Wikipedia:The Wikipedia Library/Research help/2

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How do I use Wikipedia for research?

Wikipedia makes a great starting point for research, but it shouldn't be your end point!




Are you an educator or librarian?

Did you know that Wikipedia has resources for you to help teach information literacy?

The Wikipedia community doesn't want your students and patrons to cite Wikipedia; instead it should be a starting point for research with which they can critically engage. Find strategies for teaching this skill to students and patrons.


Are you a scholar or expert?

Did you know that Wikipedia needs experts to write and review content?

Wikipedia wants the best information to reach the public. Some of our volunteers are experts, but we don't have enough of them. Learn more about how you can use your expertise to help the public.


Do you work in cultural heritage?

Did you know that every day, Wikipedia volunteers help cultural organizations share their collections with the world?

The Wikipedia community has long-lasting partnerships with the Smithsonian, U.S. National Archives, British Library, Dutch National Library, and many other Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs). Learn how your organization could be more involved.


Are you a Wikipedia editor?

Did you know that the Wikipedia community can support your research?

The Wikipedia Library offers a portal of tools that help you access research materials, such as paywalled journal articles. Learn more about Wikipedia's library.

Research often starts with Wikipedia, but libraries and librarians will often be able to help you access even more information!



What kind of research is Wikipedia good for?

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 publications written by experts. Volunteers are supposed to write articles with neutral point-of-view, by representing all the opinions from those publications.

Wikipedia's survey article are always available online for free, so they provide a great place to start your research.

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.

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[1]). 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 in order the part of the article they support, 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 below 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. On any article, there could potentially 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 as they come in. 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.

This works most of the time, as the coder's motto goes, because many eyeballs make all bugs shallow. Many helpful people, like you, volunteer their time to make an impossible task possible.

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?

A basic guide to evaluating Wikipedia content. Access the full guide

Wikipedia has nearly 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?

Unfortunately, reliable sources are not always free, unlike Wikipedia. But don't fear: there is likely a librarian near you whom you can ask. 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.

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.




Wikipedia is edited by volunteers who are readers just like you!
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, or the plain and simple guide.