4 Reasons Teachers Shouldn’t Use Wikipedia For Research-Based Writing Assignments

Teachers may object to using Wikipedia for research-based writing assignments for several reasons. They worry about its open participation, its unreliability, and its shallow topic coverage.

However, many of the practices involved in producing Wikipedia articles parallel those that often characterize successful research-based writing. Examining how and why Wikipedia works can help students understand the importance of reviewing, conversing, and revising.

1. As a source

Many teachers and experts believe that a website where anyone can edit articles is unreliable. They fear that Wikipedia’s articles will be full of errors, bias, and vandalism. Although these fears may be justified, it is important to realize that a significant amount of vandalism is spotted quickly and easily, and that the site’s editors work hard to combat this.

The quality of information in Wikipedia has improved significantly over the years. It is now comparable to that found in peer reviewed journals. Its policies prevent excess vandalism and make it more neutral than many other sources. Moreover, it is not necessary to have author credentials to contribute. Many professionals, such as doctors, use Wikipedia to find reliable medical information.

However, even with a solid foundation of reliable sources and a dedicated community, it is sometimes impossible to achieve consensus on an issue. Sometimes the people who write for Wikipedia just disagree with each other.

2. As a process guide

Many of the wiki’s pages document policies, technical matters, instructions and agreed-on processes. It takes a lot of time to read them all, especially for new editors. This book summarizes much of that documentation in a way that makes sense for new editors.

It describes how to create and edit articles, as well as how to use the wiki software. It also explains how to find and follow links between articles, so you can get around Wikipedia more effectively.

There are also sections on how to work with other editors, and how to resolve disputes. These are issues that every wiki must deal with, but they can take away from the credibility of an article. Critics point to vandalism and bias, particularly when political groups try to bypass Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policy in order to promote their own views. However, studies show that the vast majority of such changes are reverted or otherwise corrected in a short amount of time.

3. As a discussion forum

Many critics argue that the Wikipedia model of allowing anyone to edit is not viable. They say that such a collaborative encyclopedia is bound to be a disaster, riddled with errors, bias, and vandalism.

Moreover, they point to evidence that editors sometimes use the Wikipedia articles to promote their own political or religious agendas. They also note that the site is vulnerable to systematic bias, such as by age, sex, nationality, education level, and editing style (e.g., bombastic wording, attempts at humor or cleverness, reliance on primary sources, editorializing, recentism, and headlinese).

If editors violate Wikipedia’s community norms and processes they are blocked, often permanently. Their names and IP addresses are listed on a public list of abusers (like the Monkey’s Paw), along with a description of their offenses. This can discourage other editors from joining and prevent others from learning from the mistakes of these editors. It can also damage the encyclopedia’s reputation and harm readers.

4. As a community

A key function of any wiki is community. Like a real-world workplace, it’s important for people to stop and have a beer with their coworkers or have back-of-the-napkin brainstorming sessions to fix problems nobody expected. But if the community strengthens some bonds at the expense of others, it’s likely to cause resentment and discord – not the foundation for productive work.

Anyone is welcome to edit, but the purpose of editing should be to improve Wikipedia, not promote a personal agenda or view of the world. Editors with strong views on a subject must not allow those beliefs or background to improperly influence their editing, and must use the talk page instead of articles for expressing them.

The community must be able to support newcomers and resolve disputes, and users are urged to avoid difficult conduct or poor social manners. If they see a dispute, they should intervene only with the goal of calming the situation and helping those involved find ways to resolve it.

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