How Wikipedia Works

Now that you know a little bit about what Wikipedia is (and isn’t), it’s time to learn what’s on the actual website and how to use it.

Title Screen

Go to www.wikipedia.org in your web browser.  You should see a page like the one in the screenshot below.  Click one of the languages surrounding the Wikipedia logo to view Wikipedia in that language. Or, if you’re looking for an article in a specific language, click in the search box below the logo and type in what you hope to find. Then click the drop-down menu beside it and select what language to search in, and then click the arrow button beside that to search.

You can also click in the search box marked “Find Wikipedia in a Language” and type in a language, and then click the arrow button next to it to see if there’s a version of Wikipedia in that language. Alternatively, if you scroll down a little bit, you can also see all of the different language versions of Wikipedia, and approximately how many articles they have. Click on a language (in blue font) to go to the main page of that version of Wikipedia.

Main Page

Once you select a language version of Wikipedia, you’ll be taken to that version’s main page. Here, the bulk of the page will be taken up by featured content, such as things that are in the news, events that happened on the current day in history, and other tidbits from topics that have recently been created or edited.

On the left side of the page, you can click the tabs marked Page and Talk to switch back and forth between reading the page and discussing how to change or correct it. The options on the far left let you do various things, like get more help with how to use Wikipedia, see what the Wikipedia community is up to, look at special content, or change the current language version of Wikipedia.

You have even more options in the upper-right corner of the page. Of the three tabs here, Read lets you view the content on the current page, View Source lets you see the page with formatting code included, and View History lets you browse an archive of previous versions of the page. You can also click Create Account to sign up for Wikipedia (our article on how to make a Wikipedia account can help you there), or Log In if you already have an account.

You can also click in the box labeled “Search” and type in a specific topic you’re looking for, and then click the magnifying glass to see if it has a page on Wikipedia (our lesson on how to search Wikipedia can tell you more). Or, if you’d rather look for something by category, click one of the portal links below the search box to filter through a series of sub-portals until you get to where you want to go.

Article Page

Clicking on pretty much any word or phrase in blue font in the main window of Wikipedia will take you to its corresponding article.

You’ll notice many of the same features from the main page; we’ll highlight a few more in the screenshots below.  For example, after the introductory paragraph, there is an interactive table of contents.  You can click on the headings here to automatically jump to a specific part of the article.

On the right-hand side, there is usually a window with a summary of related information about the topic.  In the example below, we’re looking at an animal, so you’ll see information such as its genetic categories, where it lives, and whether or not it’s in danger of becoming extinct.  If you were to look up a business, by contrast, you’d see information like whether it’s publicly or privately traded, who founded it, who it’s currently run by, its market performance, and so on.

Near the bottom of the article, you will see a list of references about where people got the information needed to put this article together.  If you click on a word or phrase in blue font with a symbol beside it, such as a portable document download () or link to an external page (), it will usually take you to a place where you can read the source of the information, so you can decide for yourself if it’s accurate or not.

There are a few more things at the bottom of the page that you’ll notice. Below “External Links,” you can click a link highlighted in blue to visit a web page with more information on your current topic (though this may take you outside of Wikipedia). In the table below that, you can click Show or Hide beside categories to see lists of topics similar to the current one, then click a link to visit a different page. In the box at the bottom of the screen, you can click one of the links to visit a portal of topics that contains the current topic.


And that’s the bulk of what you’ll find on Wikipedia’s most common pages!