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Evaluating Internet-Based Information: Wikipedia

How does Wikipedia work?

Wikipedia's content is written by volunteers -- writers are not paid to contribute the entries. According to the site, "anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles (except in certain cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism)" [source: About Wikipedia]. Contributors can provide their names or add content anonymously. This open concept represents both what is fresh and good about the site and what can is problematic about it.

Read more of this article at Curiosity.com (from the Science Channel).

Using Wikipedia -- or not

"Wikipedia... is the best thing ever.
Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject,
so you know you are getting the best possible information."

- Michael Scott from The Office

 


Despite the above endorsement from Michael Scott, you need to be extremely cautious when using Wikipedia for any type of research.

Wikipedia can be used for background information to learn about a topic that you have no experience with, or for getting ideas for keywords to use in your search. The references and links you find at the end of a Wikipedia article can be useful and may point you to additional sources that can help you get started. But after that, it should not be used for academic research.

The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, explains that, “It’s good enough knowledge, depending on what your purpose is.”

The Delaware State Library has a thoughtful piece on Wikipedia.  And here's what Harvard has to say.

Many articles have been written about the improper use of Wikipedia. You can read some of them here: