May 29 2012

Web research: Wikis

by Barbie in Research

Wiki (noun): A website that allows users to add, modify, or delete content

Wikis have gained popularity in recent years, allowing web users from across the globe to collaborate on projects and share ideas and information. Wikis are even used in the classroom for projects, and when used appropriately, they can be effective learning tools. However, wikis aren’t exactly a reputable web source.

When you search for nearly any term, chances are a Wikipedia entry for the term is going to pop up on the first page of your search results, especially if you’re using Google. Wikipedia looks professional; it sells itself as an online encyclopedia, and you’ve probably been using encyclopedias for research since middle school. However, using Wikipedia as a source is a risky endeavor.

Wikipedia entries (and many other wikis) are developed anonymously. You have no way to verify the credibility of the author, his or her background or experience, or even the accuracy of the content. Wikipedia entries might sound legitimate — and, surely, some of the content is accurate — but anonymous-source webpages are not accurate or reputable sources.

You can use Wikipedia to your advantage, however. Scroll to the bottom of the entry to the References list. Here, you’ll find the sources that the wiki contributors used to develop the content. You can often find legitmate .edu or .gov sites in the References list. Use these direct, not to mention more reputable, sources when conducting research.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss ways to evaluate the legitimacy and reliability of a web source.