WashingtonWatch.com Wiki Tutorial

How to Use the WashingtonWatch.com Wiki — and How to Use It Well

Welcome to the WashingtonWatch.com wiki tutorial. This page will tell you how to use the WashingtonWatch.com wiki, as well as how to be a good wiki editor.

This page has a lot of information. You might want to print it out and keep it on hand as a guide.

Table of Contents
What is a Wiki?
Why Edit the Wiki
Sign Up and Log In
Editing a Wiki
Good Editing Practices
What Should I Write?

What is a Wiki?

A "wiki" is a Web site that allows a group of users to edit its content. The best known example of a wiki is Wikipedia, the collectively created and edited online encyclopedia.

WashingtonWatch.com allows users to edit an article on each page about pending legislation so that experts and people "in the know" can make information available to the general public.

We hope that the WashingtonWatch.com wiki pages will have the most current information about bills in Congress, such as their status, how the latest versions would affect existing programs and law, and the points in their favor or against them.

Why Edit the Wiki

We want you to use the WashingtonWatch.com wiki. But be sure to know why you are going to be a writer and editor on WashingtonWatch.com.

Do you have information and facts that would help other people understand a bill and what it does? If so, you should be using the wiki.

If you want to share your opinion, tell your story, or urge others to support or oppose a bill, you should use the comments section of the relevant page. (You can also vote on bills, send information to friends and colleagues from each page, and contact your Member of Congress to express your opinion.)

People read comments carefully because they are interested in the opinions of others, just like they are interested in the facts about a bill.

Sign Up and Log In

We ask people to register before contributing information to the wiki. During registration, we ask you to submit an email and confirm your registration at that email address.

The email address you use to log in is where you will receive alerts about the bills you have decided to "watch." This is an important feature of being logged in — the ability to watch for changes to the article about a bill. We will not use this email for anything other than "watch" notices, administering your access to WashingtonWatch.com, and the occassional administrative announcement. (Sign up to the WashingtonWatch.com email list if you want regular updates on important legislation under consideration by Congress.)

Why do we require a sign-up? Just to slow new users down a little bit, encourage them to take some time to think, and to discourage the vandals and spammers who might try to ruin everyone's experience of WashingtonWatch.com.

When you sign up, be sure to select your username carefully. If you're an activist involved in a controversial cause, you may want to edit without people knowing who you are. In this case, you might want a username like "EllenX123."

But if you're an established expert, your authority might be strengthened if you put a little information into your username. For example, you might identify yourself as EllenWithSenJones.

Having shared this information, you will be acting as a representative of your employer, so you will have to be careful about being honest, courteous, and patient with others — all good things. But, in turn, people will recognize your expertise and give your edits and discussion comments more deference.

Now we're ready to talk about editing and using the wiki's features.

Editing a Wiki

If you've ever edited a page on Wikipedia, you are pretty much ready to edit the articles on WashingtonWatch.com. There are a few differences between how Wikipedia and WashingtonWatch.com work, however, so it might be worthwhile to review what is here.

If you haven't edited a wiki before, the information that follows is very important to understand, and you will probably have to review it a few times before you have the hang of things. You can always come back to this page — www.washingtonwatch.com/wiki/tutorial — to review.

At the top of the wiki, there is a row of tabs. The first is the "Article" tab. This is the one to look at if you just want to read the information on the page, and it's the one that the general public looks to for information.

Next is the "Discuss Article" tab. Editors of the article use this page to discuss how the information in the article should be presented. The discussion page is edited just like an article page.

The next tab is the "Edit" tab. (When you are looking at the article, it will say "Edit Article." When you are looking at the discussion, it will say "Edit Discussion.") Click on the edit tab when you want to add information or make corrections.

The next tab is the "History" tab. Click this tab to see how the article or discussion has changed over time. We will come back to this.

If you are logged in, you will also see a "Watch" tab. Clicking this puts the bill into your watch list. If the tab says "Unwatch," clicking the tab will take it off your watch list. We will also come back to this function.

When you click the "Edit" tab, the article (or discussion) becomes a text box that you can edit.

Before you make any edits, though, you should understand a little bit about the "codes" that are used to make section headings, bullets, bold text, italics, and other stylistic elements. Once you have these in hand, you will be ready to edit.

Let's start with headings, because each page is organized by headings.

Headings are created by setting a line of text off with "equals" signs ("="). The more equals signs, the further indented the heading. A top-level heading has two "equals" signs at the beginning and end. A second-level heading has three "equals" signs, beginning and end. And so on.

Here's what we're talking about:

==Here's a First-Level Heading== (2 equals signs)
===Here's a Second-Level Heading=== (3 equals signs)
====And Here's a Third-Level Heading==== (4 equals signs)

Looks like:

When there are four or more headings, a table of contents will automatically be generated above the first heading.

If, for some reason, you need a horizontal line to break up the text, but you don't want to use a heading, just type four hyphens on a line by themselves. Example:


Italics and Bold

For creating text styles like italics and bold, there are some fairly simple rules:

Italics are created by putting two apostrophes on either side of the text to be italicized. For example:

''This phrase is in italics,'' while this one is not.

Looks like:

This phrase is in italics, while this one is not.

(Remember, that's two single apostrophes, not quotation marks. If you use quotation marks, they will look like quotation marks on the page.)

For creating bold text, the trick is the same, except you put three apostrophes on either side of the text you want displayed in bold. Example:

'''This phrase is bold,''' while this one is not.

Looks like:

This phrase is bold, while this one is not.

Links to Other WashingtonWatch.com Pages

To link to another WashingtonWatch.com page — if two bills deal with the same subject or one was incorporated into the other, for example — you link to it by putting the variable part of the URL inside two sets of brackets. For example:

[[110_HR_475]] creates a link to H.R. 475 in the 110th Congress. The link is displayed like this: H.R. 475.

To link to a bill by name, just put the variable part of the URL, a space, and the name inside those brackets. Here's how it looks:

[[110_HR_2121 The House Page Board Revision Act of 2007]] creates a link to the bill that looks like this: The House Page Board Revision Act of 2007.

Here are the codes for each type of bill:

H.R. = HR
S. = SN
H. Con. Res. = HC
S. Con. Res. = SC
H. J. Res. = HJ
S. J. Res. = SJ
H. Res. = HE
S. Res. = SE

Advanced Editing: Special Auto-Update Brackets, Strikethrough, and Line-Breaks
There are just one or two other wiki editing techniques you might want to use.

Because bill information is regularly updated by the Congressional Research Service, we created a way to have the wiki article automatically updated with this information. There are two sets of brackets that will automatically update a bill's summary or status.

Whenever new summary information is published, it will be placed between these two brackets: <summary> and </summary>. It is recommended that you leave these brackets in the page, but you don't have to if you are confident that you or others will keep the summary updated. Or you can put them somewhere and introduce them as being the official Congressional Research Service summary, if your summary is different.

Likewise, the bill status will be automatically updated in the space between these two brackets: <status> </status>. It's helpful to have the official status in the article, but status information is not usually expressed in plain language. It's helpful to translate it for readers.

The discussion pages (more on them below) are edited just like any other page, but there are some different things you might want to be able to do there. To discuss what has changed in a bill, you might want to show what text was taken out.

Strikethrough text is created by surrounding text with an "<s>" to start and an "</s>" to stop. For example:

<s>This text will appear struck through in the discussion</s>, and this text will not.

Looks like:

This text will appear struck through in the discussion, and this text will not.

If you need an extra line break, the code that does that looks like this: <br />

Want to practice what you've learned about wiki editing? We have created a "sandbox" page for you to play around in. Follow this link and make any edits you want to the page you find there.

Knowing the technical details of editing is half the battle. The other half is using them well. We turn to this next.

Good Editing Practices

You're just about a full-fledged wiki editor, but there are a couple more things that you need to know to be a really good editor.

Summary and Preview
When you have made your edits and think you're finished, don't click "Save Changes" just yet. First, you need to tell others what you've done.

There is a small box beneath the editing box in which you can enter a brief summary of your contribution. In the "Notes:" box, type a brief summary like "Added more hearing info," or "Updated to reflect Apr. 4 2007 markup." This is a real courtesy to others.

If all you did was minor technical edits, you don't need to make notes. Click the "Minor Edit" checkbox.

Now you want to go review what you've done. Click "Preview" so you can review your work. You may find one or two things you could have done better. The editing field is in that page so you can make fixes that you need.

When you've done your summary and checked your edits, then you are ready to click "Save Changes," proud of your contribution to the public's knowledge.

Setting a "Watch"
There is another thing you definitely want to do at this point. That's to set a "Watch" on that article. You want to know when someone has made other changes to the page because this may inspire further edits of yours.

Logged-in users see a "Watch" tab at the top of each page. When you click this tab, the bill is added to your list of watched pages.

Pages you are watching will be highlighted on your personal "Watch" page and you will receive an email when someone else edits that page. (In your "preferences" page, discused below, you can control this function.)

Discussion Tab
At this point, you already know how to edit text under the "Edit Discussion" tab — just like you do in the "Edit Article" tab. But the discussion area is for consulting with others about the changes to the main page. There are just one or two things to remember about this page.

When you are responding to a previous comment, it helps to indent your response. The way to do that is simple. You just put a "colon" at the beginning of the line. Examples:

:This line is indented.
::This line is indented twice.

Looks like:

This line is indented.
This line is indented twice.

The other thing to do is to sign your name. You want to build your reputation for knowledge and fairness, and you want to show others courtesy, so you should sign your name to comments you place in the discussion page. This is easy to do: you just type four "tildes" (the little squiggly line usually found in the upper left corner of your keyboard). Example:


If you want to make a note in the edit box that will not appear when people are looking at the text in the "Article" or "Discuss Article" tab, you can put that material in "no-show" brackets that look like this:

<!-- This sentence will be seen in the edit box but not displayed in the main "Article" or "Discuss Article" tab -->

The final tab to know about is the "history" tab. This shows all the past versions of the page you are looking at and who made the changes. It also allows you to compare past versions of pages.

Select the buttons associated with different versions of the page, then click "Compare Selected Versions." This will show you how the page has changed from one edit to the next, or across several edits.

New text will be in green. Deleted text will be struck out and appear in red. (Sometimes an entire paragraph will be treated as struck and added when there has been a change in the paragraph. Our software isn't perfect!)

History also allows you to undo changes that others have made — to "revert" to a previous version of a page. If there is vandalism on a page, for example, you can undo it.

You should be very careful about undoing others' genuine editorial work, however. Other people believe just as strongly in their edits as you do in yours. Rather than undoing an edit you disagree with, look for ways that you can improve what other editors have done. Be sure, of course, to document your work in the discussion page, and show others the courtesy you want others to show you.

If you are having a disagreement, don't try to win. Write about the disagreement. Seek to persuade others about the merits of your view, using care and courtesy. If you are rude or harsh, people will take this as a sign that you can't win on the merits of your argument. We will be watching for editors who over-use the "revert" function.

What Should I Write?

What you add to the wiki is entirely up to you, though we imagine that some customs will grow up around the organization and content of articles. Just for fun, we have put a sample article for you to consider as model here.