The Oversimplification of How-tos
Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit at their own discretion; therefore, the cite has received poor credibility ratings throughout its lifespan. It is widely known that Wikipedia is not and should not be used as a primary source of information, yet most of us use it rather frequently because the cite is often the top result after a google search. The writing style varies from Wikipedia webpage to webpage because there are many different authors contributing topics, facts, and ideas. WikiHow is a spin-off of Wikipedia and it focuses on how-tos; WikiHows are often written in plain and non-specific language. This is important to note because it often leaves out valuable, accurate, and necessary information.
For example, in the WikiHow, “How to Sing Better if You Think You are Bad," the 57 authors fail to provide useful information. The article includes five steps that claim will turn a bad singer into a good vocalist. One of the largest issues is that the instructions are vague. For instance, in the second step it says to practice vocal exercises loudly without damaging the throat. But, how would a poor singer know at what point they might be injuring their vocal chords? Point being, their information is not specific enough, especially sense it is geared towards an audience of not only beginners, but untalented beginners.
This vagueness reappears again in tip number five when the authors instruct their audience to drink warm drinks and to avoid ice cream. It is unclear whether we are supposed to drink warm drinks habitually, or just before singing. Also, I’m unsure as to why an author chose to include avoiding eating ice cream. There are plenty of other cold foods and beverages a singer might want to stay away from right before performing. It seems a bit odd that in such vague information they included a specific item such as ice cream.
Another aspect of this article I have an issue with is the tips do not follow the objective of turning a bad singer into a good one. These tips may help an already gifted singer perform better, but telling someone to drink a lot of water and stay away from ice cream will not miraculously make someone a good singer. For example, in step three the article says to practice tongue twisters. I do not see how a tongue twister will help someone be able to hit the appropriate pitches and notes within a song. In other words, the goal of the steps and the steps themselves do not match up.
Thirdly, the instructions are drastically over-simplified for the targeted audience. In step two the directions state to, “sing numbers from one to five ascending and descending in pitch”. However, it is not that simple for someone who is unable to sing to do this exercise; if you cannot sing, you clearly cannot sing in pitch. There is also an additional tip at the end of the webpage that suggests a person makes friends with others singers in order to become a good singer. But, where does a person find good singers, how do they become friends with them, and how will simply being friends with someone improve singing ability? These tips are useless stated as they are—more information and context is necessary to even have a chance of being helpful.
The level of usefulness of this specific WikiHow depends on the audiences’ purpose for using it. For instance, if an elementary school aged child needs facts for a class report on how to become a better singer, these tips might work in this context. These tips are not necessarily wrong, but they do not hit the bull’s eye either. This might not matter as much for a low level project such as an elementary school report. On the other hand, an adult with an enormous longing for becoming a better singer will not find much luck with WikiHow’s suggestions. This person may be completely annoyed by the over-simplification of the topic, or less commonly, they might devote their time to abiding by these tips. In the latter case, the person will learn quickly they do not know how to execute most of the provided suggestions. Another person may stumble across this site while looking for information on how a good singer can become a better performer. This person may actually find beneficial information such as practicing tongue twisters, pitch scales, and drinking warm beverages. Although the goals of the article do not match up with the provided tips, these tips might match up with different goals of a person browsing online.
The authors’ motivations are more difficult to understand; however, I believe their main purpose was to provide quick and easy information for the public to understand. I do not believe the authors had a passion for singing and genuinely wanted to help readers become singers. It is also possible the current title of the work, “How to Sing Better if You Think You are Bad,” is not the original title of the work. Because Wiki sites allow changes to be made to articles at any time and by anyone, the original title could have been something completely different; thus, changing the objective of the entire article.
There are clear holes in this how-to, but it is not an isolated problem. These types of how-tos are everywhere—especially on the internet. When you google how to do a specific topic, Wikipedia and Wikihows are often the top few results that appear. I believe people--myself included--use Wikipedia sites because of the immediacy the articles provide. It is much easier to access a Wiki webpage than to obtain a technical book, or pay for and attend a class on how to become a better singer. Another reason for choosing Wikipedia is that, for the most part, many of the webpages provide accurate background information. People know this to be true; therefore, people have begun to trust the information as being, at least somewhat, legitimate. In general people may trust how-tos more than they should because they are unfamiliar with the topic they are searching—otherwise they wouldn’t be looking up how to do something.
A benefit of Plain Style writing is that it is often reader friendly. The basic language appeals to a wider audience of people because it often does not include complex information, formatting, or vocabulary. It is easy to use and access Plain Style because it is everywhere on the internet—making it free to computer users. The consequences of Plain Style are that it is often vague, over-simplified, and it omits important information. Grave consequences are not going to be a side-effect from the WikiHow on how to be a good singer, but there might be more impactful consequences on serious topics written in the Plain Style. For instance, over-simplified and vague EpiPen instructions can have enormous life altering repercussions. It is important to understand the implications of the Plain Style of writing before creating or relying on the information.