Spotted a stupid typo or a factual error on Wikipedia? Don't just laugh or say "that proves you can never trust the Internet" -- get in and correct it yourself.
Wikipedia's "anyone can edit" policy means just that -- the only absolute pre-requisite is that you have a browser. While that means that Wikipedia volunteers do spend a lot of time dealing with vandalism, it's also led Wikipedia to become a dominant source of knowledge that regularly tops Google search results. If you've found Wikipedia a useful resource, then it's just good manners to help out now and again, even if it's on something as simple as restoring a missing full stop.
Wikipedia's online help system offers an incredible amount of detail on how to edit articles, covering everything from the minor details of the formatting system used to the policies which apply. However, the absolute basics of getting going are rather more straightforward than some of the help documents might suggest. (While these tips are based on Wikipedia, they also apply to numerous other online wiki projects.)
5. Set up an account
You can click on the 'edit this page' entry at the top of any Wikipedia article and make changes; the only detail Wikipedia will store is your IP address. However, it makes much more sense to set up an account (using the create account link in the top right corner) -- all you need is a user name, a password and an email address.
The main reason to register? Anonymous edits are blocked on articles which suffer from a high degree of vandalism. Logging in also means that your contributions are all tracked, which helps you keep track of your own work and demonstrates your approach to other Wikipedia editors. (That's likely to become even more important when Wikipedia introduces reputation-based colour coding.) You can see who has worked on an article by clicking on the history link at the top, which produces a reverse chronological list of every contributor.
4. Start editing
If you've spotted something that needs fixing or expanding, click on the 'edit this page' link. (If the article is very long and divided into sections, there will also be an 'edit' link near the heading for each section -- clicking on this lets you edit just that section, which can be faster and less overwhelming.)
The text of the article will appear in an edit box. There's likely to be a lot of complicated markup and punctuation which can be hard to follow, but the main text itself is usually pretty easily identified, and you can edit it just like any other text.
Underneath the edit box, you'll spot a single-line text box labelled 'Edit summary'. When you've made the changes you want, write a brief description of what you've done -- this doesn't need to be anything more than 'Fixed spelling error', but it should make clear the nature of the change. (This summary appears on the history page.)
Having made your changes, you should click on the 'Show preview' button. This will show you the article with your edits incorporated -- a useful check to make sure you haven't wrecked any formatting or introduced other problems. When you're happy, click on 'Save page' and your alterations will have been added to Wikipedia. If the whole thing seems to have gone horribly wrong, click on Cancel to abandon the edit and try again.
3. Learn how to link
Wikipedia relies heavily on linking to other topics, but you don't need to learn HTML to add links. To link to another page on Wikipedia, simply enclose the name of the page in double square brackets. For instance, adding
to an article will create a link like this within the article:
If you create a link to a non-existent article, it will show up in the preview in red, so you've got an opportunity to fix it.
2. Learn how to format
To put something in italics, surround it with a pair of single quotes:
To put something in bold, surround it with a triple set of single quotes:
Formatting is generally used sparingly on Wikipedia articles -- the most common context for italics is in book and movie titles, while bold is most commonly found in the opening paragraph of articles to identify the key topic.
1. Don't stress too much about the fine detail
Wikipedia has an absolute plethora of policies, rules and formatting guidelines. If you become a committed Wikipedia editor, you'll absorb these over time. However, you don't need to know them all at once. If you make a mistake, someone will almost certainly correct it pretty quickly.
The two key principles that need to be borne in mind are verifiability and neutrality. As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is concerned with facts, and not with advocating particular viewpoints. If you add a controversial statement and don't indicate the source of the information, it's likely to get deleted very quickly. The first time this happens to an edit, you're likely to feel offended -- but if you examine why the change has been made, you'll get a better understanding of the medium.
Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?