Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project operated by the Wikimedia Foundation and based on an openly editable model. (x)

Wikipedia often has a bad reputation in the academic community.  Criticism ranges from author anonymity to lack of peer review to propagation of bias.  Even though it may not be an acceptable cited source for a paper or project, Wikipedia is still a useful tool—a road map for those looking for an introduction to a topic.  Here are some ways to get the most out of Wikipedia:

  • Follow the sources links.  Content on Wikipedia is often sourced to peer-reviewed articles and other non-anonymous sites.  If you find a section of an article useful, check the source—there’s probably more where that came from.
  • Check out the other languages.  Wikipedia is multilingual, but the pages aren’t direct translations of each other.  This comes in handy when doing research on historical events in other countries.  For example, the English article on Manchukuo has about 4200 words, while a Google Translate of the Japanese article has something like 15000—more than three times as many.  Google Translate isn’t always readable or accurate, but again, this can help you know where to look next.
  • Use the Simple English.  One of Wikipedia’s language options is Simple English—a less technical, more simplified explanation of whatever topic the article is about.  If you simply can’t wade your way through a technical article (science, economics, politics are the ones I usually can’t get), check out the Simple English version.
  • Contribute!  If you see something wrong on a page, change it—spelling/grammar errors, inaccuracies, omissions, whatever.  The Wikipedia community is pretty active, too—articles are followed and regulated, and you may be able to pick up some information from other Wikipedia users.
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