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Wikipedia: Editing and Use

Background information and basic tools for editing Wikipedia, as well as guidelines for when and how to use it in your research.

Citing Wikipedia Articles in Writing or Not?

Can students and researchers cite Wikipedia articles in academic writing? When Wikipedia just emerged, the answer was absolutely no. Some Universities even have strict policies on not allowing students citing Wikipedia. But with the growth of better-quality Wikipedia entries being in recent years, people start to admit that Wikipedia can be a good starting point for research although it should never be the sole resource to consult. At least, people could get a general idea, keywords, and basic categories they can explore under a topic. But the question of citing Wikipedia or not remains controversial. Concerns around citing Wikipedia focus on the following aspects.

Accuracy of information

For non-experts, critically evaluating the accuracy of a Wikipedia entry can be challenging. If sufficient references are provided for an entry, it's always a good idea to verify the information at its original source. The original source may present more clues and evidence to evaluate the information.

Originality of information

As any other encyclopedias, content of Wikipedia is not original ideas or creation. It would not be fair to cite Wikipedia only for facts or finding appeared in the entry. On the other hand, if Wikipedia is used to identify the sources of the original content, it would be fair to give credits to Wikipedia.

Stability of content

Anyone can edit any Wikipedia content anytime. Therefore, citing a simple URL to a Wikipedia entry is not sufficient for people to see exactly what you were citing for. Thanks to the History tab of each entry, people can cite a particular version of an entry. For example, cite Academic Integrity, version modified 13:31, 19 March 2012 with URL http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Academic_integrity&oldid=482720895 instead of citing the current version as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_integrity, which may change any time. Please do note that technically it is possible for the system to delete the history pages of any entry. It is possible a particular history page you cite can become dead link.

Uncertainty of authorship

The user name people used on Wikipedia often times does not connect to their real name and credential. Each article may have been edited by hundreds of Wikipedians. Therefore, it is not possible to attribute an article to any individual, not to mention verifying their credentials. Therefore, using information from Wikipedia really requires people to evaluate the information critically.

After considering these factors, please consult your instructors and use your own discretion to decide if you should use/cite a particular Wikipedia article. Please always remember the major reasons to cite resources - giving appropriate credits and allowing people to trace back to what you cite.

Also see suggestions from Professor Scott D. Campell, University of Michigan about "do I cite Wikipedia?"