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How Wikipedia Helps You to Study College Subjects

An important source of on-line study material is Wikipedia. At the time of writing, Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia, had 2,517,264 articles in English and this number is growing. It’s published in at least 262 languages. Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger started Wikipedia in 2001 with the aim of assembling all human knowledge.

Wikipedia is ‘collaboratively edited’ and provides an online tutorial for would-be ‘Wikipedians’. Since its birth, it has grown steadily in popularity as well as in size. If you have rare or specific knowledge about the origins of a field, for example, here’s your chance to add a new topic, albeit anonymously!

Various schools of thought have considered the merits and demerits of this collaborative editing. On the one hand, there’s no editorial board to check the accuracy of the content, so it’s worth checking any information you want to use from another source. Also, as the contributors are unknown, you can’t check their credentials.

On the other hand, incorrect information can be edited and corrected, and this undoubtedly happens in popular topics. Some entries actually contain appeals for help in providing greater accuracy and more detail and point out shortcomings in the entries. Some entries are highly detailed and others sparse. Some are complex and assume a fairly high level of background knowledge of the subject, whereas others are more basic.

However, on a Google search for a topic or definition (unless you specify a Google definition) Wikipedia is likely to be at the top of the list. Readers quickly become accustomed to the Wikipedia layout, key words and statistics for each topic.

The page layout makes Wikipedia entries relatively clear and easy to grasp. Wikipedia is a good port of call for initial enquiries, but, as is always the case, information should be cross-checked with that from another source.

As the 262 or more language contributions operate more or less separately – not translated from one language to another – it may be interesting to compare a topic that appears in two different languages.

This may reveal different ways of looking at the subject, though there’s no way to check that the same contributor did not, in fact, write both contributions, that is, translated his own work or wrote a separate entry in two languages on the same topic. For further information on the operation and philosophy of Wikipedia, see www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia#Reliability_and_bias.

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