Wikipedia:Help Project/Guidelines

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Help pages provide explanation, instruction, and practical guidance . This document lays out help page design principles to create useful, simple, accessible help pages that will answer editors' questions and solve their problems.

Focus on users and use cases

Speak to the reader about the problem they are trying to solve

  • Use active, present tense language like "Adding references", "Customizing tables"...
  • Use descriptive headings like "I want to...", "How do I...?"
  • Help real people solve real problems. Don't give loads of background they don't need.

Encourage and reassure readers

Leave readers with more confidence and understanding than they started with

  • A conversational style can help pages be more approachable and enjoyable to work with, especially for new users
  • Don't make readers feel stupid, or guilty for not having read all of the Help articles

Keep it simple

Focus on the most common paths and make them easily visible

  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Sentences should be fewer than 25 words. Paragraphs should focus on only one topic.
  • Standardize format
  • Include short summaries
  • Include examples (sample code, etc)
  • Break down complex processes into steps
  • Use consistent terminology
  • Take the simplest route:
    • e.g. suggest Gadgets instead of editing user css/js, RefToolbar instead of hand-coding citations
  • Avoid overlinking

Make navigation clear and apparent

Chart the most common pathways and make them easy to find

  • Write a short and clear lede and/or {{nutshell}} summary
  • Note when there is a simpler overview--or a more technical help article--available
  • Guide users through an obvious progression of where to go next
  • Use the appropriate namespace
    • Policies, guidelines, and processes firmly belong in the Wikipedia: namespace,
    • Instructions, how-to's, tutorials and explanations of MediaWiki features should be in the Help: namespace

Design Help pages to be visually appealing

Entice users with clear design

  • Break pages into sections and subsections
  • Illustrate articles with rich media
    • Screenshots (high quality .png, not .jpeg)
    • Screencasts (videos)
  • Don't break accessibility
    • Images should have alt text
    • Tables should have sensible headings and captions where appropriate
  • Use templates such as {{notice}}, {{caution}} where appropriate

Target help pages to different levels of experience

Make overviews that address the most common problems with the most effective solutions

  • Craft intro articles that are simple, short, and not overwhelming
    • Link to terms that have not been introduced before
    • Link to the least complex technical page available
  • Separate and minimize advanced and highly-specific use cases
    • Use footnotes for extra, non-essential information
  • Wrap large blocks of code, examples, and rare cases in a {{Collapse}} box

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