Sunday, September 27, 2009

Encyclop(a)edias

I was just going through my email and noticed that UCR has canceled our subscription to the Encyclopaedia Britannic online. It this tragic? Probably not.

There is a lot of discussion in the academic world about Wikipedia and why it is such a pervasive source of information for students even though there is no guarantee that any of the information in it is really true. The answer is pretty easy actually...it is very easy to get to, it is free and in general the entries contain a lot of seemingly useful and valid information.

A lot of the information is valid. However it is not valid simply by virtue of being in Wikipedia, it is valid only if it is validated. Whenever you read a Wikipedia entry, take note of the sources of the information. All facts should have little numbers next to them and at the end of the entry, a list will show what source that information came from. A Wikipedia entry is only as good as its sources.

Does that mean that if it has good sources listed, the article is all true? No, because no one is actually responsible for checking that the information is actually in those sources. That is your job.

On the other hand... what options are there when you need a lot of information and you don't want to take the time to track down each fact that wikipedia offers you?

As a university student, you would probably not be able to get away with using the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a source in a research paper in any case...hence it not being a tragedy that we don't get it anymore. However, we do have a large collection of more specifically subject-related encyclopedias that might be fair game. Be careful with this however, some instructors are fairly anti-encyclopedia.

If that is the case, your best option for finding general information about a topic is to look for a book in Scotty. If books are also prohibited...well, that is for another entry...

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