How to Choose Which English to Use on wikiHow

"I have never thought of wikiHow as just an American project. I think wikiHow should be a truly international project. It is designed to be something that benefits the whole world, not just the 300 million people geographically located south of Canada and north of Mexico. And as such we should not attempt to impose American spelling or measurement systems on our millions and millions of non-American readers. The English language wikiHow should be as diverse as the English language itself. We already have very frequent English language editors from Canada, UK, Pakistan, and Australia. Hopefully this list will only continue to grow."
-- Jack Herrick

The English language wikiHow is a how-to manual for the English-speaking community in the whole world. It is estimated that there are over 1 billion English speakers; over 400 million with English as a first language and as a second language, up to 1.5 billion. While wikiHow attracts readers and authors from all over the world, the English language differs in some spellings, grammatical structures and punctuation, depending on where the speaker comes from. For example, some of the more recognized styles of English include: American English, Canadian English, British English and Australian English.

So, which style of English should you follow on wikiHow? It is important at the outset to note that there is no preferred style of English over another one; one style of English is no more correct than another. Importantly, for the majority of English speakers, the differences between the styles of English are not a barrier to communication. In writing, the important elements are consistency throughout an article, as well as respecting the lead author’s chosen English and placing the article in context. To help make it possible for every user of English wikiHow to make contributions and enjoy reading wikiHow articles, here are some easy tips to follow that will help to make the site as universally applicable as possible.


  1. Image titled Choose Which English to Use on wikiHow Step 1
    Avoid edit wars over the English style or spellings. You have edited the article and up pops the original author or a defender of the original author's English. This person reverts your changes. You return and revert to yours. The other person returns and reverts. How long might this go on? In this instance, live and let live. Be magnanimous and respect the original author's voice. If the original or defending editor wants it returned to the original style of English, this is the tie breaker. Remember that it is consistency that is being sought, not domination of one style of English over another.
  2. Image titled Choose Which English to Use on wikiHow Step 2
    Follow the original author's voice. The “lead” author's style of English is the best indication of the style of English to continue throughout the article. By “lead” author, this means the author who produced the first version of the article that is not a stub. Do not change an article to fit your English simply because it irks you to see "centre" spelt "center" or "spelled" spelt "spelt". In the majority of cases, every English speaker can recognise what is being written. It is only where meanings of words or phrases may lead to confusion or discomfort that some facilitating explanations may be needed. Even then, such a change should be placed in parentheses offering the alternative word or phrase (see Step 7).
  3. Image titled Choose Which English to Use on wikiHow Step 3
    Note the regional or country-specific association. If the article is about a place in a country, an event from a particular region, a book, an institution or a feature of a country, it is best to use the English that belongs with or links to that place, event, author, institution or feature. For example, it is preferable if the following articles use the English suggested:
    • An article on living in Manhattan: American English;
    • An article on how to understand Peter Carey's novel Oscar and Lucinda: Australian English;
    • An article on how to attend a Canada Day event: Canadian English;
    • An article on how to send a letter to the British Prime Minister: British English
  4. Image titled Choose Which English to Use on wikiHow Step 4
    Respect consistency. Above all else, consistency is the most important aspect of an article. If someone writes in Canadian English and an Australian editor changes some parts and not others and along comes an American editor and changes bits here and there, we risk ending up with an article that contains a mish-mash of styles. This is potentially confusing and difficult for readers, so it should be avoided at all costs. If you see an article containing a mish-mash of English style edits, consider these two options:
    • Return to the lead author's voice and edit back to the original spelling and punctuation. Only do this if you feel competent with the original English. If not, you might like to ask an editor you believe is more familiar with that style of English or simply try the next step.
    • Dive right in and edit the entire article in the English that you are most familiar with. This means overhauling the article in its entirety to create consistency in one style of English only.
  5. 5
    Apply dual measurements if in doubt. Not sure which measurement to use? Use the {{convert}} template (e.g. {{convert|numbers|unit|unit to convert to}}). It’s that simple! If you really do not have time, leave it as the measurement you are most familiar with. Someone will likely come along and add the equivalent measurement as time goes on.
  6. 6
    Be careful of cultural overtones. Demanding that your style of English predominate over another is a form of cultural imperialism. Live and let live, there is room for the variants of the English that you know best. You are not being asked to learn a new language, merely to recognise that other styles of English differ in slight ways from yours. But notice how you can still communicate!
  7. Image titled Choose Which English to Use on wikiHow Step 7
    Be clear. If you use a word or phrase that you suspect will not be well-understood outside your region or area of the world, look it up online or in a dictionary in the library and find a more universal term to replace it. If you really feel you must keep the less well-known word or phrase, place it in parentheses next to the better-known word or phrase. Or help an article become more universal by doing this where you notice localised English. It is not about getting rid of the original English, it is about making the article clearer and more widely accessible.
  8. 8
    Be attentive to the flexibility of English. English is an ever-evolving language. It is changing in every region of the world as other languages, technologies, cultures, ideas, and influences interact with it. English has renown for flexibility and embracing diversity, so rapid change is inevitable. Perhaps you were taught one way at school but times may have changed the sense, the usage, etc. There is no need to despair. Good English that makes sense relies on good presentation, clarity, and consistency. Stand back and consider how well the article communicates the message it seeks to present. There are also many good online dictionaries and grammar sites to help you decipher new words and constructions!


  • Prefer your national style over any regional style when writing.
  • International English (used by those working for the United Nations) is based mostly on British English, although there is a preference to continue the use of "z" in words such as organize, organization, penalize, etc.
  • As far as slang or colloquial language is concerned, the standard is to discourage it in written form. Often, slang or colloquialisms will pertain to specific areas or countries and may need to be removed or at least explained in some manner. However, it must be noted that how-tos do differ from academic or newspaper articles in that they are trying to engage a wider audience in a friendly and motivating way. As such, it is important to assess the contexts where the “voice” of the article or the subject-matter of the article clearly justify such usage. Be aware of this when making edits and be careful in assessing slang and colloquialisms to ensure that removal of such words and phrases does not result in diluting the essential “flavour” of the article. The driving factors should be reader accessibility, quality, and how interesting the article appears.
  • When working out the “original” style of English used in an article, it is best to go to the first full version that was created; this means that if an article began its life as a stub, you will need to find the lead author who turned it from stub into substantial article. Put more simply, the author who did the most work to create the article will have settled its future style of English unless other compelling reasons (as discussed above) outweigh this consideration.
  • There are subtle differences between American and Canadian English and between British and Australian English and there are less subtle differences between English spoken across the oceans. However, in most cases, it is very easy to work out what is being said. You are not being asked to be an expert in a style of English that is not familiar to you. However, if you do enjoy editing and you do a lot of it, you will certainly become more familiar with different usages and, over time, you will become more confident in understanding what is accurate and what is just plain bad spelling!
  • Always retain the original spelling for quotes.
  • Proper names should always be spelt the way they appear in the region or country they hail from. For instance British Centre for Research, American Center for Research.


  • It is easy to make unproductive edits by openly changing everything in an article to your preferred variation of English when there is no need for this. This is not only a waste of time that could be better spent doing things on wikiHow that are more fun, but your edit might possibly inflame the original author or another editor—all over an unnecessary edit. Resist the temptation; if you're in an editing mood, there's plenty to feast on in the Pages Needing Attention.

Sources and Citations

Image titled Check_9.png
This is an Official Policy that has been approved by the wikiHow community.
All contributors and administrators are expected to adhere to it.

Article Info

Categories: Writing and Editing | Policy