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Website Research: Wikipedia References

To Wiki or Not to Wiki: That is the Question

No doubt you've been told many times by different instructors to NOT use Wikipedia as a source - some may have even threatened to fail you if they see "wikipedia.org" anywhere in your references list. But it's hard to pass up such a convenient site!  The good news - even though most Wikipedia articles themselves aren't yet considered reliable enough as sources for a research paper, the References and Notes at the END of the articles may still help you.

Wikipedia Articles

CONS to using Wikipedia

  • Instructors might fail you for using it
  • Content can be edited by anyone at any time for any reason
  • Most of the information has not been verfied by experts and can't be considered credible or reliable
  • Like all web information, can be quickly outdated

PROS to using Wikipedia

  • Can help you get started with a general idea of what a topic is about
  • Nicely-organized and easy-to-use pages
  • Cross-referenced to related information
  • Wide range of information, much of which is becoming more reliable

For more information...

Screenshot Sources

The screenshots at the right were retrieved from the following Wikipedia entries.

Wikipedia (3 September 2014a). Newton's laws of motion. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton's_laws_of_motion

Wikipedia (3 September 2014b). Pride and Prejudice. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_and_Prejudice

Wikipedia's References

Wikipedia References

As we can see from the pros and cons list, while you don't want to use Wikipedia.org websites as a source for a research paper, the articles may help you get started by providing an easy-to-read introduction of a topic.  Even more useful, the articles might have references to sources that ARE acceptable.  Just like with an article or book, you can use the sources cited in those materials to help you find more references to use.

For example, see the below sources from the Wikipedia article on Newton's Laws of Motion (Wikipedia, 2014a).  You can see that the sources cited include articles (with DOIs), books (with ISBNs), and information from college or university websites (ending in .edu).  These are all sources you could safely use in a research paper, all located in one place.

Wikipedia References Example

Beware!

Watch out for Wikipedia content that has few to no references.  Wikipedia articles that are lacking in sources (and are thus less reliable) usually come with the following warning (Wikipedia, 2014b):

Wikipedia Verification Warning