Book review

Book review: Wikipedia: The Missing Manual

In January, the Signpost interviewed author John Broughton (see archived story). This week, we review his first book, Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (ISBN 0596515162).

Though Wikipedia has entered its eighth year, few books have been written about Wikipedia, and no books have provided a guide to editing Wikipedia. John Broughton's Wikipedia: The Missing Manual is the first of its kind, showing beginners the basics of editing Wikipedia, step-by-step.

Book Review
Wikipedia: The Missing Manual
By John Broughton
477 pages, Pogue Press / O'Reilly Media
US$29.99 / GBP 18.50

"The Missing Manual" is a series first started by David Pogue, with Pogue Press and O'Reilly Media. The books purport to be "the book that should have been in the box" on various software, serving as a broad, basic explanation of the software.

This book is split up into five major parts: "Editing, Creating, and Maintaining Articles", "Collaborating with Other Editors", "Formatting and Illustrating Articles", "Building a Stronger Encyclopedia", and "Customizing Wikipedia". Within each part are two to seven chapters, each examining a particular skill or activity.

In Part I, Broughton starts with a basic explanation of how to edit, showing readers the basics of wiki-syntax, citations, registration, watchlists, vandalism, and creating an article from scratch. Accompanying each chapter is a series of screenshots, walking the reader through each process, step by step. Nearly all of this material will be common knowledge to most experienced editors, but for new editors, and even some infrequent editors, this section will be very useful.

Part II, which may be the book's most helpful section, is that of collaborating with other editors. Broughton explains proper use of article talk pages and user talk pages, as well as the use of e-mail and IRC within Wikipedia, in Chapter 8. Chapters 9 through 12 deal with WikiProjects, dispute resolution, handling incivility and personal attacks, and giving other users a hand, respectively. Broughton's handling of dispute resolution is especially worth noting; he spends just over one page of the sixteen-page section on formal dispute resolution, devoting the rest to ways of avoiding disputes, and resolving disputes informally. I thought this was especially notable, and worth emphasizing.

Part III moves on to formatting and illustrating articles, showing users how to improve sections and headings, create and edit lists and tables, and upload and add images. The section on images emphasizes the use of free images, and makes a point of emphasizing strict policies regarding the use of non-free images.

Part IV covers various ways of building a stronger encyclopedia, including naming policies, use of redirects, categorization, deletion of problematic articles, and writing "better articles" (a chapter covering all aspects of improving articles, from sourcing to "deleting cruft"). Finally, Part V deals with "Customizing Wikipedia", through preferences and user scripts. The book ends with three useful appendixes: "A tour of the Wikipedia page", the useful "Reader's Guide to Wikipedia", and "Learning more", showing contributors how to learn more than what the book details.

I was pleased to see that Broughton emphasized many areas that might be ignored by the casual editor, but that are necessary for improving the encyclopedia. For example, the book devotes its entire second chapter to reliable sources and citations, oft overlooked by new editors, but essential to writing a quality article.

What does the book provide besides what's already on Wikipedia? While most of the information within Wikipedia: The Missing Manual is already on Wikipedia, the book's tight-knit organization is what really makes it stand out from online help. The book can be used as a reference book for certain tasks, but can also be read as a step-by-step tutorial, walking through the various issues one might experience while editing Wikipedia.

So, is this book worth buying? If you're a new editor, I think the well-organized information, combined with numerous examples, is an invaluable resource. For others, the book's utility will depend on how experienced you are.

Overall, I thought Wikipedia: The Missing Manual served its goal quite well: It explains the basics of Wikipedia to new users, diving into the important parts of Wikipedia and its culture, without overburdening them with unnecessary information. It could very well become the "Missing Manual" of choice for new Wikipedians.

The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books also reviewed Wikipedia: The Missing Manual. While the review focuses very little of its attention on Broughton's book itself, novelist Nicholson Baker's review can be read as that of a curious Wikipedia editor (Wageless); Baker describes first discovering deletion processes, a feeling of triumph after saving his first article from deletion, and briefly becoming addicted to Wikipedia. The review, which is largely positive with regards to both Wikipedia and the book, is worth reading as well.

Also this week:
  • Wales' relationship with journalist
  • Bureaucratship candidacies
  • Domas Mituzas interview
  • Hidden Categories
  • Book review
  • WikiProject elections
  • WikiWorld
  • News and notes
  • Dispatches
  • WikiProject report
  • Tutorial
  • Features and admins
  • Technology report
  • Arbitration report

  • Signpost archives

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    Discuss this story

    It might be good to make note of another review as well, from Nicholson Baker in the New York Review of Books. It's already inspired me to try salvaging some articles from deletion. --Michael Snow (talk) 18:30, 29 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Yeah, I actually got an e-mail from someone at O'Reilly about that one. Good to see more press coverage for it. Ral315 (talk) 18:57, 29 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]


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