Wikipedia Infographic: Is It Time To Embrace Online Encyclopedias?



I am currently making major revisions and updates to our Research Paper Workshop curriculum and I stumbled upon this infographic below. In our current version of this course, we discourage the use of Wikipedia, but I’m wondering if we are just behind the times. I think there’s a good case to be made for Wikipedia as a legitimate and authoritative source of information.

I’m not suggesting that we allow students to rely on Wikipedia alone, of course, but don’t you think it’s time schools started embracing this trove of internet information?

I really want to hear from folks on this. Should WriteAtHome, and schools in general, encourage the use of Wikipedia for research?

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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Marie

    When I wanted to know which Magic School Bus episodes are on which DVDs – Wikipedia. When I wanted to know who/what a VeggieTales episode “the piano must go up” was spoofing – Wikipedia. When I wanted to know who is signing a particular Aerosmith song – I checked Wikipedia but it didn’t have the information. What other movies was the actor named Sauramon in – Wikipedia. It has all the pop culture info I don’t know or can’t remember. In the debate between those who want article length to reflect actual importance and those who want them to reflect passion of the contributor I pick the latter.

    When I wanted to review long division of polynomials, taking square roots by hand, divisibility rules, obscure xkcd references – Wikipedia. The math articles are excellent.

    When I want birth and death dates of someone famous – Wikipedia. List of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World – Wikipedia. Explanation of a reference to “Warwick kingmaker” – Wikipedia. Explanation of the relative value of a farthing and a tu’pence – Wikipedia. Correct spelling of Louis Pasteur – Google but Wikipedia could do it. It is good for basic history facts.

    But I avoid Wikipedia for discussions of Israel vs. Palestine, or evaluations of Presidents Bush and Obama, discussions of the conflicts Iraq – anything that is currently debated and attracts passionate people of differing opinions – actually I might look at it, but I assume it is the current iteration of a battle between opposing forces and may change any minute – not only will the interpretation be biased, but some of the “facts” may be dubious too, depending on who has been editing last.

    I feel confident I have a fairly good heuristic for where Wikipedia is likely to be accurate or inaccurate. But I’m not sure my children have the cultural knowledge to tell – maybe the oldest who skims the paper, but certainly not the younger ones. On the other hand, the younger ones aren’t supposed to be doing unsupervised internet searches anyway.

  2. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko03-23-2012

    I wonder how much of the resistance to Wikipedia has to do with old people like me just chewing sour grapes because research, which used to be such work, is just too dang easy for kids today!

    The truth is, that’s really a good thing.

  3. Robin

    I usually tell students they can use Wiki as *one* of their sources, but they should also use others. If they turn in a first draft with only Wiki citations, I’ll ask them to find corroboration elsewhere…but I think it’s interesting that its reliability is increasing. It’s good to know, actually, though I’d still continue to ask students to use more than just this as their main source(s) ­čÖé

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko03-23-2012

      It seems like reliability with Wikipedia shouldn’t be a concern. It’s got more eyes and editors than any print encyclopedia ever did. Mistakes can and are caught and addressed with amazing speed. The bigger it gets, the more reliable, it seems to me.

  4. Cheryl Krichbaum
    Cheryl Krichbaum03-23-2012

    I’m a professional writer, and I use Wikipedia all the time–because they source what they say and because it’s quick and easy. Kids’ use of Wikipedia is inevitable, so I advocate for teaching them how to use it responsibly,

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko03-23-2012

      Good advice, Cheryl. Any tips on being responsible would be appreciated. The truth is I use Wikipedia for my blog articles often!

  5. Merri Larsen
    Merri Larsen03-23-2012

    Hello Brian,
    As a Write at Home Coach just finishing a Research Paper Project, I’ve received inquiries from students wanting to use Wikipedia. I suggested they find various sources but go ahead and use Wikipedia as well. In our own homeschool and research projects, we’ve found Wikipedia to be reliable and thorough.
    Thank you for yet another balanced and worthwhile post!
    -Merri Larsen

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