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Comparison of Wikipedia and other encyclopedias for accuracy, breadth, and depth in historical articles

Lucy Holman Rector (Library & Instructional Resources, Harford Community College, Bel Air, Maryland, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 15 February 2008

Abstract

Purpose

This paper seeks to provide reference librarians and faculty with evidence regarding the comprehensiveness and accuracy of Wikipedia articles compared with respected reference resources.

Design/methodology/approach

This content analysis evaluated nine Wikipedia articles against comparable articles in Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Dictionary of American History and American National Biography Online in order to compare Wikipedia's comprehensiveness and accuracy. The researcher used a modification of a stratified random sampling and a purposive sampling to identify a variety of historical entries and compared each text in terms of depth, accuracy, and detail.

Findings

The study did reveal inaccuracies in eight of the nine entries and exposed major flaws in at least two of the nine Wikipedia articles. Overall, Wikipedia's accuracy rate was 80 percent compared with 95‐96 percent accuracy within the other sources. This study does support the claim that Wikipedia is less reliable than other reference resources. Furthermore, the research found at least five unattributed direct quotations and verbatim text from other sources with no citations.

Research limitations/implications

More research must be undertaken to analyze Wikipedia entries in other disciplines in order to judge the source's accuracy and overall quality. This paper also shows the need for analysis of Wikipedia articles' histories and editing process.

Practical implications

This research provides a methodology for further content analysis of Wikipedia articles.

Originality/value

Although generalizations cannot be made from this paper alone, the paper provides empirical data to support concerns regarding the accuracy and authoritativeness of Wikipedia.

Keywords

Citation

Holman Rector, L. (2008), "Comparison of Wikipedia and other encyclopedias for accuracy, breadth, and depth in historical articles", Reference Services Review, Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 7-22. https://doi.org/10.1108/00907320810851998

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited