Education/Newsletter/August 2014/VisualEditor for students
By James Forrester (WMF) and Sherry Snyder (WMF)
VisualEditor was recently enabled as a Beta Feature on Outreach Wiki, so we wanted to tell you a little bit about it. VisualEditor is a newer, simpler way to write and edit Wikipedia articles. It is easier to use for most new editors, because it works more like a familiar word processing system. For basic editing, like writing sentences, adding links to other pages, inserting images, and adding citations to reliable sources, VisualEditor does not require that you or your students know any of the complex, old-fashioned "wikitext" markup language. One major advantage of this system is that students can focus on writing content instead of focusing on getting the right number of brackets, apostrophes, slashes, pipes, and equals signs into the page.
On 158 language editions of Wikipedia, VisualEditor is available to all users by default. However, on Outreach wiki as well as four of the largest Wikipedias—Dutch, English, German, and Spanish—and on many of the smaller ones with complex language systems, you need to specifically enable it by going to Beta Features in Special:Preferences and choosing the "Visual editing" item. When it is available, you will see two tabs for editing each page: One that says "Edit" (for VisualEditor) and one that says "Edit source" (for the old wikitext editor).
VisualEditor helps your students "do the right thing" more swiftly and easily, guiding them with prominent, simple tools. A visual interface is both more intuitive—helping users find out how they can do things they already want to do, like add a link—and more discoverable—letting users find out that they can do things, like make the page a redirect to another.
Most people doing normal article-writing will find that VisualEditor is easy to use and easy to get the results that they want. It is good for writing, copyediting, adding new citations of reliable sources, finding and inserting images, and many other everyday tasks. It also has some special features, such as easy access to a formula editor that accepts LaTeX code for complex mathematical formulas.
The biggest advantage of using VisualEditor is that it is quick and easy to see what changes you have made and what their effects will be, with the page whilst you edit it looking almost exactly like it will once you have saved.
The most prominent tools in VisualEditor are the two that editors use most often: adding links and citations.
- To add a link, you select some text and click the link button () to choose the page that you want to link to. The same tool accepts URLs to make links to external websites. To change the label on the link, just click on it and start typing. To change the link but not the label, open the link tool and change the link.
- To add a citation, click the menu ("⧼visualeditor-toolbar-cite-label⧽ ") and pick which kind of citation you want to insert. Some wikis have specified special templates for making advanced citations, which formats citations based on a form that you fill out. At all wikis, you can create manual references by choosing "⧼visualeditor-dialogbutton-reference-tooltip⧽" from the end of the "⧼visualeditor-toolbar-cite-label⧽ " menu. Then you can type in the citation just like any other text, adding italics, links, or other formatting exactly as if you were typing it in the main document.
Words of caution
You and your students will still need to use wikitext markup sometimes. VisualEditor isn't available on talk pages. You can't make new tables or change the number of rows and columns in existing tables (yet). Sometimes, VisualEditor will be unable to do what you want or will cause problems that can be corrected quickly by editing the wikitext. The Editing Team at the Wikimedia Foundation is still working on fixing bugs and adding features for this new editing environment. Please tell them about the problems you find or suggestions you have by leaving a message at VisualEditor/Feedback.
VisualEditor provides limited support for some complex languages requiring the use of IMEs (input method editors) or large numbers of special characters, such as Chinese and Welsh. For these languages, VisualEditor isn't turned on by default (status list here). At Wikipedias where it's not automatically offered to everyone, you can try it out by going to Beta Features in Special:Preferences and choosing the "Visual editing" item. If you write with more than one language on the same page (for example, providing an Arabic word and an English translation), then you will want to go to Beta Features and turn on the "⧼visualeditor-preference-language-label⧽".
VisualEditor currently is not compatible with Internet Explorer or some other older browsers. It can be very slow for people using older computers or slow Internet connections. This list shows the support goals for browser versions. The VisualEditor team is currently trying to solve problems with Internet Explorer, and support for at least one version of IE may be available within a couple of months.
VisualEditor has bugs, but do not be afraid of them! VisualEditor is very complicated software that is still under active development. Only through using VisualEditor in practice can we find all the problems with the software that need fixed to make VisualEditor the easiest and most seamless editing experience possible for Wikipedia. If you or one of your students find a problem while using VisualEditor, please take a moment to report it. With your help we can make Wikipedia truly accessible for everyone to edit.
We believe that most education projects will benefit from considering VisualEditor as a writing tool. For more information about how to use VisualEditor, please see the multi-lingual user guide.