It's time to debunk a very annoying myth: "You can't use Wikipedia as a source of information!" You hear it from university professors, research organizations and anyone else that wants you to put some kind of literature together with facts. Pah, I say.
Of course you can use Wikipedia! Just look at all that information sitting there, neatly arranged into sections to make learning quick and easy. The website might insist that it is run by volunteers, but don't be fooled--there are research and writing professionals behind most of Wikipedia's encyclopedia pages.
So what do you do if other sources are tough to find, or you're just short on time?
Open Wikipedia and Read the Page You Were Going to Read Anyway
Go on, just do it. Find the information you need, learn what you needed to learn and write your piece. Easy, right? Great.
The truth is, Wikipedia does a fantastic job of putting together tonnes and tonnes of information that would otherwise take hours to dig up from "reputable publishers." It's almost as if they're a....get this...encyclopedia company. But a better one that updates automatically so you don't have to buy a new set every 5 years. Wow! What an innovative idea!
The "Problem" With Sourcing
There is no actual problem with sourcing, unless you're just writing "Wikipedia" at the bottom of your paper or linking to a specific page. And yes, THAT would be ridiculous.
Here's what you should be doing, using an example I'm currently using:
I wanted to know how many people were living in Rome in the Middle Ages, and Wikipedia was pretty sure it could help me out (it did.) Here's the exact sentence I needed:
Now, there are two ways to use the information you find on a page such as this. In my case, there is no footnote marked for this particular fact. So, I head over to Google and type in the basic information as I've found it:
And then, do some scrolling...and there it is! A "real" source stating the same fact. Hurray! Open it up, double-check it, and go ahead and cite that thing.
Sometimes, it's even easier than that. For example, let's say the fact I wanted to find was actually about the origins of the name of the city itself. Using the same Wikipedia page, the following sentence does just that:
Now, see that tiny little "8" at the end of the sentence? That's what we call a footnote. It leads to the end of the document, where you will find the exact source from which the information came.
Click it, and it leads to this:
That's your source. Cite it. Stop worrying. Finish your project and chill.
I'll be blunt - it's a trap. Article "spinning" is a term used to describe the process of populating the internet with one piece of written content that has been mutilated multiple times. Why would such a process exist? For two reasons: to fool Google's search engine, and to avoid hiring skilled writers.
Here's how article content marketing works:
Online marketers looking to increase their website traffic can do so by creating unique content related to their website or product, and sharing it with other publications. That content contains links that take the reader back to the original website. For example, the owner of a website that sells my favourite brand of cat food will hire someone to write some great articles about kitty health and the high quality of this particular brand of food. These articles will all be unique so that they can be published on many platforms, ranked by Google, and link back to the main website.
Now here's how article spinning mocks the content marketing process:
As you probably are aware, Google's search engine is pretty intelligent. It favours longer articles that have some real, useful content over those that are short, confusing and not all that poignant. This is not ideal for content marketers that just don't want to pay for new, unique content. To beat the system, article spinners take one unique marketing article and make superficial changes a number of times, resulting in a dozen or so versions of that one piece of content. Now, they can post these rehashed versions all over the web. Oh, and those "superficial changes?" They amount to nothing more than substituting synonyms for the words in the text.
Original sentence: Most house cats enjoy canned tuna as a regular treat.
"Spun" sentence: Majority dwelling felines like packaged fish for one normal dessert.
Does it work, you ask?
Um, no, not really. Because even if this gibberish gets past the search engine syntax checks, it still baffles its audience. Who would click on a link from an article full of nonsense? Not this cat, that's for sure. Well, maybe once, for entertainment value.
In my opinion, article spinners are the first cousins of the online content farms; often, you'll find them working together.
What are article spinners paid?
Well let me put it this way. If the client doesn't want to spend the money it costs to hire you as a WRITER, what do you think he's giving out for spinning a piece of writing? Maybe a buck or two. It's not worth the time or the blow to your pride - EVEN if you pick up a cheap piece of spinning software.
Of course I'm assuming that - like me - you'd never let a piece of garbage like that out of the home office. I've got a reputation to uphold, you know.
Now please excuse me - all this talk has given me the need for an immediate bath.
I'd like to say a few words about content farms. I have absolutely no doubts that you have already encountered these vicious little companies, urging you to sign on for a few dollars per article. The work is plentiful, and as the farm leader always says - you can make as much money as you like each day. Provided, of course, that you are actually quite talented, catch on quickly, and have nothing else to spend time on.
I myself, as a young freelance writer starting out in the game, was once caught in the jaws of a content farm. It's true! Cross my ears and whiskers. I was contracted to write many, many 500-word articles for a well-known online publisher, for a whopping $7.50 a pop. To those of you who are not overly experienced writers, I need you to know that this was not a decent price. Just, not at all decent.
So why did I stay, you ask? Like many people endlessly searching for paid freelance writing jobs to do from home, I am an introvert. Painfully so. I would rather write up hundreds of articles a week quickly enough to earn a paltry $15 per hour than face another human being in a traditional work place. *Shrug* I'm not the only one!
What Exactly is a Content Farm? Does it Offer Paid Freelance Writing Jobs?
"Content farms" are companies that market themselves as search engine optimization (SEO) marketers. They find small clients with low marketing budgets and sell them content services. "Content," in an online marketing context, refers to images or text articles that are designed to lead people to your website. In the case of the text articles, this content needs to boast SEO keywords, related to the web site and the client's industry.
Content farms do indeed offer paid freelance writing jobs, but the pay is painfully low. For this reason, two groups of writers are generally caught up in the scheme: beginner freelancers like me, and writers who speak and write English as a second language. Both types of writers are willing to work for very little pay; the first as a stepping stone to better things; and the second due to high exchange rates with their local currencies. The result? Usually poor content that never leads to better pay or better opportunities.
Don't even get me started on the terrible practises such companies use, like article spinning and keyword stuffing. Thankfully, Google Search updates have become great at catching sub-par content, and even punishing its publishers with lower page rankings.
You Could Think of it as a Paid Internship
Although writing for a content farm is never something I would suggest you commit to long-term, I suppose you could use it as practise for the next big thing that comes along. I certainly did. I became a super-star at turning out great content, and was able to use that content in my portfolio to apply for better freelance writing jobs. It was like running a marathon, untrained, as a way to get ready for a future of 100-metre sprints. Strange, but not ineffectual.
If you're struggling to find paid writing work, you just may end up with a content farm contract. There are endless listings on UpWork and other freelance network sites. Just remember that your career doesn't begin and end in the virtual pit that is a content farm. Learn your trade, get out, and make your real money - and name - elsewhere.
Much love and best wishes,
Homer the Freelance Cat