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Evaluating Sources of Information

Wikipedia as a tool

Wikipedia is not an appropriate source for college assignments. However, there are ways Wikipedia can be a great tool during the research process and when looking up information to evaluate your source. Keep reading to learn how to use Wikipedia for research and lateral reading.

Research the Author/Publisher

When you’re looking at a website you want to evaluate, open a new tab and search for the author, website, or publisher on Wikipedia. If there’s an article about it, look for information that could help you evaluate the source’s credibility, like its reputation, sources of funding, or controversies.

The source to investigate

This article from Natural News claims that a “clinical depression study reveals no clear evidence that depression is caused by a so-called 'chemical imbalance' in the brain.” The article goes on to insist clinical depression has been made up and “Big Pharma” is pushing this diagnosis to sell more medication during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Action: Open a new tab

 

Check Wikipedia 

Wikipedia search for the publisher of the source reports Natural News is "known for promoting alternative medicine, pseudoscience, disinformation, and far-right extremeism.. Wikipedia also labels this as a "fake news" website. With the information provided, this would be enough to determine Natural News would not be a reliable source to use.

 

Do Background Research

Wikipedia, like any encyclopedia, can be very useful in providing overviews of subjects. Academic articles you find through the library assume that you already have specialized knowledge of the subject. Because of this they are often not the best place to start researching a new topic. They use technical terms and complex concepts without explanation.

Wikipedia articles include a general overview of the subject, provide a useful introduction and define new or important terms, names and concepts.

Search Tip: This also leads to new keywords you can use for searching.

Example

If you had to do research on the Russian Revolution of 1917 for class,  visiting the Wikipedia page would provide you with a great overview of what happened, the timeline, its impact on the economy and social changes, and important figures and concepts in the revolution you might want to consider researching, like Vladimir Lenin or Leninism.

Follow References

While you use the Wikipedia page as a source- the reference section is a great place to locate other quality sources you can follow and use! Be sure to make sure the source you follow is credible first before using it for your own research.

Example

In the first few references, there are two academic books providing background information on the Russia Revolution that could be used instead. Both books (A People's Tragedy & The Origins of the Russian Revolution) are available through UW-Green Bay Libraries.