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Wikipedia: The Personification of Your Freshman Orientation Friend

By: , Posted on: September 18, 2014

#StartYourResearch choosing research topicRemember the first friend you made at freshman orientation at your college or university? Are you still friends with them? There may be a good number of you all nodding your head in agreement, but chances are there are a couple of you shaking your heads and thinking “what was his/her name again?” As an entering freshman, there are so many changes going on in your life, and one of the biggest fears is not making any friends.

So, when we end up instantly clicking with a person, we feel inclined to latch onto them. As we enter further into our college/university experience and acclimate into college/university life, we suddenly realize that the friend we made in orientation did not have the makings of being your life-long friend. In research, that friend is known as Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is a great resource when you are first conducting your initial research and have no idea where to begin or what sources to use. Wikipedia summarizes the subject you are searching for in order to provide readers a reference or starting point. Much like your orientation friend, Wikipedia gives a sense of comfort to the researcher and many people latch onto Wikipedia for research because it is both easy to find and informative.

However, there is a drawback. Like with your orientation friend, the acclimation to college-life begins and the more you learn about your friend, the more your differences or peculiarities come into play. It doesn’t always happen, but often this leads to the two drifting apart. Wikipedia is the same way.

Wikipedia is a great starting point for reference but should not be the sole foundation of your research. As you progress further into your own research process, you begin hungering for more credible sources, more in-depth articles and citations.  You want to find the information that is relevant to you, avoiding information that you already know or have already used, just like you grow and cultivate new relationships, friendships and cliques aside from that orientation friend. You’re looking for a better ‘fit’ both in your research studies and in your friendship research.

Now that is not to say that there are no takeaways from your friendship. Orientation friends give the opportunity to meet other people and expand your network, possibly introducing you to a new group of friends. It’s basically an introduction to college life. Wikipedia is similarly your introduction to a topic or concept.

Researchers often use Wikipedia in order to find the sources they want. At the bottom of the page, there are links to where Wikipedia lists its references which some can be useful to find credited sources. The citations are your introduction to real sources, similar to your orientation friend being your introduction to your real friends.

We’re not saying avoid the connections you’ve made in orientation or avoid Wikipedia like the plague – quite the opposite. The takeaway should be that Wikipedia is a good starting point and your first step in a long relationship with a topic or research question. Just like your friend from orientation, you are thankful for having them in your life when you needed them, but understand that they’re just one step in your journey through academia – and beyond.

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