Alright, here’s a tip my mom gave me once. Let me know if this sounds familiar. You’re in school and your teacher wants you to write a paper. You’re expected to find your own sources, but they give you this one tip: “Don’t use Wikipedia.”
Well, I’m here to call bull.
I mean, I get it. Anybody can edit a Wikipedia page, so you never know if the information you’re getting is actually accurate. But you know how at the end of your paper you have to make a list of all the sources you used to get your information? Wikipedia does the same thing. Sometimes, there will be a little number at the end of the info that you can click, and it will take you to a link that will lead you to the source. Or you can just scroll down and get a whole list of references to check out.
My suggestion: Use Wikipedia, but don’t use it directly.
Let’s say you’re writing a paper on Maya Angelou. When you Google her name, one of the first few links is to her Wikipedia page. Go ahead and click the link and scan for information you can use. If you find some, check for a source. There will usually be a little number somewhere in the paragraph to show where they got their information.
If there’s no number, there’s no source and you probably shouldn’t use it. But if there is a number, click it and go to the source. Read through it and make sure it’s reputable. If it has sources as well, check those out too. If you decide to use the information, cite those sources rather than Wikipedia.
Using it this way, Wikipedia ends up not being a source of information, but a directory of sources. Now, you have an easy way of finding references for that Maya Angelou paper without (completely) going against that “Don’t use Wikipedia” rule. It just takes a little digging.
Have you ever been frustrated because of the “Don’t use Wikipedia” rule? Has this blog post helped you with your papers at all? Let me know in the comments!