Should you believe Wikipedia?

Although many teachers strictly forbid the use of Wikipedia as a source of information, the rest of us recognize it as (often) reliable enough to be part of a Works Cited page. (Please note, I said “part of.” Do not mistakingly translate “part of” as “the entire” Works Cited page.)

Amy Bruckman, from the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, writes about this in a blog post titled “Should you believe Wikipedia?” She says its trustworthiness depends on the page you are reading. “Popular, high-profile” pages have a lot of eyes on them. While it’s true that not everyone will be an expert on the topic, the odds of careful detail increase when many authors are contributing knowledge. The reverse, then, is also true:  “low-profile” pages have fewer “watchers,” and readers should assume all the information is “unreliable.” The editing improves each year, but in low-profile pages “pranks or honest errors” might “linger.”

Even if a teacher forbids, its use, Wikipedia makes a good place to begin research if the topic is one you know very little about. Wikipedia’s strength is in providing an overview on a topic, so it is a logical place to begin research. From that overview, the next step is reading the references that built the page. Those sources are listed at the bottom, and many of them have hyperlinks to locations on the web. Reading one or more of those can give you a focal point for your ideas and a citation for your Works Cited page, too.

(For help in finding academic sources via the invisible web, read Researching on the Web.)

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