By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Humanities, Music, Philosophy, Religion and World Languages Programs, American Public University
It always happens. You are writing a research paper, outlining the narrative, making assertions and supporting them. You find some sources in your textbooks and in a couple of journal articles, but you need more.
That’s when you turn to Google and type in your topic. Inevitably the first result to pop up is Wikipedia. So you click on the site. Your topic seems to be explained exhaustively in this online encyclopedia. The Wikipedia article includes links and references. What could be better? Then you remember that you cannot use it as a source. Why not?
Wikipedia Fifth Most Frequented Website
Ever since Wikipedia debuted on the Internet, it has proved to be a wealth of information for anyone who is searching for answers. Today, it is the fifth most frequented website in the world, according to Alexa. After all, navigating Wikipedia is simple, the information it contains is interesting and mostly accurate, and the internal links offer a seemingly endless source of other topics. In addition, Wikipedia:
- Is a good starting point for a research project
- It provides an overview of a main topic and supporting details
- Its articles have references and citations to conduct further research
- It can teach information collaboration
At the end of the day, however, Wikipedia is not suitable for academic work. For one, you should never use an encyclopedia as a source. Academic work requires primary or, at worst, secondary sources. Encyclopedias are considered a tertiary source.
Even back in 2006, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told students not to cite it for class projects or serious research.
So why should you not use Wikipedia:
- Wikipedia is not considered scholarly
- Wikipedia acknowledges that its information is not properly vetted
- The site has included hoaxes
- People have created and edited pages to drive traffic to other websites
- Anyone can edit or vandalize the site
You can use Wikipedia for entertainment, to read interesting and informative articles, or as a place to start your research. However, please do not use it as a source on your academic papers and projects.