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Wikipedia Smack Down

Page history last edited by Joe Essid 11 years, 11 months ago


Professors have been too quick to dismiss Wikipedia. I find it useful, when writing, to check the spelling of proper names in fiction without getting up and losing my train of thought. Instead of cursing Wikipedia, why not improve it? It's only a starting place for real research, just like old print-based encyclopedias.


Task for your blog:

  • Each of you pick a topic of interest that appears in Wikipedia
  • Find a claim needing further support
  • Then find an academic resource (in print or on the Web) supporting the claim or modifying it
  • Set yourself up as a Wikipedia editor (see instructions at the site)
  • Revise the Wikipedia entry and watch it like a  hawk (for the rest of the semester, if needed): how long is it before your claim is modified by others, deleted, or expanded?
  • In your blog, discuss why the claim needed to be changed, how you found evidence, and what you changed (with before and after examples of the errant passage).


An Example:

  • I've made a change to an entry on a colorful local politician, Howard Carwile. I added this claim during fall break:
  • "Known for his colorful rhetoric in public, such as calling a city-hall boondoggle he disliked a 'horrendous heap of hokum' and his campaign style, including an automobile completely covered in Carwile bumper-stickers."
  • I based this upon my own personal knowledge of the City Councilman and member of Virginia's General Assembly.  He ran one of his political campaigns in a large home my parents later bought. He's always been a fascination of mine.
  • There are no academic resources readily available on Carwile, given the short time in which I wrote this up, but I might be able to find an account of him in a book about Virginia's General Assembly in the Civil-Rights era. In it I would look for support for my claim about his unique use of language or his election-campaign vehicle. Note too that I did not "reason FROM this claim."  I recall very well the ways he used language, but an academic audience would expect further support.


Step Two:

  • You will have a second due-date for an updated blog-entry. Note what changed in the Wikipedia entry, if anything!
  • A clever way to check changes is to click the "history" tab at the top of a page. You will see a chronological list of all changes.
  • If nothing changed, why do you think it did not?  If so, did your alteration get altered?  How so? Did other changes grow from the change you made?


An Example:

  • On Oct. 16, I decided to add this claim, based again upon personal experience: "Richmonders enjoyed Carwile's theatrics, and in the 1970s it was not uncommon to hear someone say he or she was 'shocked and appalled,' a frequent Carwile exclamation."  I added it as a new bullet-point.  I checked the history tab for the page, and no other changes have been made since my first one of Oct. 13.  In a final "tweak" I decided to change the part before the comma to "Appreciated by Richmonders for his verbal theatrics," because the rest of the list in the "Background" section begins with past-tense verbs. I'm curious to see if the verb "appreciated" does not indicate a pro-Carwile bias.  I'll see if someone else changes it.


Hints: The best sorts of areas to improve in Wikipedia entries or broken links (text in red) or any entry that has this text appended by editors because:

  • It is missing citations and/or footnotes. Please help improve this article by adding inline citations
  • Its tone or style may not be appropriate for Wikipedia.


That said, nearly any Wikipedia entry can be edited and improved.

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