TIPS – Using Wikipedia

I will occasionally include links to Wikipedia articles as part of your readings, so I want to explain what I think are appropriate and inappropriate uses of Wikiepedia.


You may have been told by your instructors that Wikipedia is not a reliable source for evidence to support claims in academic papers, and I share that belief. When you want to support the claims you make in an academic argument, you need to draw on evidence that meets academia’s high standards of credibility, such as studies or analyses that have been published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. But when you want some brief background information on an issue, event, or person, Wikipedia is a fine place to start.


Wikipedia’s mission is to provide readers with information about a wide range of topics, but to meet Wikipedia’s quality standards, the information must be referenced with outside sources, contain no original research, and be free of noticeable bias or slant. As you may have noticed on some entries, when the reliability of information or potential bias is called into question, you will see a box at the top of the page that lets you know that as well as any other issues readers have noted. You can also find out more about the history and earlier versions of any entry by following the links to “discussion,” “edit this page,” and “history” at the top of each page.

One of the unique features of Wikipedia as a means of distributing information is that it is an ongoing, collaborative project that is, to some extent, self-censored by the people who have a vested interest in each issue. These are the people who engage in the discussions forums, often dispute the accuracy of facts and data or call for additional references, and participate in revisions of each entry. In rhetorical terms, we would call these people a “discourse community” because they share a common language and purpose. And because these people keep an eye on the entries they’re interested in, the information is more trustworthy than what you might find on an individuals’ personal home page or blog. However, some entries are more fully developed than others and some cite more reliable sources than others, so continue to use your own critical judgment when you consult Wikipedia entries for information.


To read more about Wikipedia’s standards for reliability and policies, see the About Wikipedia page, their policies, and their standards for verifiability.