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Note regarding the use of Wikipedia on this site

This site links to pages on the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia 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 College.


Wikipedia:General disclaimer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Wikipedia's notices

We may be wrongUse at your own riskWe are not doctorsWe can't help with law
You may disagree with what we include

This page has our disclaimer notice in simple language, so that it can be understood by more people.
For our official legal version, please see the English-language Wikipedia.


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 Wikipedia, you should remember that we cannot make sure that our information is checked by people who can make it complete, accurate or reliable.

That does not mean that there is not useful, correct information in Wikipedia; there is lots. However, Wikipedia cannot make sure the information here is correct. Any article may have been changed or vandalized by someone who thinks they know what is correct, but is not aware of the current facts of the topics they are writing about.

No formal peer review

We are working on ways to select and highlight reliable versions of articles. Our active community of editors uses tools such as the Special:Recentchanges and Special:Newpages feeds to monitor new and changing content. However, Wikipedia is not uniformly peer reviewed; while readers may correct errors or engage in casual peer review, they have no legal duty to do so and thus all information read here is without any implied warranty of fitness for any purpose or use whatsoever. Even articles that have been vetted by informal peer review or very good article processes may later have been edited inappropriately, just before you view them.

None of the contributors, sponsors, administrators, or anyone else connected with Wikipedia in any way whatsoever can be responsible for the appearance of any inaccurate or libelous information or for your use of the information contained in or linked from these web pages.

No contract; limited license

Please make sure that you understand that the information provided here is being provided freely, and that no kind of agreement or contract is created between you and the owners or users of this site, the owners of the servers upon which it is housed, the individual Wikipedia contributors, any project administrators, sysops or anyone else who is in any way connected with this project or sister projects subject to your claims against them directly. You are being granted a limited license to copy anything from this site; it does not create or imply any contractual or extracontractual liability on the part of Wikipedia or any of its agents, members, organizers or other users.

There is no agreement or understanding between you and Wikipedia regarding your use or modification of this information beyond the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL); neither is anyone at Wikipedia responsible should someone change, edit, modify or remove any information that you may post on Wikipedia or any of its associated projects.


Any of the trademarks, service marks, collective marks, design rights or similar rights that are mentioned, used or cited in the articles of the Wikipedia encyclopedia are the property of their respective owners. Their use here does not imply that you may use them for any other purpose other than for the same or a similar informational use as contemplated by the original authors of these Wikipedia articles under the GFDL licensing scheme. Unless otherwise stated Wikipedia and Wikimedia sites are neither endorsed nor affiliated with any of the holders of any such rights and as such Wikipedia cannot grant any rights to use any otherwise protected materials. Your use of any such or similar incorporeal property is at your own risk.

Personality rights

Wikipedia contains material which may portray an identifiable person who is alive or deceased recently. The use of images of living or recently deceased individuals is, in some jurisdictions, restricted by laws pertaining to personality rights, independent from their copyright status. Before using these types of content, please ensure that you have the right to use it under the laws which apply in the circumstances of your intended use. You are solely responsible for ensuring that you do not infringe someone else's personality rights.

Jurisdiction and legality of content

Publication of information found in Wikipedia may be in violation of the laws of the country or jurisdiction from where you are viewing this information. The Wikipedia database is stored on a server in the State of Florida in the United States of America, and is maintained in reference to the protections afforded under local and federal law. Laws in your country or jurisdiction may not protect or allow the same kinds of speech or distribution. Wikipedia does not encourage the violation of any laws; and cannot be responsible for any violations of such laws, should you link to this domain or use, reproduce, or republish the information contained herein.

Not professional advice

If you need specific advice (for example, medical, legal, financial, or risk management) please seek a professional who is licensed or knowledgeable in that area.

Thank you for reading this; we hope you enjoy your time at Simple English Wikipedia.

Retrieved from "http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:General_disclaimer"

Category: Wikipedia disclaimer notices




Wikipedia:Academic use

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.[1][2]

Follow two simple rules:

[edit] 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 information.

[edit] 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 date.
  • 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 it.
  • 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.

[edit] Wikipedia links to many credible sources

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.

[edit] References

  1. ^ New Age judge blasts Apple | The Register
  2. ^ Avoid Wikipedia, warns Wikipedia chief | The Register

[edit] External links

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Academic_use"

Categories: Wikipedia resources for researchers




Oakland University, Kresge Library, Rochester, MI 48309

Wikipedia & Research

What is Wikipedia?

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:

  • Authority
    • 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:
  • Accuracy
  • Objectivity
    • 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.
  • Currency
    • Even though entries are often updated minutes after related events occur, issues of objectivity and authority arise.
    • For example:
      • Results 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 will.
  • Coverage
    • 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.

Do not use information from Wikipedia in your paper. Verify everything you read on Wikipedia in other authoritative sources, and cite that information in your assignments.

What should I use instead of Wikipedia?

Happy Researching!

Further Reading:

Created on 3/5/07 by Sarah Nagelbush & Tricia Juettemeyer / Last updated on 3/7/09 by Sarah Nagelbush & Tricia Juettemeyer




Dr. Alan Liu, University of California, Santa Barbara

Student Wikipedia Use Policy (about this policy statement)  

To 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:

  1. 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,Wikipedia 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 burned.)

  2. 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:
    1. 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 research.
    2. 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 contested terrain.
    3. 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 Washington.")

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:

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 draft version):




Gould Library, Carleton College

Using Wikipedia

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.

Limitations and 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 Source

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 Research Guides.

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 Curricular Tool

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 Wikipedia's page for school and university projects. A section on considerations and suggestions for projects is included on the page.

Citing Wikipedia

Wikipedia: Citing Wikipedia
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).

Citing Sources
Gould Library's guide to citation guides and handbooks and tips on citing internet sources.

Further Information

"7 Things You Should Know About Wikipedia"
by the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative
A quick overview of the pros and cons of using Wikipedia as an academic resource.

"The Book Stops Here"
by Daniel H. Pink, Wired
A profile of Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, and a brief history of the project.

"I Want My Wikipedia!"
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.

"Evaluating 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.

"Internet Encyclopedias Go Head to Head" (behind subscription wall: click here to view from off-campus)
by Jim Giles, Nature
A study conducted by Nature finds that Wikipedia is only slightly less accurate than the online Encyclopaedia Britannica, igniting a firestorm of controversy.

"Fatally Flawed" (PDF)
by Encylopaedia Britannica, Inc.
Encyclopaedia Britannica
responds point-by-point to Nature's study.

"A Stand Against Wikipedia"
by Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed
Middlebury College's History Department bans the use of Wikipedia as a research source in academic work.

"Wikipedia Makes No Guarantee of Validity"
Wikipedia's disclaimer on the validity of its contents and links to the disclaimers of other online encyclopedias.

"Wikipedia: External Peer Review"
Wikipedia's own page on the Nature/Britannica controversy and other critical reviews of Wikipedia's content.

"Wikipedia Reaches One Million Articles"
by The Wikimedia Foundation
A press release announcing the addition of the one millionth entry in English to Wikipedia.

"See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign"
by John Borland, Wired
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)

    How-to's, Student 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 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.



Yahoo Answers

Why arent we allowed to use wikipedia for research reports?

Best Answer - Chosen by Voters

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 good".

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 proud of.

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 sources.

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 specifically.

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 unenforceable edicts.”

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 this one.

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

by Jared Garrett

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 catalogues.

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 what order.

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!

Learn more about this author, Jared Garrett.