“Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.”
— Michael Scott from The Office
Schur, Michael. “The Negotiation.” The Office (U.S.), NBC, 5 Apr. 2007.
Wikipedia.org is an open-sourced, free online encyclopedia. It contains information on virtually every subject imaginable, from Winston Churchill, to photosynthesis, to the history of the fork. Thousands of changes to the entry pages are done every hour, some of which are made by Wikipedia employees, others of which are done by everyday users of the site. Though it is one of the world’s largest information resources and provides a great starting point for research, Wikipedia cannot always be relied on as a quality source for your paper.
Here are some of the reasons why you should stray from relying solely on Wikipedia when engaging in research projects:
- An “open sourced” platform can lead to unforeseen errors or bias
The fact that anyone can contribute to Wikipedia articles comes with pros and cons. A negative aspect of this is that, according to the site’s own disclaimer, a contributor’s expertise in the subject is not considered when they post an entry. The contributor’s personal bias, or inclination towards only one point of view on the topic, is also something that Wikipedia cannot account for. Therefore, you are much more likely to find more accurate, bias-free, and complete information for your paper in scholarly journals or books written by experts in their field.
- It cannot be used as a primary source
Good academic writing, especially writing conducted in research papers, is successful when the writer proves their thesis or idea by displaying a variety of other sources from which they gather their information. Often, your teacher will want you to use at least one “primary” source, or a source that provides first-hand evidence of the event, object, or person you are writing your paper about. Since Wikipedia is simply a collection of information about the subject, it cannot be considered a primary source.
- It is too general
Wikipedia provides a broad overview of the desired topic. It lays out a general timeline, summary of events, or central points concerning the subject. Because of this, it does not provide users with complete information on their chosen paper topic, which could potentially lead to holes in your argument or errors in your work you did not anticipate. Using a robust, varied group of sources for your paper is the best way to learn more about your topic and to write the most well-informed and unique paper as possible.
Even though Wikipedia may not always be a reliable source for academic writing, that doesn’t mean that it should be discounted completely as a research tool. It serves as a great method to quickly familiarize yourself with a subject area, and could be a way for you to investigate potential paper topic ideas. One great feature of the site is its inclusion of sources used for each entry. These are included for the same reasons you’re required to have a bibliography in MLA format, APA format, or other style for a paper—to back up your information and allow readers to further explore the topic. This is usually laid out in a list, and is generally located at the bottom of an entry’s page. These sources could be a good place for you to start your scholarly research, and may lead you to academically respected sources that you can use as sources in your paper.