Answered By: Iris Carroll
Last Updated: Jun 29, 2016     Views: 5

Wikipedia has its place in research.

How to Use Wikipedia for Research:

It is a popular source that can be really useful for preliminary reading. According to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers:

“Preliminary reading is essential as you evaluate and refine your topic.”

Wikipedia can help you evaluate your topic by answering questions like:

  • Is information on my topic readily available?
  • Is the information scholarly enough for academic use?
  • Will this topic continue to hold my interest?

Wikipedia can help you refine your topic by answering these types of questions:

  • What specific aspects of my topic appeal to me? Which do not?
  • How are others writers and researchers exploring this topic?
  • What background information on my topic is relevant/interesting/new to me?

So, you can use Wikipedia for a brief overview of your topic, paying special attention to the sources cited in the Wikipedia article to move on to published books and articles that go into more depth and analysis of your topic. You'll then cite those more substantive and/or scholarly sources in your paper because those are the ones you really used to explore your topic fully.

Problems with Wikipedia:

The biggest problem with using Wikipedia as a research source has to do with the authority of the author. Because Wikipedia is a publicly-edited source, anyone can add content. The authors might not be scholars or authorities on the topics covered in the articles to which they contribute. When you're writing a research paper you want to make sure you're relying on information that is written by experts on your topic. This is the reason many teachers will not allow you to use Wikipedia for research.

For additional information about sources to use for research, check out our research guide entitled, Know Your Sources linked below.