Saturday
Oct062012

Wikipedia and Reliable Sources

A common question asked by students is 'Can I trust Wikipedia?'. This often leads to a comment by a friend who says 'No, you can't trust Wikipedia'. Both the question and comment are worth some deeper conversation.

The question should be 'Can you trust any single source of information?' and the answer should be No. Every form of publishing information can contain errors, or opinion or deliberate falsehoods. Best practise is to always verufy facts and even then use caution. An error on one website can easily be repeated on many sites that all took the wrong information from one original site.

I Wikipedia worse than other sites? This is tricky to assess. Sites published or controlled by large publishers will probably tell you not to trust it, but they do have a vested interest. Wikipedia itself says it is not considered a credible source. Despite this Wikipedia can be a useful site for information particularly in the early stages of your research. The warning is that just as with every source you must check your facts and you may want to reference a source with a more prestigious reputation.

Getting the most from Wikipedia

Most people read the text in the Article from Wikipedia and stop there, but if you do this you are missing out on som excellent tools to help you check the facts. Each Wikipedia page has a 'Talk' section where people discuss the information and the sources. Often errors are spotted here and you can gauge how reliable other users feel the information. This can be particularly important when looking for bias. You can also view the 'History' of the page and see who has been editing the page. This feature can reveal some useful information too although for some Articles the sheer number of minor edits can be overwhelming.

Understanding Domain Names or Web Addresses

A websites address contains some tips on how reliable the site is and understanding a little bit about the address structure can help you.

  • Most commercial sites will be a .com
  • Most educational institutions use .edu
  • Government sites use .gov
  • This site uses .net
  • Non-government organisations use .org
  • Sites from Australia end in .au
  • Sites from the United State of America have no country code
  • Sites from the United Kingdom have .uk
  • View a full list of Top Level Domains

Our Wiki's are made using Wikispaces, a free Wiki building site that allows anyone to create a Wiki. There are many service like this including Wordpress, Weebly, Blogger, Edublogs or sites.google. In many cases the webaddress will show that the page you are viewing was made with one of these free tools. Knowing this should prompt you to check your facts a little more carefully than usual. You could be relying on someones school project for your work.

Getting Geeky

You can dig deeper into the background of many websites if you are prepared to be a little geeky. Who Is (Visit whois.sc)is a site that will allow you to see who owns a website. It shows you the information entered when the domain name for a site was registered. You can also look into the code of a website and will often see that the site is built using a free service. Look for a View Source or Developer options in your browser.

The goal of this extra work is to better equip yourself with relaible information.

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