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Young Writers Society
Grammar & Research
How to use Wikipedia Effectively
Fri Dec 12, 2008 2:35 am
Time and time again, I see people using Wikipedia as a trustworthy source. Wikipedia has a lot of information - but the reason it's not necessarily the most credible source is that anyone can edit its information. People sometimes edit pages with false information as a joke, or they may simply have out-dated or incorrect information.
(That's why your teachers always tell you not to use Wikipedia as a source!)
Don't me wrong, I do use Wikipedia, and there are some good ways to use it, but you have to be careful.
Here are two basic tips to use Wikipedia to its full potential and to prevent yourself from getting bad information:
1) Check the citations for completeness, credibility, and additional sources.
When you're reading an article on Wikipedia, there are occasionally small superscript numbers inside brackets on the page. If you click on it, it will take you to a special section at the bottom of the page: the citations.
This area has every single source cited for the information in the article. In other words, this is where the information of the article came from - this is somewhere
can find additional information! Just click some links to read the sources cited in the article.
However, you have to be careful. If a link takes you to an error page and you can't find any reliable information in any of the citations, definitely don't trust the article's information. And be sure to pay attention to those little numbers within the article: Wikipedia now tells you if a particular claim the article makes is insufficiently cited. This means that the author who added the claim hasn't offered any evidence to support it, so it may not be true.
2) Check with outside sources.
So you have some information you collected form the Wikipedia article or the cited sources. Who says that it's reliable? That's where tip #2 comes in.
You can use a search engine like Google to find more sources of information. That's OK, but there are better ways. Many libraries and schools now have databases on their websites. Databases can help you find information in particular fields and often include peer-reviewed sources. They can point you toward web sources, journal articles, books, movies, and more. Look for sources that confirm what you read on Wikipedia - or maybe sources that contradict it!
Follow these tips, and Wikipedia is actually not too bad!
Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
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