Previously on this blog we’ve considered whether Wikipedia can be a legitimate research source – and generally agreed that it can. Wikipedia itself has a page of tips on Researching with Wikipedia.
The page points out that “not everything in Wikipedia is accurate, comprehensive, or unbiased”, then discusses how to work around this. Most of the points they make will be obvious to seasoned researchers, but there are a few interesting twists.
Unlike a printed encyclopedia, you can examine the entire editing history of an article. This often gives an insight into opposing viewpoints on controversial issues.
You can also click on “what links here” (in the “Toolbox” section) to see which other Wikipedia articles consider the current one worth linking to. The range and nature of the linking articles can provide insight into how the subject matter fits into the bigger picture.
Another approach is to turn the research process into an active two-way exchange. Is there something in the article that is unclear, or which might be misleading or incomplete? Go to the corresponding “Talk” page and begin a dialogue with other Wikipedians. That way, you don’t just have to adopt a “take it or leave it” approach to Wikipedia – you can have a much more active involvement.
So, Wikipedia is very different from a conventional research source. Sometimes you can exploit those differences and make them work for you.