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Research on the Free Web Tutorial: C. Use of Wikipedia in Academia

Wikipedia has stuff you can use! (Sort of)

We already mentioned two simple ways you can use Wikipedia in academia:

  • Find background information and vocabulary that you can use in higher-level search tools.
  • Use of the references, further reading, and external links.

But wait, there's more!

The "Talk" tab

You should actually look at the talk tab BEFORE you read the main article.  The top part of the talk page for the 2011-2012 Egyptian Revolution aritcle looks like this:

  • Information in tan boxes can tell you a lot about the type of topic you're looking at.  Learn to scan the boxes for extra information that helps you interpret the main article
  • It will often indicate whether the article was nominated for any internal praise and include notes on why it was/was not awarded recognition.
  • It may lead to a portal or project within Wikipedia that has more or related information on your topic (more below).

Then there's the table of contents and actual content of the talk page.  Here's an example from the article for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act :

  • Often contains fascinating and contentious tidbits that didn't make it into the topic's main article.  In academia, you should be going beyond the bland, vanilla, suitable-for-everyone main article anyway, so this discussion is a leg up for understanding the controversies around your topic.
  • Please note that many article talk pages are lengthy and have been split into multiple pages and "archived".  Most of the meaty discussion likely took place at the beginning of the writing of the article, so looking at the first of the archived talk pages can be the most fruitful.
  • The talk page can contribute to your search vocabulary, most significantly in determining the huge number of synonyms used to label a topic.  Existing works may use many different words to describe a topic, so contributors use the talk pages to thrash out which vocabulary will be used in the main article. 


Wikipedia currently has over 1000 portals, which are introductory pages for broad topics that give you a basic introduction and link you to further articles and information.  Portals not only give you an overview, but can help you narrow down a research topic. 

Articles with Oversight

WikiProjects are groups of editors who work together to improve Wikipedia.  Frequently, they elect to keep track of articles within a particular portal.  Volunteer editors work as a fact-checking crew; they sign up to monitor certain articles and receive an e-mail notification if any changes are made.  If an article is part of a portal or WikiProject, the talk page will include that information.

Why does this matter?  Because some portals are so thoroughly edited that faculty will accept those Wikipedia articles  as low-level academic resources (similar to print encyclopedias). It never hurts to ask your instructor if it's OK to use (meaning cite as a credible reference) a particular Wikipedia article or if they'll accept articles from a particular portal or project.

Current Events

With the exception of news media, traditional publishing takes time.  If you're working on a very recent topic, you may request permission from your faculty to use non-traditional resources, including Wikipedia.  If you do so, remember that the entry is LIKELY to change and so the history and talk tabs become more important should you need to go back and review some aspect of the article.


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