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4 ways to use Wikipedia (hint: never cite it)

You should NEVER cite Wikipedia in an academic paper. Your teacher will think you are at best lazy and at worst an idiot if you do. But that doesn’t mean that Wikipedia is useless; far from it. Here are 4 ways to use Wikipedia to write better papers without needing to cite it at all.

  1. Background information: The Grapes of Wrath makes a lot more sense if you understand the dust bowl of the depression. The fighting in Iraq makes more sense if you understand that it wasn’t until after World War I that it became one country under the British. Knowing the context of your topic can help you understand that material better and write about it more clearly.
  2. Links: At the bottom of every article is a list of external links. These sites are often articles or respected authorities that you CAN cite. For example you could use a few liens from the Woody Guthrie song Tom Joad about his experience of seeing the film Grapes of Wrath in a paper on the topic. There are also good links in the Notes section (which are the references for factual statements made in the article).
  3. Keywords: Sometimes coming up with the right keywords for a library or google search is the hardest part of a research project. The Wikipedia page can give you a ton of clues about what word combinations will get you the best results. For example “drought” gets a lot more irrelevant hits than “dust bowl”.
  4. References: Also at the bottom of each article is a list of books and articles that were used to put this article together. Those are things you can read and later cite. A librarian can help you get a copy if you can’t find them yourself.

The goal here is not to take Wikipedia as gospel but to use it to focus your research (via links, keywords and references) and get a little context (via background information). Focusing cuts down the time you spend on the project while context will get you a better grade for your effort.

BLABLA

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54 Responses to “4 ways to use Wikipedia (hint: never cite it)”

  1. Sydney says:

    Great post…my Comp teacher actually just lectured my class over this last week. I can’t believe how many people actually cite Wikipedia.

  2. David Gerard says:

    Speaking from the trenches of Wikipedia … spot on! It’s an encyclopedia, use it as a backgrounder for yourself only and double-check any substantive fact you assert. It’s a starting point, not a finishing point. (And the whole thing is a live working draft, so though it gets better on average with time any given page at the wrong moment may be HORRIBLY wrong. Keep your wits about you.)

  3. Phill Bailey says:

    I’m a first year undergrad, and every time essays are mentioned, we’re told don’t use wikipedia! The darned thing is, that for simple background on something or someone for a bit of information you’re giving in passing, there’s nothing quite so easy as to whack it into wikipedia. I certainly wouldn’t want to search JSTOR every time I had to find basic stuff out, I’d actually top myself! I will admit that on my first essay I did cite wikipedia, slaps wrist, boohissboo. I dread to imagine what comment I’ll get for that – however I am only hoping for a third on it…

  4. [...] 4 ways to use Wikipedia (hint: never cite it)Wikipedia is a great resource for academic work, though not as a source in a paper. GearFire Student Productivity spells out what you CAN use it for: background information, links to solid sources, and ideas about serching for more information.Tags: wikipedia student research writing papers [...]

  5. [...] help you.  Click here to find out how.  Posted in Best of the Web, Homework [...]

  6. rebecca says:

    Hi Phill – Rather than citing Wikipedia directly you can look to the links at the bottom or the reference section to find more reputable and stable sites. It’s a LOT easier to document background information once you know what you are looking for.

  7. [...] Finally: Good Advice on Wikipedia Posted on November 15, 2007 by Megan Golding Don’t remember where I first heard of the Gearfire Student Productivity blog I’m thrilled for the referral. One post this week really impressed me: “4 ways to use Wikipedia (hint: never cite it)“. [...]

  8. Hmm…wikipedia is very very hit and miss. For academic stuff, I would say it’s pretty reliable. But I’m a boxing / MMA fan, and some of the articles in there must have been written by the fighters themselves. I remember one guy who was the punching bag for everyone else, but the wikipedia article stated he was three time world champion. Freaking hilarious!

    Cheers,
    Albert | UrbanMonk.Net
    Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

  9. [...] for students who are in college check out Gearfire’s run down of how to use Wikipedia. (Note to ill-informed: Gearfire gets it right. Wikipedia is an [...]

  10. [...] Four Ways to Use Wikipedia (hint: never cite it) | GearFire [...]

  11. [...] 4 Ways to use Wikipedia (without citing it) at Gearfire [...]

  12. pjg084 says:

    This is a great article. I am glad somebody wrote something along these lines as it’s what I have been thinking for a long time. I have wondered how many people have actually thought to look into the references etc at the base of the page.

  13. [...] use of Wikipedia January 12, 2008 GearFire, an weblog for “academic success” has a useful post on how to unleash the power of the Wikipedia without citing it in your paper: Nothing that I [...]

  14. [...] or complete. If you haven’t already read it, be sure to check out Rebecca’s related post on how to use Wikipedia. digg_url = “http://www.gearfire.net/wikisummary/”;digg_title = [...]

  15. Pete White says:

    99% of the time there is nothing wrong with Wikipedia as a source. It has great material and the facts are as good as many other sources. The problem is that because a resource like Wikipedia was not available in the teachers day anyone who uses it instantly gets branded lazy even if what they have written about is perfectly good.

    Wikipedia shouldn’t be used as an only source but to tell people they shouldn’t be citing it at all is ridicilous.

  16. beauty blog says:

    actually my sister was JUST telling me how her professor does not allow Wikipedia as a valid source for papers and essays. It’s too bad, I think Wikipedia is one of the most powerful collaborative resources out there. It’s not an encyclopedia from 70 authors… it’s a huge online knowledge base of 2.4 million contributors!

  17. Wikipedia content is not reliable i guess its not checked and compiled by teacher and scholar,One option which is hated by me the most is editing, Editing my any one.

  18. PPC says:

    Citing Wikipedia is suicide if you’re doing projects. Rather follow the contributors and cite them as references in your work.

  19. Lillie says:

    Great, simple information. Do you mind if I use this for student handouts as a resource? I’ll be sure to cite your work!

  20. Poems Girl says:

    oh, thank you for hints

  21. Smart idea on “cheating” wikipedia. I think it’s great to find more cite by using wikipedia. I never realize about this. Thanks mate

  22. Wikipedia like will all know is edited by anyone, so in terms of accurancy of content??? But that being said, I used it when writing my dissertation but only for definitions.

  23. Class says:

    Good stuff, hits on a lot of important things we often overlook or push off till later, but we could benefit from by doing now.

  24. Linda says:

    Great for research. What would we do without it?

  25. LCD says:

    Working from no. 4 the references is the best way to use Wikipedia. Usually there is a fairly good list to work with.

  26. This goes the same for the workplace. A coworker got called out on this last week and the director just laughed at him.

  27. Great, simple information. Do you mind if I use this for student handouts as a resource? I’ll be sure to cite your work!

    Thanks

  28. Max Netten says:

    It is great that teachers do not want one of the most authoritative works in human history to be cited. Classic teacher think– or not think.

    Max

  29. Has anyone ever checked the accuracy of the textbooks that we use to educate our kids? Wikipedia while far from perfect at least has multiple people adding content instead of a few writer building a text book.

    Also Wiki usually has differing opinions in the same article.
    Guy

  30. Twin XL says:

    Never never never never never EVER cite Wiki… eeek, it’ll drop your grade for sure. But I like the first suggestion about background research. Thanks!

  31. Austin says:

    Most, if not all, of my professors in college were perfectly okay with their students citing Wikipedia. In fact, I had one professor who strongly encouraged it. He was a linguistics professor and, as he stated, Wikipedia has some very thorough descriptions of many languages’ phonologies, including very uncommon languages. Yet as this professor pointed out, he advised us to use Wikipedia just like any other source in that one would not cite only one source in an academic paper. He or she would always look to a multitude of sources, therein providing some checks and balances to his or her own work. If one is doing just that, what is wrong with having Wikipedia be one of those sources?

  32. My friend who is studying at the University of the Witwatersrand actually highlighted this very issue to methe other day, as the professors don’t like Wikipedia, period. The links at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, along with a bit of independent research is what he focuses on using as his research sources.

  33. yeah, lol wikipedia is a teachers worst enemy. Of course, students use it all of the time. It can be very useful, I think that even teachers can admit to that. I typically look to wikipedia in the very beginning stages of a paper/ project. It definitely helps me to see what I should look for, where I should start etc.

    -Kevin

  34. Steven Lance says:

    I am always going to wikipedia in all of my research. there is so much information there.

  35. arabam says:

    This is a great article. I am glad somebody wrote something along these lines as it’s what I have been thinking for a long time. I have wondered how many people have actually thought to look into the references etc at the base of the page.

  36. Hi Phill – Rather than citing Wikipedia directly you can look to the links at the bottom or the reference section to find more reputable and stable sites. It’s a LOT easier to document background information once you know what you are looking for.

  37. Tylor says:

    search the google then find your site.that is a really nice post.thx man

  38. Tylor says:

    search the google then find your site.
    that is a really nice post.

    thx man

  39. Link Degisimi – you are absolutely right! I always use those link to find out more about topic! Those links are really helpful!

  40. bingo says:

    Hello everybody. Great opinions here.

  41. These are some great hints and information in regard to using Wikipedia. Thanks a million.

  42. Speaking as a university teacher, Wikipedia is great and usually very accurate; as accurate as any other encyclopedia. I use it every day. However it’s not a primary source, and thus, like a dictionary or printed encyclopedia or magazine article, is usually not acceptable for citing in a university essay. That’s always been the way; it’s not unique to Wikipedia. Students should be trying to cite original, peer-reviewed academic articles in journals wherever possible (like the ones Wikipedia itself cites).

  43. Jayvie says:

    i am using wikipedia to research different topic like movies, science and other, because there are many information there.

  44. mimar says:

    Wikipedia content is not reliable i guess its not checked and compiled by teacher and scholar,One option which is hated by me the most is editing, Editing my any one.

  45. scalp med says:

    Never thought of using wikipedia in these ways. I’ll be using these tips for sure.

  46. Awesome post. I love that actually i can read comics on wikipedia – one of the wonders of the internet, i guess.

  47. Dan Northern says:

    Nice Post. I love Wikipedia, I haven’t used it much for school, yet, but I love browsing it and finding new and interesting information

  48. radyo dinle says:

    Agree that this is a good tactic. I have a feed reader that harvests for my key words, and I look for trends and news, then use it to spawn ideas for what I will write about.

  49. Megan Fox says:

    I think wikipedia is a great site, I don’t understand why these educators look down on it. Thanks for these tips also.

  50. xhamster says:

    Awesome post. love that you can actually read comics on wikipedia – one of the wonders of the internet, i guess.

  51. thats true,
    Wikipedia’s intent is to have articles that cover existing knowledge, not create new knowledge (original research.
    but the teacher needs something innovatve ways to teach

  52. jeggings says:

    Wikipedia can have some false information as well so i wouldn’t trust it totally. But i’ve got another tip – you can use wikipedia as dictionary if you can’t find the word you’re looking for in your dictionary!

  53. India says:

    Any online encyclopedia thats better than Wikipedia?
    Anyone know of anything, other than Wikipedia, that works in the same way?

  54. I agree, I also copied some false information from Wikipedia so we have to be careful with it.

  55. Robert D. says:

    Wikipedia is a great source of information for me.

    I am browsing Wikipedia since more than six years but do not find any wrong or misleading information on Wikipedia.

    Thanks to Wikipedia for providing such a useful source of information.


    Robert D.

  56. Wikipedia is alway a great starting out point for most of my research. The linked resources at the bottom of each page is invaluable.

  57. When I was a student at college i used to use wikipedia too. i was changing the sentences and doing my homepapers. they never understood the situation. thanks god :)

  58. Thanks admin nice post

  59. Thanks admin I also copied some false information from Wikipedia so we have to be careful with it.

  60. Yeah, its funny how in the past my professors whenever I’ve been assigned an assignment upfront say we can’t use Wikipedia. Awesome suggestions with the looking at the links and sources of the wikipedia page itself! :D

  61. My seniors have advised me the same that it’s good that we take reference from Wikipedia or any other good sites but it’s not necessary that we keep their names into it.

    But we surely give some credits to them as they help us.

  62. Edge Sanders says:

    Wikipedia is a fantastic online resource and as a teacher I encourage its usage. I don’t like it to be the sole source of content, but it is amazing for gathering alternate sources as you suggested via the related links. The more incredible thing is the amount of time and effort which people freely devote to making it such a useful tool for us to use.