Top Tips for Wiki Newbies

Creating or editing wiki pages for the first time can be a bit intimidating! But, it doesn't have to be. The following “top five” tips were selected to help you become familiar with how this wiki site works, and how best to use it.

- Start with a Document Structure

You have a blank wiki page. Where should you start? Well, it is important to embrace one of the key features of a wiki and not treat each page as being independent. A wiki page is not like a monolithic Microsoft Word document, so it's best not to treat it as such! Wiki pages are web pages (that you can edit), so any given page may link to several other pages.

This means that before putting content into your wiki page, you should start with a document structure. Think about what headers and categories you will have. Will you have an abstract or an introduction? Is the subject large enough in scope to warrant being broken down into several sections? What about a section for any conclusions or references? By implementing headers (the H1 to H5 buttons in the toolbar), a “Table of Contents” box will automatically be created using H1, H2, and H3 headers.

It is also a very good idea to create internal links to new wiki pages from your main page (use the “internal link” button in the toolbar, which looks like a three-link chain). You may want to lead people away from the main page to view content under each individual section, or perhaps place references on a separate page. There are two main reasons to separate content into multiple pages linked from the main page.

The first reason is that sometimes, the main article page can become very long if it is a complex topic. Moving content from a very long main page into smaller pages linked from the main page will make the article more readable. The second reason is that a single page can only be edited by a single person at any given time. A wiki is a wonderful collaboration tool; many people (e.g. all group members) can edit wiki pages simultaneously if they're all working on different pages! Everyone can participate in the process of adding or editing content when you have multiple wiki pages.

- Create Separate Pages for Rough Work

In addition to creating a document structure with headers and separate pages for each section as recommended above, it is also advisable to create separate pages as a “holding area” for rough work. This is especially recommended for group projects where each group member should have their own page for rough work to post content. Later, the content can be reformatted and made more presentable, and then be merged into the main page or placed into a separate wiki page that is linked from the main page.

Be careful about creating “orphans”, though. When you create a new page using an internal link, it's best for you not to rename the page later (you can change the name that is displayed; see internal links in the syntax help). Renaming pages can break links between wiki pages; and if all links are broken to any given wiki page, it becomes an “orphan”. You can find orphaned pages by visiting the Orphaned and Wanted Pages wiki page.

- Review the Syntax and Plugin Help Pages

The Syntax for Editing page will help to get you started with how to write the wiki markup (“code”) for basic text formatting. It is strongly recommended that you read through the syntax help and look at the examples to see how to achieve a certain look.

The Plugin Help page demonstrates several plugins that provide additional features to the wiki. You can look at the many examples to get ideas on how to do interesting things beyond using the basic formatting elements. Taking advantage of the plugins can give your wiki pages a richer and more polished appearance by adding multimedia elements or special styles, such as boxes, quotations, definition lists, and more.

Keep both of these pages in mind as references to refer back to when you're trying to figure out how to do something but it's not quite working the way you want it to.

- Use the Playground for Testing

If you just want to test something without cluttering up your wiki pages (e.g. testing proper formatting syntax), use the Playground. Introducing multiple edits and saves while working on your wiki pages will also increase the number of page revisions stored, so if you want to go back later to find a particular change under the “old revisions” tab, it will be more difficult.

- Say Hello to Tabs

Along the top of each wiki page, you will see a series of tabs. On most wiki pages, you will see an “article” tab, a “discussion” tab, a “create this page”, “edit this page”, or “show pagesource” tab, and an “old revisions” tab.

The “article” tab is the main article or content page for a given topic. The “discussion” tab is a page that is logically linked to your main article, and can be created as a page to host comments or a discussion about the main article, without cluttering up the main page. For example, it can be a place for group members to leave comments about the main page, or it can be used as a “holding area” for content that needs to be further developed before being added to the main page.

The “create this page” tab will appear if the page you are viewing doesn't actually exist yet and you have the permission to create it. The “edit this page” tab appears if the page exists, and you have the permission to edit it. If you cannot create nor edit the page, then you will see the “show pagesource” tab. This allows you to see the wiki markup (“code”) that is used in that page. If you see an example of something you want to do in a given wiki page, you can always “edit” it or view the pagesource to copy the syntax and repurpose it.

The “old revisions” tab allows you to see all previously saved edits of a given wiki page. You can compare the differences between any two versions of a page. From this tab, you can also restore an old revision, overwriting the current revision of a page.

Final Thoughts

You may still have some hesitation about creating and editing wiki pages. The best way to fix that is for you to start experimenting! Remember, you can't permanently mangle/break/delete content in the wiki. You can always restore a previous version if you accidentally save changes that you didn't want to make. Try doing different things in the wiki by experimenting with the syntax. You will probably surprise yourself with what you can do!

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