One of the first pieces of advice given to me as an online writer was never to use Wikipedia as a source or reference. That site doesn’t have strong credibility since it’s user-edited and just about anyone can insert false information onto its pages. Yet there are still plenty of articles on this and other sites that do cite Wikipedia as a reference.
Using Wikipedia as a reference could potentially call into question a writer’s professionalism. And if you’re a student, it could cause your professor to lower your grade or fail you, since many schools and universities are banning use of the website as a resource.
Here’s why you should never list Wikipedia as a source or reference.
It’s fine to use Wikipedia – just don’t admit that you did
Many websites outright ban the use of the site as a reference, while some, like AC, strongly suggest not to use it. This is not to say you can’t use Wikipedia at all. In fact, it remains my primary resource when conducting most of my research. It’s fine to go to that site to start collecting information. But when it comes time to verify the facts you find there, you’ll have to locate a second independent source.
The easiest way to do this, aside from Google, is to visit the Wikipedia page of the subject you’re interested in and then jump to the bottom of the page to the lists of References and External Links. These sections contain approved news sources that you can gather information from and cite as sources on your articles.
Stephen Colbert illustrates the power of incorrect information on Wikipedia
Comedian Stephen Colbert created a lively discussion with his July 31, 2006 broadcast, in which he created the word “wikiality,” a term meant to describe the fact that if enough people agree on something, it becomes fact. “What we’re doing is bringing democracy to knowledge,” he joked, before announcing that he wanted his viewers to find the entry for elephants on Wikipedia and edit it to say that the number of elephants in Africa had tripled in the past six months.
His viewers did just that, forcing Wikipedia to lock the page. Anyone who viewed the elephant page in the meantime was given information that was incorrect. His larger point was that it’s not wise to trust a source that anybody can edit.
Why Not to Use Wikipedia as a Source: Summary
In recent months, Wikipedia has been tightening its editing policies, allowing only trusted users to make significant edits. Those changes are designed to increase the credibility and accuracy of the site. But it’s still not considered a good writing resource.
Using Wikipedia as a reference is fine to find other, more appropriate sources. But don’t consider citing it as a reference or source on your article if you want to be taken seriously as a professional.
www.wikipedia.org (just kidding)