What is a wiki?

A wiki is a website that anyone can add content to. It can be open to all or closed so that only invited members of a community can use it. Pages can be quickly and easily edited and created in a web browser. Those contributing to a wiki can discuss and comment upon each other’s work. As such, wikis are a useful tool to enable collaboration between group members regardless of their location or time zone, and can provide a fast track route to creating, storing and organising information

Video about wikis

Have a look at this CommonCraft video on Youtube to get a quick overview of the basics of wikis.

How are wikis used in research?

There are many examples of wikis, with the most well known being Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia. However, in a research context, they can be used

Another example is the isee wiki used to support the Structural Genomics Consortium

Wiki software

There are many different wiki applications out there, many of them free. The WikiMatrix offers a tool to enable you to select the most appropriate wiki software. In addition to this, Imperial offers wiki space on SharePoint and Confluence.

Why use wikis?

  • Easy way to collaborate with colleagues outside your institution
  • Web based,  so the information is available anywhere, any time
  • Cuts down on the volume of email exchanged
  • Can be used to keep track of your own research too – think of a wiki as a virtual whiteboard


Edit – All wiki pages will have the option to edit. This is how you make changes to the content of the page you’re viewing.

Sandbox – An area of a wiki site where you can try things out without changing the existing site. You would usually place draft articles here until you’re ready to make them live.

Discussion/Talk – This is where changes are debated. It’s usually good practice to write a note explaining why you’ve edited something; that way, if another editor is unsure, they can see your explanation. It can also be used to discuss the article or posted items in general.

History – As pages are constantly under revision, the history page allows you to see all of the edits which have been made.


Chemwiki @ Imperial

Inspired by a talk given by Professor Henry Rzepa in 2006, the Chemistry Department here at Imperial has its own wiki. Intended to provide a holistic approach to the course, it covers many aspects of the Chemistry course, and can be updated by staff and students alike.


An open source platform for biological pathways. The wiki runs on the same software as Wikipedia. See the About page for more information about the site. Also worth looking at are the Statistics page, which gives a breakdown of the number of users, the edits they make, and so on. In common with most wikis, there is also a Getting Started page and a Sandbox where new users can learn how to make edits in a practice environment.


Credit goes to Alice Bell for the idea for this task.

Further reading

Mietchen, D., Hagedorn, G., Förstner, K., Kubke, M.F., Koltzenburg, C., Hahnel, M. & Penev,  L. (2011) Wikis in scholarly publishing. Nature Precedings. Available from:

Shee, D.Y. & Wang, Y.-S. (2008) Multi-criteria evaluation of the web-based e-learning system: a methodology based on learner satisfaction and its applications. Computers & Education, 50 (3), 894-905. Available from:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s