Dear students, It is not O.K. to cite Wikipedia as a source for scholarly articles. Sincerely, your prof.

Recently some of my graduate students presented papers that had citations from Wikipedia. Personally, I think there is some valuable information on Wikipedia. Anyone can be a contributor. I am a contributor and I would encourage anyone with a commitment to research and sharing knowledge to become a contributor, too. It’s a highly democratic knowledge base.

Having said that, because anyone can be a contributor, some entries can contain incorrect or inflammatory information.

Though some researchers believe it is fine to cite Wikipedia, there are others who are vehemently opposed to Wikipedia citations in academic work. It is a contentious topic in academia.

If you submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal for consideration, it could happen that some reviewers might reject your manuscript based solely on the fact that you have cited Wikipedia… though they may never tell you that.

When it comes to citing Wikipedia, here is how to avoid upsetting journal editors or professors… or anyone else for that matter:

Step 1: Examine the primary references listed at the bottom of the a Wikipedia article.

Step 2: Check that they are real references. People have been known to fabricate primary sources and fake research papers. Go back to the original source.

Step 3: Read the original source yourself. It is good for you to learn how to read research articles published in peer-reviewed journal. This comes with the territory of being a student (particularly a grad student).

Step 4: Evaluate the original source.

Step 5: Once you are satisfied that the original research is sound, cite the original source instead of the Wikipedia article.

This is an extra step that will ensure your work — and you — are taken seriously in both professional and academic circles.

I am curious to know about your experiences with this topic? Thoughts? Feedback? Discussion?

References:

Moran, M. E. (2011). The top 10 reasons students cannot cite or rely on Wikipedia. Finding Dulcinea. Retrieved from http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/education/2010/march/The-Top-10-Reasons-Students-Cannot-Cite-or-Rely-on-Wikipedia.html

Jaschik, S. (2007). A stand against Wikipedia. Inside Higher  Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/01/26/wiki

Williams College Libraries. (n.d.). Should I use or cite Wikipedia? Probably not.   Retrieved May 29, 2012, from http://library.williams.edu/citing/wikipedia.php

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4 Responses to Dear students, It is not O.K. to cite Wikipedia as a source for scholarly articles. Sincerely, your prof.

  1. Stephen says:

    I think I read somewhere recently that Wikipedia scored higher than Britannica on a factual accuracy test. The other thing I noticed about Wikipedia is that it is updated very fast. Many times pages get updated the day events happen, sometimes within minutes of it.

    As to Wikipedia authors being volunteers, and their pages not being through a formal publishing company editorial board, I do not believe that this reduces the accuracy as much as some would believe. There are many in the non-elite class who are quite knowledgeable and credible about the topics in the pages they create on Wikipedia.

    If I were a professor, this would be my policy. I would not ban Wikipedia as a source in my class. However, I would not allow it as the only source of research for a paper. If you want to use it as one source out of many others, I will allow it.

  2. Danielle says:

    A journal article I read recently conducted a study where 15 prof/experts were asked to review the Wikipedia article about their field. They all found the articles more accurate than encyclopaedias.

    Considering this article, I wonder if the Internet is making academic systems outdated? Certainly for published research we need to base our conclusions on evidence, regardless, regardless of whether it came from a journal or Wikipedia?

    • Thanks for the comment, Danielle. Could you share the article information with me? I’d be interested to see it. You hit the nail on the head when you say that we need to base our conclusions on evidence. The issue I have found with my students is that they take Wikipedia as gospel without fact-checking what they find there. I teach mostly university level-students and so, teaching them to go to primary sources to verify the facts, rather than relying on secondary sources such as Wikipedia, is part of their learning journey.

  3. Excellent suggestions about using Wikipedia. I am a writing tutor and many of my students also say their professors do not allow Wikipedia as a source, stating that it is not reliable because many people contribute. What I found however, is that some of the other online sources they select are obscure and also need cross-referencing. Love your work.

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