Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Using Wikipedia

(Tesol Worksheets--EAP Research Essay)
Google: drive, docs, pub

[The Wikipedia question seems to come up every term, so I thought I'd design a handout to try to deal with it. In my case, my EAP students don't have a lot of access to English libraries or databases, so I'm pretty forgiving of their temptation to fall back on Wikipedia. But I wanted to address its advantages and disadvantages and make sure that they understood why they shouldn't use it in theory. This worksheet is supplemented with an in class discussion. (Before I give them this sheet, I have them talk in groups about the advantages and disadvantages of Wikipedia. I find I can usually elicit most of the stuff on the handout before giving it to them.) In classrooms with a computer projector, I also try to show some of the features of Wikipedia as we discuss it.]

Step 2: Using Wikipedia

Talk with a partner. What are the advantages of using Wikipedia? What are the disadvantages of using Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a very popular and convenient website. Many people, myself included, use Wikipedia on a regular basis to check information or learn about new things. And the information is usually accurate and reliable.

However, most universities do not allow students to use Wikipedia as an academic source. There are several reasons for this.

One reason is that Wikipedia is designed to be an encyclopedia. An encyclopedia is designed to introduce a topic, and is usually only a summary of the important information on a topic. However, in university, students are required to study a topic in-depth. The university professors want students to read more detailed information about a topic than is available in a quick summary.

In addition to this, there are several things about the structure of Wikipedia which make it dangerous to rely on Wikipedia too much. Anyone can write on Wikipedia, whether they are an expert on the subject or not. Furthermore, Wikipedia entries are not always checked by experts, and they may sometimes contain mistakes. Sometimes, people intentionally write false information on Wikipedia, either as a joke, or to try to deceive people about an important issue.

Despite all these problems, studies have consistently shown that Wikipedia is usually reliable, so more often than not the information you find on Wikipedia is accurate. However, under current academic guidelines at most universities, students are not allowed to cite Wikipedia as a source in their academic papers.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't use and read Wikipedia. It only means that you shouldn't include Wikipedia in an academic paper. Wikipedia is still useful for learning background information about your topic.

When you start a research project, the first thing you want to do is to try to find out as much information on your topic as possible. You will probably not have the time or the space to use all this information in your actual paper, but a thorough knowledge of your topic will help you to decide which points are the most important to include in your paper, and help you to evaluate any further information that you might find in the future. Therefore, it is recommended that you read the Wikipedia entry for your topic to help you get background knowledge. You will not be able to include this information in your paper (unless you can find it again in another source), but it will give you a stronger understanding of your topic.

Another way in which Wikipedia is useful is as a way to find other sources. Most Wikipedia pages will include a list of references, external links, and a bibliography. Although you will have to critically evaluate all these different sources (some of them may not be academically reliable) many of these sources and weblinks will be acceptable to use on your paper.

Step 1:
Read the Wikipedia entry for your topic.  Write down the various headings and subheadings that the article includes, and note down any interesting information that you find.  (For the most part, this will be only for background information.  But if there is information you want to include on your final paper, see if you can find the original source that Wikipedia is using, by following the footnotes at the end of the sentences.)

Step 2: Check the external links, bibliography, and list of references in the Wikipedia entry.  Make a list of any sources that you think will be useful for your paper.

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