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ENG 101: College Writing (Quick): Using Wikipedia Wisely

Wikipedia

Examine the "Talk" Page

Each Wikipedia article has an associated "talk page" which is accessible by the tab labled "talk." This is a place to discuss the article (not the article's subject). If you've got comments about an article or see a problem with it, you can leave a comment on the talk page. And, if you are evaluating an article, you can check out the talk page to see what discussions have already been had.

Credits

The content from this page was originally created by Phoebe Ayers while working as a librarian at UC Davis University Library. Her original guide,Wikipedia: Using, editing, and learning more about Wikipedia can be found here.

Is Wikipedia a Good Source?

The answer is "it depends". Some articles are better than others -- all are a work in progress. If you just need a quick idea of what something is about, Wikipedia can be a great source! Online, freely accessible resources such as Wikipedia contain entries written and edited by anyone - regardless of subject expertise. If you are doing research on a topic, you need to take the time to also find other sources, compare the information that's in there to Wikipedia, and do further reading.

Evaluating Wikipedia Articles

The only way to determine the accuracy of an entry in Wikipedia is to verify referenced information from the original source. Learn to use the References section at the end of topic pages to track down the sources listed. Not all references can be accessed freely on the web; check with your BCC librarian to track down books and/or journals referenced in any Wikipedia topic. Points to look for when you are evaluating the quality of a Wikipedia article:

  • Are there warning messages at the top or bottom of the article? (about neutrality, sources, or some other issue -- this is a sign that some experienced editors have found problems with the article)
  • Is the writing style good? Are there obvious stylistic problems -- repetition, unclarity, grammar issues, etc? (this may be a sign that the article hasn't been read over by many editors)
  • Are there citations? If so, are they to scholarly sources? Are there a variety of citations? Are individual facts cited to sources with footnotes?

If Anyone Knows the Importance of Citations, it's College Students

In some articles, you will see a tag at the top of the text or in the body of the text that "this article lacks references" or "citation needed" (referring to a specific fact or piece of information). What does this mean?

These tags are left by Wikipedia editors who notice that an article or a specific idea within it is not well cited. It is a flag to you as a reader to pay attention to the article and take extra care to verify the information with other sources, as the Wikipedia article may either be incorrect or simply questionable.

While all Wikipedia articles aspire to be cited to reputable sources, the site is a work in progress, and some articles are better than others -- these tags (along with others that flag various issues) help you tell which articles have been identified as still needing lots of work. The tags are also an invitation to you to edit and help make the article better! And, if you notice something that seems wrong, you can add a tag yourself... or better yet, fix it and add a citation!