Although one former President of the American Library Association has remarked that a professor who encourages the use of Wikipedia is the intellectual equivalent of a dietician who recommends
Although one former President of the American Library Association has remarked that a professor who encourages the use of Wikipedia is the intellectual equivalent of a dietician who recommends a steady diet of Big Macs with everything,” empirical research has determined that most young adults consider Wikipedia a reliable source of information. Bringing together the comprehensive scope of older encyclopedias such as Brittanica with our contemporary antagonism to authority, Wikipedia presents epistemological and rhetorical questions unique to the twenty-first century. As one student puts the problem, “I haven’t come across any totally false facts on it. I mean, I know it’s not a reliable website, all your professors tell you, but I use it whenever I need to find something quick.” Whether we think of Wikipedia as friend or foe, however, the influence of both its form and its content remain an indisputable fact of life in our superlative times. Building on your earlier work in addition to our conversations about statistics, experts, and encyclopedias, you will compose an addition to an existing Wikipedia page.
Begin by revisiting the topic from your initial paper (the topic of my initial paper is knowledge), selecting two or three key terms or topics which point to some fundamental aspect of your topic. Survey the Wikipedia entries for those terms or topics and identify a section that you think speaks to the most important ideas within those topics. You will then compose a 1,200 – 1,500 word article on that subtopic. Following the form of Wikipedia and other encyclopedias (such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), you will want to explain the topic in general, name and number its subtopics, and explain relationship of each subtopic to the topic in general. For example, the Wikipedia on article on Rhetoric begins with a general definition of Rhetoric and then divides itself into categories such as “Uses, History, and Canons,” categories corresponding roughly to “purpose, background, and central concepts.” You will want to categorize your subtopics in ways that correspond to these more general organizational schemas. In particular, consider the following questions:
What kind of information might be appropriate for a broad, general audience rather than a small, technical audience? What is the difference between general knowledge and specialized knowledge? How does the primarily informative rather than argumentative purpose of this genre change the way I write about this topic? How does the public nature of Wikipedia and other online encyclopedias influence the way we think about grammar, tone, and other linguistic concepts? You will want to do some basic research for this project. Use the library’s resources to identify a few peer-reviewed articles (or even a book) and try to draw on them as you write. Remember, you are writing about a specialized topic, but you are writing for a general audience. The people considering your work may not even have graduated high school (or may not ever). Keep the jargon to a minimum, and place clarity of expression first among your priorities.