Here we go with useful topic number one: why Wikipedia isn’t evil.
Good, rule-abiding non-fiction researchers are not supposed to use Wikipedia. This is because it is written by the masses, edited (or not edited) by the masses, and eternally changeable.
All good reasons. But, if you’re writing a section on, say, the chemical spill in Bhopal, India, in 1984, and you happen to be historically and geographically illiterate and know nothing except the word “Bhopal,” well… let me introduce you to your new best friend: Wikipedia. It’s The Reader’s Digest Condensed Version. The Coles Notes. The hot guy behind you in class who takes great notes with multi-colored pens.
Okay, those guys never existed in my classes either. My point is, Wikipedia is the most convenient source for an instant “snapshot” of a topic.
There are only a few things to keep in mind:
1. Don’t assume anything you read is true. Probably, it’s fact. But it could be biased. It could be missing pertinent info. Or it could incorporate urban legend. Find the part the interests you, nab the key words, and go search for them in the library’s on-line periodical databases. Look for confirmation in peer-reviewed publications, or at the very least, in multiple sources.
2. Scroll to the bottom of the Wikipedia article and look at the references. Often, your respectable and/or peer-reviewed publications are waiting right there for you. Sometimes, they’re even linked. Woohoo! (We researchers get excited easily.)
3. Look for connections. You know how sometimes you look for a library book in the stacks, only to find three much more interesting books shelved alongside? Wikipedia’s like that. It’s the single best place to find information that you needed all along, and just didn’t know it yet.
— Usefullness over until next week. —