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Wikipedia

Using Encyclopedias in your Research

Wikipedia

As the world's largest encyclopedia, Wikipedia's coverage is vast. You are more likely to find articles on obscure topics in Wikipedia than you would anywhere else. But is it accurate? While Wikipedia can be edited by anyone in the world (including you!), scholarly encyclopedias like Encyclopedia Britannica are written and edited by experts in their fields. However, a 2005 study in the journal Nature weighed the accuracy of science articles on Wikipedia against the more scholarly (though not peer-reviewed) Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia was found to be nearly as accurate in the 42 articles investigated. Encyclopedia Britannica refuted these claims. When using Wikipedia, or any encyclopedia for that matter, it is wise to verify what you find.

Strengths of Wikipedia

  • Wikipedia is updated frequently. New information can be, and often is, added to the site within minutes. Due to stricter editorial guidelines, scholarly encyclopedias are generally updated annually. 
  • Because Wikipedia crowd sourced, there is the potential for a broader authorship than is found in academic publications. 
  • Citations in Wikipedia offer a wider array of materials, including articles and resources that are available for free and online.

Weaknesses of Wikipedia

  • Editors on Wikipedia are not necessarily experts on the topics they are writing about. Authorship on Wikipedia is often anonymous or obscured.
  • Articles are always changing, making them difficult to cite in your research. An article you read today, may look quite different tomorrow.
  • Articles can be vandalized, providing wildly inaccurate information.

Ways to use Wikipedia

  • Use Wikipedia to get a general idea about a topic you are interested in.
  • Wikipedia is great for generating ideas about your topic. Exploring a topic through internal links is a great way to learn more.
  • Check the citations, recommended resources and external links to guide you to more scholarly work.

Scholarly Encyclopedias

Similar to Wikipedia, these resources provide an overview on a given topic, but the authors are experts in the fields they are covering. Below you will find a few general encyclopedia collections with coverage across a wide variety of fields. 

 

[image] Suze Meyers, Feminist Wikipedia, 2016.