Wednesday, 25 November 2009

In praise of Wikiquote

OK, there are worse things to worry about in the world, but occasionally in the more rarefied bibliographic world I see things that make me want to reach for my revolver. I saw one yesterday on Yahoo! Answers, where a student was asking for advice on citing a Stalin quotation, and specified:

Please no one post "wikiquote". Our teacher said no wikipedia related websites may be used.
- Reliable website for quotations?, Yahoo! Answers

This is an astonishingly ill-informed instruction for a teacher to be giving! It's fair to be suspicious of Wikipedia (though not if used cautiously for guidance rather than a one-stop source), but Wikiquote is a different matter altogether. This deserves stressing: Wikiquote is almost certainly the only reliable, and free, general quotation website in existence.

There are many quotation websites - for instance, BrainyQuote and - but they have many weaknesses in common. They don't cite the origin of quotations. They allow user contribution without initial checking. Many don't offer a mechanism - or at least a rapid and simple one - for correction. They are riddled with misattributions, which then get brainlessly copied around the Web and repeatedly turn up on Yahoo! Answers, evidently set as coursework.

Wikiquote, in contrast, is based on precise citation of origin. It includes misattributions - but identified as such, and unlike Wikipedia actively encourages original research into quotation origins and the date of appearance of misattributions. Furthermore, it's now working practice that unsourced quotations are not even to be added ...

See Wikiquote:Sourcing for guidelines on sourced quotes. Unsourced quotes will be removed from all articles. Adding unsourced quotes to articles will be reverted. A newly created page consisting of unsourced quotes will be nominated for deletion or given a PROD tag. For an already existing page, unsourced quotes that fail to meet standards of quality will be deleted. Any remaining unsourced quotes will [be] placed on the article's discussion page. If all of the quotes on an existing page are unsourced, the page will be nominated for deletion.
- retrieved from Wikiquote:Limits on quotations, November 26, 2009

... and this is currently under development as a proposed policy - see Wikiquote:Sourcing

Wikiquote is one of the few quotation websites recommended by Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations (one of the most prestigious quotation dictionaries, and itself stringently and transparently sourced). Could there be better credentials?

- Ray


  1. I thoroughly agree with you about Wikiquote.

    About the teacher's embargo, though ... my guess is that the student has both misunderstood and exaggerated it, but I do understand it's reasons. Everyone who teaches anything, these days, gets very used to reading block copied chunks of Wikipedia and some of its relatives.

    It's standard, as a result, to apply one of the plagiarism tools to any submission before reading it, handing it back (unread) for rewrite if it gets more than a trivial hit or two.

    My guess is that the teacher was making this point, in a few words. It has then been accepted, misremembered, regurgitated, and (as with Wikipedia text!) without thought...

    Wikipedia itself is a good resource ... provided it is, as you say, used with discrimination as a starting point and not as an oracle.

  2. Everyone who teaches anything, these days, gets very used to reading block copied chunks of Wikipedia and some of its relatives.

    reactionarymodeon ironymodeon Have they ever thought of using a single annual test without access to outside information?
    ironymodeoff reactionarymodeoff

  3. IR> ...a single annual test without
    IR> access to outside information?

    Talking to the Ironic Reactionary who is, of course, not you :-) ...

    [shudder] yes, it's suggested all the time. Fortunately, they are not listened to! Apart from the fact that such a closed test is worthless as assessment, it also offers nothing to the process of education which is intended to go on in the rest of the year...

  4. Yes I agree, wikiquote is probably the best,
    other sites I find enjoyable are
    quote Garden and