Note regarding the use of Wikipedia on
This site links to pages on the free online
as well as other non-academic sources of information. These pages were
checked for accuracy at the time this site was created and no significant
issues were found in them, especially since the content linked to is not of
a controversial nature.
Nonetheless, students should be very careful when
evaluating information found in these sites. Students should never cite
these sources in research papers, for instance, since anonymous sources
such as these are not always reliable sources of information. Students should
always find quotable sources to use in their papers. The better Wikipedia
entries give sources, which the student should always go to for quoting.
Important information about the use of Wikipedia
follows. Please read it. It will help you understand about the evaluation
of information you find on the Web, not just that found on Wikipedia. This
information was collected from the indicated Web sources on May 8, 2009, by
Jon Aske, Salem State
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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– Use at your own risk – We are not doctors – We can't help with law –
You may disagree with what we include
This page has our
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that it can be understood by more people.
For our official legal version, please see the English-language Wikipedia.
WIKIPEDIA CAN BE WRONG
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia on the internet that is
edited by anyone who wants to help. The way it works means that anyone with
who can view the internet can change what is written. When you read
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That does not mean that there is not useful, correct
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Category: Wikipedia disclaimer notices
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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This essay contains the advice or opinions
of one or more Wikipedia contributors. Essays may represent widespread
norms or minority viewpoints. Consider these views with discretion.
Wikipedia is increasingly used by people in the academic community, from
first-year students to professors, as an easily accessible tertiary
source for information about anything and everything. However,
citation of Wikipedia in research papers may not be considered acceptable,
because Wikipedia is not considered a creditable source.
Follow two simple rules:
 Do your research properly.
Remember that any encyclopedia is a starting point for research, not
an ending point
- An encyclopedia is great for getting a general
understanding of a subject before you dive into it. But then you 'do'
have to dive into your subject; using books and articles and other
appropriate sources will provide better research. Research from these
sources will be more detailed, more precise, more carefully reasoned,
and (in most cases) more broadly peer
reviewed than the summary you found in an encyclopedia. These will
be the sources you cite in your paper. There is no need to cite
Wikipedia in this case.
- An encyclopedia is great for checking general
knowledge that you have forgotten, like the starting date of the First
World War or the boiling point of mercury. Citation is not needed for fact
checking general knowledge.
- Slightly obscure details, such as the population of Ghana, can
be found on Wikipedia, but it is best to verify the information using
an authoritative source, such as the CIA World Factbook.
- A very obscure detail, such as the names of the
founders of the Social Democrat Hunchakian
Party, might be very hard to find without the aid of an
encyclopedia like Wikipedia. Wikipedia is ideal in these situations
because it will allow you to find the information, as well as sources
which you can research to confirm that information. In any case, you
should not cite Wikipedia, but the source provided; you should of
course look up the source yourself before citing it. If there is no
source cited, consider a different method of obtaining this
 Use your judgment.
Remember that all sources have to be evaluated.
- Wikipedia is not a replacement for a reading
assignment by your professor.
- If a book is in your university library or published
by a reputable university press, or if an article is in
a standard academic journal, that means that several
professors at some point have considered the information and
considered it worthy to publish. Be careful not to use sources that
are too old, however, as some methods and conclusions might be out of
- Sourcing a website is a game of chance. Unless you
know that the site is run by a respected institution, or if you have
verified the sources the site uses, it is probably a bad idea to cite
- While reading Wikipedia articles for research,
remember to consider the information carefully, and never treat what
is on Wikipedia as wholesale truth.
It is the goal of Wikipedia to become a research aid
that all students can trust. If you, in the course of your research, find
that there is misinformation on Wikipedia, look over the
basic guidelines of Wikipedia and especially what
the community considers a reliable source and please consider editing
the article (and even creating an account) with what you have learned. This
is a part of how Wikipedia wishes to attain its goals.
 Wikipedia links to many
Even though Wikipedia articles can be easily tampered to
thwart credibility, the references in an article usually link to credible
sources. The driving forces that cause so many Wikipedia articles to link
to highly credible sources are the content policies, such as WP:VERIFY and WP:SOURCES, plus the actions of reviewers who
constantly remove unreliable sources from articles. For those reasons, the
sources cited by a Wikipedia article tend to be more accurate, direct
references than many webpages found by Web search engines.
judge blasts Apple | The Register
Wikipedia, warns Wikipedia chief | The Register
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Academic_use"
Categories: Wikipedia resources
Oakland University, Kresge Library, Rochester, MI 48309
Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia.
Any internet user can:
- Sign up for an account.
- Write entries on any topic.
- Edit entries on any topic.
What you might not know:
- The true identity of Wikipedia authors and editors.
- The author's or editor's expertise level.
- The accuracy of the entry.
Should I use
Wikipedia for my paper?
No, you probably should not use the free online
encyclopedia. Wikipedia meets none of the five
indicators for assessing information quality on the web:
- There's no way to verify a Wikipedia entry's author;
or whether an entry's editor is an authority on the topic.
- For example, the Wikipedia entry on adult stem cells
does not have the same authority as:
- There is no guarantee that information in the
Wikipedia is accurate.
- For example:
- Wikipedia entries may be biased.
- For example:
- The Dick
Devos entry contains the following statement: "the
neutrality of this entry is disputed." This means that the
content of the entry may be biased, and is not an objective look at
Devos' life and career.
- Even though entries are often updated minutes after
related events occur, issues of objectivity and authority arise.
- For example:
were added to the Governor
Jennifer Granholm entry for the gubernatorial race on November
9, 2006- the same night as the election. But in the 'talk' section,
where users can expression their opinions on entries, there was discussion
about election results. While entries may be updated immediately
after events occur, they can be tweaked, changed, and discussed at
- Just because an entry on Wikipedia exists, it does
not necessarily cover every aspect of a topic.
- For example:
- The entry on nuclear energy
is very short. In contrast, a keyword search for (nuclear and
energy) in the Library
Catalog, returns 2,222 entries. One can assume the Wikipedia
entry is extensively lacking in coverage.
So is the
Wikipedia ever a useful source?
Yes: for popular culture information, such as entires
for television shows, movies, or music.
Yes: for an overview of any one of a variety of topics.
- For example:
- You have to write a paper on the Cuban Missile
Crisis, and you know nothing about it.
- Read the
Wikipedia entry on the topic and then go to other, more
authoritative materials, such as
Do not use information from Wikipedia in your paper.
Verify everything you read on Wikipedia in other authoritative sources, and
information in your assignments.
What should I
use instead of Wikipedia?
- Chesney, T. (2006). An
empirical examination of Wikipedia's credibility. First Monday, 11(11).
Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- Eiffert, R. (2006). Wikipedia,
the review: how the online behemoth compares to standard reference
Library Journal, 52(3), 82-83. Retrieved on March 5,
- Kirschner, A. (2006). Adventures
in the land of Wikipedia. The
Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(13). Retrieved March 5,
- Read, B. (2006). Can
Wikipedia ever make the grade? The
Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(10). Retrieved on March
- Read, B. (2006). Building
an encyclopedia, with or without scholars. The Chronicle of Higher
Education, 53(10). Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- Rosenzweig, R. (2006). Can
history be open source? Wikipedia and the future of the past. The Journal of American
History, 93(1). Retrieved March 5, 2007.
- Schiff, Stacy. (2006). Know
it all: can Wikipedia conquer expertise? The New Yorker, 82(21),
36. Retrieved on March 5, 2007.
- Wolpe, D. (2006). Ethical
dilemmas: the sticky wicket of Wikipedia. Campaigns & Elections,
27(6), 66-67. Retrieved March 5, 2007.
Created on 3/5/07 by Sarah Nagelbush & Tricia
Juettemeyer / Last updated on 3/7/09 by Sarah Nagelbush & Tricia
Dr. Alan Liu, University of California, Santa Barbara
the Student: Appropriate Use of Wikipedia
In recent years, Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/) has become
one of the most important and useful resources on the Internet. Created by
an open community of authors (anyone can contribute, edit, or correct
articles), it has become a powerful resource for researchers to consult
alongside other established library and online resources. As in the case of
all tools, however, its value is a function of appropriateness. In the case
of college-level essays or research papers, students should keep in mind
the following two limitations, one applying to all encyclopedias, and the
other specifically to Wikipedia:
- As in the case of any
encyclopedia, Wikipedia is not appropriate as the primary or sole
reference for anything that is central to an argument, complex,
or controversial. "Central to an argument" means that
the topic in question is crucial for the paper. (For example, a paper
about Shakespeare or postmodernism cannot rely on an encyclopedia
article on those topics.) "Complex" means anything requiring
analysis, critical thought, or evaluation. (For example, it is not
persuasive to cite an encyclopedia on "spirituality.")
"Controversial" means anything that requires listening to
the original voices in a debate because no consensus or conventional
view has yet emerged. (For example, cite an encyclopedia on the historical
facts underlying a recent political election, but not on the meaning
or trends indicated by that election.)
These limitations are due to the fact that encyclopedia articles are
second- or third-hand summaries. They are excellent starting points for
learning about something. But a college-level research paper or
critical essay needs to consult directly the articles, books, or other
sources mentioned by an encyclopedia article and use those as the
reference. The best such sources are usually those that have been
refereed ("peer-reviewed" by other scholars before
acceptance for publication, which is the case for most scholarly
journals and books) or, in the case of current events, journalistic or
other resources that are relatively authoritative in their field.
However, a Wikipedia citation can be an appropriate convenience when
the point being supported is minor, non-controversial, or also
supported by other evidence.
In addition, Wikipedia is an appropriate source for some extremely
recent topics (especially in popular culture or technology) for which
it provides the sole or best available synthetic, analytical, or
historical discussion. In such cases, however, due diligence requires
at least glancing at the editing "history" of the article
(available through the "history" tab at the top) to get a
sense of how controversial or consensual, unstable or stable, the article has been. (Such due
diligence is like sticking one's hand in the shower before getting in:
not a precise measure of reliabillity, but a good way not to get
- Wikipedia has special
limitations because it is an online encyclopedia written by a largely
unregulated, worldwide, and often anonymous community of contributors.
The principle of "many-eyes" policing upon which Wikipedia
depends for quality-control (that is, many people looking at and
correcting articles) works impressively well in many cases. However:
- Wikipedia is currently
an uneven resource. For example, articles on scientific,
technological, or popular culture topics can sometimes be more
reliable, vetted (corrected by a community experts), or current than
articles on humanistic issues of the sort that students in
literature, history, and other humanities majors often need to
- Some articles in
Wikipedia are unreliable because they are the contested terrain of
"edit wars," political protest, or vandalism. Such articles
include both those on obviously controversial topics and on
unexpected topics. For a sobering sense of the limitations of
Wikipedia, consult the long list of "protected" Wikipedia
articles (articles that Wikipedia no longer, or at least not for now,
allows users to edit in the normal way in order to protect them from
edit wars or other mischief): <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Protected_page>.
(See also the bibliography appended below on recent controversies
about the reliability of Wikipedia.) Students should also keep in
mind that Wikipedia--like the Internet as a whole--is edited
globally. This means that topics related to "United
States," "China," "Tony Blair," or
"World Cup soccer," for example (and many others), are
- Students should be aware that Wikipedia is a dynamic,
constantly mutating resource. Even if it is appropriate to cite it as
a reference, the citation is not fully meaningful unless it includes
the date on which the page was accessed, which would allow a reader
to use the Wikipedia "history" feature to look up the
specific version of the article being referenced. Indeed, Wikipedia
articles on some topics change so frequently (even to the extent of
vandals "reverting" to earlier scandalous misinformation)
that a crucial citation should really include the exact time of
access. (Where citation to a time-stamped version of an article is
desired, one can make use of the version-specific URLs available
through the time-date links on each article's history page--e.g., in
the link labeled "17:30, 1 April 2007 76" on the history
page of the article on "George
Students should feel free to consult Wikipedia as one of
the most powerful instruments for opening knowledge that the Internet has
yet produced. But it is not a one-stop-shop for reliable knowledge. Indeed,
the term "encyclopedia" is somewhat to blame. Because it is
communal, dynamic, and unrefereed, Wikipedia is not just an encyclopedia of
knowledge. It is better thought of as a combination of encyclopedia and
"blog." It is the world's blog.
Selected Bibliography of Articles on the Controversy
Regarding Wikipedia's Reliability:
- Steven Musil,
"Wikipedia's Woes," C/NET News.com, 9 December 2005 <http://news.com.com/Week+in+review+Wikipedias+woes/2100-1083_3-5988388.html>
- John Seigenthaler,
"A False Wikipedia 'Biography'," USA Today.com, 29 November
- Daniel Terdiman,
"Study: Wikipedia as Accurate as Britannica," C/Net
News.com, 15 December 2005 < http://news.com.com/2102-1038_3-5997332.html>
- Ray Cha, "Another
Round: Britannica versus Wikipedia," if:book, 31 March 2006 <http://www.futureofthebook.org/blog/archives/2006/03/another_round_britannica_versu.html>
- Lisa Vaas,
"Wikipedia Erects Accuracy Firewall," 19 December 2005 <http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1903728,00.asp>
- Katie Hafner, "Growing Wikipedia Revises Its
'Anyone Can Edit' Policy," New York Times, 17 June 2006 <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/17/technology/17wiki.html?_r=
(alternative site: http://news.com.com/Growing+Wikipedia+revises+its+anyone+can+edit+policy/
About This Student Wikipedia Use Policy Statement:
This policy statement was originally drafted in June
2006 and posted with a request for comment on the Humanist list. It was
subsequently picked up by others and posted to various blogs, where it has
accrued a surprising amount of response. My thanks to all the following
listserv and blog communities (and others) for suggestions. Version 1.0 of
the final statement was posted here on April 1, 2007.
Listserv and blog discussions of this statement (in its
Gould Library, Carleton College
If your students have 'Googled' any topic recently,
they've probably found links to a website called Wikipedia near the
top of their results list. Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that differs
from other encyclopedias in a significant way: along with reading the
articles in Wikipedia, anyone can add or edit articles however they like.
According to their website, Wikipedia was created in 2001 and has since
grown to be one of the largest sites on the web, passing
one million entries in the English-language version of the encyclopedia
in March of 2006. It is a collaborative effort with articles written by
individuals from around the world using wiki software that allows content
to be added
or changed by anyone. As a result, Wikipedia is a dynamic work that is
always growing, always changing.
Advantages of Wikipedia
Many of the articles in Wikipedia are long and
comprehensive, and many entries exist in Wikipedia for which no equivalent
entry may be found in any other encyclopedia. As a result, it can be quite
tempting for students to use the information found there in essays and lab
reports. Those who would do so, however, are advised to use caution. While
Wikipedia is without question a valuable and informative resource, there is
an important concern to take into account when using it:
Because anyone can add or change content, there is
an inherent lack of reliability and stability to Wikipedia. Authors of
articles may not necessarily be experts on the topics they write about,
leaving a lot of room for errors, misinformation, and bias.
The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, has recently
stressed that Wikipedia may not be suitable for academic uses, saying,
"It is pretty good, but you have to be careful with it. It's good
enough knowledge, depending on what your purpose is."
While it is important to be aware of the limitations of
Wikipedia, there are some advantages as well. It is easy to access online
for free at www.wikipedia.org.
Articles are often added quickly and, as a result, coverage of current
events and new technology in particular is quite extensive. Printed
encyclopedias can take years to add new entries and those entries may not
cover a topic in as exhaustive detail as those in Wikipedia.
Appropriateness as a
Whenever your students conduct research for an
assignment, it is important for them to understand the type and quality of
resources required for the assignment. They should be able to ask and
answer for themselves the question: "Is an encyclopedia, print or
online, an appropriate source of information for this project?"
Wikipedia may be an appropriate resource for some assignments, but not for
others. You may want to encourage your students to talk with you if they
have difficulty evaluating the appropriateness of any source for their
assignments, or have them talk with a librarian.
Because of Wikipedia's extensive and constantly-updated
coverage of coverage of current events and new technology, it can be an
excellent source of information on these areas of study. It can also be
interesting and informative to look at the changes made to Wikipedia's
entries as new information has come to light. this can be done by clicking
the entry's "history" tab at the top of the page. This can also
provide valuable insight into the process of collaborative writing.
You may decide for your students that the best use of
Wikipedia might be as a starting point at which to gain contextual
information about a topic before moving on to more detailed or more
reliable information sources. Suggested starting points for student
research can be found in the library's Subject
As with any source of information, in print or on
the web, students should explore and evaluate additional equivalent
resources simply to be sure that their facts are correct.
Wikipedia as a
Instructors at colleges and universities around the
world have made use of Wikipedia not just as a source of information but as
an interactive educational tool. Students have written Wikipedia entries as
individual assignments and as exercises in collaborative writing. Students
have translated pages from another language into English and from English
into another language. Students have also used recent controversies
involving Wikipedia as a basis for discussion of ethics and bias.
An overview of past and current projects can be found on
for school and university projects. A section on considerations and
suggestions for projects is included on the page.
Wikipedia provides a page informing its users how to cite its content using
the following styles: APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern
Language Association), MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association),
Chicago Manual of Style, CBE/CSE (Council of Science Editors), Bluebook,
BibTeX, and AMA (American Medical Association).
Gould Library's guide to citation guides and handbooks and tips on citing
Things You Should Know About Wikipedia"
by the EDUCAUSE
A quick overview of the pros and cons of using Wikipedia as an academic
by Daniel H. Pink,
A profile of Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, and a brief history of
"I Want My
by Barry X. Miller,
Karl Helicher, & Teresa Berry; Library Journal
Three academic librarians evaluate the usefulness of Wikipedia's coverage
of popular culture, current affairs, and science topics.
by K.G. Schneider
A noted librarian and blogger gives her opinion on Wikipedia.
Web Pages: Questions to Ask and Techniques to Apply"
from the UC Berkeley -
Teaching Library Internet Workshops
Librarians from the University of California Berkeley provide tips on
evaluating the content of web resources.
Encyclopedias Go Head to Head" (behind subscription wall: click here
to view from off-campus)
by Jim Giles,
A study conducted by Nature
finds that Wikipedia is only slightly less accurate than the online Encyclopaedia Britannica,
igniting a firestorm of controversy.
Britannica responds point-by-point to Nature's study.
by Scott Jaschik,
Inside Higher Ed
Middlebury College's History Department bans the use of Wikipedia as a
research source in academic work.
Makes No Guarantee of Validity"
Wikipedia's disclaimer on the validity of its contents and links to the
disclaimers of other online encyclopedias.
External Peer Review"
Wikipedia's own page on the Nature/Britannica controversy and other
critical reviews of Wikipedia's content.
Reaches One Million Articles"
by The Wikimedia
A press release announcing the addition of the one millionth entry in English
Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign"
by John Borland,
A story about CalTech graduate student Virgil Griffith, who built a search
tool that traces IP addresses of those who make Wikipedia changes.
4 ways to use
Wikipedia (hint: never cite it)
Tips By rebecca
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
- 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
- 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).
- 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”.
- 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
Why arent we allowed
to use wikipedia for research reports?
Best Answer - Chosen
An expansive and systematic study of all of the edits
made for one calendar quarter (late 2007) on Wikipedia's 100 articles about
the hundred U.S. senators showed that the content in those articles was
deliberately misleading, misinformed, or defamatory about 6.8% of the time.
Some would say that's "not bad", others would say it's "not
I don't believe any encyclopedia would ever be 100%
perfect, and surely no encyclopedia matches Wikipedia's breadth of coverage.
However, a 6.8% inaccuracy rate is nothing for the Wikipedia project to be
Another incident is instructive. The Wikipedia article
about Jackson, Michigan stated that Abraham Lincoln was in attendance at
the first Republican Party nominating convention. This was false. The only
city that Lincoln ever visited in Michigan was Kalamazoo, and it had
nothing to do with the state nominating convention in Jackson. This error
was present within Wikipedia for 601 days.
An older university study of Wikipedia's "damaged
views" rate suggested that Wikipedia is getting progressively more and
more damaged over time. Below, I will give you links to all of these
I think that people who will go to Wikipedia for
information, and ONLY to Wikipedia for information are selling short their
educational opportunity. Take advantage of the many, diverse resources that
are available for research -- both online and off-line.
One of my favorites lately is Google Books. You can type
in any search term, then get a truckload of books that discuss that topic
-- with many of the books "readable", at least the few pages
around your specific search term or phrase. Check it out:
P.S. Anyone who cite that bogus "Nature" study
comparing Wikipedia to Britannica should wake up and read this:
The so-called "study" was rigged from the get-go to favor
Wikipedia, and Wikipedia STILL came up 32% short.
Senators study: http://www.mywikibiz.com/Wikipedia_Vanda...
Lincoln error: http://akahele.org/2009/03/persistence_o...
University of Minnesota study: http://chance.dartmouth.edu/chancewiki/i...
Wikipedia Receives a Citation
by Andy Carvin, 1:11PM
Middlebury College is now informing students that
Wikipedia is not appropriate for research, and that they use it at their
own academic peril. Somewhat surprisingly, Wikipedia doesn’t necessarily
disagree with them.
Inside Higher Ed
has a fascinating review of Middlebury College’s recent decision to bar
students from citing the online encyclopedia Wikipedia in their research. While
students can still access the site, they are no longer allowed to cite it
While plenty of professors have complained about the
lack of accuracy or completeness of entries, and some have discouraged or
tried to bar students from using it, the history department at Middlebury
College is trying to take a stronger, collective stand. It voted this month
to bar students from citing the Web site as a source in papers or other
academic work. All faculty members will be telling students about the
policy and explaining why material on Wikipedia - while convenient - may
not be trustworthy.
“As educators, we are in the business of reducing the
dissemination of misinformation,” said Don Wyatt, chair of the department.
“Even though Wikipedia may have some value, particularly from the value of
leading students to citable sources, it is not itself an appropriate source
for citation,” he said….
There was some discussion in the department of trying to
ban students from using Wikipedia, but Wyatt said that didn’t seem
appropriate. Many Wikipedia entries have good bibliographies, Wyatt said.
And any absolute ban would just be ignored. “There’s the issue of freedom
of access,” he said. “And I’m not in the business of promulgating
In the interview, Wyatt went on to say that he doubted students’
papers would be rejected for a single Wikipedia citation, but noted that
repeated violations of the new policy could lead to academic disciplinary
action. “The important point that we wish to communicate to all students
taking courses and submitting work in our department in the future is that
they cite Wikipedia at their peril,” he said.
Interestingly, a representative from Wikipedia didn’t
exactly dispute the college’s new rules. “That’s a sensible policy,” said
Wikipedia’s Sandra Ordonez “Wikipedia is the ideal place to start your
research and get a global picture of a topic, however, it is not an
authoritative source. In fact, we recommend that students check the facts
they find in Wikipedia against other sources. Additionally, it is generally
good research practice to cite an original source when writing a paper, or
completing an exam. It’s usually not advisable, particularly at the
university level, to cite an encyclopedia.”
The root of the debate, of course, is the role that
online sources should or shouldn’t play in student research. Wikipedia is
just the most famous example of countless online reference tools, from
About.com to Answers.com. Is one source better than the other? In some
ways, it’s a trick question, since many online reference sites have an
incestuous relationship when it comes to aggregating and disseminating
information. For example, Wikipedia allows any person or entity to copy it
lock, stock and barrel, and reprint it elsewhere.
For example, a while back I wrote a brief Wikipedia
entry, or “stub,” for Ksar Ouled Soltane,
an historic Berber granary I visited in Tunisia. Since I am neither an
expert in Berber history nor architecture, I kept the entry very short, hoping
that people with access to better primary source materials than I would
help fill in the blanks. So far, that hasn’t really happened, but that
hasn’t stopped other sites, including Answers.com and AllExperts.com,
from copying what I wrote in Wikipedia verbatim. Theoretically, an
unobservant (or lazy) student researcher might use all three sites as
separate references, even though they’re copies of each other. Over time,
the copies might even appear somewhat different, since Wikipedia’s version
gets updated more often than the others, creating discrepancies in their
texts. This might cause other student researchers who are trying to be more
sincerely observant from treating them all individual sources, rather than
mere copies of each other.
One might easily define the problem as simply being a
gripe with online references, thus suggesting Middlebury would want to
expand its ban on other Internet sites. The bigger issue, though, is
ensuring that students don’t take shortcuts with research, whether it’s
online or offline. “College students should’’t be citing encyclopedias in
their papers,” said Roy Rosenzweig of George Mason University in the
article. “That’s not what college is about. They either should be using
primary sources or serious secondary sources.”
Readers of the article have responded in kind. For
example, David Blakesly wrote:
Kudos to Roy Rosenzweig for rightly pointing out that
the core of the problem is not Wikipedia and the quality or integrity of
its information. It’s that we haven’t successfully communicated to students
that citing any general knowledge encyclopedia-including Britannica-in
college-level research is a mistake. Blaming Wikipedia is a red herring. I
wish as much attention were devoted to the challenge of teaching effective
research practices, including the dubious practice of prescriptions like
Dominic Moore agreed:
Wikipedia is not at issue here. The issues are the
ignorant students who think they can cite tertiary sources in an academic
paper and the professors who let them get away with it. Why is this even an
article about Wikipedia? Citing “World Book” would be twice as bad.
For better or for worse, Wikipedia is the lightning rod
for many public debates over the merit of student online research.
Middlebury is right to discourage students from citing Wikipedia as a
source while not banning it outright, since it can serve as an excellent launching
point for tracking down primary and secondary sources. K-12 schools would
be wise to follow this story to see how it plays out, since they’re not
taking a black and white approach towards Web 2.0 that has plagued some
policy debates. Still, the college’s decision raises larger questions about
the role of other online reference tools that face similar limitations, yet
don’t get the spotlight.
Meanwhile, I’d love to see Middlebury or another
academic institution balance policies such as this with active
encouragement of students and professors to contribute to Wikipedia. Given
all the time and effort spent conducting research, some of that energy
could also be used to improve the quality of Wikipedia entries, particular
in terms of improving citations. Despite its flaws, Wikipedia is still one
of the most used reference tools in human history, so improving its overall
quality is in the interest of all of us. -andy
Filed under : Policy, Research
Getting started with college research papers
Some people have nightmares about fierce monsters that
eternally chase them through endless, dimly lit corridors. Other miserable
folks have nightmares of a strange, green kid with razor-sharp teeth that
simply won't die! Okay, this one is mine. I still have this one some
nights. I digress.
The point is that a common nightmare for many people who
are beginning college is the research paper.
Admit it: the first time you had a teacher assign one of
these beasties your heart started beating faster and your vision briefly
darkened. Thoughts of murder may have flitted through your mind. But if
this teacher was good, like mine was, you found that although writing a
college research paper is time consuming and difficult, there are some keys
and tips to getting started right.
Now, the subject of college research papers is a big
one, and there is no way to discuss every aspect of the process of
identifying a research question, finding sources, organizing information,
making an outline, writing multiple drafts, revision, editing and polishing
a final submission. So in this article let's focus entirely on how to get started
correctly with a college research paper. The steps are these and should be
done in this order: 1. Identify a question, 2. Find sources, 3. Organize
information, 4. Make an outline.
#1 Identify a question
You simply must identify a research question before you
begin to do anything else. What is more, you want to phrase this as a
question, rather than a statement. Your statement will only be good after
you have researched information to answer your controlling question. So
instead of allowing your research to be controlled by the statement,
"Hamlet was an indecisive anti-hero who caused pain to others,"
you want to phrase a question. Perhaps an appropriate question would be:
"Was Hamlet a hero or a victim?" As you research, you can refine
your question until it helps you focus your pending essay's topic.
#2. Find sources
This is often the most time consuming part of the
college research paper process. The only other step that should take such a
long time is the writing and re-writing step. Finding sources can be a
painful process of searching online periodical and journal databases. It
might involve going to your University library's periodical library. One
incredibly useful tip that I wish I had thought of myself is this: once you
find an article that is related to your topic, look at its bibliography.
Often you will find sources there that you will be able to use, and you
will have found them without having to spend hours toiling through
As you search for sources, don't make decisions about
their utility for your project based only on the title. Read the abstract
in full, and take a few minutes to skim the article. Read section headings,
section introductory paragraphs, topic sentences, and conclusions.
Usually you can decide whether to use a source in about
five minutes. This is time well spent.
Once you have multiple sources that are related to your
research question, you are ready to read and organize the information.
Thus, step #3 is really an extension of step #2. We will reading and
organizing in the next section.
#3 Organize information
Organizing information really has two sub-steps: initial
organization and verification.
Initial organization can happen as you read your sources
for the first time. You can do this by color coding or by simply labeling
methodically. For example, let's say that your research question is
"Was Hamlet a hero or victim?" You can label information that
says he was a hero with a number 1. Info that claims Hamlet was a victim of
circumstance can be labeled with number 2. Information that is related but
does not take a position can be number 3. And so on.
The main point here is that you want to be as focused on
your question as possible. If you have not found information on your
research question, you may need to refine the question or simply change it
around. But a word to the wise: Don't have too general of a research
question, such as "Why is Hamlet such a popular play?"
The second step of organization is verification. The
best way to do this is by using note cards. Take your note cards and jot
down the information you highlighted and/or labeled in your articles. Label
the cards with the same number. Then put all the 1's together and do the
same with 2's, 3's and so on. Then look through your 1's and decide what
order the information should be presented in. Now you have a physical
outline and you are ready to write down your outline on paper.
#4 Make an outline
A good outline has a thesis statement, sections clearly
indicated, topic sentences for each paragraph of each section, and concise
statements of what information and details will be in each paragraph and in
In order to have a good thesis statement, which belongs
at the end of your paper's introduction, you need to have found an answer,
or answers, to your research question. Your thesis statement should state
clearly and concisely precisely what your paper is about. The thesis
statement should not refer to any sources at all, it should be a statement
only. For example, "Hamlet starts as a victim, but soon becomes
proactive and by the end of the play is a hero."
Each section can have a title to indicate its subject.
However, this does not mean that each paragraph does not need a powerful
topic sentence. In other words, every paragraph in your body sections
simply must have a topic sentence that controls the content of that
paragraph. Never forget this. Good topic sentences guide your reader
through your essay and keep the interest.
So now, with these four steps, you are ready to get started
right on your college research paper. Get to writing right!
more about this author, Jared