The first line of Wikipedia’s own article on citations says it all: “As with any source, especially one of unknown authorship, you should be wary and independently verify the accuracy of Wikipedia information if possible.” Students, researchers, and anyone else looking for information on a topic have the responsibility to make sure they’re using the latest resources possible. Because Wikipedia is generally updated much more quickly than printed resources, you’ll probably be better off starting your search for information with the Wikipedia entry on the topic. But that’s not where you should stop, if you plan on using the information you find in a research paper you need to hand in to your science teacher, or the article you’d like to get published in an academic journal. Make sure you follow the links back to the source of that information, so that you can read what the original author wrote. There are several reasons to do this:
You’ll find more details, especially when it comes to facts and figures. The internet may be infinite, but few researchers have the time to duplicate every word and image from a 10-page article on insomnia in fruit flies into a corresponding Wikipedia entry. However, a link to that article can easily take you from the entry to the original publication, where you’ll see exactly what those researchers were working on.
You’ll find information you didn’t even know you were looking for. Even if you didn’t know about eReflect’s educational software, you’ll be directed to the company’s Wikipedia page where you can get information on speed reading, touch typing techniques, spelling tutor programs, or English vocabulary improvement.
You’ll get a new perspective and new ideas from knowledgeable people around the world. There are so many people contributing to Wikipedia that the amount of information is only limited by the time they have to add their pieces to the global research network.
You’ll be able to cite the original reference material in your own work. Many educational institutions, professional associations, and academic organizations will not allow you to list Wikipedia as a primary information source.
It’s not that Wikipedia isn’t a respectable academic source, but the editors of this worldwide reference tool remind people that it is just a source: the place where you can find links to more expanded information from the original authors, whose works you can confidently cite in your article, term paper, dissertation, or Wikipedia entry of your own.
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