Wikipedia: Hot Or Not?


Your professor has just announced that term papers will be due precisely one week before the semester ends. Well beforeresearch and study that time she is expecting her students to submit a topic and a draft outline for review. After all, she doesn’t want the entire class to write about the Crimean War!

Unfortunately for you, your understanding of history is very American-centric and even then you know next to nothing about European conflicts before the 20th century. As it was, in high school you struggled with getting your facts straight for the first and second world wars, never mind keeping up with all of the current members of the European Union.

Starting Your Research

Where can you turn? For many students a trip to their computer is the first place they will go with many visiting the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, for information. Although Alexa considers Wikipedia to be a Top Ten website, it isn’t without some controversy, including questions about its authenticity.

Before you start referencing Wikipedia for your term paper there are a few things to keep in mind:

Writing Style — Not everything on Wikipedia is objective and sometimes Wikipedia will tell you that by putting a note with a specific article stating that it needs to be cleaned up per Wiki standards.

Lack of Transparency — Anyone can edit Wikipedia, regardless of whether they are a registered editor or not. Even registered editors can work in anonymity, which calls into question some of the material on the site.

No Peer Review — Academic journals are subject to peer review, but not so with Wikipedia. However, the more in-depth and extensive the article, the greater the likelihood that qualified people did read and modify the article. You just can’t find out who those people are unless they tell you.

No Citations — Though Wikipedia encourages (even insists) that sources be cited, the anonymity of editing means you cannot cite the editor. Very few articles are written by one person and, even if one had been, it probably was edited by at least one other individual.

Gleaning Good Stuff From Wikipedia

Do not despair as there are some very good reasons to use Wikipedia including:

Referenced Material — I find that quite a bit of the third party material referenced (as in the Further Reading section) to be quite good. You may not feel comfortable referencing Wikipedia directly when writing your term paper, but if you examine the sources they can be worth reviewing. At least you’ll have decent information to cite!

A Building Block — As someone who uses the web extensively for research purposes, I look at Wikipedia as a good building block for what I will write. For example, speaking about the Crimean War, I can verify Wikipedia’s entry on this subject with other material and fill in the holes as necessary. Although I am a registered Wikipedia editor, I may not spend the time correcting every error myself. Still, many articles offer a good place for students to begin their research.

Concluding this matter I encourage you to consider the source when using Wikipedia; the information you want to use may be accurate but given that anyone can edit the site, do you really want to cite Wikipedia?


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Categories: Academics