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Wikipedia: Using Wikipedia

A guide to understanding, evaluating, and editing Wikipedia.

Is Wikipedia a Scholarly Source?

Topic Development

Not sure what to write about? Have a general idea but want to dig deeper? In that case, use Wikipedia as a tool to jumpstart your thinking about a topic. For example: 

You can also look at the "See Also" links at the bottom of most high-quality Wikipedia articles to find topics related to your interests.

Finding Keywords

When searching academic databases, like JSTOR or Gale, students often have difficulty coming up with the right search terms-- or keywords-- to use. After all, if you are new to a subject, how can you know the right terminology needed to find scholarly research on the topic?

In that case, Wikipedia can help:

  • Look at the "Contents" list at the top of high-quality Wikipedia articles
  • Look for specialized or unique vocabulary used in the article
  • Click on some of the links listed in the "References" section and read those articles as well

Write down any common terms, names, organizations, or ideas you come across that are specificly related to your topic and use those keywords to search academic databases for more appropriate resources to use in your research.

Citing Wikipedia

Remember, Wikipedia is usually not an acceptable source for college-level assigments, however it may be appropriate in some cases. When in doubt, ask your professor.

APA:

Plagiarism. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 10, 2004, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism

MLA:

Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2004, July 22). FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved August 10, 2004, from http://www.wikipedia.org

Chcago: 

Wikipedia contributors, "Plagiarism," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Plagiarism&oldid=5139350 (accessed August 10, 2004).

You can find more information on the Citing Wikipedia page or click on "Cite this Page" under the Tools sections in the left sidebar of every Wikipedia article!

Using Wikipedia for Your Research

Go to the Source

Remember, Wikipedia is not considered an appropriate source for college-level assignments. In fact, you should avoid citing any encyclopedias (also called "tertiary sources") in your research. Instead, look at the References and Bibliography sections and consider using those sources instead.

Be aware: just because something is cited in a Wikipedia article does not mean it is "scholarly" or appropriate for your assignment. When in doubt, ask a librarian or your professor.

Locating Other Sources

Well-formed Wikipedia articles have a list of useful and often scholarly sources listed at the end of each page under "References", "Bibliography", or "Further Reading." In many cases, there is a hyperlink to the actual item. In some cases, however, you may need to search for the item yourself.

For books: Search the library catalog by the book's title or try Link+ if we don't have it.

For articles: Try Google Scholar first and search using the article's title. If you can't get access to it from there, use our Finding Full Text guide.

For anything else, a simple Google search may work. If you have trouble finding it, ask a librarian. We're experts at that sort of thing. =)