19.494 Wikipedia and citation

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 9 Dec 2005 08:08:04 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 494.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 09 Dec 2005 07:44:57 +0000
         From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca>
         Subject: Wikipedia and the citing of resources

I think whether a student or scholar should cite a source depends on how he/she
uses it in the paper. For instance, I have sent individuals to a print index
to look for information related to their subject, yet neither my name nor the
title of the index would have made it to the paper (I realize that databases
are now included in citations, but I contend it is for different reasons than

I also would not expect a thesaurus to be cited if someone used it to find a
more precise or appropriate word in their paper.

At the other end of the spectrum, if someone quoted a source directly as
evidence for a key point in their paper, I would expect a citation and I would
expect a prof/peer reviewer to check that citation for accuracy.

Wikipedia is an in-betweener. I think some judgement needs to be used re:
"cite or don't cite." Generally, if the information is "common knowledge"
(ie. the sky is blue) you can choose not to cite. I think that if you use a
source as a metasource, it is probably not necessary to cite it, since the
source is really only using information it got from the original source (and so
are you).

But in the end, there cannot be any hard and fast rules for the "grey areas" of
citation -- students and scholars both need to use their judgement.

That said, my advice as a student advisor has always been "when in
doubt, cite."
   That's mostly because the extra work saved by omitting a footnote is not
worth the wrath of a university senate committee.

My earlier comments about citations for encyclopedias being criticized related
more to the critical component of the essay and not about the citations
themselves. Ie. if I was marking a paper and saw that someone used wikipedia
for a key piece of evidence, I would hone in on that quote for accuracy and
scholarly rigor. I would also ask the question "is there obvious, more useful
source, for this citation?" And my ultimate answer to this question would have
an impact on the student's grade.

But here is an interesting questions -- what if someone quotes
wikipedia and the
quote is substantially changed from it's original? What if a citation is
provided, but not quoted and the information has substantially changed? The
retrieval date helps, I suppose, but that's a pretty hard slog to check the
source if you ask me.

Ryan. . .

         Date: Thu, 08 Dec 2005 07:10:16 +0000
         From: Gabriel BODARD <gabriel.bodard_at_KCL.AC.UK>

Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea of telling students they can use a
resource but not cite it, or equally for scholars to use a resource
but not cite

I am thinking of scholars who use http://www.tlg.uci.edu/ to find patterns and
word groups in Greek texts, and then use the citations provided as though they
had alsoo read the books (which presumably they have) but without mentioning
that they used the TLG in the first place. Or who use http://www.pase.ac.uk/ to
find information about Medieval individuals and relationships between them and
other individuals and places, and then cite the primary sources but not PASE,
giving the impression that they know all the primary sources intimately and
don't need to use this newfangled online thing.

Is it not more intellectually honest to cite both the tool you use to find your
information--where the resource has actually done much of the work for you,
rather than just a raw text search engine--and the primary sources of that

Ryan Deschamps
Received on Fri Dec 09 2005 - 03:20:56 EST

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