See this and more information about Wikipedia at our BGS Online Reference Centre LibGuide.
There is a difference of opinion amongst educators these days as to whether or not Wikipedia is a valid source of information for student research. Some argue that lots of people contributing to the sum of what is known and understood about a topic makes it more valid. It is also a useful source of information for breaking news stories (as the image here indicates). However, the constantly changing nature of Wikipedia – one of its strengths – is also a weakness when it comes to research, as students may not realise at which point in time the information presented is accurate and reliable.
As teacher librarians, we advise students to refer to Wikipedia, if they wish to, for a general overview of a topic, but to actually source their information from other more reliable sources – such as our academic databases and online encyclopedia.
Many students still seem to think that Wikipedia is a reliable and credible source of information – despite the fact that they have probably added information to it themselves! Below are some thought-provoking reasons from Mark Moran of findingDulcinea as to why they should not use Wikipedia for their assignments.
10 good reasons why you should never trust Wikipedia as an accurate source of information:
10. You must never fully rely on any one source for important information
9. You especially can’t rely on something when you don’t even know who wrote it
8. The contributor with an agenda often prevails
6. Sometimes “vandals” create malicious entries that go uncorrected for month
5. There is little diversity among editors
4. The number of active Wikipedia editors has flat-lined
3. It has become harder for casual participants to contribute
2. Accurate contributors can be silenced
And the number one reason:
1. It says so on Wikipedia
“Wikipedia says, “We do not expect you to trust us.” It adds that it is “not a primary source” and that “because some articles may contain errors,” you should “not use Wikipedia to make critical decisions.”
Furthermore, Wikipedia notes in its “About” section, “Users should be aware that not all articles are of encyclopedic quality from the start: they may contain false or debatable information.”
Read more details about each of these reasons, including good examples, at:
- E. Moran, Mark. “The Top 10 Reasons Students Cannot Cite or Rely on Wikipedia.” findingDulcinea. March 19, 2010
- See also Elizabeth Dodd’s blog posts from Georgetown University: Wikipedia vs Encyclopedia: The Search for Truth and Wiki Truthiness Part 2, March 30 & April 6, 2010