Top Menu

How to use Wikipedia more Effectively

Logo of Wikipedia the Encyklopedia

How do you use Wikipedia ? Logo Courtesy Wikipedia

Wikipedia the most Popular Reference Site

Wikipedia is the number one open encyclopedia on the internet because of its popularity and strength. It is by default one of the most frequently used reference sites on the internet. However popular it may be, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is 100% accurate or 100% credible. Because of Wikipedia’s democratic nature that any user can freely edit its articles they are prone to be errors, they are prone to be exaggerations, half truths, not fully developed ideas and other editorial problems. However, because of its democratic nature where other people can edit your work, it balances itself out because since it is accountable to the community, the community corrects itself. Well, that’s been the theory and the hope and in a lot of instances it works but in some instances it doesn’t work. So from a user’s perspective, there are definitely a lot of caveats in terms of using this resource. Its value must be appraised based on its limitations. So it’s a great place to start your research, it’s a great place to quickly look out information but it is not the end-all or be-all of online references. There are other places that are more credible but Wikipedia is a good place to start. It is also a great place to collect starting resources and citations for your research. Again, don’t stop there but it’s a great place to start.

Wikipedia and Topic Awareness

From a content producer’s perspective, whether you’re a product manager, a brand manager, an advertising campaign manager, Wikipedia could be a great vehicle for raising awareness. Depending on your product or your agenda, you can use it to raise category awareness for particular issues, whether it’s political issues, social or economic issues. For product awareness, it could also be a great vehicle. However it does have stringent rules regarding blatant marketing, so as long as you play within these guidelines, it would be a great vehicle for branding and most importantly it’s a great way to raise awareness for a category of issues or a category of topics. You are not specifically pushing a particular product but by raising the importance or the relevance of a certain category. You can bring influential people, taste makers opinions around your particular category. This actually has a lot of impact on emerging industries, emerging technologies, even geographic regional concerns.

Read Our 2-Part Wikipedia Resource

Here are some valuable tips for working with Wikipedia. We have divided this guide into two parts: Wikipedia for readers and Wikipedia for editors (Wikipedians). Those are two totally different bodies of concerns so you definitely need to keep them separate. However, you probably would need to read both sections so you could get a fuller appreciation or understanding of what Wikipedia could do for your business, your brand or your cause.

Practical tips for Wikipedia Readers

Wikipedia is a starting place not a final destination

When you are doing a research online, it’s okay to start with Wikipedia because it’s a great place to get starting info on the item that you are researching. It’s a great place to get general information. However, if you’re looking for real information, by real information we’re looking at conflicts in opinion regarding the issue that you’re researching, trends, the nitty gritty of the particular topic, you probably won’t find it in Wikipedia because the treatment is probably very superficial and quite insubstantial. However, Wikipedia does have a lot of the general information you could use to drill down to the particular niche topic you are looking for, then find sources for those and then proceed deeper from those websites forward. So it’s a great place to start, it’s not a place you want to end up with. You don’t want to start and end your research at Wikipedia. This could be very fatal for your research paper, your company’s white paper or your firm’s analysis report.

Beware of assertions lacking citation or support

Wikipedia is edited and written by people who visit it. Anybody can anonymously leave information there. Different people have different agendas. Also, different people have different levels of professionalism or regard for editorial integrity. Who knows why a specific piece of information was left a t a Wikipedia page. It could be somebody pushing an agenda, somebody wishing to mislead or somebody just to pulling a prank. You don’t want to be the subject of academic censure or professional ridicule because you copied and pasted something from Wikipedia. At the most basic, when you’re looking at an assertion or a claim, make sure that it is backed up by a citation. Because citations provide evidence for something claimed. So somebody’s saying that something is true make sure that there is something that you can click to and read further that actually support that assertion. Keep this rule in mind. No evidence equals disregard the claim.

Always check supporting material

In Wikipedia, there are many sections where there are general assertions and then there are supporting subsections. Always check that supporting material. You could also click the citation provided. Always check these. Make sure that they are consistent. Make sure that it adds value to the general claims or the general information and actually builds value for it or substantiates it. If you cannot find support, be very suspicious because this might be wrong information.

Look for contradictions

Anybody of information always has the conventional wisdom and the dissenting views. That is true for the law, that is true for scientific knowledge, it is true for everything. Whenever there is an accepted view, there are always dissenting voices. That is true in any democracy. So, with that said, make sure that when you’re reading the article as a whole that it doesn’t contradict itself with its own claims. So for example, if the general accepted view is presented one way and it says that the general view contradicts itself, you know you have problematic piece in Wikipedia. So make sure that it is internally consistent. Dissenting views normally are put on a section called other views or alternative views or any section that provides a separate line of analysis and that’s fine. That doesn’t really contradict the general view. But if the claim is that there’s a general view and then one part of the general view contradicts all of the supposed general view then you are probably looking at very problematic materials and you should be very, very suspicious. Another approach would be to read through the materials and see if explains the seeming contradictions. Sometimes the Wikipedia entries are just badly written. Again, most of these passages are not professionally written. This is written by everyday people that are just interested in a particular topic. So you have to give them a little bit of license for being awkward in explaining themselves or being unclear.

Give credence to professional sources or institutional sources

When you’re looking at citations, when you click a citation at the end of the sentence it takes you down to the footnotes. When you hover your mouse cursor over the link, look at the domain name. If the domain name ends with .com, .org, .net, or anything other than .gov or .edu be very suspicious. The .com does not necessarily mean it’s a bad source but raise your suspicion level. Red flags must come up. If it’s a .gov or .edu it means that this came from government or institutions of higher learning. So there’s a high likelihood that this would be credible information, this would be academic information or this would be official information. Now if it’s a .com, don’t automatically discount it. It’s okay to be suspicious and skeptical but don’t automatically discount it. Click through and see what kind of .com it is. If it’s a newspaper, a credible reference site and I’m not talking about Wikipedia, then it’s okay. However, if it’s just somebody’s blog or it’s a company’s website, obviously pushing a commercial addenda, then be very skeptical. Kind of prioritize this source as lower on your credibility spectrum than .gov or .edu source.

Always click through the citations

Always click the supporting information. See if it actually supports the claim that it was used as a citation for. If you run across a supposed citation, and it doesn’t really support the claim, discount the claim. It means that the person who wrote it either doesn’t know what he’s doing, doesn’t know what supporting evidences should look like or is lying. So discount that, throw it out the window. Do that for all the citations you go through. Also, read through the material quickly. Make sure that it actually does back up the claim. Sometimes, citations are written in such a way that on the top part, it might look like it actually supports it but at the bottom it raises serious concerns. So make sure you get a holistic view of the whole article and to make sure that it actually supports the information.

Bottom line for Wikipedia Readers

The bottom line with using Wikipedia as a research tool is that you have to be aware of its limitations as a source of knowledge. It is a democratic open forum for information sharing that’s where its strengths lie and that’s where its weaknesses lie as well. So with a healthy dose of skepticism and a great deal of common sense, you can make Wikipedia a great starting source of information for your own credible research.

Tips for editors of Wikipedia pages

If you’re a research analyst, a marketing campaign manager or a product manager for a company, Wikipedia can unleash an avalanche of value for your cause, product or issue However, you have to use it properly for you to get its benefits. Wikipedia is not a repository for spam. Spam gets vaporized immediately because of the many editors that constantly patrol its pages. So if you’re looking to spam or to put puff pieces on your pet cause or pet project or your company’s brand. Don’t think about it and don’t do it because it might blow up in your face.

Here are some tips for responsible Wikipedia page editing:

Read other Wikipedia entries first

By reading existing entries, you will get a feel for how Wikipedia pages should look. By reading a wide range of pages you should get a proper style format as to what your Wikipedia page should look like and the level of professionalism people are looking for in terms of the presentation of the information, the depth of the content presented and the editorial slang. This would also give you an idea as to how to write because word choice also impacts the level of professionalism of your work. Key thing to keep in mind is to make sure to look at Wikipedia pages that are in your category. Because for example, if you are writing a travel page for a particular town in Puerto Rico and the models you are using are either chemistry pages in Wikipedia or pharmacology pages, your pages won’t fit the particular expectations that readers of that travel category have come to expect. Make sure that you’re looking at the right Wikipedia pages categorically as well.

Outline your Wikipedia article first

Organization is key when it comes to Wikipedia pages. Badly written and badly organized Wikipedia pages are given a stub designation. A stub is really a tip to the user that this information is fragmented, incomplete and probably not worthy of trust. So, make sure that when have decided to put together a Wikipedia page that you organize it properly so that the layout and the information discussed there is consistent with other Wikipedia pages in your category. But also has enough meat and substance so that it doesn’t get designated with a stub. And when people look at it in the category they automatically think it’s an authority article. So a little bit of organization helps a lot.

Balance opposing views

This point cannot be emphasized enough. A lot of Wikipedia pages, the ones that give Wikipedia a bad name are just unfairly slanted towards one point of view or is commercially slanted. This really weakens the knowledge base of Wikipedia when people do this. So make sure that your work doesn’t fall into this trap. How do you balance opposing views? When you’re doing your research for your planned Wikipedia page, quickly identify what is the conventional wisdom of your topic. What do people normally agree as to what the accepted position is on this particular issue. When it comes to historical facts, this concern doesn’t really apply to all topics some topics are more controversial than others. For example when we are talking about mathematical topics, it’s not theoretical mathematics but concrete mathematics, there’s really little room for argument. It tends to be very objective. However, as we get closer to judgement calls like history, legal positions, social issues or product reputation, product ethics outside of clinically tested products, then there is a lot more space for fudging with the facts or opinions. With these types of topics make sure you identify the conventional wisdom and then put them in the key places of your Wikipedia article where you’re discussing the information but balance it by putting section for opposing views or alternative views, dissenting opinions by giving space to the other side of an issue’s equation, you are giving a lot of credibility or building your article’s credibility. It tells your readers: one, you have done your homework, two, it approaches the topic from many different perspectives and that means that this person cares enough for the topic as to be credible and three, it gives people more information would which to do further research. They can click the main argument and then click on the dissenting argument so they can come up with their own conclusion. Doing your Wikipedia pages this way expands knowledge instead of restricting it.

For every assertion or claim, offer support

This can’t be emphasized enough. Whenever you are making an assertion or claim, outside assertions or claims that are common sense or basic or uses common logic, make sure that you put citation. The more controversial the claim, the more novel the claim, the more the need for a source. Keep this rule in mind. No support = no credibility, it is simple as that

Keep the correct hierarchy of sources in mind

When you’re supporting assertions, supporting links from .edu or .gov sources carry a lot of weight then some page from some guy’s blog that nobody has heard of or some company’s press release. Again, this rule applies generally but there could be exceptions. If for example, you’re writing about a company and your citation is about a claim that was made from its press release, then it’s okay to cite a press release. However, if it’s talking about the efficacy of its product and then you link with just a puff piece with no hard scientific proof backing up its press release then it is no good. Make sure that you use common sense when prioritizing support sources for your articles assertions.

No anonymous edits

Anonymous edits are a red flag to other Wikipedia editors that constantly patrol the pages in Wikipedia. It makes your page more vulnerable to editing by another editor who has more seniority or who has more clout than you. So, make sure you create an account and you do your edits under your name. Another added benefit of doing edits under your name is that it builds credibility for your own editing skills. As more and more editors get sold on your well written, well researched, highly professional Wikipedia pages the more likely that they won’t touch your future pages and also your edits on others’ editor pages would be deemed acceptable and won’t be reversed or altered in some way. So it definetely helps to put your name to your edits

Always write a summary of changes

In the notes section of Wikipedia, editors put notes as to why they edit pages on a certain way. Always put why you edited you notes in a certain way and why you edited your pages the way you did. But also put citations as to why you did that. This really blows away many editors because a lot of times when you look at the notes or talk section in Wikipedia it’s just a shouting match between one editor claiming to be an expert and another editor claiming to be another expert. It goes on and on and it’s an endless cycle. However, if you take the time to put citations on why you did what you did, people will find you more credible and your editorial star would keep rising. So, take the time to always summarize your changes and back them up with citations and if you can, use .gov, .edu or other credible citations to gain a lot of credibility and legitimacy.

Link out to other Wikipedia pages

By linking out from your Wikipedia article to other pages in Wikipedia, you are one: acknowledging that your page is part of the Wikipedia community. You are also passing some of your credibility onto other Wikipedia pages. Wikipedia community appreciates this a lot and again your editorial star shines even brighter when you do this. Because you are plugging yourself in to the work of other people and you are signalling to other people that you are part of the Wikipedia editorial community (Wikipedians). Another advantage in doing this is linking to other Wikipedia pages leads to greater cooperation of what you are doing. Because it’s one thing to put citations to new assertions or new claims but it could be very tiresome and tedious if you’re going to back up basic common sense claims. So if it’s basic common sense claims that have been already talked about in other parts of Wikipedia and there’s a conventional wisdom of which you agree, just go ahead and link part of that sentence to the proper Wikipedia page that goes with the same asserted claim and be done with it. Basically, what will happen is that Wikipedia acts as the support mechanism for common sense claims in your articles so you could focus more on your fire power and time on backing up new claims and new knowledge that you are sharing. Another key advantage to this is that it saves you time.

Bottom line for Wikipedia Editors

Use the power of Wikipedia but know its limits and always do your best to add to the collective body of knowledge it represents. Use these effective tips to get the most value from Wikipedia and also to increase your credibility as a Wikipedia editor. The official Wikipedia Tutorial should also be a good read before starting out as an editor. Wikipedia is a powerful tool but know how to use it properly to get its full benefits.

, , , , , ,

  • Gregory Kohs

    There are so many lies and misconceptions in this eReviewguide, I worry about the outcomes for anyone who would read it and believe everything it says. Nice try, but worthless.