It’s no secret, that many professors and educators strictly forbid using Wikipedia when writing academic papers, needless to say citing from it. Are they being reasonable? What are the risks? Should you trust Wikipedia?
Lets look through advantages and disadvantages of the Wikipedia as academic source and decide for ourselves whether it’s worth credibility.
Without doubt, Wikipedia is a great starting point to get a global picture of the topic and begin your research. It serves for getting a general knowledge of a subject before you dive into it. Moreover, it provides plenty of up-to-date and relevant information, so you don’t even need to trawl trough a bunch of google searches. Thirdly, as the vast amounts of its entries have good bibliographies, you can avail yourself of a list of primary literature. Thus it can be used as so called “gateway” to original sources. Finally, the great advantage of Wiki is the fact that it explains the information in clear and simple terms, so its easy to read and understand the major concepts of the issue.
However, it appears to be a rather risky research tool. There is no guarantee that articles are 100 percent correct. The fact, that anyone, including those with no expertise, can edit or improve it, seriously influence the quality of the content.
Even the creators of the Wikipedia themselves admit, that while there are entries of the highest quality of scholarship, there’s a good chance to come across a stub article or even a complete rubbish. Moreover, not everything can be found. When you do find needed information, you always have to make sure that what you are reading is true.
Never treat Wikipedia articles as wholesale truth. You should verify information by following the links at the bottom of the article or checking the facts against other online sources. Furthermore, misinformation can take plenty of time to be detected by Wikipedia moderation team and removed from the web page. It’s also very unstable to cite, as it constantly undergoes revisions.Finally, written by different people from all over the world, Wikipedia articles are mainly subjective and biased.
Summing up everything mentioned above, we can make a conclusion, that Wikipedia is good for looking, but not citing. Though the goal of Wikipedia is becoming eventually a trustworthy information source for students, unfortunately, for the time being it can’t be called infallible and authoritative.
It’s totally up to you, whether to use the material from Wikipedia in your academic writing or not. Just try to remember, that everything you write in your college paper, you should be able to defend either as your own point of view, or as an idea of a reputable author. So it’s advisable that you cite from original sources, not encyclopedias of any kind.
The BookwormLab team