Skip to Main Content

English 200

Do's and Don'ts of Using Wikipedia

wikipedia computer


  • 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 


What is Wikipedia?


Wikipedia is a web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an openly editable model. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by largely anonymous Internet volunteers who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles." - Wikipedia

WikiPedia's Is:

  • Very popular -- 5th most visited website
  • 500 million monthly visitors
  • 8000 views per second

WikiPedia's Isn't:

  • considered scholarly
  • considered a reliable source for a paper (because the information is always in flux).
  • Wikipedia, however, IS a good starting point for research. All kinds of folks check Wikipedia to begin their research, get an overview of something, or find sources. 

Research nowadays usually begins with a Google search, and typically uses a Wikipedia article. However, Wikipedia articles are NOT reliable sources, and they do not provide a good definition as a resource when writing a paper (since anyone can change the information at any time). If you just want a quick overview of a topic, it's a quick source of information. But it is completely inadequate to use when writing a paper.

Information taken from:

Weakness of Wikipedia

wikipedia on iphone

1. Anyone can create, edit, or delete Wikipedia articles.

2. Wikipedia articles cannot be considered scholarly, because we know nothing about the contributors.

3. Articles are works-in-progress, meaning changes are constantly occuring to the information. When an article is first published, the information might waver back and forth between viewpoints before achieving a neutral tone.

4. Sometimes articles are vandalized, whether for fun, as a hoax, or because the subject is controversial.

5. The intended audience can vary-- some articles are written from a insider's view, with highly technical language, while some are written for a more general audience. 

6.  The information can be inconsistent.

Thanks to the University of Pittsburgh for this information.

Strengths of Wikipedia

wikipedia spyglass

1. Wikipedia is completely free, providing access to information on millions of topics to anyone with Internet capabilities.

2. Wikipedia is constantly updated by the hour. In comparison, print encylopedias are usually updated annually.

3. Wikipedia is a great place to start your research, giving you background information on your topic and possible keywords to help you conduct more in-depth research elsewhere.

4. Sources used in the articles are cited, allowing further investigation into any topic.

Thanks to the University of Pittsburgh for this information.

Core Curriculum Librarian

Profile Photo
Sara McCaslin
The Commons at Helm Library 2019