Wikipedia is not a credible source, so don’t use it! You have probably heard this statement at some point if you have ever had a class that required you to write and turn in a research paper.
But if this is true, how is Wikipedia, a non-profit, consistently one of the top ten most visited websites worldwide? And why do teachers discourage their students from using Wikipedia?
Reasons Why Teachers Dislike Wikipedia
Wikipedia is a non-profit platform that has been in operation since 2001. But why are students discouraged from using the popular platform?
Wikipedia operates around a simple model of crowdsourced resources. Information available on the platform is provided by users as opposed to the platform actively looking and paying for experts to write these articles.
This is one of the platform’s biggest strengths, as well as its greatest weakness. While experts would be able to provide reliable information on the platform, anyone else can also create entries and even modify existing entries.
This puts into question the trustworthiness of information available on the platform. After all, your professor with experience in their field could create an entry, and a student with little knowledge in that particular field could also take their computer and submit an entry to Wikipedia.
Worse, even well-researched articles submitted to Wikipedia could easily be edited anonymously by anyone with internet connectivity.
And while a professor may be able to identify false content, students may not be able to do the same. As such, some teachers recommend that students refrain from using Wikipedia to avoid such situations.
Others recommend students only use it as a starting point to identify other useful and more in-depth resources.
Not only can anyone submit articles on the platform, but they can also modify existing content. Content submitted by experts in their fields can be edited by anyone else on the internet.
Information available on any particular subject may be poorly researched or the work of vandalism. Wikipedia itself emphasizes that the platform is not a reliable source for citation.
Not Peer Reviewed
Peer review is intended to evaluate the reliability, excellence, and frequently the originality of papers before they are published. By eliminating inaccurate publications or of low quality, its principal goal is to preserve the integrity of science.
The peer review process enables experts on respective subjects to provide in-depth reviews and comments which help authors make informed choices and subsequently improve their work.
Unfortunately, Wikipedia articles aren’t peer-reviewed even when they include references from various scholarly articles and publications. Any claims made in these articles have not been thoroughly reviewed by experts in the respective fields.
According to Wikipedia, biographies of living persons, subjects that happen to be in the news, and politically or culturally contentious topics are especially vulnerable to vandalism, and misinformation. Wikipedia is probably less reliable the more divisive a subject is.
This makes it inappropriate to use Wikipedia articles as references for any academic publication or deliverable. And students are only advised to simply leverage the references available through these articles to acquire authentic information.
After all, Wikipedia is only as good as the editors modifying these pages, which could be anyone. So, you should only use Wikipedia when looking to gain a general understanding of a topic.
That said, this information shouldn’t be considered accurate but only meant to give a general knowledge of the subject matter. For appropriate and reliable information, you can leverage the references included in these articles.
Opinions Instead Of Facts
For students, it might be challenging to distinguish between personal opinions and sources with verified facts. Some contributors only give their ideas as facts, which can be a source of inaccurate information for students who rely on this information for their research.
Nevertheless, incorrect edits on Wikipedia usually get fixed over time. But this implies that at any one time, Wikipedia contains some incorrect information.
Individual biases may influence the content of any Wikipedia article. And with no peer-review process, the publisher’s opinion could stay on the page for years.
Anonymity Breeds Vandalism
Unlike scholarly articles that include the author’s name and information, Wikipedia articles are created and edited anonymously. While this may be convenient, it can also breed vandalism as publishers can hide under their anonymity to provide wrong information.
Not Always Written By Experts
While some articles on Wikipedia are provided by experts in their respective fields, anyone else is allowed to create and modify content on the platform. Both experts and novices on any topic can write new content or modify existing content.
Anyone on the internet can go to Wikipedia and copy what they’ve written on a subject and then submit them. Schools and teachers expect students to demonstrate academic skills and critical thinking by going beyond any basic information on Wikipedia.
Left alone to use Wikipedia, students would simply present the same ideas and points around any topic without thorough research into the findings of experts. Keep in mind that even when Wikipedia is correct, the information provided would simply serve as a summary of the subject matter.
Students can learn and provide their own interpretations of relevant topics once they leverage various academic sources besides the summary presented on Wikipedia.
Wikipedia Is An Encyclopedia
Work at the college level involves more complex sources, like books and journal articles. Simply put, Wikipedia is a multilingual online encyclopedia that is created and updated by a community of volunteer authors using an open collaborative approach. As a result, it shouldn’t be used in scholarly studies.
How To Use Wikipedia In Research
Since students continue to use Wikipedia despite professors’ advice to the contrary, the majority of educators no longer discourage it but instead advise pupils to utilize it responsibly. So how should students use Wikipedia?
To Find Keywords
While students shouldn’t cite Wikipedia in their academic articles, they can leverage the platform to learn more about the subject matter and also to identify keywords relevant to the research.
This makes it easier to leverage this information when searching other academic sources like Google Scholar and your library. Simply write down some of the following information when reading through a Wikipedia entry.
- Topic phrases and acronyms
- Names of organizations
- Relevant events
- Names of people
- Relevant dates
- Related items or issues
This is done to create a list of words and phrases that you can use to find sources that are relevant to your topic.
Although Wikipedia pages can easily be edited by anyone online, these pages usually include citations with direct links to the original information. Clicking on the links included would take you to the original source where the full article may be available (free or paid).
Wikipedia reference sections on these pages are a fantastic resource and a method to learn more about the topic, even though you might not be able to cite Wikipedia directly. That said, it is important to be aware that not all of the links are scholarly or subjected to peer review.
After all, anyone can go on these pages and modify these reference links to direct visitors to their websites. External link sources which are also included on these pages can lead to relevant pages and articles.
Although teachers may dislike students using Wikipedia, they agree that it’s a great starting point for any academic research. Students can use it to gain a cursory insight into the subject matter while leveraging the available references for in-depth understanding during research.