Wikipedia is acceptable to use as a reference for an academic piece of writing!?

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Moessinger Sylvia
22 April 2010

Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia said in an interview (2006) "For god sake, you're in college; don't cite the encylopedia." In your role as a student and/or practitioner how do you assess the use of Wikipedia as a reference source? Do you think Wikipedia is a reliable source to refer to or do you think the lack of expert involvement who approve articles like in Citizendium and the increasing violation of articles in Wikipedia reduce the value of this source?


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Dear Colleagues

I am afraid that we are missing the whole point!

The real question,I believe, is not whether Wiki is acceptable but what are we educating for. Another question arising is :why wikipedia is so commonly cited ? What happened that makes it so widely used?

Bearing these questions in mind, I sugewt we look differently at the issue:

1.As mentioned earlier, we ought to teach for critical thinking, critical evaluation, and systematic study of  facts and views. However, Academia nowadays is in the midst of an ocean of changes:more and more knowledge is easily acessible to the ordinary person, and more strands are arising to criticizef academically acceptable mores.In such a social context, where there are many views and also differnt approaches to study and practice(see for example the case of conventional versus alternative medicine which have come closer in  some areas),the sole instruction to use a rference from a certain source is not in and of itself sufficient to expand the views and learning of our students,in whatever educational setting.Nowadays, knowledge travels faster, and wikipedia is the ultimate example of it. Wikipedia is commonly cited because it is acessible and relates more to the actual world than many academic references which are unfortunately not available and can hardly be acessed.

We need to teach our students that when they cite some entry, they have to check what is standing behind it, who is the author, what are their methods and background, and how they derive their conclusion. Saying no just not sufficient in the 21st century. In addition,  it is important that we help them and teach them how to obtain information that is reliable, but also it is essential that we facilitate a process whereby they learn how to identify and formulate problems and how to critically evaluate different strands of research and practice. The example of the "merge" between conventional medicine which has absorbed some unconventionsl practices (such ae yoga,meditation, visual imagery-as examples), is  a good way to illustraate that different forms of study and practice could be merged through the willingness to study and expand one's knowledge. So if someone is using Wikipedia I would try to teach them to evaluate it, as was done by some. 

The world has changed :more knowledge is available around, and aalternative paths to university libraries are evolving. So, what we need is to teach information literacy within such a context. Wiki is but an example of a widely available resoiurce for knowledge. It swwms that the academic world itself is using other sources of exchange other than journals, such as blogs...and perhaps we may see other phenomenon breaking the ivory tower's walls????It seems like alternative paths to institutionalized knowledge are evolving...This is what we should pay attention to.. and look at the implications for the long run... Tali

Tali Tzuk
17:58 on 24 April 2010

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Aky Hunt
2:12am 23 April 2010

Well what or who are actually experts? Are those who post who are not academically recognised still worth reading? 

I think the problem arises from the style of writing. Without referencing there seems to be a lack of credence.

I think without proper knowledge there seems to be more opinions and articles lack coherence.

I think that the site members 'police themselves'  and errant posting are removed in time

Khorshed Bhote
5:40am 23 April 2010

As a starting point, the wikipedia is an easy to use tool that can be used to learn new facts.  Some of the articles are well written and others are not.  But then anything on the Internet can be credible or not and just because a paper has been approved by peers does not mean that one day it cannot be disproved.

When searching for sources of information and selecting them one has to display a certain amount of maturity in knowing what to use for a specific purpose.  This does get better with practice.  The teacher can guide learners towards aproved sources.

The wikipedia has now put into place certain measures to minimise 'vandalism' of information.  I would still not accept it as a cited source from my learners, though I would definitely encourage them to use it as a first stop.  I do this myself.

Robert Farrow
8:10am 23 April 2010

My view is that Wikipedia should never be cited in an academic essay.

It's increasingly common for students to rely on something like Wikipedia, the attractions of which are obvious.  It's simply the easiest way to find out a whole host of things.

But students who rely on this kind of resourse don't engage sufficiently with the issues surrounding the genesis, validity and use of information resources.

Students should be developing critical thinking and research skills on *every* course they take:  these are absolutely fundamental academic virtues.  But in tandem with nurturing and developing these traditional values, we need to teach students how to navigate (and make sense of) the vast amounts of data that are at one's fingertips.  (Some call this 'digital literacy'.)

Using Wikipedia is not, in and of itself, wrong, and we all use it from time to time.  But quoting it suggests that the student isn't really even aware of the reasons not to do this.

Wikipedia can be good for getting an overview of an unfamiliar area because it's so comprehensve.  Sometimes if can provide useful links or references, but these should always be followed up independently.

Moessinger Sylvia
11:00am 23 April 2010

Robert I agree with you that most students solely rely on Wikipedia and take it face value that everything written there has to be correct and they don't take the effort to confirm the findings with other sources. Sometimes they are lucky that the information they found in Wikipeda is correct, though not writen by an 'expert' with provable qualifications. However this is not always the case and here I agree again with you Robert that students should develop critical thinking, facilitated by a teachers that they learn to go beyond Wikipedia.Students should learn to critically evaluate the information they find in the internet and teachers should raise the awareness of students that not every information published in the intenet is reliable and valuable. I think its a very important task and duty of teachers to improve students information literacy so that they adopt an appropriate information behaviour.

Aky Hunt
1:00pm 23 April 2010

Well would a suggestion be that we amend the way references are written, to include a primary source, such as Wikipedia or a resource like Cloudworks, then go on to reference the article found. I think it is all too easy to quote an article we have found without acknowledging that it started from a Wikipedia search.

Would this be a compromise to only using Wikipedia?

(Please disagree so we don't end this cloud...)

Robert Farrow
1:07pm 23 April 2010

Aky - we already have referencing conventions which differentiate a citation from an original source from a quotation found in secondary literature.  If we followed your proposal, wouldn't many references include Google too?

I don't think we need to accommodate people who want to quote Wikipedia.  To be honest, it's a simple matter of good scholarship: you should want to see the source for yourself, read it for yourself, and make your own judgement.  This applies equally to peer-reviewed journal articles and 'riskier' sources like Wikipedia.

In my view, the only time when it's acceptable to use a secondary citation is when it simply isn't possible to get hold of the primary text.  This is something that seems to be less and less of a problem as more text become available digitally.

Aky Hunt
1:38pm 23 April 2010

Yes I agree Robert, but what I was saying was if we start with Wikipedia and from this source find another source and read this paper we normally simply reference that paper, not where we originally sourced it from.  If we noted where our original sourcing started maybe then we could see who uses Wikipedia and who uses other sources. (It might also encourage people to start from other avenues apart from Wikipedia.)

Just a suggestion.



Joanna Webb
4:39pm 25 April 2010

I think the most important point here is to go back to the original citation by Jimmy Wales.  Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.  Would it be right to quote from any encyclopedia in an 'academic' paper?  I don't think the issue is how accurate (or not) wikipedia is but that it is (as Robert points out) a secondary source and in a piece of academic writing you would be looking at primary sources.  I wouldn't quote from the 'Cambridge Encyclopedia' in an academic paper either.  

It would be interesting to understand why students (and people generally) see Wikipedia as something more than an encyclopedia, as a kind of definitive source. 

Robert Farrow
7:36am 26 April 2010

I think it is quite permissable to refer to an encyclopedia in an academic context.  After all, an encyclopedia is a work of reference.  But we typically think of the encyclopedia as written by experts, as they traditionally tended to be.  Indeed, if Wikipedia was written by experts there wouldn't be a problem in referencing it; there are other online encylopedia which are written by experts and, in my view, these are valid academic sources. 

I don't see the 'secondary source' thing as a problem per se since secondary sources are often used in academic papers.  Again, it's a matter of information literacy:  knowing how to use it, and appreciating the limits of different pieces of evidence.

Joanna, your observation about student perception of Wikipedia is interesting.  How do we know whether students even consult other sources before deciding that Wikipedia is 'definitive'?  Are they even aware of better alternatives for internet research?  I suspect not... because if they did, why would they continue to use WIkipedia?

Laura Skelton
3:10pm 26 April 2010

It was interesting talking to my friend who works in a 14-18 school and he said something quite worrying about Wikipedia. That the students think that what is written on there is fact and that they do not then look to find further sources.

I believe that if you are able to understand that Wikipedia has limits in terms of it's reliability and you can find other credible sources to back it up then there is nothing wrong with using it within a paper. We use it within this course in conjunction with other sources of information.

7:17pm 27 April 2010

I think Wikipedia is a great source of quick information for personal queries. I agree on its limitation of reliability given its open nature and therefore not advisable as reference in academic writing. Learners need to develop information literacy skills and critical thinking; however, I would not advice students from approaching Wikipedia in the same way as I do it, as I have always found it very useful for my informal queries. Also, I agree that sometimes Wikipedia can be a good source of further references.

Khorshed Bhote
5:07am 29 April 2010

With the new measures that wikipedia has put into place it has become more reliable, in that it is less easy for someone to sobatage a contribution.  However, I agree with Joanna, it is an encyclopaedia and to be used as such.  I still maintain that it is a useful first source for finding new information but learners have to be taught to find other more reliable sources to back up that information.  Therefore, I would not accpet any citation from the wikipedia.  By the way, do a google search for 'academic research' and the result is pretty convincing and has references to published sources!

Anna Page
1:49pm 30 April 2010

I am not sure (as a parent of a 14 year old) that pupils in schools are taught how to research using an encyclopedia as first reference for basic information that is then tested by sourcing wider materials.  My child dislikes wikipedia partly because her teachers have told her not to trust it and partly because sometimes it is so dense with detail that is  overwhelming.

Her sessions in the school library do not concentrate on basic principles of research (which is something that was drummed into me in library classes at primary level), and I have found myself teaching her about citing references and rewriting passages (to guard against plagarism) because this doesn't appear to be adequately covered at school (yet she attends a good school).

I have shown her that wikipedia can be used as a first source even if it isn't ultimately cited in what she writes, because other websites don't always start with the basics.

Khorshed Bhote
9:11am 1 May 2010

Anna, I am also appalled that this fundamental study skill is not taught in schools.  When my son was studying for GCSE, like you, I had to show him how to find information (and I did use wikipedia with him) and how to cite and reference it.  He is now doing A levels in a private school and this is not covered because they have already sorted it out with their students at lower levels.  When my son joined secondary school one of my questions to his Head of yr 7 was whether they run study skills sessions and the Head looked at me puzzled and said No!  How do they expect that students coming from primary are suddenly going to know how to study at higher levels unless this is taught!  I say, thank goodness for wikipedia, yes sometimes there is too much information but it always starts with the basics that are easy to understand and with that understanding it is then easier to extract relevant information from other sources.  However, its weakness in relation to citing as a reference is more to do with the unreliability of the information than the fact that it is an encyclopaedia. 

Juliya Luis
12:47pm 5 October 2017

I was stating was whether we begin with Wikipedia and from this source discover another source and read this paper we ordinarily basically reference that paper, not where we initially sourced it from. On the off chance that we noted where our unique sourcing began perhaps then we could see who utilizes Wikipedia and who utilizes different sources. (It may likewise urge individuals to begin from different roads separated from Wikipedia. Write my Assignment for Me


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