Many students assume that the online, free encyclopedia, Wikipedia is a valid, authoritative and useful reference source for their scholarly work as a student at NVCC. Many teachers say that Wikipedia is garbage and should never be used. Which is it?
In this assignment, we will be examining just how authoritative (and stable) Wikipedia (aka Wiki) is. First, you will examine a specific entry from Wikipedia and check for changes that have occurred over a period of six months, and then you will compare the information from the Wikipedia entry with the information from the Encyclopedia Britannica Academic (BA), an established reference source.
Since you may have never really looked carefully at a Wikipedia entry, I want you first to look at my Explanation of Using Wikipedia before you start this paper assignment.
- Chose a term to analyze
- Your term must be in both Wiki and and BA. (See How to Access Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Online. If you are unable to access Britannica, please let me know, and I will suggest an alternative reference source. If you are not a registered NVCC student, you may have trouble accessing BA, please contact your instructor.
- Your term must fit the chronology of your course. (before 1500 CE for HIS 101 and HIS 111; after 1500 CE for HIS 102 and HIS 112)
- You can check any history textbook with hundreds of pages of history that you can use to help you decide on a term--check the book's index.
- You should choose a research term that is clear, focused and doable. For example, "World War II" or "The Roman Empire" will be too difficult and too large to analyze in this assignment. You simply are not going to be able to expertly compare 12 pages of material on, for example, World War II, with the twelve pages of material in BA. So, instead of picking "the Roman Empire," you should pick "Trajan." Instead of picking "Zhou dynasty," you might pick "King Nan of Zhou." Instead of "World War I," you might pick the "Cherin des Dames." Here are some sample suggestions for research terms.
- You must email your term choice to your instructor for approval at least two days before the assignment is due.
- Your Wikipedia entry must be approved by your professor.
- We do not accept terms that are primarily U.S. history, nor do we accept any World War II terms, national socialism related entries, or Hitler, Stalin, Napoleon. Your professor has final say on whether an entry is appropriate.
- With the permission of your instructor, instead of using BA, you may compare your English-language entry with the equivalent Wikipedia entry in a foreign language, for example, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beslan_school_hostage_crisis and ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Террористический_акт_в_Беслане.
- Your analysis paper should be no more than two pages
- double-spaced, one-inch margins, font size 10 or 12
- brief introduction and conclusion paragraphs (each not to exceed three lines)
- name, and only your name, at the top left of the paper
- Consider organizing your paper into six paragraphs:
- Introduction that identifies your term
- Then, compare the specific information contained in both the Wikipedia and BA entries. The same or different? How different?
- Next, how much have the Wikipedia and BA entries changed (or not changed) over a period of at least six months?
- Assess the credentials/authority of the authors who created the Wikipedia and BA entries?
- Do the entries footnote sources of reference information and provide suggested reading and websites? From your writing in the course, you already note that cited evidence is extremely important!
- Finish with your overall conclusion as you evaluate how does the Wikipedia information compare with the information in BA? Which encyclopedia do you find most useful for the term that you have selected.
- Since you are writing a comparison, you need to be fair. For example, if you examine how many times Wikipedia changed, then you should examine how many times BA changed.
Is Wikipedia good or bad? That is partly what you are answering in this assignment, but I would also like to point out that a Wikipedia article can often be an excellent starting point for research on a topic or a quick source of general information. For example, I use Wikipedia all the time if I am looking for the birth or death dates of a historical figure or if I am looking for suggested sources of more information, as Wikipedia entries always have footnotes and a bibliography of books and websites. Finally, Wikipedia can be extremely useful on topics of relatively newer historical events. For example, in my HIS 242 (History of Russia II) course, I ask that students check the entry for the Beslan School Hostage crisis. Wikipedia is often also a pretty good source for recent cultural events or people, such as Camila Cabello.
Here's a post about the editing process on Wikipedia.
Please consult Charlie's History Writing Center for specific information on the writing requirements of this course.
If you have not already done so, you should watch the short video on this assignment.
Your assignment should be submitted on Canvas following the directions for submitting assignments