Wikipedia is one of the most popular and visited sites on the internet. At 18 billion page views each month, Wikipedia is the largest open-source encyclopedia of information that we have. People can find information about all kinds of topics, but is it a reliable source to use for academic research?
Is Wikipedia Considered Reliable?
The answer to this question is complicated, and it depends on the circumstances. How reliable do you need Wikipedia to be? As an open-source project, Wikipedia makes information much more accessible than ever before, but it may not be suitable for every purpose.
Let’s break down the ways that Wikipedia is and is not reliable.
How Wikipedia Is Reliable
Wikipedia has content guidelines that editors should follow when creating Wikipedia entries and Wikipedia articles that help build Wikipedia’s credibility. These include:
- Editors should regularly be fact-checking articles.
- Articles must be written from a neutral standpoint, free from bias or conflict of interest.
- All information claimed in a Wikipedia article must be verifiable with proper citations.
- Editors and article writers should not cite other Wikipedia pages in their articles. All references must come from outside sources.
- Wikipedia articles should not be original research. Rather, the writer should cite previously published research.
How Wikipedia Is Not Reliable
However, Wikipedia can also be unreliable for a number of reasons:
- As an open source encyclopedia, anyone is able to make edits to Wikipedia pages.
- Because anyone can make edits, articles may be subject to certain human biases.
- Some articles may be lacking in citations, especially more obscure articles.
- Wikipedia can often be subject to vandalism.
- Citations on Wikipedia may not reach a standard needed for academic research. In fact, Wikipedia itself says that it is not a reliable source of academic research.
As an academic researcher, the question is not whether Wikipedia is reliable or unreliable in general. Are you looking for an overview of Irish history? Or are you writing a dissertation on the cultural implications of the potato famine?
The real question is: is it reliable enough to support my research and reference in my paper? The answer to that question is a resounding no. However, that doesn’t mean Wikipedia is useless to you.
How to Use Wikipedia for Academic Research
Even though you should avoid citing Wikipedia directly in your academic paper, it still makes a great starting point for research. Wikipedia is fantastic for giving you an overview of a particular topic, as well as leads to begin your research.
Here is a step-by-step guide for using Wikipedia in an academic way:
- If you are completely unfamiliar with a topic, enter your search term into Google. Click on the Wikipedia article if there is one.
- Read through the article to get familiarized with your topic of choice. Bookmark the Wikipedia page so you can come back to it later if you need to.
- If there is a piece of information that you want to know more about, click on the corresponding citation. Not all citations will lead to websites. If the citation leads to a book, for example, you’ll have to purchase or borrow the book.
- Evaluate the references based on your college or university guidelines. Good sources include peer-reviewed research papers, journal articles, news reports, primary and secondary sources, scientific articles, etc.
- Keep a running list of these references in a document so that you can either cite them in your paper or add them to your bibliography.
- Instead of citing Wikipedia, you can simply cite the references that you got from Wikipedia, knowing that you went through and fact-checked all the sources. Do this alongside other research methods.
Wikipedia is a wonderful resource that makes so much information accessible to people all over the world. In general, it is reliable, however, it won’t go as in-depth into topics as you will need to go for academic writing. However, it makes a great starting point. Take a look at our other articles for all of your Wikipedia-based questions.