Door Lenneke de Ruijter
Academics have questioned the reliability of Wikipedia for years. Comparing the article in Wikipedia on the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen with an academic essay by Rachel Brownstein on the topic, several differences appear. Firstly, the article in Wikipedia consists of too many topics which enables the article to discuss every topic in detail. Furthermore, the article in Wikipedia is written for people who are not familiar with the novel. For example, the article contains more facts and no interpretations. In addition, sources are of great importance for academic research. The bibliographies of both articles are, in comparison, rather different from each other: the bibliography in Wikipedia shows little variety of sources published on the topic than the essay by Brownstein. Finally, the fact that the article in Wikipedia is editable by everybody who has access to the Internet decreases the reliability of the article. Consequently, articles in Wikipedia are not useful when writing an academic essay.
The article in Wikipedia addresses a broad variety of topics which might make it difficult when going into depth. The article by Rachel Brownstein begins with quotes by peers of Jane Austen who comment on her novels and it proceeds in setting the scene in which Pride and Prejudice was written and published. Afterwards Brownstein discusses the “brilliant first sentence,” the views on love and marriage and the plot of the novel (50). The article in Wikipedia gives the reader background information, a plot summary, and an outline of the main characters, interrelationships and major themes. In addition, the article addresses style, publication history and reception, film adaptations and related work. These two short summaries of both articles show that the article in Wikipedia addresses more different subjects than the academic article. Taken into account that the article by Brownstein contains of 3.972 words and the article in Wikipedia contains of 2.897 words; the article by Brownstein is more detailed than the article in Wikipedia because it contains more words and discusses less topics.
The article in Wikipedia reads like a long summary or an outline which contains facts and no interpretations. This means the article in Wikipedia is mainly used by people who planned on reading the book or read it many years ago and forgot the main points. The article by Rachel Brownstein does give the crucial facts but also interpretations of these facts. One example is the description of the background of the novel. The article in Wikipedia explains that Jane Austen revised Pride and Prejudice after it was rejected by Thomas Cadell (3). This description contains dates and facts about the event. The article by Brownstein does also give these facts but adds extra information. Brownstein discusses what Jane Austen could have thought about the subject and, to support her claim, includes letters written by Jane Austen herself. This extra information is important for academic researchers because it helps them understand the situation.
The bibliography of the article in Wikipedia consists of little variety in books in comparison with the bibliography of the article by Rachel Brownstein. The Wikipedia bibliography mainly cites work published through university presses and several editions of Pride and Prejudice itself. On the one hand, the bibliography by Brownstein consists of books by university presses as well but it also contains books which have nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice. Examples of this are the book on the correspondence of John Murray or The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. These books show that the author of this article did extensively research the subject which makes the article more valuable for an academic researcher.
An article which can be edited by anyone is a doubtful source of an academic article. Most teachers do not recommend Wikipedia to their students because of the unreliability and subjectivity of the encyclopedia. It is known that novelists, ministers and other famous people have been editing texts to put themselves in a brighter daylight. The Dutch Prince Friso and Princess Mabel are known to have edited the text on the relationship between Princess Mabel and a criminal to make her look good. This example does not only decrease the reliability of the article but also the objectivity. On top of that, one of the founders of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, left the public encyclopedia in 2002. He thought Wikipedia had become too unreliable (Moody, 8). The fact that one of the co-founders left the project because of errors in the system of Wikipedia shows that the public Wikipedia should not be trusted blindly.
The depth of an article is important for the reader. Especially when the reader is an academic researcher. An article in Wikipedia addresses too many topics to go into depth. This makes it unusable for an academic research. In addition, an article in Wikipedia tends to be superficial because it contains facts and no interpretations. This does not make it useful for an academic research either. Furthermore, the sources used by the writers of articles in Wikipedia do not offer a variety of books and essays the way an academic article would. Finally, the fact that anyone who has access to the Internet is able to edit articles in Wikipedia makes the articles suspicious because the reader does not know whether an expert or an amateur wrote the text. In conclusion, articles in Wikipedia should not be recommended to students who write an academic article.
Brownstein, R. “Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice” The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
“Pride and Prejudice” Wikipedia. 19 Mar. 2009 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Pride_and_prejudice>
Moody, Glyn. “This time, it’ll be a Wikipedia written by experts” Guardion 13 July 2006. 19 Mar. 2009. < http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2006/ jul/13/media.newmedia>