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How To Cite Wikipedia In A Research Paper

To begin- Is it a good idea to cite Wikipedia in your research paper? Generally speaking, no. In fact, if you’re writing a paper as a class assignment, your teacher may specifically prohibit citing Wikipedia. Scholarly papers should generally rely on peer-reviewed and other scholarly work vetted by experts in the field.

Does this mean Wikipedia contains bad information? Not at all. It is a great way to get an overview of a topic that might be new to you. And, because many Wikipedia entries contain thorough citations, they can be good starting points to find the original source materials you do want to use. Don’t quote or paraphrase from the Wikipedia entry in your paper, but check the entry’s Reference section to find links to more authoritative sources. And be sure to find and read these sources to verify the facts, figures, and points of view they present.

But, of course, there are times when citing a Wikipedia entry itself is appropriate. For example, let’s say you are writing a paper on how social media and crowdsourcing influence definitions of common psychology terms. Wikipedia would be one excellent source for this topic!

When citing, follow the example below:

Psychology. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 14, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology

Recently some of my graduate students presented papers that had citations from Wikipedia. Personally, I think there is some valuable information on Wikipedia. Anyone can be a contributor. I am a contributor and I would encourage anyone with a commitment to research and sharing knowledge to become a contributor, too. It’s a highly democratic knowledge base.

Having said that, because anyone can be a contributor, some entries can contain incorrect or inflammatory information.

Though some researchers believe it is fine to cite Wikipedia, there are others who are vehemently opposed to Wikipedia citations in academic work. It is a contentious topic in academia.

If you submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal for consideration, it could happen that some reviewers might reject your manuscript based solely on the fact that you have cited Wikipedia… though they may never tell you that.

When it comes to citing Wikipedia, here is how to avoid upsetting journal editors or professors… or anyone else for that matter:

Step 1: Examine the primary references listed at the bottom of the a Wikipedia article.

Step 2: Check that they are real references. People have been known to fabricate primary sources and fake research papers. Go back to the original source.

Step 3: Read the original source yourself. It is good for you to learn how to read research articles published in peer-reviewed journal. This comes with the territory of being a student (particularly a grad student).

Step 4: Evaluate the original source.

Step 5: Once you are satisfied that the original research is sound, cite the original source instead of the Wikipedia article.

This is an extra step that will ensure your work — and you — are taken seriously in both professional and academic circles.

I am curious to know about your experiences with this topic? Thoughts? Feedback? Discussion?

References:

Moran, M. E. (2011). The top 10 reasons students cannot cite or rely on Wikipedia. Finding Dulcinea. Retrieved from http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/education/2010/march/The-Top-10-Reasons-Students-Cannot-Cite-or-Rely-on-Wikipedia.html

Jaschik, S. (2007). A stand against Wikipedia. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/01/26/wiki

Williams College Libraries. (n.d.). Should I use or cite Wikipedia? Probably not.   Retrieved May 29, 2012, from http://library.williams.edu/citing/wikipedia.php

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Share or Tweet this post:  Dear students, It is not O.K. to cite Wikipedia as a source for scholarly articles. Sincerely, your prof.http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qx

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2012 at 3:47 pm and is filed under education, research. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.