How do I use Wikipedia for research?
Wikipedia helps you learn, but it should be the place to begin your research. What question do you have about Wikipedia?
- When is Wikipedia useful for research?
- Should I cite Wikipedia?
- How reliable or accurate is Wikipedia?
- How are Wikipedia articles structured?
- How can I know a Wikipedia article's quality?
- What if I can't access sources cited in a Wikipedia article?
- What if Wikipedia doesn't have the information I need?
Having trouble finding the information you need on Wikipedia?
When is Wikipedia useful for research?
Wikipedia, like other encyclopedias, provides a general overview of most subjects in its scope. Wikipedia's scope includes all human knowledge, so we have articles about topics as diverse as science, local history, and popular culture. Volunteers write Wikipedia articles as summaries of the best information on a topic, by summarizing the information found in reliable publications. Volunteers are supposed to write articles with neutral point-of-view, by representing all the opinions from those publications.
Wikipedia's survey articles are always available online for free, so they provide a great place to begin your research. Remember that any encyclopedia is a starting point for research, not an ending point.
Should I cite Wikipedia?
You should always cite where you actually took your information from. So, if you end your research here, cite that properly. But you probably shouldn't be citing Wikipedia. This is good advice for all encyclopedias, which are designed to introduce researchers to topics, not be the final point of reference.
There is a better way: Volunteers create Wikipedia articles by summarizing information from reliable sources. They verify where information comes from by adding a reference to a source with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy. In articles, a blue number indicates these references, for example). These numbers link to the "References" section at the bottom of the page. Each reference supports the part of the page where you found the number. That means the references at the bottom of the page follow the order they are used in the article, not how important they are.
When researching with Wikipedia, you should read the cited sources and then summarize and cite those reliable sources, not the Wikipedia article itself. Watch the video in this section to learn more about how information makes its way into Wikipedia!
How reliable is Wikipedia?
Anyone with a connection to the Internet can edit Wikipedia. There are no formal, official editors who approve each change. At any time, on any article, there could be an error at the time you view it. But, just because anyone can change an article, it doesn't mean their changes will stay on Wikipedia for very long.
Almost immediately after someone changes a Wikipedia page, Wikipedia's community filters that edit through a combination of automated tools and human review.
We block obviously bad edits from entering at all; then automated "bots" undo vandalism in seconds; and round-the-clock volunteers review recent changes to articles. Dedicated editors receive updates about each change in order to review the articles they follow. Finally, Wikipedia's millions of readers catch and fix flaws when they find them.
How are Wikipedia articles structured?
Most Wikipedia articles you'll read begin with an introduction or lead that summarizes the entire article. Articles continue with the main text or body, which summarizes parts of the topic. At the bottom of an article you will find references that show where information in the article came from, so you can check the information from the article yourself. These sections might also contain links to other websites that have more resources.
Every Wikipedia article has a discussion or Talk page where you can see how writers are discussing the best way to present information and resolve conflicting sides of an issue. You can also see the History of an article and how it has changed over time, because a wiki stores every single change that's ever made to it.
How can I tell a Wikipedia article's quality?
Wikipedia has over 5 million articles, all of which are "works in progress" — meaning that they can be updated at any time, to reflect better information. Good articles tend to have several authoritative and independent references from books, newspapers, established websites, or academic journals. Sometimes, articles with editorial problems contain notices called banners at the top of the page.
The Wikipedia community has created a quality assessment scale, that editors use to assess the quality of each article. You can find that estimate on an article's Talk page. Less than 1 in 1000 articles reach our community's highest standard: Featured article status.
Some of our articles cover topics very well while others are much less developed. This is because volunteer contributors choose to improve articles that they are most interested in. Wikipedia also has biases and gaps in what we cover. These biases and gaps exist because our editors' interests often reflect their backgrounds, and many of our contributors come from wealthier countries in the world and have similar educational and cultural backgrounds.
What if I can't access sources cited in a Wikipedia article?
Though more and more sources are becoming open access and Wikipedia will always be free, unfortunately, reliable sources are not always free or easy to access. But don't fear: there is likely another way to find your source or a librarian near you whom you can ask. Use Unpaywall and the Internet Archive to find many such access venues. Often, local public or research libraries will be able to help find a source in their own collection, or through inter-library loan programs where libraries share copies of resources. Wikipedia also has its very own community forum for sharing sources, and if you're an active editor there are free accounts available through the Wikipedia Library program.
What if Wikipedia doesn't have the information I need?
There are many ways to get help on Wikipedia, and friendly people who can help you. If a Wikipedia article doesn't exist or you can't find an article that contains what you're looking for, you can ask a Wikipedia editor at our reference desk to research it for you. If you research the topic, you can add a reference and a summary of that source to the Wikipedia article, so that future Wikipedia readers can find that information.
If you want to learn how to edit, we recommend our helpful introductions: the getting started page, a fun interactive tutorial, a quick basic tutorial, a full educational training, a primer for newcomers, a more thorough guide to contributing, or the plain and simple guide. Any one of these tutorials can help you be bold in making your first edit!