Most people’s default setting when trying to find out information is to check Wikipedia on their computers or phones. However, and while Wikipedia is a great resource, it’s not foolproof, and shouldn’t be relied on as a study aid. Instead, Wikipedia should be used as a good first step in your research, but should be built on in order to look at other on and offline sources. Indeed, Wikipedia’s own founder has discouraged students from using Wikipedia for their research, and suggests looking across the Internet and books to actually do serious research.
The first problem to address with Wikipedia is that, while pages can be very detailed, their information can change from day to day – it only takes one person to make an incorrect edit to make a page unreliable. Never automatically assume that something’s accurate, and always check any links to other sites for credibility. You may also find that pages are written with a specific bias – this can be the case for political or historical posts, and can make it hard to sort facts from fiction.
You instead need to view Wikipedia as a way of starting your search for more information or structure you revision plans; Wikipedia can give you a sketch of a subject, and even some widely agreed on facts. However, it’s always worthwhile to use a page as a way of running other Google searches, and looking up particular books – some of these might be listed on the Wikipedia page itself. Check to see if the tone of the page is clear and whether it’s making links to reputable sites – spelling and grammar mistakes should also give away problems with a page. If you still struggle to structure you work then, Easter revision courses, such as the ones ran by Lansdowne College, can help out.
Other websites that you can move on to from Wikipedia might include Google Books, where you can run keyword searches on different subjects, and can actually read sections from published books and articles. Newspaper archives and major websites like Salon or Slate will also contain a lot of fact checked information that can be compared to what you’re taking from Wikipedia. Your school or college may also have a list of trusted websites, or a database of online journals, that can be explored.
For example, if doing a history project on a subject like the Tudors, you can start off by browsing the Wikipedia entry – from there, however, you can start looking in more detail at other pages, and checking facts against textbooks. If a Wikipedia page links to a primary source or a video or audio clips, click on it to see whether the information was correctly interpreted. Wikipedia works best as a gateway to lots of other content, and is useful or finding out what’s out there.
Another good way to use Wikipedia might be, then, as a starting point for a book report. Don’t just use a Wikipedia page as a source for quotes or a synopsis – check to see whether a page links to a free e-book version of a page, and see whether or not there are more detailed websites on a book that you can explore. Moreover, always make sure that you’re not just copying and pasting from Wikipedia and other sites – use quotes, and always say where you’re getting your information from.
Author Bio: SJ has learnt one or two hard lessons herself before, like learning assignments too late or leaping where perhaps she should have looked. One of the hardest lessons you shouldn’t learn before it is too late is about the importance of education and timely exam revision. Independent colleges like Lansdowne College are some of the most effective choices for those who’re looking for a structured and comprehensive education.