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CZ:Getting Started

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Citizendium Getting Started
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Welcome Page

Welcome to the Citizendium beta!

This is a general orientation to contributing and becoming part of the community, for new contributors. Editors and authors alike should start here. This is a comprehensive summary, but it is just a summary; there are links to pages with more detail interspersed below.

You might want a general introduction to the project, not just to contributing, first. In that case, see our about page and the FAQ.

Your "getting started" to do list

Things new Citizens should do:

  • Sign up.
  • Read this guide. It's essential background.
  • Check your user page. Be sure [[Category:CZ Authors]] is on the page if you're an author (or an editor who wants also to be counted among the authors), and [[Category:CZ Editors]] if you're an editor. If you're an author, you can add other workgroup author categories to taste, such as [[Category:Philosophy Authors]]. Note that only Citizendium management can add workgroup editor categories, such as [[Category:Chemistry Editors]].
  • Sign up to the community announcement list, Citizendium-L.
  • Get to work! Don't wait for assignments; this isn't a top-down project.

What makes us different?

We're glad to have you here and hope you'll join our friendly little (but growing!) community as an active contributor. What makes us different?

Well, for one thing, we're contributing under our own real names. We take responsibility for our own work, and we like to think we're a lot more civil than your average Internet community. If you didn't take our real names policy seriously, you've made a mistake, because we will permanently ban you from the website if we discover that you are using an unapproved pseudonym. To apply for a pseudonym, please ask the constabulary. Note, we don't permit pseudonyms on privacy grounds that apply to everyone. Also, we do not permit pseudonyms in "signatures" on the wiki; if you want to use a "signature" other than your full name, make sure it is part of your real name.

For another thing, there are editors working right alongside authors. Editors can make decisions about articles in their areas of expertise, but for the most part, we collaborate just as folks do on Wikipedia--only, perhaps, with more collegiality. Editors also have a special task here that doesn't exist on Wikipedia: they can approve articles in their areas of expertise.

We aren't Wikipedia, and while you can import Wikipedia articles here, we encourage you to start from scratch. We want to develop our own community, with our own rules and guidelines that might, in fact, be quite different from Wikipedia's. There are already a few differences, apart from the real names requirement and the presence of editors. For example, we do not use "in group" abbreviations like "POV." We really do take our neutrality policy seriously. We'll be revisiting all sorts of policies concerning categories, templates, and much else. Also, we don't permit user boxes on user pages; nor do we permit personal essays linked from user pages. Finally, our project governance, which is still under rapid development, will be quite different. We have a number of non-negotiable policies, and new policies will not be adopted by an impossible "consensus" but by vote of representatives (selected perhaps by "choosing lots").

Be bold!

Template:Be bold

For more on the use of the "talk page," see below.

And act professionally

We have high standards of civility here, at least compared to the Internet at large. We have summed up this policy on our Professionalism page. The gist of it is that we expect the same sort of polite, collegial behavior that true professionals display. This means that the Constabulary disallows personal attacks, disrespectful characterization of others' work, significant reversion and deletion without adequate explanation, and other similar unprofessional behavior. To put it more positively, when necessary, we criticize work respectfully and without insults, and we justify significant edits on talk pages (see the "discussion" tab at the top of the page).

So you're among friendly people here.

Under Construction, or, it's better to add something editable than nothing at all

The Citizendium, like Wikipedia and virtually all wikis, could have an "Under Construction" sign on every page. Wikis are not conducive to instant perfection; high quality is achieved iteratively, gradually, over time and usually after quite a bit of interaction with others.

So what does that mean? It means: go ahead, add something. It doesn't have to be perfect, it only has to be editable. In other words, if someone else won't have to delete what you've added in order to make progress on the article, then add away!

This means that we will tolerate what are called "stub entries" or just "stubs." These are short entries, say between 50 and 250 words. (Don't bother with anything shorter than that.) Just please don't go around creating lots and lots of stubs. It's all right to create a few. But if you're motivated to do much work, please focus on just a few articles rather than making dozens of small ones.

A bullet-point intro to the software that runs this place

For folks who haven't had experience with the software that runs CZ (that's an abbreviation for Citizendium), called "Mediawiki," here are some helpful tips. See how many you already knew:

  • The red links lead to blank pages. Click on one and you can start a new article.
  • When you're editing an article, you see a text box where the editing takes place. Now look at the stuff that surrounds that text box:
    • See all the small buttons, B, I, and so forth? You can use those buttons the same way you would a word processing program's controls. (It adds in the code for you.)
    • Look below the text box. Look for "Summary:" That's where you can briefly summarize your changes. It's a courtesy to others to fill this in, so please do.
    • "This is a minor edit": check it only if you're doing things like fixing spelling or adding an inconsequential word.
    • "Watch this page": like the "watch" tab, adds the page to your watchlist.
    • "Content is from Wikipedia?": do check this if you have copied in any content taken from Wikipedia.
    • Next, notice the three buttons at the bottom of the page. "Save page" saves the page, closes the edit box, and displays the article.
    • "Show preview": a very handy button, press it and you'll see what the page looks with your changes. This does not save the page, though. So if you use this button much, be sure to click "Save page" when you're finished, or you'll lose all your changes!
  • When you're looking at an article, across the top of the page you see a bunch of tabs. Here's what they do:
    • article: display the article
    • discussion: the "talk" page, where you go to discuss with others how the article should be edited
    • history: a record of all the edits of the article; you can view every single version ever saved! Very handy.
    • watch: clicking on this adds the article to your "watchlist"; access your watchlist by clicking "my watchlist" in the upper right of the window. Note that you can automatically add all articles you edit to your watchlist; look in "my preferences" (top of the page).
  • Next, look at the links at the extreme top of the page, on the right:
    • your name: click on your name to go to your user page. Your bio should be there; note that we require a bio of all contributors.
    • my talk: that's your personal talk page. Other people may post messages for you here.
    • my preferences: a huge array of settings to change (if you want).
    • my watchlist: all the recent changes made to articles you are "watching" (again, watch an article by going to that article and then clicking the "watch" tab)
    • my contributions: everything you've done!
    • log out: self-explanatory
  • Next, look at all the links on the left (these are changeable, by the way). Beginning with the "citizendium" section:
    • Main Page: the homepage of the wiki
    • About: about the Citizendium, an introduction for users
    • Live articles: an alphabetical list of the articles we're working on
    • Random page: click it, it's fun
    • Our editors: a listing of editors who have signed up with us
    • Our authors: a similar listing, of authors
    • FAQ: frequently asked questions (more introductory information)
    • Donate: here's where you can donate to the cause; we could use your support!
  • Next, the "project pages" section (also on the left):
    • Project home: the homepage for the project, a jumping-off place for contributors to find information about the project
    • Recent changes: a table of changes recently made on this wiki; see "get plugged in to the community" below
    • Help: how to do stuff on this wiki; how to use the software that runs it
    • Workgroups: a growing and changing list of the groups of editors and authors at work here
    • Bug tracker: here's where to report bugs in the software; probably, the most obvious bugs have already been reported
    • How to join: how to become a Citizen
  • For the links under "communication," see "get plugged in to the community"
  • search: press "Go" to go directly to the page you name (if we have it), and "Search" to search through the text of all articles
  • Finally, the "toolbox":
    • What links here: click here for a list of all the pages that link to the page you're on
    • Related changes: a list of the recent changes made to articles that are linked by this article
    • Upload file: use this to add pictures and other files to CZ
    • Special pages: a whole bunch of other software functions; many different lists of pages
  • For a more complete rundown, and links to further help pages, see Help:Contents.

How to start a new page!

Template:How to start a page

Wiki "markup"

Template:Markup basics

What's a good article like?

Template:Good article basics

How to collaborate on an existing article (and how to use talk pages)

Many people spend their wiki time working on pages that other people have started. If the page creator is still hanging around, you'll have to collaborate with that person, and anyone else interested, in crafting the article further.

So, how do a bunch of strangers manage to create a coherent encyclopedia article? It is one of life's mysteries, perhaps. Generally, though, it's like this: you see that a sentence needs rewording; so you reword it. Or the article needs a whole new section about something; so you add it. Or the article has much flabby prose; so you make it concise. Or you just know a lot about the subject and see much to change; so you go through and make a thorough overhaul. Many people can do all of those things to the same article, and something excellent can result.

Working so closely with others often requires sensitivity and finesse. You might have deleted a sentence it took someone else five minutes to craft, so why doesn't the person become quite angry and stalk away, or abuse you? Well, such unpleasantness can happen, and on Wikipedia, it too frequently does. But it doesn't always happen (even on Wikipedia), and it doesn't have to happen. Polite discussion is key. We can avoid unpleasantness as a rule because we are all committed to working together. We know, in turn, that working together means changing other people's work, making compromises, or (far better) coming up with a creative solution that satisfies everyone very well. The fluid nature of the text allows for such creative, positive solutions, and it's precisely the expectation of such solutions that allows us to avoid conflict.

To collaborate effectively, keep a few things in mind: look at the talk page regularly. Be polite and respectful. If you are angry, calm down and take a break before you write or do something rash. And if you are dealing with a person who really is unreasonable, do not "take matters into your own hands" by cussing the person out, but ask a constable to intervene (at That's what they're there for--to calm folks down and come to a sensible solution to complex problems of interaction. They are also authorized to ban abusive people.

Introduce yourself: short biographies on user pages

All Citizens are required to maintain biographies on their userpages. Why? Because we are taking real-world responsibility for our contributions and making real-world relationships with each other. A name by itself conveys little information to others. To edit your bio, simply click on your name at the very top of the screen. Authors are required to provide a statement about their personal interests and education, preferably a few hundred words. Rough clues as to your age and location might be helpful to other users but are optional. Minors are asked not to include any personal information about themselves, including information about where they live, but they should still give some nonspecific information about their interests and education (no school names, please). If a constable hasn't done so, be sure to add yourself to the list of CZ authors (which you see on the left--under "Our authors") by putting this on your userpage:

[[Category:CZ Authors]]

You should also add yourself to a workgroup or several (here's the current list), with a tag; for example:

[[Category:Games Authors]]

(Editors are designated as such by CZ staff after you apply.)

Here's an example of a biography of an editor; here's one of an author. For more info see this section of the Policy Outline.

Get plugged in to the community

It's not hard to get plugged in to the community. This will make your work here more fun. But you'll probably need a few pointers about where "the action" is going on.

All of the following links are to the left.

The serious fun of wiki-watching consists largely of following developments on the recent changes page, linked on the left under "project pages". Virtually everything that goes on on this wiki can be observed from a God's-eye perspective there. You can see what articles other people are working on. You can see if articles you have been working on have been changed. (Changes to an article will appear bolded if you "watch" the article: see the "watch" tab above every article.) You can see who has been active (and when!). And as a result of all this, you can join in with others! If an article on a topic you're interested in is under development, you can add your wisdom.

Talk about policy and community issues on the CZ forums. This is the big community discussion area. There are hundreds of categories of topics; you're bound to find both something of interest to you and someone who will discuss it with you (there are many hundreds of members). If you want to see the latest posts, scroll to the bottom of the front page and look for the little link titled View the most recent posts on the forum.

To have all the latest project-wide announcements, make sure you're subscribed to Citizendium-L and, if you're an editor, Citizendium-editors. For outward-facing announcements, as opposed to more internal sorts of announcements, there's a project blog. There's also a place for administrative notices for people working here on the wiki (e.g., "The wiki will be going down at midnight tonight"): the notice board.

If you have general questions, you can ask in many places, but one place we've set aside is a certain board on the forums. Just click here and (after you've registered) type in your question.

Authors, Editors, Constables, and Workgroups

If you're a participant, and you haven't been asked to be an editor, then you're an author. (Editors are authors too.) So, what can authors do? Almost everything. Authors can start new articles, edit existing articles, talk things over on the talk page, and much else. Editors can do all that, too. Editors aren't distant overseers looking down from the Olympian heights. To edit, editors must work shoulder-to-shoulder with authors and other editors. So editors are authors too. For more on author functions, please see Authors and Authoring Citizendium Articles.

Editors, who are experts in their fields, do have two special functions that authors do not have, however. First, they may make decisions, where decisions need to be made, about how an article should read. (This does not mean that editors must approve every change an author makes, which they certainly don't do.) Second, they may approve specific versions of articles. If you're an editor, and you want to know how to get started as an editor, please see editor orientation. Some Editors are members of one of the governing bodies known as the Editorial Council

Where do "constables" fit in? Well, like their namesakes, constables are friendly, hard-working folks who make sure the community runs smoothly. If you break a rule, a constable might gently tap you on the shoulder and explain what's wrong. Constables are expected to be mature and kind and to make decisions solely about behavior, not about content, which is the domain of editors. See Constabulary Home and Constabulary Policy for more. If you need to "call a constable," send an e-mail to

Finally, workgroups are collections of editors and authors who are interested in a particular discipline, or in some function of the project, such as copyediting or recruitment. We know that our list of disciplines needs work, by the way; the Editorial Council will be expanding the list soon. In the coming months, we're going to be expanding our governance apparatus, setting up many more workgroups as well as a general project representative council. You, as a project member, may be asked to serve.

Want to get to work, but don't know quite what to do?

Tasks on CZ are like children's games: there are endless numbers of them, you just need to know what they are. Here is a list of general tasks that "worker bees" can help with.

A dozen things you should know about

Template:Dozen essentials     13. Be absolutely sure to check the "Content is from Wikipedia?" box if it is so.

It's a "baker's dozen"!

Why work on the Citizendium?

We conclude with some motivational points.

  • CZ is fun! Creating articles together and watching them grow to maturity is fulfilling and just plain fun.
  • CZ is educational. How can you not learn if you're collaborating with experts on encyclopedia articles? It's an unusual opportunity to learn that is hard to find anywhere else.
  • CZ is free. People will be able to read this high-quality information free of charge. That's tremendously valuable to the world.
  • CZ is gently guided by experts. In time, we will have an enormous body of expert approved articles. Again, that's tremendously valuable to the world. Frankly, the world desperately needs more reliable information from the Internet.
  • CZ is nonprofit and participant-governed--and thus independent and neutral. The information you find here will not be influenced by corporate or governmental interests. We are totally committed to acting as a "neutral playing field" for the world's information resources.
  • CZ is growing and making progress on all fronts. If we succeed well with the encyclopedia, we will start other expert-guided, collaborative, free information projects. This is exciting and worthwhile.
  • CZ could change the world in at least two ways:
    • First, by pioneering a new way to use wikis, we are giving the world a new model of what can be done with this versatile system of content creation. What will happen if the world has more expert-guided collaborative projects?
    • Second, and more importantly, a full-fledged Citizendium encyclopedia with millions of expert-approved articles would bring reliable knowledge to the world, and, in a small way, would help "enlighten" the world. Imagine what education and research would be like with a really successful CZ.

These are all great reasons to get involved. So let's roll up our sleeves and get to work!