Wikipedia:Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation

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Wikipedia is probably the wrong source to cite unless the researcher is a university pupil. As with all encyclopedias, Wikipedia is a tertiary source and is rarely appropriate as a citation for academic, business, or journalistic research. The aim of such research is to uncover comprehensive and accurate information, which is located in primary sources and secondary sources.


Because anyone can edit an article, some people may question the reliability of Wikipedia, but studies have been conducted over the last decade supporting its accuracy:

  • (2003) - IBM found that "vandalism is usually repaired extremely quickly—so quickly that most users will never see its effects"[1]
  • (2005) - The peer-reviewed journal Nature asked scientists to compare Wikipedia's scientific articles to those in Encyclopaedia Britannica—"the most scholarly of encyclopedias," The comparison resulted in a tie; both references contained four serious errors among the 42 articles analyzed by experts.[2]
  • (2010) -The Journal of Clinical Oncology found that Wikipedia had the same level of accuracy and depth in its articles about 10 types of cancer as the Physician Data Query, a professionally edited database maintained by the National Cancer Institute.
  • (2011) Life's Little Mysteries asked Adam Riess, professor of astronomy and physics at Johns Hopkins University and one of the scientists credited with proposing the existence of dark energy, to rate Wikipedia's "dark energy" entry. "It's remarkably accurate," Riess said. "Certainly better than 95 percent correct."

Wikipedia has fared similarly well in most other studies comparing its accuracy to conventional encyclopedias, including studies by The Guardian, PC Pro, Library Journal, the Canadian Library Association, and several peer-reviewed academic studies. Still, Wikipedia is run almost entirely by volunteer editors and its quality can be uneven. If an article contains numerous misspellings and grammatical errors then that article probably has problems on other levels. At the other extreme, Wikipedia's best articles contain meticulous line citations and bibliographies. So when a page looks brilliant, balanced, and referenced follow those references to the original sources, read those sources, and cite the originals.


If the topic under research is Wikipedia itself, then Wikipedia is the preferred source of information. For topics such as Wikipedia policies and policy-making, Wikipedia language edition growth, and Wikipedia editorial collaboration Wikipedia is not a tertiary source but a primary source.

If the topic under research is unavailable through other means, then Wikipedia might be an acceptable source. Wikipedia includes articles on relatively obscure topics that might not be covered in much depth elsewhere on the Internet or at a typical library. So a line referenced article such as Siege of Compiègne could be the best information available to a particular researcher. Whenever this situation emerges, the best course of action is to report the dearth of sources in advance (to a teacher, professor, or boss) and request permission to cite Wikipedia. Most teachers and employers will not accept Wikipedia as a source.

How to cite Wikipedia anyway[edit]

As of this writing Wikipedia has 1,439,949 articles. That number may be wildly inaccurate by the time a given reader sees it. Researchers who do cite Wikipedia should include a reference date and preferably a precise time stamp from the page history. In the time it took to type this paragraph the number of articles at Wikipedia changed to 1,439,954.

  1. ^ Fernanda B. Viégas, Martin Wattenberg, Kushal Dave: Studying Cooperation and Conflict between Authors with history flow Visualizations. Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, 575–582, Vienna 2004, ISBN 1-58113-702-8
  2. ^ USA Today: 'Nature': Wikipedia is accurate by Dan Goodin Posted 12/14/2005 10:15 PM