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English 317: Cross Cultural Literatures and Contexts

This guide will help students of English 317 (Cross cultural Literatures and Contexts) find and evaluate relevant print and electronic resources for their class discussions, papers, and projects.

Is Wikipedia a Reliable Source?

Wikipedia is probably one of the first sites to turn up when you search Google for a topic and it is also one of the most frequently visited sites by students. Wikipedia is good for an overview of the topic and some of the references in the bibliography could lead to important information. If your purpose is to be introduced to a topic, then Wikipedia is a good starting point. There are over two million articles on Wikipedia and you are bound to find information on popular and obscure topics. Some of the entries in Wikipedia are much longer and more complete than entries on the same topic in Encyclopaedia Britannica. But Wikipedia should not be cited in an academic paper for the following reasons:

1. Wikipedia is a user-edited encyclopedia on the web. At the college level instructors expect students to use more reliable and scholarly sources such as books and journals from reliable publishers.

2. Because anyone can add, modify or delete content in Wikipedia, it should be used with caution. Some entries contain false information and you would have to spend considerable time and effort verifying the information and checking it for accuracy.

3. It is impossible to know who edited some of the articles in Wikipedia since not every person who edits uses his/her real name or provides contact information.

4. The sources cited in Wikipedia may not be permanent. Suppose you cited a source in Wikipedia in one of your papers and your instructor decided to verify the source a week later, it may no longer exist as references can be deleted by editors.

5. While some of the articles in Wikipedia are accurate and provide extensive coverage, others are incomplete.

Some Wikipedia articles contain more useful information than a regular general encyclopedia. Let's compare an article on Things Fall Apart in Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia.

Here's the entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica. It's very short with just three outside references and a link to Literature in Review for the year 2008.

By contrast this article on "Things Fall Apart" in Wikipedia is lengthy with many good references. Most of the references are from books published by reputable publishers such as Oxford University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, Macmillan, Greenwood, Salem, etc. and a journal article from African Studies Review, a principal academic and scholarly journal of the African Studies Association. The footnotes and external links contain useful information which, however, need to be verified. At least one of the external links in that list is defunct.

If you click on the "talk" link on top of the page you will see a discussion of improvements made to the article over time.
There are comments about the pagination of the book and the content, wording, grammar and style as well. Over the years many improvements were made but if anyone read or cited this article in 2006 or 2008, they would have cited a source with errors. In addition to the changes, you may see a statement about the article being part of the Wiki project. Articles that are part of the Wiki project go through some kind of a peer review process and can be more reliable. If the article is part of the Wiki project it will be assigned a rating. At the time this guide was created, this article had a "C" rating which indicates that the article may still have some problems and needs to be cleaned up. Any article that has a rating of A or B is generally considered to have authors and editors that are more informed.

Click on "View History" on the top left of the Wikipedia article and you will get a list of edits made to the article along with the dates. Wikipedia articles are continually being edited so one must be cautious in their use.

Encyclopedia articles provide an overview of the topic but for longer, critical essays books like Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: A Casebook  published by a reputed publishing house such as Oxford University Press or Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart edited by Harold Bloom, a Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale and a prolific literary critic, or Understanding Things Fall Apart: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources and Historical Documents authored by Kalu Ogbaa, an Igbo scholar, and published by Greenwood, are scholarly, authoritative, research resources.