You Can Always Ask Uncle Wikipedia

So, let’s say you read in What’s the Big Idea? that the sewing machine was invented by Elias Howe, not by the better-known Isaac Singer. You want to know more — but you couldn’t find any books through

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any books about the invention of the sewing machine, and even if it did, there still might be some trustworthy information available online.

If you happen to have a friend or relative who knows a little about this subject, you could ask them to point you in the right direction. If you don’t, you can ask Wikipedia.

The thing is, like that friend or relative, there’s always the chance that Wikipedia will give you more opinion than fact, or doesn’t know as much as it thinks it does, or is just plain wrong.

I don’t rely on Wikipedia when I need to make sure something is absolutely correct, but I use it all the time when I want to know what people who care about a subject believe to be true about it. Like sewing machines, for instance:

Since I want to know about something that happened more than 150 years ago, I’ll follow the link from the Contents box to the History section:

Again, this section tells me what some folks think the facts are. Often, they’re right — but not always. Anyway, if the History section is helpful to you, then you’ll want to have a look at the bottom of the page to see if it lists other sources.

If it doesn’t, you might have better luck in the Wikipedia entry for a related topic — Isaac Singer, perhaps:

At the bottom of the page, in the References section —

— you’ll see the title and author of a book about Singer and the sewing machine, as well as a link to another online article about him. If that other article makes clear where its information came from, you may have found exactly what you need. If it doesn’t, it might be time to head back to Amazon or your local library.

So, is that it? Is that everything you need to know about looking online for more information on a subject you read about in a book?

Well, I haven’t mentioned Google yet, have I?