Wikipedia: The Missing Manual
The Missing Manual series is nearly universally praised. The books provide instructions and guidance on software and other computer-related products that don’t come with manuals. This book continues the campaign.
Wikipedia is a contemporary sign of our times, a conglomerate, a composite, a melding and mishmash of people and ideas. I wrote about it two years ago, in an attempt to figure out whether this community reference thing was going to work.
Wikipedia is not perfect, by any stretch. But it is useful and energizing and handy. The notion that you or I can contribute to someone else’s understanding of a topic is exciting and rewarding. But don’t count on it for verifying anything important. The openness of the system means it’s still possible for vandals to monkey with information. It normally gets corrected fairly quickly, but you might be there during the time it’s wrong, so be careful. I corrected a page a few months ago that said one of my favorite 85-year-old actors had purchased a condom instead of a condominium.
All that said, if you want to start editing articles and writing them yourself, John Broughton’s book is certain to make your experience a better one. I don’t say you must own it; much of the information in it you can figure out on your own, but the book would save you trial and error. Much of the information about the site itself is found in the toolbar on the left side of all Wikipedia pages, following a link called About Wikipedia. If you intend only to edit a few pages here and there, likely you will find enough guidance there, and not need the book.
But for folks who enjoy digging into a thing, the book is well worth the investment. I found it new at a large online book retailer for two-thirds of the suggested retail price, but even at full price it’s a good buy. Broughton explains the advantages of creating an account, tells you how to read a page’s history to see previous edits, and explains the sandbox (a page where you can practice editing without disturbing content). Once you register, you get your own sandbox to play in.
A big chunk of the book is about bumping into and working with other editors. If you plan to invest much energy in this project, I recommend Part II: Collaborating with Other Editors.
Broughton’s prose does not include hotkeys, because users approach Wikipedia from many different browsers and operating systems, but there’s an appendix listing them. He does provide shortcuts from within the Wikipedia pages, which you can type in the search box on the left side of the pages.
Many casual users will not need the book. If you visit the site more than a few times a day, or find yourself thinking, “I could improve this article because I know something about the topic,” or “I wish this was more than a stub—I wish I knew how to expand this into an article,” then this book is for you.