Research, Wikipedia, Paperless Age

I’m a Chinese student. This is my first time using Wikipedia because I can’t use it in my country. I want to know how good its authority is and how to use it.

Sarah Bowman
Sarah Bowman, once a student, still a casual scholar

I find Wikipedia’s authority to be good for general information. When I want specific or specialized information, I may start with Wikipedia, then look at its footnotes and external links, which often lead to original books and websites written by experts. It is important to note that anyone can edit Wikipedia, so that teachers do not trust it to be a solid source for academic papers. But I have found it does lead to solid sources if you look at footnotes and external links, sometimes including government websites or biographies of important people. Teachers accept those sources if they are solid.

If books go away (become obsolete), then what will be the sources for Wikipedia?

Sarah Bowman

Sarah Bowman, Writer & Researcher, volunteer at Atheist Secular Humanism

I assume this question follows up on my answer earlier (How Good Is Wikipedia’s Authority) in which I said that Wikipedia is a good resource or authority for general information, and that by following up on the footnotes you can find books and articles by experts. Seeing how the internet and electronics are replacing hard copy print material, your question is a good one. However, I don’t see books “going away” any time soon. Too many people still like to hold a paper book in their hands for the sake of convenience; no special technology is required on a bus or train or cafeteria to make a book readable. When the power goes off, daylight returns and the book is readable. Also electrical devices like Kindle are too expensive for many people.

But let’s say books do become obsolete and no longer exist. If you look closely at the sources Wikipedia authors use, you will see that many are official websites of governments or famous people or companies. Even if there are no longer any printed hard copy books there will still be electronic books (ebooks) that can and will be used as sources. Also, as you navigate the internet and explore all the nooks and crannies of academic online publishing, you will soon notice that some websites require subscriptions. In my mind, that is very similar to buying a book. Britannica is one of them. I am not aware that Wikipedia uses many of those articles as direct sources but your search for supporting documents may lead there.

If you wish to use/read such an article, check with your school library. Possibly your school subscribes to that website and you can access the article without buying it. To the best of my understanding, that is how paperless research works at the moment. However, we are not yet in the paperless age and things may change when/if that time comes.


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