By Shay Digenan
It’s probably nothing new to hear that Wikipedia is not the most reliable source on the internet. It’s been pounded into our brains since junior high, and I would venture to say, with the expansion of technology, first and second graders these days have begun to hear it already.
While Wikipedia can be a decent reference for finding out quick, easily-checkable facts, like when your favorite band toured their first album or how long Brad and Angelina were together, it should never be a go-to for a direct quote or paraphrase in an academic paper. Even though Wikipedia is not a viable source when writing academic content of substance and quality, it does provide one major advantage that too many people overlook—the references section at the bottom of each page. The references section often provides a plethora of sources that you might actually be able to use in an academic paper. Citations for Wikipedia articles can include basically anything, but it’s a great start in finding credible material that meets your academic needs.
Let’s take a look at the Wikipedia article about the 2012 election of the President of the United States (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2012), which has 163 items listed in the references section. Most of these sources are from news sources like the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, and local/state newspapers, which are acceptable sources for an academic paper. By starting at this Wikipedia article instead of Google, you can bypass a search that might have returned extraneous articles that simply contain references to this election, how it compares to 2016, etc.
A Wikipedia article doesn’t need to have 100+ references to be an excellent starting point on sources, though. The article on protein biosynthesis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_biosynthesis) is much shorter than the one on the 2012 election and has a grand total of 3 references. However, the first link takes the reader to a 9-page journal article published in Cell Reports that explains the entire scientific process and its contexts.
While at least Wikipedia acknowledges the obvious fallacy of being an encyclopedia that anyone can edit, the risk that one runs by relying solely on Wikipedia for credible information is too large to ignore (especially taking into consideration that your grade is on the line). It’s also not enough to rely solely on whatever sources Wikipedia provides. Use this same method of checking references for journal articles to add even more reputable sources to your paper and improve your knowledge of that particular subject.