Is Wikipedia Legit?

Many students around the world have been told repeatedly that they cannot cite Wikipedia in their research papers, even though Wikipedia is often the first place they go to do research. After all, who wants to go through the heavy, cumbersome volumes of a real encyclopedia, with all that tiny print?

Wikipedia is often thought of as untrustworthy because there are “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Tons of contributors can edit each article, write whatever they like… and who’s to say that they actually have knowledge about what they’re talking about? But I think Wikipedia has gotten more respected as a source as the years have gone by. Every article is moderated, and outrageous and nonfactual information is taken out, so quality control is in practice, to some extent.

I personally see Wikipedia as a good starting point for research. I wouldn’t trust the content in the article per se, but the references cited at the bottom of the article are generally very reliable and they come from legitimate sources.

However, in some circles (mostly scientific), Wikipedia publication is actually required. For example, this article from Nature says that anyone who submits to the journal RNA Biology must also submit a Wikipedia page summarizing the work.

Even so, I would recommend that you check any information you find on Wikipedia against another source. After all, the information you find on Wikipedia may very well be taken down the next day. One of these days, I do believe that Wikipedia will eventually become the de facto source on just about any subject you can possibly think of.

Do you use Wikipedia for serious, in-depth research or just to quickly get basic information?

9 thoughts on “Is Wikipedia Legit?

  1. I use Wikipedia pretty much the way you do, as a good way to get to information I want.

    I think it’s fine to say that students can’t cite Wikipedia. The point may not even be that some of the information is wrong; it may be that students need to learn how to go further in research, no matter how accurate Wikipedia may be on some specific topic.

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      1. I always remember a Dilbert strip where one guy at the office was making some outrageous claim and the others challenged him on it. “Oh, yeah?” he said. “Give me five minutes and then check Wikipedia!”

        I have a friend who’s a Wikipedia editor, and he’s worked on thousands (probably tens of thousands) of articles. There are a lot of others like him, and they do the best they can, but there are limits. And he sometimes sees things that he knows are wrong and doesn’t correct them for various reasons (insufficient time, it would distract him from fixing something else, etc.).

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  2. I use Wikipedia as a starting point. It’s also the “end point” if the issue is not of the utmost importance and the article “rings true.”

    I often link back to Wiki in posts, allowing readers to decide what to take at face value and what to research further.

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