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Wikipedia

Use this guide to learn about Wikipedia, when to use it, and how you can become a contributor.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Wikipedia is made up of over 30 million articles in 287 languages, with 4.5 million articles written in English. The name is a combination of  wiki (a website that many people can edit) and encyclopedia (a collection of reference works on a wide variety of subjects).

The goal of Wikipedia is to provide general overviews and neutral facts about a wide variety of topics. Unlike traditional encyclopedias, Wikipedia articles are written by anonymous volunteers, not experts. They are not sources of original research or expert analysis. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons. "Hercules holding Wikipedia" by Xhienne.

Alternative Sources

Wikipedia isn't the only place where you can find encyclopedia entries. As an FSU student, you have access to many other print books, e-books, and databases that can provide you with more reliable information on the same topic. Just remember that even though these sources may be more secure, they still should not be used to replace books and peer-reviewed articles as sources in your paper

Should I use Wikipedia as a source in my paper?

 The short answer is NO. It is easy to find information on Wikipedia, but it is important to remember that the articles on this site are not as reliable as they may seem. This page explains some of the pros and cons of Wikipedia in order to help you make educated decisions about the sources you use in your research. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons. "Wikipedia Banner" by Fleshgrinder.

Wikipedia Do's and Don'ts

DO:

Wikipedia can be a helpful starting point when beginning research on a topic that is unfamiliar to you. Try using vocabulary you find in an article as keywords when searching the FSU library catalog and databases

Consult the References section at the bottom of each article. This section sometimes contains citations for books and peer-reviewed articles that you can use. Remember to always find the source and read it for yourself if you want to use it. 

- Use Wikipedia's sister site Wikimedia Commons to find free images and other media files to use in your project. Just remember to properly cite whatever you use.

 

DON'T:

- Do not use Wikipedia as a source in your paper or research project. Since we have no idea who the authors are, information may be biased or incorrect. Even Wikipedia itself warns you not to use the site for that purpose.

- Do not use sources cited in a Wikipedia page without 1. investigating the source yourself and 2. verifying that it is an acceptable source. If you aren't sure, ask your professor or a librarian. Be especially critical of websites that are listed as sources.

- Many articles are assessed according to Wikipedia's grading scheme. Be especially careful when reading an article with a lower (B- or C-class) rating. You can find the rating by clicking on the "Talk" tab in the top left-hand corner of each article.

When Wikipedia gets it wrong

Sometimes, Wikipedia editors attempt to mislead readers by posting information that is not true.  Here are a few examples.

Hoaxes

An article for a completely fictional war called the Bicholim Conflict was on Wikipedia for five years and even attained a Good Article rating before being discovered.

A student named Chen Fang created a fake article about himself, stating that he was a mayor of a small town in China. The hoax went unnoticed for over seven years.

One professor even had students develop elaborate Wikipedia hoaxes for a college course.

More Wikipedia hoaxes and vandalism

Fictitious References

Sometimes, articles may use fake references in order to support a hoax or plant advertising or spam on a page. Other issues include representing opinions or essays as neutral facts, use of original research, and attack pages used to bully or defame its subject.

Be aware that even when editors have good intentions, they may unknowingly add incorrect information because they make mistakes or do not use reliable sources.

Subject Guide

Abby Scheel
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Guide Creator

This guide was created by Grace Kaletski.

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