students surfing the internet

Wikipedia as a source?

It depends on the nature of the assignment. In most cases Wikipedia is not appropriate for a graduate-level research paper because it is a general encyclopedia. At this level your instructors would expect you to use subject encyclopedias and handbooks and peer-reviewed journal articles for your research. However, Wikipedia can be useful as a reference for very current pop culture information. It can also be extremely useful for:

  • Getting very general background information about a topic to give you a little context before searching library databases for information.
  • Helping you to create a list of search terms to use in the Library Catalog and the Research Databases. (Look at the Table of Contents and at words that are linked or in bold when compiling your list.)
  • Locating other, primary sources (by viewing the list of references at the end of the entry). It can serve as a starting point for conducting your library research.


Important considerations

There are a number of reasons why students should not rely on Wikipedia, including:

  • Accuracy – The general public uses Wikipedia and also creates its entries. The content is not reviewed by an outside and impartial panel of experts. As a result, there is no guarantee that the information is accurate.
  • Authority – Even though the authors of the entries may have a strong interest in their topics, they are not required to provide credentials or any evidence about their expertise, compromising the credibility of the entries.
  • Objectivity – Although Wikipedia strives to maintain neutrality in its entries, pages that have been recently edited or explore controversial subjects can be very biased. These pages are often flagged and should be avoided in research.
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