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Can I use Wikipedia in a college paper?

Last Updated: Oct 01, 2012  |  31 Views

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This is a very common question, and the answer is...that it depends.

1. Ask your instructor, who may have very specific ideas about Wikipedia.  Your grade may be at stake!

2. Citing Wikipedia as a source is usually not a good idea, especially in academic or scholarly writingBut why?

  • Academic writing puts an emphasis on sources that are close the the events or phenomena being discussed. This means using primary sources, such as original scientific research, actual laws, eyewitness testimony, etc. or sophisticated secondary sources, written by experts who have reviewed the primary sources.  Encyclopedias, such as Wikipedia, only summarize the findings of these secondary sources. They are not close to the phenomena being studied. Therefore, it is best start with encyclopedias for an overview, but then to seek more original sources to base your paper on.
  • Wikipedia articles, in general, can be written or revised by anyone at anytime. You know nothing about the expertise, bias, or motivations of the multiple authors contributing to a Wikipedia article. Because of this, you can't evaluate the reliability of the article, and that makes it a poor foundation for your claims. Furthermore, Wikipedia is at risk for the spread of biased information by anonymous authors.

3. Use Wikipedia to find relevant external sources.  Many Wikipedia articles cite their sources for some of the facts they include. You can bypass Wikipedia and go straight to these sources.

  • In the example below, the article states that ravens have been revered as gods, and it cites a book as the source. At the end of the paragraph notice the superscript [2], which links to the References section at the bottom of the article. The reference for [2] is highlighted in blue. This book is presumably written by an expert and could be a good source for your paper on raven mythology.

. . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . Notice the [2] link at the end of the paragraph.


Read what Wikipedia itself has to say about using it in research

Answered by Joe BrewerBookmark and Share

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