Skip to Main Content

ENG 105 (Tucker)

How to Use Wikipedia

Odds are, you are already familiar with Wikipedia. You may even chafe a bit when professors ask you not to use it. But what they are generally asking is that you don't stop at Wikipedia, not that you don't use it at all.  This page will give you some information on how to use Wikipedia properly in an academic context.

In Wikipedia's own article, "Academic Use," they give a good rundown of the strengths and weaknesses of the platform from an academic point-of-view. I recommend you check it out if you want to see Wikipedia's own reasoning for why you shouldn't use it as an academic source.

Strengths of Wikipedia

  • Wikipedia is constantly updating.
    • New developments are reflected immediately, with citations to back them up. Use those citations!
  • Anyone can edit Wikipedia.
    • This can give people from marginalized identities more control over their own narratives.
    • People outside the US and UK can more easily provide their own viewpoints.
  • Wikipedia makes its edit history public.
    • This lets you see points of contention in the discourse on any given topic.
  • Wikipedia often publishes very obscure information.
    • Because there is no page space limitations and contributors are volunteers, niche or obscure information can often be found in Wikipedia that may not be easily available in more mainstream encyclopedias.

Weaknesses of Wikipedia

  • Anyone can edit Wikipedia.
    • While vandalism is rare, it does happen. Same thing goes for just outright incorrect information.
    • The more 'active' a Wikipedia page is, the more likely you are to see vandalism, while you are less likely to see mistakes.
  • Wikipedia articles do not go through a professional editing or review process.
    • Because of this, there is no quality control process on articles. Some are written in incredibly technical language; others are overly broad and written by people with no expertise in that area.
  • The 'edits' page is hard to track.
    • While you can see conversations and track edits, the page is not the most intuitive or easy to read, and most people don't check it. This can erase the behind-the-scenes conversations that clue you in to controversial material.