PRO/CON: Should students use Wikipedia as a research source?

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Shannon Merrell

Shannon Merrell

Imagine this scenario: You’re sitting at your desk, fretting over how to get started on your art history project. You wonder if you should begin with a short biography of Francisco Goya, or maybe his most influential paintings—then it hits you—you realize you know virtually nothing about this Goya dude. Now, if you’re like 90 percent of college students, you’re a hopeless procrastinator.

Most likely, you have less than a week to complete this convoluted, tortuous task. You start to grab your keys and notebook to hit the library, but, too bad it closed half an hour ago. Then, suddenly, a glorious revelation dawns on you: Wikipedia, of course! Frantically, you type Francisco’s name into the search menu, and-behold! Before your eyes (and in a time span of about .004 seconds), appears three pages of sagacious information about the Spanish painter; including his biography, significant accomplishments, and major works.

You’re about ready to kiss the monitor (but hopefully refrain). You ease back into your chair and reflect on how smart you are for saving yourself the long, exasperating trip to the library, and avoiding the complicated Dewey-decimal system.

Jimmy Donal Wales, notorious for his role in creating Wikipedia, once idealized, “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” Wikipedia has been a savior for stressed, over-worked, burnt-out students since its introduction to cyberspace in 2001.

Granted, Wikipedia has its enemies. Tutors abhor the fact that since the discovery of Wikipedia, their business is about as lucrative as a child’s lemonade stand. Moreover, the accuracy of Wikipedia has recently been challenged. Most of what we find on the Internet today, however, isn’t reliable. If you want quality information, it is necessary to exert quality time and effort into finding that information.

I don’t recommend betting your life on the validity of the information you find on this site, but Wikipedia is a quick solution for students who simply don’t have the time to laboriously research at the library. When used wisely, Wikipedia can be most beneficial to these time-deficit students. Knowledge is a precious gift, and should be accessible to everyone.

Claire Cote

Today, asking a modern college student to physically turn pages to look something up in an encyclopedia is as absurd as expecting them to keep in touch with their friends via letter writing. We live in a world of text messaging, social networks, and online search engines that provide instant gratification with the simple click of a mouse. A world in which the information in printed material could quickly become obsolete, that is, if we don’t every once in a while make an effort to do things the old fashioned way.

Over the past decade, students all over the world have discovered the wonders of the Internet for all their research needs, and thus have slowly cast away their appreciation for, say, the public library or mom’s collection of World Book Encyclopedia. One of the most recent of this phenomenon is Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia started in 2001 that boasts some two million articles in the English section alone. The hitch is that anyone is allowed to add or edit and entry at their whim, creating a glut of information that may or may not all be accurate.

Because of its somewhat flimsy repute, instructors in many schools have actually petitioned to ban the use of Wikipedia as a research source for their students. Many instructors here at Saddleback College feel the same, and often advise students against using the search engine, some even penalizing those who cite it in bibliographies.

It seems to me that everything posted on Wikipedia should be read with a note of caution, as anyone can contribute information as they please, proficient on the given subject or not. There is nothing wrong with using Wikipedia to further one’s own knowledge, but students would do well to avoid using the site exclusively for school research projects. I would encourage them to instead utilize the wealth of knowledge at their fingertips through more academically reputable sites, or by being old fashioned and dusting off a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica.