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?
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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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.