How to Research: A Tutorial
What about Wikipedia?
Many people go immediately to Wikipedia for information about a specific topic. There are a few important things to know about Wikipedia:
- What is Wikipedia?Wikipedia is an online, free-content encyclopedia that has been created by many users and is constantly changing and evolving. It contains more than 10 million articles in over 200 languages. Articles that have information in common are linked together so that readers can jump from one article to another to learn more about a topic.
- Who writes the articles?In principle, ANYONE can write and edit articles on Wikipedia. Articles are not signed by any specific author, and users can change what has been written by other people. It is often difficult to know who wrote any particular part of a Wikipedia article.
- Why do my professors tell me not to use it?First of all, Wikipedia is essentially an encyclopedia, and you may have been advised that encyclopedias in general are not suitable college-level sources. For Wikipedia specifically, it is hard to determine who wrote an article and thus hard to determine how accurate and reliable an article is. Because there are so many authors and a limited number of editors, there is a high potential for articles to have incorrect or biased information.
- Is everything on Wikipedia unreliable?No, there are certainly Wikipedia articles that have been well researched and edited. According to Wikipedia’s own description, “older articles tend to be more comprehensive and balanced, while newer articles more frequently contain significant misinformation, unencyclopedic content, or vandalism” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About).
- Can I use Wikipedia for research?Wikipedia can be a good website to start with if you are very unfamiliar with a topic. However, you should look for lists of References, Resources, or External Links at the end of the article. These lists often provide links to the original sources from which the Wikipedia author got his/her information. Use these links to read the information from its original source, and use the original website as a source for your paper instead of the Wikipedia article.