wikipedia, and handling general knowledge questions that really belong at the Reference desk.

Figure 12-3. This "how-to" guide helps you become a better question-answerer. For example, it has templates that you can paste in for common questions: how to create a new article, how to link from an article to another Wikipedia article, how to report vandalism, how to upload an image, and so on.
The Reference desk

The Wikipedia Reference desk (shortcut: WP:RD) is like the reference desk at your local public library, except volunteer editors take the role of all-knowing librarian. Visitors post questions about things other than editing Wikipedia, and volunteers post answers or suggestions (Figure 12-4). Here's a condensed sampling of questions from a number of Reference desk categories:

  • I'm looking for a data structure that's sort of a queue with hash-table-like properties. (Computing)
  • If you have a protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitor, and want to inhibit pkc, how would you use it? (Science)
  • How does one calculate the Euler angles for a roll-less rotation? (Mathematics)
  • Was the Holy Roman Empire not the first attempt at a ‘universal state'? If so what went wrong? (Humanities)
  • Are prepositions ending a sentence really so bad? (Language)
  • Why are new releases of DVDs, CDs, and books always released on Tuesdays? (Entertainment)
  • Why do dogs howl at the moon? (Miscellaneous)

If you have some specialized or eclectic knowledge, or like researching possibly obscure questions, you might consider lending a hand. If so, read Wikipedia:Reference desk/Guidelines first.

Figure 12-4. When you click a Reference desk category, you go to a page of instructions for asking questions, plus a list of previous asked (and answered) questions archived by date. Click the question to see volunteers' answers on a discussion page.

Other places where general questions appearEdit

The Help desk gets a wide range of questions about editing every day. You can learn a lot there just by reading answers, or by researching questions yourself in order to provide answers. New contributors are often invited to the Wikipedia:Teahouse (shortcut WP:TH), another busy forum.

Others find their way to Wikipedia:Village pump (miscellaneous) (shortcut WP:VPM) or to the talk pages of various pages in the Help namespace (for example, Help talk:Table, Help talk:Books and Help talk:Searching).

And if that's not enough, editors can ask questions in two more ways—two more ways that you can offer answers and help:

  • Editors can join the #wikipedia-en-help IRC chat room for live assistance. For more on IRC, see the section about IRC.
  • Editors can post the {{Helpme}} template on their user talk pages, along with a question or request for assistance. That template automatically lists the user talk page at Category:Wikipedians looking for help (shortcut: CAT:HELP). It also sends a notice to the IRC help channel.

Specialized questionsEdit

Editors tend to ask specialized questions (for example, about a particular policy) on the relevant talk (discussion) page, not on a consolidated help page. Still, Wikipedia has a few places for specialized questions, and thus a few places where you can consider offering advice if you're comfortable with the particular area:

  • Wikipedia:Media copyright questions (shortcut: WP:MCQ) is a place to get help with image tagging, or questions about specific images. If you want to join in answering, read Chapter 15: Adding images.
  • Wikipedia:Village pump (technical) (shortcut: WP:VPT) is for discussing technical Wikipedia issues. More often than not, those questions are about problems, or how to do something. It's also the Wikipedia page that developers of the MediaWiki software—which runs Wikipedia and all the other wikis of the Wikimedia Foundation (see the introduction)—are most likely to read.
  • Wikipedia:Graphic Lab (shortcut: WP:GL) takes existing images created by other editors and improves them as requested. If you're experienced in image manipulation and creation, this could be a fun gig to help out with.

Showing appreciation for other editorsEdit

Wikipedia gets better every day, because of the efforts of thousands of editors every day. There are many ways you can help other editors by recognizing the time and effort that they give to Wikipedia.

For brand-new editors, Wikipedia has a Welcoming committee (the shortcut to its main page is WP:WC). Committee members mainly post welcome notices (in the form of templates) on the user talk pages of newly registered editors. They also suggest to anonymous (IP address) new editors that they register and get user names. The committee also maintains pages specifically for helping new editors get started. You can see a list of such pages—including the Help desk—at WP:WC.

For appreciation of more established editors, the Kindness Campaign main page (shortcut: WP:KC) provides a good starting point. The most common way of recognition, by far, is to post an award—a template—on the editor's user talk page, with a signature identifying who gave the award. You'll find more information at Wikipedia:Awards (shortcut: WP:Award), including the box of links shown in Figure 12-5.

Figure 12-5. If you'd like to give accolades to an editor who made tremendous improvements to a number of articles or a huge contribution to a project, check out one of these pages with information on awards.

Reviewing articles and imagesEdit

The best way you can help improve articles and other content is by editing articles: improving the wording, removing improper content, and adding new information and sources. But Wikipedia has many places where editors ask for opinions about the quality of what's already in place. Editors have various reasons for requesting review: They're not sure what to work on next, they're looking for recognition, or they're hoping that other editors will see the article and join in. No matter the reason, your job as a reviewer is not to change or add content but to provide suggestions and opinions on quality.

Reviewing articlesEdit

You don't have to be an ultra-experienced editor to make good suggestions for improving an article, but you should understand what a really good article looks like. If you're just gaining experience, be sure to read Chapter 18: Better articles: A systematic approach before adding your opinion to any of the review pages listed here.

Basic to fairly good articlesEdit

In the next section, you'll find places to discuss articles that are among the best at Wikipedia (see the section about featured content). Unfortunately, most processes for review of less developed articles have fallen out of use. The only still-active process is Peer review (shortcut: WP:PR), for high-quality articles that have already undergone extensive work. It's often used to prepare an article for candidacy as a Good or Featured article, as described next.

Going for the gold: Better and best article candidatesEdit

Wikipedia has two classifications for high-quality articles that have been through an assessment nomination process: Good and Featured. Below are five places where assessments take place, and you may be able to contribute.

If you're an academic, scientist, or engineer, or an expert in a particular field, then the articles at the pages listed in this section could particularly benefit from your comments, even if you're relatively new to Wikipedia.

Candidates for Good and even Featured classification may be a long way from perfect. You may find the checklist approach to improving articles described in Chapter 18: Better articles: A systematic approach a big help here. As always, when you're looking over listed articles, you can pick and choose. You don't have to comment on articles you're not interested in, or where you don't see obvious opportunities for improvement.

  • Wikipedia:Good article nominations (shortcut: WP:GAN). At any given time, you'll probably find several hundred articles undergoing review, nicely organized into topical categories.
  • Wikipedia:Good article reassessment (shortcut: WP:GAR). Good articles occasionally go bad, or turn out never to have been that good. This page is where Good article ratings are reassessed. Typically you see only a handful of articles here at any time. Most reviewers probably visit because of a notice on an article talk page.
  • Wikipedia:Featured article candidates (shortcut: WP:FAC). Nominees for Wikipedia's highest quality category are on this page—usually 50 to 100 articles at a time. Articles are often up for a month or two while undergoing review, so checking in every 3 or 4 weeks to see what's up is frequent enough.
As with Good article nominations, Featured article candidates have almost always been nominated by the editors who created or significantly improved those articles. These editors are available, motivated, and capable of fixing just about anything that other editors identify as needing attention. If you make detailed suggestions, you may be gratified by quick responses to your comments.
Not all Featured articles become "Today's featured article" on Wikipedia's Main Page. As of late 2007, more than a dozen articles a week were successful candidates for FA status, but there are only seven opportunities per week to become a Main Page article.
These reviews take place in two stages: First, a basic review with the goal of improving the article. Second, when improvements are inadequate, the article is declared a removal candidate, and editors declare whether they support keeping or removing the article's FA status; this stage is also an opportunity for editors to overcome deficiencies. Each stage typically lasts 2 to 3 weeks. Typically, a dozen or so articles are in each stage at any given time.

Reviewing imagesEdit

Images, in addition to articles and lists, can achieve Featured status. As with articles, they gain that status via editor review, at Wikipedia:Featured picture candidates (shortcut: WP:FPC). Given the vast number of pictures uploaded every week, it's interesting that only about 10 pictures per week achieve FP status.

If you're a skilled or aspiring photographer, you may find the critiques interesting and want to join in the discussion. If you're not a skilled or aspiring photographer, you may still want to take a look to learn about the challenges of taking high-quality pictures for Wikipedia.

As discussed in Chapter 15: Adding images (see the section about uploading images), most pictures added to Wikipedia are actually uploaded to Wikimedia Commons (the main page is Commons stores pictures, sounds, and media that are available to any of the more than 250 different language versions of Wikipedia. Commons also has its own Featured picture process.

Helping resolve disputesEdit

Chapter 10: Resolving content disputes and Chapter 11: Handling incivility and personal attacks discussed a number of different places you can go for help resolving a disagreement over content or behavior. This chapter shows you how to get involved helping out with disputes at Wikipedia.

Effective dispute assistanceEdit

This book can't give you a full course in negotiation and mediation skills. There are entire college degrees in that topic. Instead, here are a few Wikipedia-specific principles to keep in mind when you're helping in a situation where two or more editors disagree:

  • You use your time better when you focus on one particular dispute instead of spending a little time each on a lot of disputes. Spending more time on one situation helps you learn the system, come up with good suggestions, and write a clear and non-inflammatory response.
  • Wording counts. People normally get a lot of context from body language and tone of voice—context that isn't available on a computer screen. Be extremely careful to avoid commenting about a person, rather than about their edits. There's a big difference between "You don't seem to understand the policy about original research", and "Your last few changes to the article are against the rules in the ‘No original research' policy [[WP:NOR]]."
  • If an editor argues over the validity of a policy or guideline, don't defend it—that's not your job. Tell the editor that they have a choice: Try to change the policy or guideline, or leave Wikipedia. Not following the rules because they disagree with them isn't acceptable. For editors who don't like the constraints of Wikipedia, there are other places (personal Web pages, blogs, discussion forums) with fewer rules. (Mention and WP:TRY.)
  • In content disputes, try to find something resembling middle ground, even if it's very close to the position of one side or the other. Or, if there are multiple points being discussed, and one side seems clearly correct, look for minor points where you can expect that side to yield (at least grudgingly). Still, the goal is to help improve the article. If your compromise leaves a problem in the article's content, other editors will only raise the issue again.
  • There's usually some validity, if only a bit, to both sides in a content dispute. You should take a look at an editor's contributions only when you can't see anything valid in what they're saying. (Is the editor totally inexperienced? Does the account seem intended only for a single article or narrow range of articles? Is the editor newly registered, but a little too capable? These factors help you understand the editor's motivations.) Also look at history of postings to that editor's user talk page. (Do you see repeated warnings or other indications of an inability to work with others?)
  • If you're helping on a content issue, you don't have to ignore behavioral misdeeds. But put comments about behavior on user talk pages—don't inject them into the middle of a discussion about improving an article.
  • One editor's violation of behavioral policies or guidelines isn't an excuse for another editor to violate the rules. Evaluate each editor's behavior separately. Regarding fighting fire with fire, be sympathetic but firm: Wikipedia policies don't allow exceptions if "the other guy started it."
  • When you're commenting about behavior, be as factually neutral as possible. Instead of paraphrasing editors, quote exact words and point to the policy or guideline that the words violated. The big two are Civility (WP:CIVIL) and No personal attacks (WP:NPA), but it helps to be familiar with all the behavioral policies (see WP:LOP) and behavioral guidelines (see WP:LOGL).

Where the action isEdit

If you're game for helping with content disputes, you can get involved in a number of areas. Your options range from offering your opinion on content disputes to helping editors reform uncivil behavior.

  • Wikipedia:Third opinion (shortcut: WP:3O). Here's a great place to start practicing the art of working with others (in this case, two others). You'll figure out the root causes of a disagreement and the extent to which the two editors' arguments are valid. While the page implies that you can write your opinion and then walk away, an acceptable resolution is more likely if you stick around and see if either editor has further comments. A quick read and a brief, dashed-off comment aren't what's needed here.
  • Wikipedia:Requests for comment—articles (shortcut: WP:RFC). Article RfCs are split by general topic (see Figure 12-6), so you can, in theory, focus on articles that interest you more. However, most RfCs are about the application of guidelines and policies: merging, emphasis and balance, whether something can be considered a reliable source, and so on. If you want to be constructive in your comments, be prepared to spend a bit of time studying the applicable policies and guidelines.
    Figure 12-6. Requests for Comment regarding articles are divided into major topical areas. However, disputes may be more about applying a particular policy or guideline than a particular subject matter.
  • Wikipedia:Requests for comment—non-article pages (shortcut: WP:RFC). Non-article RfCs typically discuss policies, guidelines and conventions themselves, rather than their application to specific articles. If you want to help out here, it's a good chance to see Wikipedia's rules up close.
    Figure 12-7. Requests for Comments for policy and conventions are also split out, but into fewer groups than for articles, probably because Wikipedia has considerably fewer RFCs of this type.
Experience is less a factor than a willingness to listen carefully; a commitment to taking the time to read what editors have done and said, and to read relevant policies and guidelines; and a methodical approach in working toward clarifying issues and exploring options. The most important factor is a belief that when reasonable people work together, you can achieve acceptable outcomes.

For experienced editorsEdit

The previous sections discussed pages where extensive experience at Wikipedia isn't a requirement for helping out (although more experience is always better). In the place described in this section, which involve mentoring, experience matters a lot.

If you haven't spent at least 6 to 12 months doing editing at Wikipedia, and if you haven't accumulated a couple of thousand edits, then refrain from offering your help there until you have more experience:

  • Wikipedia:Adopt-a-User (shortcut: WP:ADOPT). A program where experienced editors take new, inexperienced editors under their wings and help as requested. The two editors decide what that help entails. For example, the adoptee may ask questions on the adopter's user talk page. Or they come up with a more elaborate arrangement—the adopter may suggest working on a new area of editing every week, or do a weekly review of the adoptee's edits.

If you're an experienced editor, you may find Adopt-a-User a change of pace from editing or vandal-fighting or whatever most occupies your time at Wikipedia.

Choosing where you want to helpEdit

As an editor at Wikipedia, virtually every page where a discussion is going on is open for you to add comments. Even with Arbitration Committee cases, the most formal process within Wikipedia, outside comments are accepted at certain points. Thus, you can interact with and help other editors just about anywhere you want: talk pages for guideline and help pages; discussion areas like the Village Pump (see the section about general discussion areas); or pages like RfCs where editors come specifically for assistance.

More hot spotsEdit

The pages mentioned in this chapter have probably given you at least one option that fits your skills and desire to help. But if you're still looking for more places where lots of discussion's going on, where editors are asking questions and requesting input, here are more pages that might interest you:

Non-administrators are welcome to comment, but don't post something here simply to see your words in print. You must move the discussion forward by bringing new information.
  • Wikipedia:Conflict of interest/Noticeboard (shortcut: WP:COI/N). Discussions of Wikipedia's conflict-of-interest guideline and its application to incidents and situations where editors may have close personal or business connections with article topics.

What to consider when deciding where to helpEdit

As with editing articles, it's up to you to decide where your time—for reading, researching, analyzing, and composing a reply—is best spent. Here are some points to consider:

  • If you absolutely know the answer, or can find it quickly, go ahead and answer, so that other editors who aren't as knowledgeable can work on other things.
  • If requests for help on one page are being answered promptly and correctly by other editors, look around for other places with a backlog. That way, you can be assured that you're not getting into a game of musical chairs with other editors helping out. Similarly, if you can help with an older, unclosed case or question, others who assist at that page will be appreciative.
  • It's better to be slow in responding and correct when you do respond than to be the first to provide an answer and to be partly wrong. And if you can't figure out a good answer, don't answer at all. If you've promised to answer and can't, just apologize and withdraw gracefully.
  • Helping others can be a stress-reducer. Editing articles often involves changing other people's work, and having your own work changed by others. But for relatively stress-free advice-giving, remember that your job is to offer good suggestions, not to assume responsibility for their being accepted. Nor should you expect that you'll always be thanked for what you did, but if you're civil and constructive in your comments, your help will be appreciated.
  • Most importantly, if you find you're doing things at Wikipedia that you don't enjoy, stop. Do something else that you do enjoy and let other editors take over what you were previously doing. As the t-shirt says, life is too short to drink bad wine. You can see from this book's table of contents that Wikipedia is a big place. No matter what you work on, you're making a difference, and you might as well enjoy it. If you can help editors seeking assistance, great. But if you start feeling overwhelmed, irritated, or bored, that's a sign that you should spend your time and effort on other things.