Using Wikipedia As A Source For College Essays

Should you use Wikipedia as a credible resource?

because even though Wikipedia is one of the Webs most popular reference sites,
it isnt a credible resource because anyone is allowed to be a contributor to
the website.

Wikipedia Academic has posted an article explaining why
it is a bad idea (


Below is the article:

Caution: It is often
a bad idea to cite an encyclopedia in academic research papers.

Wikipedia is increasingly used by people in the academic
community, from first-year students to professors, as the easiest source of
information about anything and everything. However, citation of Wikipedia in
research papers may not be considered acceptable, because Wikipedia is not a
creditable source.


This can be avoided by following two simple rules:

  • Do your research assignment properly. Remember that any
    encyclopedia is a starting point for research, not an ending point.
  • An encyclopedia is great for getting a general understanding of a
    subject before you dive into it. But then you do have to dive into your subject,
    using books and articles and other appropriate sources. What you find in your
    other sources will be more detailed, more precise, and more carefully reasoned
    than the summary you found in an encyclopedia. The sources you cite in your
    paper will be the more detailed sources you have used. All you need to do with
    Wikipedia, then, is thank it in your heart.



An encyclopedia is great for checking little details.
Little details may be:

  • General knowledge that you have forgotten, like the starting date
    of the

    First World War or the boiling point of


mercury. In that case, you should recognize the information once you find
it, and know it’s right. Citation is not needed for things that are general

  • A somewhat obscure point, like the population of

    Ghana. If this matters for your assignment, you should verify the
    information using a tried and tested source, such as the

    CIA World Factbook.


  • A very obscure point, such as the names of the founders of the


Social Democrat Hunchakian Party. This may be almost impossible to find
anywhere other than Wikipedia, unless you read

Armenian, which you probably don’t, or are prepared to spend an hour in the
library, which you probably don’t want to. In this case, you should rely on–and


Use your judgment. Remember that all sources have to be


  • If your professor has assigned you an article or a chapter, that
    means your professor thinks it is basically OK. Do you trust your professor?
    That’s usually enough.


  • If a book is in your university library or published by a

    university press, or if an article is in a standard

    academic journal, that means that several professors at some point thought
    it was basically OK. But time may have passed, and the book or article may now
    be out of date.


  • If your source is a website, it may be great or it may be awful.


  • A Wikipedia article may be as good as (or better than!) an article
    assigned to you by your professor, or it may contain inaccurate information and
    eccentric judgments. It is unlikely to be as bad as the worst sort of website.
    You have to judge.



Increasingly Wikipedia information will be referenced
with academic references.� Hopefully when you see a fact in Wikipedia you will
be able to quickly verify it with an online, academic source, which you can cite
instead of Wikipedia.


Connors State College is not liable for the
information stated above.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is quite clear about the uses of Wikipedia. Asked, "Do you think students and researchers should cite Wikipedia? during an interview with Business Week in 2005, he replied, "No, I don't think people should cite it, and I don't think people should cite Britannica, either... People shouldn't be citing encyclopedias in the first place. Wikipedia and other encyclopedias should...give good, solid background information to inform your studies for a deeper level."

Wikipedia is an excellent case study on research in the digital age.

That said, Wikipedia entries are generally in the forefront of preliminary web research on almost any topic. And teaching students to look critically at the reliability and credibility of any information source is fundamental to the educational process. Figuring out how to evaluate the encyclopedia, then, is one excellent starting point for teaching students how to assess massive amounts of information they're likely to encounter online both for school work and personal exploration.

Wikipedia itself is strong on self-assessment. Encyclopedia editors address accuracy in the entry Reliability of Wikipedia, compiling the results of international third-party assessments across a variety of disciplines. The consensus: the encyclopedia is as accurate as other encyclopedias. And as Cathy Davidson, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University, points out in We Can't Ignore the Influence of Digital Technologies (Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2007), unlike comparable print sources, Wikipedia errors can be corrected and often are in a matter of hours after publication.

Wikipedia credibility is more an issue of who writes what and when they write than it is a problem of accuracy.

While accuracy may not be Wikipedia's major deterrent, the collaborative nature of the wiki invites greater scrutiny and analysis. Here, again, Wikipedia helps users navigate the perils, pitfalls, and strengths of open, collaborative scholarship. Researching with Wikipedia points out that few articles are of encyclopedic quality when they first appear—they may be unbalanced, biased, and incomplete, and it takes time for contributors to find consensus. Wikipedia for Academic Use advises users to explore whether articles represent widespread norms or minority viewpoints. Each of Wikipedia's own articles fostering critical thinking includes links to further analysis and comment on the encyclopedia's value and utility.

In the Classroom

The National Writing Project White Paper Wikipedia: Friend, Not Foe suggests teaching students how entries on the site change and about the transparency with which each change is debated. "Wikipedia’s transparent and participatory nature invites visitors to question what they’re reading in ways that static, expert-driven reference texts do not." The article provides a site guide to Wikipedia, examples of classroom discussion and activities with Wikipedia, and a bibliography of further resources.

Wikipedia in the Classroom at Finding Dulcinea also offers annotated links to classroom resources related to teaching students how to approach and use Wikipedia and to lesson plans.

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