Using the Web to Get Stuff Done: What is Wikipedia?

Lesson 8: What is Wikipedia?


What is Wikipedia?

If you want to find a few facts or are trying to understand a new concept, Wikipedia can be a great place to start. Wikipedia has grown to be one of the top 10 most visited sites on the Internet, making it the largest encyclopedia in the world. Because it incorporates modern Internet tools like a search engine and hyperlinks, it's easy to use and find information quickly.

Wikipedia works because anyone can edit it. You can view past revisions, discuss the current state of articles, or learn how to become an editor yourself. This open, inclusive process is part of what has made Wikipedia so popular.

Wikipedia article

Wikipedia has many advantages and disadvantages when compared to traditional encyclopedias.

Advantages of Wikipedia

  • It's free and open to use for anyone connected to the Internet.
  • The editing process is transparent, and past edits and discussions are public.
  • Updates can be frequent, sometimes within minutes of current events.
  • Citations tend to be good and can lead to more information.
  • It has a huge breadth of topics, with millions more articles than other encyclopedias.
  • It has proven to be as accurate as other encyclopedias.

Disadvantages of Wikipedia

  • Learning how to edit can be difficult for a new user.
  • Wikipedia's editing model can sometimes ignore scholarly expertise.
  • Quality among articles can vary widely.
  • Uncited claims can be false or misleading.
  • Often, articles are not comprehensive and contain omissions.
  • Most editors are young and male, contributing to bias.

The key to using Wikipedia effectively is to read critically and understand how it works. This is similar to understanding traditional encyclopedias and other sources of information, but it's important to understand how Wikipedia's structure and focus are different. When used carefully, Wikipedia can be a valuable and useful tool and a gateway to vast amounts of new knowledge.

Learn more about Wikipedia:

Wikipedia's help page

10 things you may not know about Wikipedia

Effective research with Wikipedia