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Wikipedia vs Britannica–the Results May Surprise You

This infographic from Open Site–Free Internet Encyclopedia came as a huge surprise to me. I, like many teachers I know, warn students against relying on Wikipedia as a primary source for research. Imagine my surprise when I read the information below, on the heels of Britannica ending publication of their renowned and historic encyclopedia.


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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and author of two technology training books for middle school. She wrote Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on edits from her agent for a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office, WordDreams, or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.


12 thoughts on “Wikipedia vs Britannica–the Results May Surprise You

  1. Pingback: Education Articles Food for Thou | Pearltrees

  2. Pingback: Wikipedia vs. Britannica « Kathy's Korner

  3. Students should never, ever be allowed to use Wikipedia as a source, I’m surprised at that change. If anything, it should be used for nothing more than a starting point. Part of becoming a good writer and scholar is learning how to research, and you won’t find that skill there. I’ve frequently laughed at some of the “references” on Wikipedia, which I’m not sure has ever been addressed. Though there are often a number of real sources, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across inaccurate citations and links to pages that no longer exist or have nothing to do with the section they’re supposed to relate to.

    • Part of the issue is that Wikipedia always pops up in the first few hits. Students are going to go there so better to explain how to use it, vet it, than avoidance. Like you say–verify is always a good research trait. No matter where it comes from. Even .edu sites are often suspect because of their hidden agendas, funding sources. If students will evaluate online information critically, questioning, they’ll start to make decisions about what sources are good and/or bad.

  4. I am a great fan of Wikipedia. I spend on average five or more hours a week reading Wikipedia articles, primarily for pleasure. I have found that in articles about my areas of expertise there are, compared to books devoted to those subjects, generally fewer factual errors, far fewer significant factual errors, and that compared to books on the subject, Wikipedia presents knowledge without undue editorial bias. Not only is Wikipedia a good place to start research but it also an evn better place to fact check other sources.
    Two common criticisms of Wikipedia which I consider ill founded.
    The first is that most of its articles are not written by those recognized as premier scholars but rather are anonymous. I consider the Wikipedia system to in fact be superior. Often “experts” suffer both from overconfidence in their own understanding and thus cannot recognize their own bias. Wikipedia seems to consciously concentrate on presenting facts as opposed to interpretation and when interpretations are given usual all major arguments are presented. The types of articles found in Wikipedia require writers with genuine expertise who still possess enough humility to believe can err, often sadly lacking in lauded experts, and whose contributions are continually vetted for accuracy by numerous similar individuals, up to date information and bias.
    The second common criticism of Wikipedia I consider to be a great strength is that Wikipedia, not being limited in volume of content, does not editorially choose not to include facts that some or most would consider unnecessary. I always prefer to leave the judgment of what is in fact significant to the reader.

  5. Hi Jacqui,
    Thanks for the infographic. It is very interesting.

    A couple of small things struck me as I was reading this. Firstly, students don’t have to go to the library to view Britcannica: they can go online. Secondly, comparing page errors in Wikipedia with ‘page’ errors in Britannica is a bit of a misnomer. One page in Britannica could have fifteen entries on it, whereas each page in Wikipedia has only one. The infographic creator is not comparing apples with apples.

    I don’t let my students cite Wikipedia because anyone can have written items, but they can mine the footnotes to take them to source material.

    Thanks for posting

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