Monday, March 28, 2011

To Cite or Not To Cite?

I feel like there is a constant battle when writing research based papers about whether or not Wikipedia is an acceptable source. Some teachers and schools support it, while others are very against it. Still, others advise you to use it as a general reference to find more reliable articles that might be cited in the Wikipedia post. But, if you are allowed to use it to get a list of articles referenced in it, why can't you just reference Wikipedia as a source since it ultimately contains the same information?

I understand that some of the information might not be reliable but, at least from my experience, most of the information you get from Wikipedia is general information readily available on other websites, and thus easy to fact check if necessary. I also feel that Wikipedia is typically used as a starting off point if you have no idea what your topic is about. So if you are just using it for general background information referenced later in your paper, why can't you use it? I feel as though students should be able to use is as a source as long as the information cited is supported by later facts. Obviously if the student pulls a fact from Wikipedia that has no logical backing and therefore contradicted later in the paper, the student deserves to get points deducted for not checking his or her facts. However, if you pull a date from Wikipedia that is supported on other websites and follows along the timeline you are referencing then you should be able to use it. I am not advising people to use Wikipedia as the go-to cite for major, extremely important, specific details. However, as an outline or general reference guide, I believe it is a fine starting point.

Did you know that there are few female editors on Wikipedia and they are trying to attract new Wikipedians?
Wikipedia editors met in Berlin


  1. I agree with you that information on Wikipedia is typically general and can easily be checked on other sources so we should be able to reference it in papers. I think the reason why many teachers dissuade students from using it isn't because the entries contain errors--there are plenty of people checking facts and editing--but instead because it can be edited and changed at any time. That means that you may cite something in a paper, but then someone can edit the entry and remove the information you cited. Being able to edit written content affects the reliability of online sources and makes them less stable. This is similar to clicking a link but then finding that it is dead.

  2. That makes sense, but then again couldn't that technically happen anywhere on the Internet? Sometimes you can find an article one day and a couple days later it's missing. I feel like that can be brought up as a more general problem concerning the Internet because although it is a significant problem with Wikipedia, I would think it happens in many areas of the world wide web.

  3. As noted in class, it's not the quality of information, but the fact that an entry is not a stable entity, and can be continually subject to change, that makes it unreliable, in that citing is based on the ability of others to check the citation. And it's true this applies to all forms of online media, but wikipedia is designed specifically to be open to frequent editing and revision.