In a world where we can get information with a few words typed into a worldwide search engine, we must be careful how we use that power.
When writing a research paper, or any paper in which you would like to use outside sources, it can be easy to Google a couple words, pull up Wikipedia, copy, paste, and bam, done.
However, when we use Wikipedia or other such websites as a quick source, we are bypassing multiple layers of information that can be helpful, and are often necessary to ensure that what we are quoting is valid.
- The Author: It is important to know the author when quoting the source because the author has their own set of contexts and biases. If you were to quote the president of college, who then writes an article about going to college being worth the money, you must recognize the bias of the article and be careful how you use a quote.
- The Research: The preliminary research that went into giving you numbers or generalizations in your search can greatly affect the way you use those ‘facts’. If you have a statistic that says 75% of Canadians believe Santa makes snow, but the interviewers only talked to 4 kindergarteners, 75% is not a very reliable number to use when making a large generalization. Similarly, if a statistic states that 95% Canadians believe Canada is primarily French-speaking – but you are only interviewing French-speakers, you are missing the point.
- The Publication: If you acquire information from Wikipedia or a similar site, a person was able to write out something and publish it, with little to no peer review. The advantage to peer review is that what someone decides or thinks is true goes through multiple people, institutions, and critiques before it reaches you. This provides validity to the info you are using because if multiple scholarly institutions believe a fact, after reading and critiquing, you are probably safe to believe it too.
Researching is something we all do, whether we are looking up song lyrics or writing actual papers. We might as well learn to do it right, otherwise, we may start sending expedition teams to the North Pole looking for Santa and his really cool machine.