I understand that this question relates more to wikipedia than it does writing but...

If I was going to use wikipedia for a source for a research project (for example) would the information be correct? I know that anyone can go on there and edit it, but the Internet has other invalid information that isn't on wikipedia. I'm thinking that over time as an article matures on wikipedia, it would have gone through a large amount of edits and be correct, but I could be wrong. The reason I want to use wikipedia is because all of the information is consolidated in one place with references.

I do believe that I should use google to search my information (which I do) and might come off as "lazy". This question may be closed because it is off-topic as well.

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    The fact that you're asking this question means you have doubts. Trust those doubts. And for the sake of all that is holy, don't just search Google, either. At least use Google Scholar to find academic papers on your topic. And there are these things called books. They consist of sheets of paper glued or sewn together. There is actually stuff in them that you won't find on Google. Wikipedia authors even cite them sometimes. Amazing but true. :) Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 1:51
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    Ugh! I hate Google Scholar! It never gives me any good results. I usually just use Google's advanced search options and limit my searches to those sites ending it .edu or .gov. Or I'll use my schools library databases, but I've used those less every since they changed them. At least he didn't do as bad as some people I've seen - they cited Google as their source. =| Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 2:20
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    @Ralph: Google Scholar indexes a lot of papers that are not published online or are behind paywalls. I find Google Scholar absolutely essential: once you get the hang of it, I guess you will find it valuable too. Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 10:06
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    You've got to be careful of the .edu sites - just because they were published by a school, it doesn't mean they were published by an expert. I saw a student once cite a .edu cite that was a collection of essays written by an eighth grade class. They were well-done, for EIGHTH GRADE, but they weren't something that anyone should be citing! And I love Google Scholar, although I agree that it takes a while to get into it. Paid databases are excellent too, and most school libraries have subscriptions.
    – Kate S.
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 11:22
  • @Ralph: Google Scholar is great, but it works best as a starting point, since, as @Charles noted, most of its results are behind paywalls (where almost all scholarly papers are, sigh). After finding a promising-looking source using Google Scholar, I used my school's subscription database to see if I had free access to it. Having a specific author/publication/reference number in hand makes your school's subscription databases a lot easier to navigate. Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 15:25

4 Answers 4


Do /not/ ever, under any circumstances use Wikipedia as a source for an academic paper. Because it can be edited by anyone and there is nothing validating Wikipedia's articles, they're highly unreliable and not acceptable in any professional or academic circles. Internet sources in general are frowned upon unless they come from professional or academic sources - colleges, academic journals, government studies, etc.

That's not to say Wikipedia is entirely useless. It's a great starting point. It can give you a great overview of a topic and help you get a basis for your paper/project/whatever. And the best part? Lots of it is sourced, so you don't have to go find information for yourself. If you want to say That George Washington did not return to military life until the outbreak of the revolution in 1775, that's fine. But instead of citing Wikipedia, click on the source and cite the source that Wikipedia uses.

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    +1 Wikipedia's two greatest (perhaps only?) strengths for academic writing are overviews and source lists. It's a godsend for those features but should not otherwise be taken too seriously. Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 1:45
  • Yep. Wikipedia, like logic, is the beginning of wisdom, but not the whole. :) and go click those sources. If Woodward and Bernstein needed corroboration, so do you. Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 12:30
  • Eh, as a rule Wikipedia is about as accurate as Britannica, according to a paper published back in ~2007, if memory serves. Agree 100% on the source lists, though. Also FWIW, when I was in pharmacy school, some professors were notorious for CnPing Wikipedia content for their lecture slides. Verbatim.
    – rianjs
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 16:24
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    -1. It is not true that there is no validation. On the contrary it is validated by the community. There are also automatic validating mechanisms in place. See my answer below. I am daring you to write or edit a Wikipedia article to see what I mean. I do agree with you that you should not cite Wikipedia. For a proper and good Wikipedia article you don't need to. It contains enough genuine references to cite. But it remains a good source for scientific information.
    – Andra
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 20:47
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    I have edited Wikipedia. I've been an editor there since back in 2005. And not all bad edits are caught. Even if they are caught, it may take weeks if not months to catch wrong data. Most of the editors of Wikipedia aren't experts in the subject and wouldn't know if they're adding erroneous information by accident or not. Just because Website X says it's true, they assume it is and add it to Wikipedia. Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 1:17

Is this for academic research? If so, the problem isn't that it's Wikipedia, the problem is that it's an ENCYCLOPEDIA. The founder of Wikipedia himself has been quoted saying:

that he gets about 10 e-mail messages a week from students who complain that Wikipedia has gotten them into academic hot water. “They say, ‘Please help me. I got an F on my paper because I cited Wikipedia’” and the information turned out to be wrong, he says. But he said he has no sympathy for their plight, noting that he thinks to himself: “For God sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia.”

If you're in university, use Wikipedia to get a general idea, and then do some damn research. If you don't know how to do real research, ask the librarians at your school to help. You may even have to open a book or two. Shocking, but true.

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    I love using Wikipedia to give me a good starting point of where I want to focus my research. If my professor says to do a research paper on a subject, using Wikipedia helps me find the topic I want to research in depth. Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 1:47
  • I suppose if you cross-referenced it with many other trusted websites, it should be ok.
    – alexyorke
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 11:12
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    But then why wouldn't you just cite the trusted websites? The further from the original source you get, the more room there is for oversimplification and misinterpretation. Rather than reading what Wikipedia authors think an expert in the field has written, students should read what the experts actually wrote (and got peer-reviewed, etc.) and then form their own opinions.
    – Kate S.
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 11:19
  • True. I agree 100%, I'm not sure what I was thinking :P
    – alexyorke
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 21:55

From my own experience Wikipedia is very credible. In 2005 already it has been compared to Encyclopedia Brittanica I am always amazed when people start complaining about the quality of Wikipedia. The idea behind wikipedia is that it is managed by the community. If you find an error, just correct it. The success of wikipedia lies in the fact that people do edit.

Regarding using wikipedia as an original source. Don't! That is to stop reading and cite. A well written wikipedia article contains various citations to resources to backup the assumptions. Use these references. There is an example where a scientific journal even requires its authors to also submit their content to Wikipedia (http://www.nature.com/news/2008/081216/full/news.2008.1312.html).

My general recipe to find proper reference and get a brief introduction into a novel topic is:

  1. Read the Wikipedia article on the topic
  2. Follow references of this Wikipedia article and read these articles.
  3. Once I have some understanding on the topic I use a scientific literature search engine to fine additional references. Scholar is just one of these services, but depending on the topic there is Pubmed, ACM, and many others
  4. Browse social networks on citations like CiteULike and Connotea

So the main message would be yes, Wikipedia is credible, but like with the scientific literature don't take one source for granted and look for alternatives

just my 2cts

EDIT This might be an interesting read on this topic: http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pcbi.1000941

  • But, anyone can go on there and edit it. I do agree, though. Hmm...
    – alexyorke
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 20:32
  • Yes, and that is the beauty of it. You are prob afraid of vandalism, that is where people enter erroneous data on purpose. I don't have the reference at hand, but there have been studies that show that this is in general corrected quite quickly. Also resulting in a ban of the vandalist.
    – Andra
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 20:40
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    Thinking critically, anyone could go on wikipedia and edit anything they wanted. Fine, but if someone doesn't change it before I see it, then it is incorrect information.
    – alexyorke
    Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 11:17
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    @alexy13. I am sorry that I cannot convince you about the beauty of Wikipedia. But please do know that you can never be sure that the information you are presented is correct, even with reliable scientific journals. There is always the chance that information is incorrect. Good luck with finding correct information!
    – Andra
    Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 22:00
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    There's an assumption here that Encyclopedia Britannica is regarded as reference quality in scientific research. In fact, tertiary sources such as encyclopedias are rarely cited in research, and are treated with a certain degree of suspicion. Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 5:45

I think most of the answers here are missing something important. It is not about credibility (Wikipedia is as credible as most sources, which is to say that it contains a certain number of errors and omissions, just like everything else). It is about traceability. What matters when you cite a source in an academic paper is that you provide tracability for your assertions. Everything is supposed to be traceable back to the original research so that if someone has doubts about the assertions in support of your conclusions, they can trace it back to your original sources.

But Wikipedia, by its own rules, is not a source of original research. Every assertion in Wikipedia is itself supposed to be traceable back to the original research. So citing Wikipedia has no traceability value. It does not get the scholar any nearer to the original source of the information that you are asserting in support of your conclusions. That is why it is not appropriate to cite Wikipedia in an academic paper.

Outside of the academic world, there are generally no such traceability requirements and so citing wikipedia as a convenient source of additional information on a topic makes perfect sense.

  • Of course, though, you have to be specific in your citation even if you cite Wikipedia. I absolutely hate it when I'm reading about something interesting -- certainly not only in academic circles -- and it just says "Source: Wikipedia" or "According to Wikipedia, ...". At the very least give the specific article and section so I have a chance of finding what you are referring to if I want to dig deeper; even better, if you can't be bothered to cite the sources directly, at least go to the trouble to include a direct link to the specific article revision (with the oldid).
    – user
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 21:19

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