How Wikipedia Works
The Wikipedia site is found on the Web at www.wikipedia.org. To the casual user, Wikipedia looks and works like a traditional encyclopedia, albeit one based on the Internet. It's composed of individual articles, each focusing on a specific topic. Articles vary in length depending on the nature of the topic and the amount of information available.
Unlike a traditional encyclopedia, however, Wikipedia's content is created solely by the site's users; you don't have to be a professional or an academic to contribute articles to the site. Indeed, Wikipedia is used by people of all types, from students writing school papers to professional researchers to curious individuals.
The content on Wikipedia purports to present a neutral point of view; indeed, this policy of nonbias is codified as official site policy. However, there is no formal peer-to-peer process to review submitted articles; Wikipedia relies on its community of users to edit, correct, and police the information that other users create. After one user writes an article, other users can edit and add to that article. In this fashion, information is vetted for both accuracy and appropriateness.
The site's user/editors do follow broad editorial guidelines, however. These guidelines state that each entry must be about a topic that is encyclopedic and worthy of inclusion; this aims to avoid spurious topics that are not "notable," in Wikipedia's words. Entries must also expose knowledge that is already established or recognized; it cannot present independent works or new information not present elsewhere. Finally, entries should not reflect bias or take a side in a debate; all opinions and viewpoints should receive equal coverage within an article.
Adding an article to Wikipedia is as easy as clicking a link and entering the article's text; articles can be accompanied by photographs and other media. Editing an article is equally easy because all edits are made directly to the main text of the article. Users who come across fraudulent, incorrect, or incomplete articles can report them to Wikipedia or simply edit the text in question in real time.
Researching with Wikipedia is equally easy. The entire Wikipedia database can be searched from a simple search box; enter a keyword-based query and Wikipedia displays a list of matching articles. (Or in a more direct query, simply displays the appropriate matching article.) Articles include links to other Wikipedia articles and to outside websites; information referenced in each article is found in a series of footnotes at the bottom of the page.