What do you associate with Wikipedia? Until recently I thought of Wikipedia as an unreliable source of information because that was the narrative my teachers told me all throughout grade school. While it’s easy to accept this negative view as fact, in the past few years Wikipedia has made big changes to improve its credibility.
The fact is, Wikipedia can be a reliable source of information and can benefit the writer/editor and the rest of the world.
If you don’t quite believe what I’m saying, hear me out. Why don’t we get to know Wikipedia a little bit more before we give our final verdict? Wikipedia is, at its core, a “reference work that provides summaries” (Wikipedia, Encyclopedia). It’s an encyclopedia; one that has core beliefs and guidelines that govern the way articles are written and, yes, cited.
Wikipedia’s three core content policies are:
- Neutral Point of View
- No Original Research (Wikipedia, Core…)
Simply, users must state facts, not opinions; cite reliable sources; and not post their own research or analysis.
Still, you may think that anyone with an internet connection and an idea could make changes or create false facts, right? In fact, quite the opposite is true. When I was researching the process of writing and editing articles on Wikipedia, I found that there are several pages devoted to the formatting of articles. There are even extensive communities within the site devoted to making changes to articles. Creating and editing on Wikipedia is far more complex and detailed than I ever anticipated.
Understanding the intricate workings of the Wikipedia community allows us to look at how it can benefit you and the world around you. It seems like a huge claim, but Wikipedia truly has far-reaching effects.
When you decide to write or edit an article, you can gain skills on:
- Writing and editing
- Finding and recognizing trustworthy sources (McDowell)
In particular, students and young writers benefit from lessons like these. Wikipedia is about collaborating with a wide community.
Again, accessibility and power come into play because this is, after all, a form of public writing. When an educated person creates content on Wikipedia, they are helping to distribute valuable information to those who may not have access to libraries or information behind paywalls. Even the casual, everyday reader can learn from the information that is distributed online. Realistically, a Wikipedia article that you write or edit could be the most read thing you produce.
In terms of power, there are plenty of opportunities to create pages for little-known people and things. If there is a topic you know a lot about and have sources for, you can educate others and spread the knowledge. Additionally, you have the power to fill in the gaps of knowledge in fields that have a gender bias. When the majority of creators are straight, white men, “diverse perspectives” and knowledge are missing from the global perspective (Neal).
Still unsure about Wikipedia? There’s a simple answer. By sharing accurate information in an article, you help make Wikipedia a better place. While there is a slight disadvantage because “anyone can edit,” there is also a huge advantage, which is also the fact that anyone can edit. All the people who have access to a library or database can help spread facts and make the world a more knowledgeable place.
McDowell, Zach. “Teaching (more than just) writing with Wikipedia.” Wikiedu, https://wikiedu.org/blog/2015/11/02/teaching-more-than-just-writing-with-wikipedia/, 2015. Accessed 29 September 2017.
Neal, Meghan. “Science Students are Writing Wikipedia Articles Instead of Term Papers.” Motherboard.vice.com, https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/qkjbbw/science-students-are-writing-wikipedia-articles-instead-of-term-papers, 2016. Accessed 29 September 2017.
Wikipedia. “Core Content Policies.” Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Core_content_policies. Accessed 29 September 2017.
Wikipedia. “Encyclopedia.” Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclopedia. Accessed 29 September 2017.