A Way to Teach Research Skills

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Is Wikipedia Becoming a Respectable Academic Source?

By Lisa Spiro

"Just because more researchers-including some prominent ones-are citing Wikipedia does not mean it's necessarily a valid source for academic papers. However, you can begin to see academic norms shifting as more scholars find useful information in Wikipedia and begin to cite it" (Spiro).

Scholary documents achieve trustworthiness through a social process to assure readers that the source they cited in their paper or journal satisfies the quality norms of the field. This is a sign that the academic norms are changing in some disciplines and are turning to Wikipedia for useful and trustworthy information.

In my personal experience, many of my professors have told my classes to stay away from Wikipedia because it is to unreliable. Spiro examines these four criticisms of Wikipedia.

They are:

1) Research papers and projects should'nt rely on encyclopedias. This is not the kind of thing you want to reference in an academic paper. Many enccylopedias are constantly changing so the information provided could either be old or invalid.

2) Wikipedia is constantly going through revisions. This is similar to the first one. Wiki is too unstable to cite. What you read today may be gone tomorrow or even in a few minutes.

3) You can't trust Wiki because anyone is able to contribute.

4) These entries lack authority because of the lack of peer review.

Wikipedia can be appropriate in an academic source depending on what is being cited and for what purpose. Wikipedia is instructive for its readers because of its openness. Spiro explains that "Wikipedia can be a legitamate source for student research papers- and furnish a way to teach research skills." If readers use critical judgment in analyzing its reliability and appropriateness for citation, then there should be no shame in citing it.

I know I have turned to Wikipedia to look up helpful information on the subject I am writing about. I won't necessarily cite the information gained from Wiki, but I will use it in a way that I am helping my scholarly research. If you know what I mean.



Jed Fetterman said:

Wikipedia seems incosistent to me, too. A lot of articles seem to skip over important pieces of information, and then refer back to them later in the article as if you should know about them. I always feel, no matter how much background knowledge I have in the subject, that the Wikipedia article leaves me with more questions than answers. I guess that would make it a good place to start a research paper.

Andrew Lonigro said:

I don't know about using Wikipedia as an academic source. For example, what if a student cites a Wikipedia article in her paper and when the teacher follows the works cited to find that the information in the article is changed? This could pose a problem for students who are just learning out how to incorporate sources. So, Dena, I like what you said about not necessarily citing Wikipedia articles in your paper, but using them as a reference point to start out. It's also a good idea to follow the sources in the article to find usable sources for a paper.

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This page contains a single entry by West Coast Envy published on November 7, 2008 2:21 PM.

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