Documentation/Style guide



This style guide provides guidance for writing and editing technical documentation in MediaWiki and other technical spaces. It provides tips to help you write clear, concise technical documentation in plain language. It also links to additional resources about technical writing and editing in general.

Good technical documentation makes it easier for people to contribute to Wikimedia projects. It is important to follow clear standards and style guidelines for writing and editing documentation, especially when the contributors and readers have varying levels of skills and experience. Whether or not you consider yourself a writer, your contributions are needed and appreciated!

English Wikipedia Manual of Style[edit]

The English Wikipedia's Manual of style covers general writing topics (like punctuation) in detail, and summarises the key points of other style guides. It can be a useful reference for anyone writing or editing technical documentation in English across Wikimedia projects, especially if the local wiki doesn't have more specific guidelines.

This page provides basic guidelines and tips to help get you started with technical documentation. It includes some information specific to technical documentation that is not covered in the Wikipedia Manual of Style.

Audience and content[edit]

Writing for technical audiences[edit]

Before you begin writing, consider the audience for your work:

  • Who will read this technical documentation?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • How familiar are they with the concepts you are presenting?
  • What might they need to know in order to understand?

Once you have an understanding of your audience, you will have a better sense of what you need to communicate.

  • If you know your audience is highly technical and familiar with the processes you are describing, then you do not need to explain basic concepts.
  • If you know your audience is learning or unfamiliar with the processes you are describing, then include explanations of basic concepts and links to additional information.

Writing with a purpose[edit]

What purpose will your technical documentation serve? There are many reasons to write documentation. It is helpful to know why you are writing and what your goal is before you begin.

  • Is it to teach someone, like a newcomer, about a process or concept?
  • Is it to show someone how to follow a process?
  • Is it meant to provide background and context for a concept or process?
  • Is it a reference intended to provide information?

Writing within a context[edit]

When deciding what to write and how to frame it for your reader, it can help to define a context or occasion for your writing. Your communication takes place in the context of a bigger situation. The context may be bounded by the era you are writing in, the type of technology available, your geographical location and culture, or the current culture and communication styles of your readers. The occasion may be personal and arise from the situation that motivated you to create or improve a piece of documentation.

For example, if you are writing technical documentation for Wikimedia projects, consider the culture created by the individuals who participate in those projects. How could you best position your writing within the context of this community and its culture to create the most meaningful and useful technical documentation?

User testing and feedback[edit]

Create technical documentation to communicate ideas and concepts to a real audience of users. Naturally, this audience should play a critical role in how the documentation is shaped and reshaped. Think about ways you can gather information about your users' experiences. Take some time to answer the following questions:

  • Does your documentation include a mechanism for feedback?
  • Can you engage in timely conversations with the audience to make improvements?
  • Can you use forums like Stack Overflow or mailing lists to check if your document answers the most common questions people have about your specific topic?

Clarity and consistency[edit]

Clarity and consistency makes it easier to access, read, and create technical documentation across MediaWiki/Wikimedia projects. Technical documentation is written for a wide audience and edited by a variety of contributors.

Voice, tone, grammar usage, style, and format should be consistent across technical documentation and similar content collections. This helps readers learn how to navigate information and makes it easier for contributors to understand how to edit and add new information.

Deciding on a document type[edit]

Identify your main audience, purpose, and context first to decide on the type of document you will create.

Example Audience Purpose[1] Potential Document Types Example
Newcomer interested in learning how to become a Toolforge user To learn Tutorial, FAQ, Getting Started guide Cloud VPS and Toolforge FAQ
Experienced technical contributor trying to work through a known problem To achieve a goal Walk-through, How-To guide My First Flask OAuth Tool
Individual trying to understand the history of ORES and how it evolved To understand Explanatory article, blog post, "overview" Artificial intelligence service “ORES” gives Wikipedians X-ray specs to see through bad edits
A person looking for a definition of SSH keys To inform Reference guide, glossary Glossary


This section briefly mentions some topics worth exploring elsewhere in more detail. Always check your words and expressions against these criteria on Wiktionary: Wiktionary entries cover hundreds of languages, explicitly state the grammatical and lexical features of words and their declensions, provide detailed context labels (including about jargon, UK vs. USA English) and expose how translatable terms are in hundreds of other languages.

Plain English[edit]

Please remember: many visitors to these pages are not native English speakers.

For documentation written in English, Plain English (also called plain language) works best. Clear writing is the most understandable by diverse audiences, and is also easiest to translate. There are a number of good tools for checking your writing, at Tech News' Writing Guidelines on Meta-Wiki.

  • Avoid ambiguity, jargon, and vague or complex wording.
  • Use words your audience will understand, and enough words to convey your message.
  • Define terms that may not be obvious to individuals who are new to the subject matter you are writing about.
  • Keep paragraphs and sentences short and concise.
  • Use contractions or don't. Be consistent.

Voice and tone[edit]

MediaWiki is a place where anyone can edit. Thus, it can be difficult to maintain a consistent voice and tone in the documentation.

Consider using these elements in your writing:

Voice and tone What this means Instead of this Try This
Friendly Technical documentation does not need to sound academic or dry. Write to your audience as if they are there in person. Before beginning, the user must create an account. Start by creating an account.
Professional Technical documentation can be friendly, but should remain professional. Use Inclusive language . Don't make a bazillion changes. Try to make minimum changes.
Positive Avoid using negative sentence constructions. Explain things in terms of what to do. It is harder to mentally parse a complex negative sentence! N won't happen, if you don't XYZ. To make N happen, do XYZ.
Active Try to use active voice, except when diplomacy calls for passive voice. The extension must be registered. You must register the extension.
Non-gendered Adopt gender-inclusive language. Assume your audience comprises all gender identities. When he clicks Save When the user clicks Save
Inclusive Use alternatives to common words or phrases that may unintentionally reinforce inappropriate stereotypes. This UI is crazy. This UI could be improved.
Free of frustration Avoid terms like "easy" and "simple" which can be frustrating for less tech-savvy users. Simply create a user account. Create a user account.
Free of colloquialisms It can be confusing to use colloquialisms, jokes, puns, or turns of phrase that non-native English speakers or individuals from other regions might not easily understand. Creating a user account is a piece of cake. Creating a user account requires two steps.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list or a strict set of rules.

Point of view[edit]

The following guidance overrides the general Wikipedia style guidelines for pronouns, but only for technical documentation.
  • Use second person ("You" or assumed "You") when addressing your audience.
  • Avoid first person ("I" or "we"), unless you are writing a FAQ with questions asked from the first person perspective.
  • Use an imperative mood for most documentation focused on goals or process.


  • Always use the full, four-digit year.
  • Use absolute dates ("in May 2037") instead of relative dates ("next year in May").
  • Avoid adding dates that will require regular manual updates. Example: Write {{#time: Y }} instead of 2024 when referring to the current year, no matter what year it is currently.

Structuring pages[edit]


All pages should include an overview section (also called the Lead section) that explains:

  1. Purpose of the page
  2. Audience of the page
  3. Prerequisites the reader will need to know before proceeding (Ex. a working knowledge of Python)
  4. Software or tools the reader will need to complete the processes or tasks outlined on the page (Ex. Java installed)
  5. Use case, case study, a practical understanding of the product, service or tool in action. (optional)

Table of contents[edit]

  • Each page should include a table of contents, so information can be accessed easily.

Titles and headings[edit]

Information flow[edit]

Technical documentation pages should follow a consistent pattern across content collections.

An ideal pattern for each page might be:

  • Page title
  • Introduction/Overview
  • Heading
    • Content
      • Subheading if needed
        • Content

Formatting text[edit]

Main page: Help:Formatting

Formatting code examples and other technical elements[edit]

Formatting distinguishes code and other technical elements from regular text.

Purpose Wiki-Markup Result Situation
Code ‎<code>code‎</code> code Use for short strings of code, including wikitext markup.

Within ‎<code>...‎</code>, use ''italics'' to indicate variables and sample names so users know what to replace.

Syntax highlight
<syntaxhighlight lang="css">
.citation {
    margin: 0;

Text before <syntaxhighlight lang="css" inline>.foo {margin: 0;}</syntaxhighlight> text after.

.citation {
    margin: 0;

Text before .foo {margin: 0;} text after.

Use the ‎<syntaxhighlight lang="...">...‎</syntaxhighlight> tag to document a few lines of code, and preserve whitespace and linebreaks. The inline attribute allows using it within an existing paragraph.

Note you cannot use italic in the middle of a <syntaxhighlight lang="foo">...</syntaxhighlight> block, so you have to fall back to YOURPASSWORD or The_page_title to indicate variables.

See Extension:SyntaxHighlight for more details.

Preformatted ‎<pre>preformatted text
      with indent‎</pre>
preformatted text
      with indent
Same as above (preserve whitespace and linebreaks), but without coloring.
Keyboard input ‎<kbd>keyboard 123‎</kbd> (vs keyboard 123) keyboard 123 (vs keyboard 123) Use ‎<kbd>...‎</kbd> for actual keyboard input - the text a user types into an input field or at a terminal command line. It displays in plain monospace.
Variables ‎<var>variable‎</var>


Use italics for variables like message-key-name and sample names like My page title.

Do not use punctuation such as <YOURPASSWORD>, because readers don't know the angle brackets are noise and will type them.

bold Generally only used for the first instance of the page-title, and for rare emphasis of keywords to enable easier skimming of lists or paragraphs.
Sometimes bold is overused for emphasis. You may consider using a template instead, e.g. {{Caution }}, {{Note }}, or {{Warning/core }}.
Quotations "quotation marks"

Text before


Text after

"quotation marks" Text before


Text after
Use quotation marks for brief pieces of content quoted from other sources.

Use blockquote for longer pieces of content.

Abbreviations JavaScript (JS)

<abbr title="JavaScript">JS</abbr>

JavaScript (JS)


You should define abbreviations the first time they are used. Use either plain text and parentheses, or the HTML abbr tag.
Keypress {{Key press }} Ctrl+⇧ Shift+I Showing specific keyboard presses or combinations. Extensive examples in VisualEditor/Portal/Keyboard shortcuts .

Note: This template might not exist on other wikis.

Button {{Button }} Show preview Showing UI buttons that need to be clicked on.

Note: This template might not exist on other wikis.


Main page: Help:Links
Type Purpose How to implement Example
Local Link to other MediaWiki pages
  • [[Foo]]
  • [[Foo|Bar]]
Translated Target Link to other translated MediaWiki pages [[Special:MyLanguage/Foo|Foo]] How to contribute
Interwiki Link to page belonging to a different Wikimedia project
  • [[phab:T2001]] for tasks and project tags
  • [[mail:wikitech-l]] for mailing lists
  • [[w:en:foobar]] to English Wikipedia articles
  • [[wikitech:foobar]] for details about the WMF cluster
  • [[gerrit:604435]] for change requests in Gerrit
Documentation page on Wikipedia
External Link to external pages [] Example


Templates are often used on pages. Templates can help to maintain consistency and can make it easier to translate information.

Below are some common templates.

Templates for page formatting[edit]

Templates for MediaWiki core and Git source[edit]

Templates for Phabricator[edit]

  • {{Ptag }} - for the top-right-of-page Phabricator project tag
  • {{Tracked }} - for the related Phabricator task

Other useful templates[edit]

  • {{irc|wikimedia-tech}} - for IRC link
  • {{Key press }} - for, e.g. Ctrl+⇧ Shift+I, and {{Button }} for, e.g. Show preview
  • {{ApiEx }} - for api.php request URLs
  • {{Api help }} - to transclude generated API documentation
  • {{Wg }} - for global variables
  • {{Tag }} - for a quick way to mention an XML-style tag in a preformatted way


All pages on are candidates for translation into multiple languages. is a multilingual wiki, it uses the Translate extension to present alternative translations and manage the translation of pages.

  • If a page has been translated, then click 'Edit source' to edit the entire page. Wrongly placed translation tag markers around section headings can confuse section editing, and as of July 2015 VisualEditor does not understand the following tags: ‎<languages>, ‎<translate>, ‎<tvar>
  • Do not copy and paste existing markup. If in doubt, focus on writing a good text and let someone else handle the Translate markup.

See also[edit]