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What is a wiki?

According to Wikipedia:

A wiki is a collection of web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites and to power community websites. The collaborative encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is one of the best-known wikis. Wikis are used in business to provide intranets and Knowledge Management systems. Ward Cunningham, developer of the first wiki software, WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as "the simplest online database that could possibly work".

In plain English

  • Anyone can edit any page
  • Anyone can create a new page
  • Anyone can revert to any previous version of a page
  • Documents are written collaboratively in a simple markup language within a web browser

CommonCraft’s video Wikis in Plain English explains it well.

Setting up your account

Create your user account by clicking the 'log in/create account' button at the top-right corner of any given wiki page. Click the 'create a new account' link and fill out the form to get started using the wiki.

Getting e-mail notification of changes

Here’s the easy, 3-step method for getting e-mail notifications sent whenever someone edits one of your “Watched” pages on the wiki.

  1. Click on “my preferences” in the upper right corner of the page, next to your Log in info.
  2. Under “E-mail”, put a check in the “E-mail me when a page I’m watching is changed” box.
  3. Click on the “Save” button at the bottom of the page.

That’s all there is to it! Now you’ll get e-mails whenever there’s a change to one of your “watched” pages.

Basic editing

Every page has an ‘edit this page’ feature. Click this button and the page will open in an editable interface. Make your edits, then click ‘Show Preview’ to preview your edited page and click ‘Save Page’ to retain your changes.

Creating a new page

Creating a new page in a wiki is almost unbelievably easy - you simply insert an internal link in any existing page.

To do this, use the internal link button on the Edit Toolbar to insert a link. [[Link Title]] will pop up - replace the text with [[Your Actual Title]]. Click the Save Page button and click on the now live link to navigate to the new page.

Or, you can simply type two square brackets [[like so]] around both sides of any text on the page, and it instantly becomes a link to a new, blank wiki page with the text as the page title.

Editing the Left Navigation

To change the left navigation, edit the Sidebar MediaWiki page at MediaWiki:Sidebar.

Wiki Markup: Text

Use simple codes to format text. Combinations of apostrophes create italic and bold font.

Formatting wiki articles with MediaWiki is a bit different than using a standard word processor. This tutorial deals with simple format, linking and page setup codes. Later tutorials will discuss more complex wiki markup, like creating tables and inserting images. It’s not WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), but uses simple text codes to create particular elements of a page and format text.

Bold text: surround the text in triple apostrophes '''Bold text''' like so Italic text: surround the text in double apostrophes ''Italic text'' like so

Wiki Markup: Links

Use simple codes to format links. Combinations of [brackets] and text create live links.

Internal link (within the wiki):

Use 2 [[square brackets]] around a page name to create a link to another page within the wiki. Use a "pipe" or straight line (Shift + \) to create a break between the actual page name and the text you want to display.
  1. [[Name of Page]] creates the link
  2. [[Name of page|Text to display]] masks the page name with different text in the link.

Internal Section linking (aka anchors):

Want to link down to another section in a really long page?
Wikis do this automatically for you by building a Table of Contents for any page with more than 4 subheadings. But, if you want to link to something specific in a page within the body text, you can do that too.
Links in the form [[#anchor_name]] will link to any anchor named "anchor_name" on the page. This may be either a heading named "anchor_name", or an arbitrary position.
  • [[#top]] is a reserved name that links to the top of a page.
  • It is possible to create an arbitrary anchor name using the HTML code , or the template {{Anchor|anchor name}}.

External link (to any outside website, not in the wiki):

Use just 1 [square bracket] around a website URL to create a link to another page outside of the wiki, on the web. No need to use the "pipe" or straight line to rename the text on display for the link; simply leave a space between the URL and then enter the text you want to display.
  1. [HTTP:// Text to display] inserts Text to display, hyperlinked
  2. [HTTP://] inserts a footnote with the hyperlink (like this [1])

Wiki Markup: Page Setup

Format the page with simple codes:
=  Headings
*  Bullets
#  Lists
:  Indents
  • Headings: surround the == Heading == with 2 or more equal signs
=== More signs === create a smaller sub-header
  • Bulleted lists: place an asterisk * before the list item
    • more stars create a sub-bullet
  1. Numbered lists: place a number sign/hash/pound symbol # before the list item
    1. more number signs create a sub-list
Indentation: place a colon : before the text you’d like to indent
more colons create a deeper indentation

How to Upload and Display Files

While the best practice is to copy your content to the wiki itself, making it instantly searchable, scannable and editable, we understand that sometimes you just want people to download your carefully crafted, attractively laid-out Word, PDF, PowerPoint or Excel file. Or maybe you recorded a podcast and want to upload an MP3. Or you have a big package of files or a Photoshop document that you want available as a ZIP file. Fine. No problem. Here's how...

  • Just upload your file using the "Upload File" link in the Toolbox.
  • Then, in the "edit" section of whatever page you'd like to add your file to, type [[Media:File.ext]].
  • You can also change how the text that describes the file will display, by adding that text after a straight bar (|) which you type using Shift+\ on your keyboard.
  • Click "edit" on this page to see examples of displaying non-native wiki files, below.
  1. The Test Word File
  2. The Test MP3 File
  3. The Test Excel File
  4. The Test PowerPoint File
  5. The Test PDF File
  6. The Test ZIP File

How to Upload and Display Charts & Spreadsheets

Making charts in a wiki can be time consuming and annoying. Instead of building one from scratch using complex pipe syntax, why not just use Harvard's handy Importing Spreadsheets tool?

Copy & paste Excel spreadsheets into the blank box, hit the "convert" button, and voila! You have instant chart code that you can just copy and paste into your wiki editor to create spreadsheets and charts inside your wiki. Thank you, Harvard.

How to Upload and Display Images

Trying to explain things can be hard. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. So, here is how you can add photos or screenshots to the wiki.

  • Just upload your image file using the "Upload File" link in the Toolbox.
  • Then, in the "edit" section of whatever page you'd like to add your file to, type [[Image:File.jpg]] or [[Image:File.gif]] or [[Image:File.png]] or whatever your file extension is.
  • Click "edit" on this page to see a working example of displaying an image, below.
This is a poppy.

In brief, the syntax for displaying an image is:


Only [[Image:{name}]] is required. Most images should use [[Image:{name}|thumb|Example image caption]] (and should not specify a size). The other details are optional and can be placed in any order.

'thumb' / 'thumbnail' or 'frame'. Causes image to be displayed with specific formatting
'right', 'left', 'center' or 'none'. Determines placement of the image on the page. Defaults to 'right'.
{width}px or {width}x{height}px, scales the image to be no greater than the given width and height, keeping its aspect ratio.
for use only on images that are taller than they are wide. This scales the image differently, considering both width and height instead of only width.
adds a border around the image
Any element which cannot be identified as one of the above is assumed to be caption text.

See: the Wikipedia page on image syntax for more details.

How to Create Nifty Line, Bar and Pie Graphs

You can create really cool line, bar and pie graphs inside the wiki using simple tags and comma-separated-values, thanks to the magic of Google's Chart extension.

Make a pie chart!

<pie 3d title="Bundestagswahl 2005" size=300x150 xlabel>
SPD,       34.2
CDU,       27.8
CSU,        7.4
GRÜNE,      8.1
FDP,        9.8
Die Linke., 8.7
Sonstige,   3.9

<pie 3d title="Bundestagswahl 2005" size=300x150 xlabel> SPD, 34.2 CDU, 27.8 CSU, 7.4 GRÜNE, 8.1 FDP, 9.8 Die Linke., 8.7 Sonstige, 3.9 </pie>

Make a line chart!

<lines size=270x120 title="Avg. Temp (°F)" ymin=0 ymax=80 colors=8AB800,F5B800 xlabel ylabel=4 grid=xy legend>

<lines size=270x120 title="Avg. Temp (°F)" ymin=0 ymax=80 colors=8AB800,F5B800 xlabel ylabel=4 grid=xy legend>


J,30.4,71.2 F,33.1,71.6 M,38.3,69.1 A,47.1,64.0 M,56.3,57.2 J,62.6,53.4 J,65.5,51.3 A,64.2,53.4 S,57.7,57.0 O,48.2,62.6 N,39.0,65.8 D,33.8,69.6 </lines>

Make a bar chart!

<bars title="Site Visitors" ymin=0 ymax=8000 colors=FF0000,00FF00 stacked ylabel=4 xlabel legend>
   ,EU  ,US
Nov,2541, 911

<bars title="Site Visitors" ymin=0 ymax=8000 colors=FF0000,00FF00 stacked ylabel=4 xlabel legend>

  ,EU  ,US

Oct,4115,1230 Nov,2541, 911 Dec,5410,2433 </bars>

Wiki Markup: Titles

  • Avoid: acronyms, time-sensitive titles, special characters (e.g., accented letters)
  • Titles are case-sensitive (i.e., Media and MEDIA are distinct)
  • When in doubt, use the singular (e.g., Organization, not Organizations)
  • Only use parentheses to disambiguate a title – Mercury (metal) vs. Mercury (car)
  • Naming conventions are important in MediaWiki.
    • Acronyms: do not use ON to title a page on Ontario
    • Time sensitive titles: use “Ontario General Election” not “2011 Ontario General Election”
  • DO capitalize:
    • Nouns, verbs, proper names
    • First word of the title
    • Last word of the title (no matter what part of speech it may be, i.e. The Text to Look For)
  • DON’T capitalize:
    • Articles (a, an, the) unless it is the first word
    • Conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or) unless it is the first or last word
    • Prepositions of four or fewer letters, unless it is the first word, last word or part of a verb phrase (i.e. Back Up Your Disk)

Wiki standards

Remember the infamous Wikipedia tagline: Be bold. If you can improve something, do!

Forget hierarchies: the wiki is collaborative. Any one can edit the wiki – contribute, change and add content – no matter who it was created by. Don’t be shy to edit a colleague’s work. No need to consult a colleague before editing something.

Tell other what you've done: When you make an edit (major or minor) always put at least a single word summary in the Edit Summary text box so other users will know at-a-glance what you changed. Minor edits (spelling, formatting, minor text-rearrangement) should be flagged by clicking the check-box "This is a minor edit".

Watch content you care about: If you want to track the progress of a particular page, click the watch button to place it on your watchlist within your header tabs.

Search first: Before you create a new article, use the search bar (left tab bar) to search for similar articles. Make sure that you are not creating a duplicate of an article that already exists under a different name. Search on several name variations.

Discussion tab: use this space to discuss major page overhauls, but not simple things like minor edits or content modifications.

Concurrent/conflicting edits: If another user saves an edit to a page in the time you are editing, you will see: a warning, a text box with the current version of the text, a differences section that shows how your version now differs from the existing page, and a text box labeled "your text" that has your edit in it. If you were adding info, copy your new text to a word doc, review the current page, and decide if that info still needs to be added.

A hint: to avoid editing conflicts, try editing just one section of an article at a time. Do small, fast edits rather than a massive overhaul to a page at once. Prepare lengthy additions offline, in a word document, then copy and paste in, preview and save. You can also lock out other editors with the "inuse" template – but don’t make a habit of using this function, as it’s seen as ‘hogging’ a page.


A page can be put in a category simply by adding a category tag to the page (by convention, at the end of the page), like so: [[Category:Category name]] (Substitute the actual name of the category in place of Category name)

For example, in order to add an article called "Albert Einstein" to the category "People", you would edit the article and add [[Category:People]] at the very bottom of the page's text.

This lists the page on the appropriate category page automatically and also provides a link at the page to the category page. Pages can be included in more than one category by adding multiple category tags, like so: [[Category:People]] [[Category:Albert Einstein]] [[Category:Scientists]]

Category links appear at the bottom of the page, in a box.

Talk Pages

Talk pages are a space to talk about page overhauls and ideas with other wiki users before making changes to the actual wiki page. Don't use them for simple content changes or edits. Click on a page’s "discussion" tab to access its talk page.

Sign and date: please let people know who you are by signing and date-stamping a talk page discussion you are participating in. This is easy to do: just insert a few tildes and your signature and the date are automatically done for you.

Sign and date-stamp a talk page discussion by inserting four tildes ~~~~.

Four tildes ~~~~ gets you name and date: Admin 19:41, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Three tildes ~~~ gets you name only: Admin
Five tildes ~~~~~ gets you date only: 19:41, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

User Pages

Click on your username at the top of the screen; this will bring you to your blank userpage. Edit the userpage as you would any other wiki page, but briefly explain who are you, your role, and other relevant information about yourself for other wiki users, like which pages you are watching, what content you are an expert on, and how long you have been editing the site.

Incomplete "Stub" Pages

A stub is an article containing only a few sentences of text which is too short to provide full coverage of a subject, but not so short as to provide no useful information. Any registered editor may start a stub article.

When you write a stub, bear in mind that it should contain enough information for other editors to expand upon it. The key is to provide adequate context — articles with little or no context usually end up being speedily deleted.

Begin by defining or describing your topic. Write clearly and informatively. Next, try to expand upon this basic definition. Internally link relevant words, so that users unfamiliar with the subject can understand what you have written. Avoid linking words needlessly; instead, consider which words may require further definition for a casual reader to understand the article. Lastly, a critical step: add sources for the information you have put into the stub.

Once you create and save the article, other editors will also be able to enhance it.

How to mark an article as a stub

Simply add {{stub}} to the top of the page. This will automatically add it to the stub category page.

Locating stubs

[[Category:Stubs]] contains the complete list of stub articles for this wiki

Removing stub status

Once a stub has been properly expanded and becomes a larger article, any editor may remove its stub template. No administrator action or formal permission is needed. Be bold in removing stub tags that are clearly no longer applicable.

What wikis are good for ... and not

Wikis are good for

  • Collaboration, multiple authors (refer to graphic on slide)
  • Documents involving many revisions
  • When you need to brainstorm
  • For text-heavy content like white papers and policy reports

Wikis aren't good for

  • When complete content-control is important (i.e., you don’t want people editing things)
  • Dealing with sensitive information
  • When ownership of content must be clear: wikis make authorship claims difficult, because they don't care who's written what content
  • For graphic-heavy content-creation (i.e., lots of tables, images, shiny features)
  • When you have a limited time to produce results, working toward a tight deadline

Implementing a Wiki


  1. Web-based or hosted?
    1. Do you have someone on your team with the tech-savvy to have a hosted wiki?
    2. Are there security issues to having a web-based wiki?
    3. What different platforms are good for, platforms other than MediaWiki
  2. Who is going to populate this wiki with content?
    1. How comfortable are your contributors with technology and wikitext? Will they be more comfortable with a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor?
  3. Do you have a budget for your wiki?
    1. Some wikis are free (e.g., MediaWiki, pbWiki), others cost money (e.g., Confluence, Thought Farmer), but they perform very differently.
  4. Do you need "locked" or "protected" sections that can only be seen by select groups?

Learn More!