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Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to use Wikipedia (without citing it)

Wikipedia is the largest repository of encyclopedia articles in the internet today. Depending on the source, Wikipedia claims to have around 2.5 to 3 million article entries in its website. This may have been the greatest invention in the information world as of the moment. However, as I have stressed out in one of my previous posts (Using Wikipedia for research in grad school), issues with reliability of its content have been constantly challenged. A reason for this is that practically anyone can contribute to a Wikipedia article. This makes it vulnerable to pranksters, or anyone who wishes to misinform the public, or advance their political intentions.

This issue caused it to be banned on some universities from being cited as a resource in an academic paper. Although other universities and colleges doesn’t ban its citing outright, professors discourages students from doing it. So if you’re planning to cite Wikipedia as a source for your papers, better think twice because it has been a common understanding among professors that citing encyclopedia is equivalent to laziness and at the very least idiocy of the one doing it.

This doesn’t mean however that we should not use Wikipedia totally. In fact Wikipedia is a very helpful resource in writing an academic paper especially when you are in grad school and that’s even without you citing it. Here are the reasons why:

1.It provides interesting background information on the subject. Almost always, a Wikipedia entry starts with its definition. Furthermore, the history, origin, and the evolution of the concept are explained in the entry. This provides you with a contextual atmosphere when writing an introduction to your intended academic paper.  (ex. It’s much interesting to write about a topic on environmental ethics when you know something about its history and how it has evolved into what it is at the present).

2.The hyperlinks provide you with information on related topics. Internal links in a topic entry leads to other entries in Wikipedia that are related to the topic you are researching. These provide you with a more thorough knowledge of the topic which can be reinforced with your information on the other topics related to it.

3.Reference links leads you to the website where the original literature in which the cited reference in the Wikipedia entry can be viewed. So even if Wikipedia articles are not that reliable, the references for it mostly are. These are the ones that you can cite in order for your academic paper to be reliable too.

4.External links provide you with websites which can supplement the information on a certain topic. Almost always these are also reliable sources of information and more valid as a reference for your intended academic paper.

5.The neutrality policy of Wikipedia encourages contributors to provide the pros and cons of the topic being written. Therefore, an article in Wikipedia can also help you decide where to stand on a certain topic. This helps you in the writing of your conclusion or generalization part of your paper.

The point here is that Wikipedia is helpful in focusing your research through the links being provided. This saves you time from googling for more reliable sources because Wikipedia already has a list of them for each entry. The background on the other hand, helps you to write in context.

Using Wikipedia this way makes you write faster using reliable sources. And writing in context makes your paper a good one.

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