3 Tips for Using Wikipedia as an Authentic Research Source

With digital literacy taking over the print form, it is becoming really easy to gather information when that comes to carrying out researches for official projects or any academic assignments. Wikipedia or Wiki in that case (hands down) is by far the most relied upon free encyclopedia. And there’s nothing more convenient if you are looking for some quick information. But you should be extremely cautious when using Wiki as the data provided on the website isn’t always trustworthy for incorporating into your research projects. There always is a considerable amount of risk involved. The site itself displays “Welcome to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. This means that the credibility is at risk. Wiki can definitely be your grade-killer or be that valuable friend. But it remains an undeniable fact that usage of Wikipedia can or cannot be authentic depending on your research ability, understanding & knowledge.

Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia

Wikipedia is often banned entirely and the reason is simple. This free encyclopedia enables every person on this planet to edit its article pages or provide information for the same. This means that any person can contribute whatever information he/ she wants that too without any sincere fact checking. People can add wrong or misleading data. And usually, it takes anything between weeks to months for detecting & appropriately updating the info by an official Wikipedia administrator.

But again, it is also an amazing tool that can provide you with factually accurate and usable information. The library is stocked with a plenty of material relating to various disciplines. And here is how you can accomplish the best out of the not so credible Wikipedia for all your research assignments.

1. Use “References

So to get a general overview of your research topic using Wikipedia, you can easily follow the references it provides. Most of the articles are capable of being modified without any warning but they having a “Reference” section that comes in super handy. This section basically contains all the links to the real and credible websites/ articles which are elsewhere on the Internet. And the information on those links is by people who are regular with their fact checking responsibility. This way it is easy to even validate the provided information and make the material a reliable and important part of your research.

So let’s say you are carrying out a research related to the history of Apple Macintosh computer. You visit & search Wikipedia for Macintosh and start to gather the required data.

Apple Macintosh Search Page by Wikipedia
Apple Macintosh Search Page by Wikipedia

The first step to ensure what information is good enough to go forward with is to straight away check the Contents Table > References.

Apple Macintosh Search Page Content Table on Wikipedia
Apple Macintosh Search Page Content Table at Wikipedia

This takes you down to the section where you can actually see all the reference used in this article with proper citation. You can click those links and view the real & trusted articles. It also lets you explore certain books and other offline sources that might have been used in the particular article.

Apple Macintosh References - Wikipedia
Apple Macintosh References at Wikipedia

So this way, Wikipedia acts as a portal to plenty of legitimate references making your research somewhat genuine.

2. Trust “Protected” Articles 

In the recent years, Wikipedia has taken multiple steps to ensure the authenticity of popular articles along with them being factually correct. As they lack some amount of credibility, the best way is to look out for a lock symbol” at the top right corner of any Wikipedia entry.

Article Protection - Silver Lock Symbol
Article Protection – Silver Lock Symbol

Article Protection - Silver Lock Symbol
Article Protection – Silver Lock Symbol

So Wikipedia has several color locks representing different standards of protection. These typically mean that the public has limited or absolutely no access to modify any of the contents relating to a particular page. And the most common you will find are the Gold and Silver padlock symbols.

Silver Lock Protection for Wikipedia Articles
Silver Lock Protection for Wikipedia Articles

Gold Lock Protection for Wikipedia Articles
Gold Lock Protection for Wikipedia Articles 

 

The gold lock or “full protection” means that an article can be edited only by the wiki administrators. It directs at people who possess better chances of knowing what they are doing!

The silver lock or “semi protection” means that an article is semi-protected preventing any edits from unregistered users. Even the ones whose accounts aren’t confirmed can not edit an entry. A few others include the Pink, Blue, Green, Purple Grey, and Black padlock protections.

Other padlock protections for Wikipedia Articles
Other padlock protections for Wikipedia Articles

Other padlock protections for Wikipedia Articles
Other padlock protections for Wikipedia Articles

So whenever in doubt, try to find the articles with a gold padlock symbol which enables full protection. But also bear in mind that even the administrators can loose the ball. You can look out for other icons or symbols at the top right corner like “good” and “featured”  for knowing the decency of an article.

3. Wikipedia’s “Reference Desk

This is Wikipedia’s own virtual reference desk which is much like a library. It lets you ask just about any question to which a Wikipedia volunteer happily answers. Of course, you should initially try searching from the Wikipedia search box and only opt for this option after you do not get what you want. This reference desk answers all your queries apart from giving out legal or medical advice. And for your knowledge, even a random Wikipedia user can answer your question. This again reduces the credibility. So be sure to request for one or more reference links that authenticate the answer and indicate a credible source.

To access the Reference Desk, scroll down on Wiki’s main page.

Wikipedia - Main Page
Wikipedia – Main Page

And keep scrolling until you see the Other areas of Wikipedia” section. Click on the “Reference Desk” option that serves as a virtual library.

Other areas of Wikipedia > Reference Section
Other areas of Wikipedia > Reference Section

Click and choose a category according to your question.

Choose a category for your question
Choose a category for your question

And on the following page, click the option Ready? Ask a new question!” if you couldn’t find the answer on actual wiki search.

Category: Travel | WikiVoyage | Ask a Question
Category: Travel | WikiVoyage | Ask a Question

But please note, it can probably take anything between minutes, hours or days for receiving an answer to the question you posted on Wiki. So keep up with your patience!

Therefore, I recommend not to use the above mentioned tips as an excuse for disobeying the instructions laid down by your professors or bosses. The suggestions may be helpful but make use of them in the case when it’s a personal research or when it’s allowed by your supervisors.

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