As finals approach, so do term papers. And since most people take 4-5+ classes a semester, that means a LOT of term papers without a lot of time to work on them. Soooo sometimes you might skimp a bit on your research and use Wikipedia. At best, your professor doesn’t care. Usually though, your professor will either hand you your paper and tell you to redo it or just give you a bad grade. NOT cool. Here’s why.
What IS Wikipedia exactly?
One of the most awesome things to ever hit the internet. There’s honestly nothing like looking up “Nintendo DS games” and finding a Wiki that has a clear, simple table of every single game on the DS. It’s awesome. But let’s see what Wikipedia really is.
According to Wikipedia (HA!), Wikipedia is: a free, multilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation.
Well that didn’t say much, now did it? So basically it’s an open-source encyclopedia that people like you and I can edit. There are Wikis in almost every language that touch upon almost every topic possible.
So what’s so wrong with Wikipedia?
It’s open source. The fact that anyone can alter it makes is dangerous as a scholarly tool. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios and problems with Wikipedia.
Scenario 1: Let’s say you’re a dork and you want to prepare an essay REALLY early. A month before the essay is due early. So you go in Wikipedia, you find some information you like–copy/paste, cite and you’re good to go. You turn in your paper a month later, and your professor decides to check the Wikipedia source. Oh? What’s this? The thing you quoted NO LONGER EXISTS ON THE PAGE. *cue horror music* Your credibility is shot, your professor is pissed, and odds are, you just bombed your paper.
Scenario 2: This time, you wait a little longer, hoping that the Wiki page won’t change. You copy/paste, cite, and turn your paper in. This time, your professor checks the Wiki, and decides that s/he wants to check the citation of the part you quoting. Did YOU think to check the citation? Apparently not, because your professor realizes that the citation to whatever “legitimate source” it said, is nothing more than a dead link. That’s as substantiated as you pulling whatever data from…well…you know where.
Scenario 3: So you’re doing a paper about a controversial topic. It can be abortion, gay marriage rights, heck–even Apple vs. Microsoft. You go and use Wikipedia as a source. You think that’s not biased? People who are pro-life or pro-choice can edit the page. Steve Jobs could edit Microsoft’s page if he wanted to! While real encyclopedias have paid editors to make sure things are unbiased, there’s nothing stopping Wikipedia from being biased.
Oh yeah? Well my professor said it’s ok to use it!
Hey, that’s fine. But what about when you get a professor who says you can’t? Are you going to be dependent on it already? It’s better to not get into the habit than to try and break it. Given the three scenarios I just gave you, why would you want to use it anyway? Sure it’s good to get you started–maybe if you’re trying to pick a topic to write about, it can help you choose. But for research to support your claims? It’s just not worth getting into.
Wikipedia is awesome. I love it for researching recent or obscure topics–especially gaming topics. However, when it comes to researching academic papers, I would avoid it.