|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.|
Wikipedia is not considered a credible source. Wikipedia is increasingly used by people in the academic community, from freshman students to professors, as an easily accessible tertiary source for information about anything and everything. However, citation of Wikipedia in research papers may be considered unacceptable, because Wikipedia is not considered a credible or authoritative source.
This is especially true considering anyone can edit the information given at any time, and although most errors are immediately fixed, some errors maintain unnoticed. However, it can be noted that Wikipedia's Good Articles and Featured Articles are some degree more advanced, professional, and generally more credible than an article not labeled Good or Featured. It is because these articles are reviewed heavily and edited many many times, passing a lot of "tests" before being confirmed Good or Featured, that they can be used for some deeper research than usual. It is Wikipedia's Featured Articles that are especially trustworthy in contrast to normal or even good articles, as they have to pass even harder "tests" to become featured, as they are to be "the best of Wikipedia", "a model for other articles", and thus, a much more reliable source than average articles.
Follow two simple rules:
Do your research properly and wisely. 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 will provide better research. Research from these sources will be more detailed, more precise, more carefully reasoned, and more broadly peer reviewed than the summary you found in an encyclopedia. These will be the sources you cite in your paper. There is no need to cite Wikipedia in this case.
- An encyclopedia is great for checking general knowledge that you have forgotten, like the starting date of the First World War or the boiling point of mercury. Citation is not needed for fact checking general knowledge.
- Some details, such as the population of Canada, can be found on Wikipedia, but it is best to verify the information using an authoritative source, such as the CIA World Factbook.
- A very obscure detail, such as the names of the founders of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, might be very hard to find without the aid of an encyclopedia like Wikipedia. Wikipedia is ideal in these situations because it will allow you to find the information, as well as sources which you can research to confirm that information. In any case, you should not cite Wikipedia itself, but the source provided; you should certainly look up the source yourself before citing it. If there is no source cited, consider a different method of obtaining this information.
Use your judgment. Remember that all sources have to be evaluated.
- Wikipedia is not a replacement for a reading assignment by your professor.
- If a book is in your university library or published by a reputable university press, or if an article is in a standard academic journal, that means that several professors at some point have considered the information and considered it worthy to publish.
- Sourcing a website is a game of chance. Unless you know that the site is run by a respected institution, or if you have verified the information from other (reliable) sources, it is probably a bad idea to cite it.
- While reading Wikipedia articles for research, remember to consider the information carefully, and never treat what is on Wikipedia as surefire truth.
It is the goal of Wikipedia to become a research aid that all students can trust. If you, in the course of your research, find that there is misinformation on Wikipedia, look over the basic guidelines of Wikipedia and especially what the community considers a reliable source and please consider editing the article (and even creating an account) with what you have learned. This is a part of how Wikipedia wishes to attain its goals.
- Bould, Dylan M., et al., References that anyone can edit: review of Wikipedia citations in peer reviewed health science literature, 2014, British Medical Journal, 6 March 2014, 348 DOI, online from BMJ
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