What is Wikipedia?
According to Wikipedia's About page, Wikipedia is "a free content, multilingual encyclopedia written collaboratively by contributors around the world."
The very nature of a "wiki" is that it can be edited by anyone who has the proper permissions; and because Wikipedia is completely open, ANYONE can edit ANYTHING (within reason). This is both the strength and weakness of Wikipedia; strength, because an open system invites many qualified, intelligent individuals; and weakness, because that same open system is easy to corrupt with bad information.
Wikipedia Home Page
The first thing you see when you come to the Wikipedia home page is a multitude of different languages from which to choose from. There's also a search box near the bottom of the page so you can start your search immediately.
Once you actually get into Wikipedia, the Wikipedia Main Page has a glut of great information: featured articles, current news, this day in history, featured pictures, etc. With literally millions of articles available in Wikipedia, this is a good place to get your feet wet without getting too overwhelmed.
Wikipedia Search Options
There's a ton of different ways you can get into Wikipedia's content: you can do a simple Google search (many times, the Wikipedia article corresponding to your search will be near the top of the Google search results), you can search from within Wikipedia, you can search via toolbars, Firefox extensions, etc.
From within Wikipedia, you can use the Search box featured prominently on pretty much every page. This is good if you know exactly what you are looking for.
If you're more in a browsing kind of mood, I highly recommend that you check out Wikipedia Contents, a complete listing of all Wikipedia's main content pages. There is a wealth of information here.
There's also the Wikipedia List of overviews, a categorical organization of Wikipedia topics.
The Wikipedia list of topics is a great way to start broadly and narrow your way down.
Looking for a definition? Try the Wikipedia list of glossaries, with definitions for almost any topic you can think of.
Personally, I love visiting the Wikipedia Portal Pages; "an introductory page for a given topic."
Contributing to Wikipedia
Like I mentioned earlier in this article, anyone can contribute to Wikipedia. If you have expertise in a subject, than your contributions are welcomed. If you are interested in editing Wikipedia, I invite you to read the Wikipedia Tutorial; it should tell you everything you need to know.
Essential Wikipedia LinksIn addition to the Wikipedia links already stated, I also can highly recommend the following:
- Wikipedia Quick Index: An A-Z index of Wikipedia
- Wikipedia Reference Desk: Just like a library reference desk.
- Wikipedia Random Article: A fun way to explore Wikipedia.
- Wikimedia Projects: Wikipedia is just part of a larger organization; find out what other irons are in the fire.
More Research Sites
Here are more research sites to help you out on the Web:
- Ask An Expert: Sometimes we forget in this age of Internet research that we can actually ask an expert for help. There are plenty of places both on and off the Web that you can tap into to find expert help for any kind of research topic that you can think of.
- The Best Reference Sites on the Web: Whether you're looking for the average rainfall in the Amazon rainforest, researching Roman history, or just having fun learning to find information, you'll get some great help using my list of the best research and reference sites on the Web.
- Answers.com: Answers.com is an innovative way to find answers on the Web, without searching for them. Instead of going to your favorite search engine and typing in a query, then sorting through various links to find the answer that you are looking for, Answers.com "displays quick, snapshot answers with concise, reliable information."