While I do find Wikipedia helpful for a general overview of information, as a perfectionist I can’t bring myself to trust it as a reliable source of more detailed specifics even with a source list at the bottom of each entry. Part of the reason for this is the fact that anyone can edit or add to an entry which is both good and bad. Obviously, if anyone can write anything there is a lot of room for both human error as well as intentional misinformation but on the other hand, anyone can correct these mistakes. I do think there is a lot of merit in using Wikipedia (or other Wiki sites) as a jump start for quick information as it is very easily accessible and provides a great overview of various topics and, in many cases can guide you to more reliable sources. Also, using these tools as a way for group collaboration on a project seems to be a very easy and economical way to ensure group participation.
Upon exploring various Wikipedia pages on many activities and topics I thought I knew much about, I quickly learned that most of the Wikipedia pages dedicated to these activities had more information than I previously knew. Whether or not it was accurate was hard to determine without further research.
What was very obvious, however, is that the tone of how the entry is written could very much effect the reader’s perspective of the subject. For example, looking at the Wikipedia page for Disney’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, anyone familiar with the plot of the movie would find the author’s description of the plot to be somewhat misleading.
For example, Jack Skellington has Santa Claus kidnapped so that he can try out the role of the Jolly Old Saint and, to make a two-hour long movie short, Jack fails and Santa must head back to Christmas Town to return things to normal. The author surmises that as he leaves, Santa Claus “makes snow fall over Halloween Town to show that there are no hard feelings between himself and Jack” but there is no evidence that this is Santa Claus’ intention in the movie itself. While it is probably a safe assumption that the author is correct, it is still an assumption.
This seemingly insignificant point is really quite important when considering the use of Wikipedia in research papers. Presenting information that is interpreted or perceived as fact is very common on internet forums whereas most academic writing inherently strives to avoid bias.
The Nightmare Before Christmas on Wikipedia: The Free Encycolopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_nightmare_before_christmas