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Evaluating Online Sources: What about Wikipedia?

A guide to help you decipher what is credible and what is not.

What About Wikipedia FAQ

You may have heard in the past that you should avoid Wikipedia as a source. We (like Mike Caulfield) will instead encourage you to use Wikipedia, but to do so while recognizing both its strengths and its limitations. Most Wikipedia articles are highly accurate, as Wikipedia has editors who work to ensure that Wikipedia content adheres is its editorial practices, including providing evidentiary sources. Wikipedia articles that are longer and that are older tend to be of higher quality because they have been developed and improved over time by individuals who follow Wikipedia's best practices. That said, it's still true that someone can put inaccurate information on Wikipedia that is not immediately corrected. Wikipedia articles that are about contentious topics and that are undeveloped should be evaluated with greater care. You can also use the references at the end of a Wikipedia page to help you determine its level of accuracy. 

What is Wikipedia?

Started in 2001, Wikipedia is a free, online encyclopedia with entries that can be created, added, and edited by anyone. Wikipedia is great as a general encyclopedia, but at the college level, your professors are looking for more than that. When it comes to academic research, there are some great ways Wikipedia can help you, Wikipedia articles contain many links to newspaper articles, books (often with ISBN numbers), radio programming, web-based sources, etc. But using a Wikipedia entry as a source can compromise the quality expected in an academic assignment.

What Wikipedia is NOT!

Dos and Don'ts of Wikipedia


  • use Wikipedia to become familiar with a topic or as a starting point for research
  • use Wikipedia to find more search terms or keywords for your research topic
  • maintain a level of skepticism when reading Wikipedia articles


  • cite Wikipedia articles in your bibliography for assignments or papers
  • treat information on Wikipedia as facts, especially when concerning legal or medical advice

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