Wikipedia:Plain and simple

Welcome to Wikipedia! This page will tell you about the amazing project called Wikipedia, how it works, and how to make it better. Wikipedia is a free, volunteer-created encyclopedia, consisting of articles written in a particular style. Developing Wikipedia is a continuous process with no end. If you write something good, it could be around for centuries and read all over the world. It might also be improved or incorporated into new revisions by other editors. Part of the fun and challenge of editing here is watching what happens to your contributions over time.

The Wikipedia community continues to evolve as well. Policies and customs have developed over the years which reflect the experience of thousands of editors who are constantly learning and refining how to create balanced, well-sourced, informative articles, and how to work with others and resolve conflict when it arises. While there are rules or guidelines that cover almost any situation, a few are really important. If you learn about our policies and practices, you will likely be treated with kindness and respect.

A great place to start learning is with Wikipedia's approach to sources. Wikipedia does not have its own views, or determine what is "correct". Instead, editors try to summarize what good sources have said about ideas and information. Differing views are presented objectively and without bias as they are reported in reliable sources — sources that have a reputation for being accurate. Good sources are the base of the encyclopedia, and anyone must be able to realistically check whether contributions can be backed up by one. This is generally done by citing where you found information. With reliable sources at the center of what we do, editors' original ideas, interpretations, and research are not appropriate here.

The basic mechanics of Wikipedia can take a few days to become comfortable, but once mastered, they open up the entire encyclopedia to you. This page will try to simply explain what you need to know to start editing quickly and avoid major stumbling blocks. Don't worry if you don't understand everything at first. As time goes on, you'll learn how to be a great contributor to Wikipedia! If you do get stuck, there are volunteers available to answer your questions, see asking for help for more information.

Core principles

While, theoretically, anything can be changed, the community up to this point has been built on certain principles. Much thought has been put into them, and they are unlikely to change in the future. They have worked for us so far, so give them a fair shake before attempting radical reform or leaving the project.

  • Five pillars: The foundations of the Wikipedia community are summarized in 5 simple ideas: Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia; it has a neutral point of view; it is free content that anyone can edit and distribute; all Wikipedians should interact in a respectful and civil manner; and Wikipedia does not have firm rules.
  • Founding principles: The Wikimedia Foundation, the global organization which oversees Wikipedia and other projects like it, is based on important common ideas as well: neutrality is mandatory; anyone can edit (most) articles without registration; we make decisions through the "wiki process" of discussion; we want to work in a welcoming and collaborative environment; our content is freely licensed; and we leave room for particularly difficult problems to be resolved by an authority. On English Wikipedia the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) has power to make certain binding, final decisions.
  • Copyright: Wikipedia uses opensource licensing under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike license and the GNU Free Documentation License. Content on Wikipedia can be used and re-used freely, as long as attribution is given; it can even be modified and used for profit, as long as all future re-users can do the same. Everything editors contribute must be compatible with Wikipedia's licenses and cannot violate others' copyrights, except under very particular circumstances.
  • Ignore all rules (IAR): Rules at Wikipedia are not carved in stone. The spirit of a rule trumps the letter of the rule, and the purpose of building an encyclopedia trumps a policy. This means that any rule can be broken if the action improves the encyclopedia, provided a discussion shows that there is a sufficiently good reason for the action. It does not mean that anything can be done by claiming IAR.