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Should I cite or use Wikipedia?: Academic Research

Limitations And Advantages

Many of the articles in Wikipedia are long and comprehensive, and many entries exist in Wikipedia for which no equivalent entry may be found in any other encyclopedia. As a result, it can be quite tempting to use the information found there in essays and lab reports. Those who would do so, however, are advised to use caution. While Wikipedia is without question a valuable and informative resource, there is an important concern to take into account when using it:

Because anyone can add or change content, there is an inherent lack of reliability and stability to Wikipedia. Authors of articles may not necessarily be experts on the topics they write about, leaving a lot of room for errors, misinformation, and bias.

In 2006, the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, stressed that Wikipedia may not be suitable for academic uses, saying, "It is pretty good, but you have to be careful with it. It's good enough knowledge, depending on what your purpose is."

While it is important to be aware of the limitations of Wikipedia, there are some advantages as well. It is easy to access online for free. Articles are often added quickly and, as a result, coverage of current events and new technology in particular is quite extensive. Printed encyclopedias can take years to add new entries and those entries may not cover a topic in as exhaustive detail as those in Wikipedia.

Appropriateness

Whenever you do research it is important to think about the type and quality of resource required for your current assignment. Use the CRAAP Test to help you evaluate online information, including Wikipedia content. If you're still unsure, talk to your professor or a librarian.

You may decide that the best use of Wikipedia might be as a starting point at which to gain contextual information about a topic before moving on to more detailed or more reliable information sources.

As with any source of information, in print or on the web, you may also want to explore and evaluate additional equivalent resources simply to be sure that your facts are correct.