Anderson and Citing Wikipedia

Chris Anderson’s “apparent plagiarism” of Wikipedia has prompted me to post something I was experimenting with last week about citations and URLs. Anderson claims that his text, which is very much like that of some Wikipedia articles, previously quoted and cited Wikipedia as a reference. However, in discussions with his publisher, there was some uncertainty about how to treat URLs (since Web pages might change) and Wikipedia (since it is collaboratively authored). Hence, he attempted a “write-though” for the “case of source material without an individual author to credit (as in the case of Wikipedia).” This is obviously problematic and Wikipedia, on every article, gives guidance on how it can be cited, including the use of a permanent link to a specific version.

However, I can sympathize with the ugliness of long URLs and “last accessed” requirements. Since I began work on my Wikipedia manuscript an aspiration has been to create a work in which the vast majority of historical and ethnographic sources are readily accessible to the reader. This means I have a lot of references. So, as I give thought to the book in print and online form, I wonder how to strike the best balance. I’ve moved on from the dissertation’s APA author-year towards Chicago Manual of Style notes format. Yet, I noticed that notes with URLs can get rather ugly. Particularly if one has more than one citation in a note. (Otherwise it looks like a law review paper.) My notes only implementation of Chicago, where the first reference is a full citation and subsequent references are short but include the oldid since I make use of different versions of the same article, is below. Imagine pages of this stuff, it’s not easy to read:

  1. Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Neutral Point of View,” Wikimedia, September 16, 2004, Neutral point of view & oldid = 6042007 (accessed March 5, 2004); Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Neutral Point of View,” Wikimedia, November 3, 2008, Neutral point of view&oldid=249390830 (accessed November 3, 2008).

  2. Wikipedia, “Wikipedia:Neutral Point of View (oldid=249390830).”

In the context of the Chicago notes variants, I’ve made the following experiment in my manuscript:

  1. Long (end) notes upon first instance (including URL) and subsequent short notes (with version number noted in title of Wikipedia pages, such as in note 63 above) subsequently yields 396 pages.
  2. Exclusively short (end) notes followed by bibliography with full citation (including URL) yields 452 pages.

Option 2 is more readable, but requires another redirection by the reader if they want full bibliographic detail, and adds pages (and weight and cost) to a book. Another option is to use an adaptation of Option 1: standard long-then-short Chicago without URLs in the printed book, which are provided online. This make a practical sort of sense (and this is what Anderson says he was planning to do), but is non-standard and I’m not sure how it would be received.

However, this difficulty doesn’t mean that one should simply “write through” one’s sources (whatever that means) and remove the attributions all together.

Ported/Archived Responses

Joseph Reagle on 2009-06-30

I’ve learned that you can cite Wikipedia with its short URLs of the form:

That tidies things up nicely.

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