Ask a question

Is wikipedia now a reliable source to use for academic papers?

I was wondering if I can use wikipedia as a source now that it's so big.

14 Answers by Expert Tutors

Tutors, sign in to answer this question.
Sheri F. | Serving up Creative and Catered Spanish LessonsServing up Creative and Catered Spanish ...
5.0 5.0 (85 lesson ratings) (85)

No, you should not use wikipedia as a source for academic papers. Generally speaking, the scientific articles are quite accurate(of course there is always change and new discoveries), but there is reason to distrust any other type of article. There could be slight biases in other types of articles (history, religion, etc) because they are written (or at least the information is collected) by people who are very interested in the topics. Usually, these are people who are very passionate and especially if they are in academia, they have argued from certain point of views. Remember that leaving out information counts as a form of bias. Furthermore, the longer articles tend to take parts from other wikipedia articles, so you would have to trust that those articles are accurate. History (and other topics) are written by the winners.

This brings up points about the lack of accountability:

This professor brings up an interesting point here:

I would say that it is perfectly fine to use wikipedia to get a good idea, but refer to the websites and sources that are cited in the article. Go directly to those sources and if those are legitimate, use those cited sources as part of your cited sources. 


I would just like to add that bias in Wikipedia articles is not a negative point against it.

The fact is that all history (and other types of articles) is biased. It is impossible for anyone to write a history that is unbiased. Nobody can include every possible detail in what he is writing; there must always be decisions made about what to include and what to leave out. That creates bias, no matter how hard the author may try to avoid being biased. Even a first-hand report cannot be unbiased, for the same reason.

As long as the reader is aware that what he is reading is biased, this is usually not a serious problem. What is a serious problem is if a person ever believes that he is reading an unbiased history.

You are completely correct. I emphasized the bias because the student who posted the question might not have been aware, and it did not occur to me to also mention that all sources have a bias. I wanted to stress the bias to make the original poster more open to other sources. Unfortunately, many high school and college students are not taught to read critically and analyze both the source and the argument. I even mentioned at the end that the sources cited at the end of the wikipedia article are good to use, so I am not anti-wikipedia. 
This link ( shows why we have to be extra critical about sources on the internet. Images taken by journalists in places such as Syria and Iraq, which are legitimate primary sources, are being appropriated as images in Gaza. It seems legitimate, but the images are recycled. There are atrocities occurring there and it is right to raise awareness about the problem, but the images are not accurate. 
John R. | John R: Math, Science, and History TeacherJohn R: Math, Science, and History Teach...
4.6 4.6 (55 lesson ratings) (55)

I would not trust Wikipedia as a source.  I also would not accept is a reliable source when grading papers as a as teacher.

I do believe that Wikipedia can be used to help in writing papers.  Instead of quoting from what Wikipedia says, you can use the citations at the bottom of the page to help guide you to other sources.  You should then acquire these sources for yourself.  That will require you to determine the reliability of each individual source.

In other words, do not use Wikipedia as a source for academic papers.  Use it as a reference tool to help speed up your search for other resources.


Alex M. | Writing and Social Science Tutor with Psychology BackgroundWriting and Social Science Tutor with Ps...
5.0 5.0 (20 lesson ratings) (20)
You should not cite Wikipedia as a scholarly source, but that does not mean you should not use Wikipedia. It can be a great starting point for learning about an unfamiliar topic, and sometimes it offers the best way to track down those pesky facts and statistics that more scholarly, analytically inclined sources gloss over.
Wikipedia attempts to synthesize a huge amount of information and present it as concisely as possible to give you the gist of a topic, what some of the recognized experts have to say about it, where they agree and disagree, etc. To ensure you're getting good scholarly information, you have to go directly to the sources Wikipedia cites and, if necessary, to the sources they cite. The more reliable the source, the more reliable its sources.
Jeffrey K. | Tutor for Spanish 1-3, Pre-Algebra & Algebra 1, Word 2010, grammaTutor for Spanish 1-3, Pre-Algebra & Alg...

I, too, would not use Wikipedia as a source; however, Wikipedia is great as a starting point--in other words, look at their external sources. If those sources are reliable, you could use them in your paper.

Elda C. | Italian language InstructorItalian language Instructor
No, students are strongly discouraged from using Wikipedia as a source in academic writing. One should always rely on scholarly journals and peer-reviewed articles in academic writing. Peer-review is the gold standard for source reliability for the following reasons: (1) the author(s) are experts (professors and/or researchers), and their names are mentioned, (2) the source contains a methodology section wherein the researcher(s) explains how he or she conducted the research on the topic of interest, (3) the article contains tables and a reference list. Learning to do a library search of scholarly articles to incorporate in academic writing for expository, persuasive, or other types of essays is a very important skill. 
Rebekah H. | Japanese tutor with MA degree and experience living in JapanJapanese tutor with MA degree and experi...
4.9 4.9 (26 lesson ratings) (26)
The following example might give a sense of the problematic nature of Wikipedia articles.
When I was an undergraduate I was assigned the task of editing a Wikipedia article and writing about the experience. I chose to make some additions to the article on the historical figure Raja Ram Mohan Roy. My posts resulted in a dispute with another editor who was invested in maintaining a particular image of this historical figure and therefore removed edits that gave other perspectives.
The above might be a bit of an extreme example because Roy is a famous political figure but I think it can still give a sense of what can go on behind the scenes to produce the Wikipedia articles you read. Because Wikipedia is not peer-reviewed, a single individual (or group of individuals) can use a Wikipedia article as their personal project to give whatever interpretation they wish. It could be useful to look at the history of the article to see what disputes, if any, have transpired. Though I would still advise against using Wikipedia articles as sources. They can provide useful references to allow you to do your own research though the quality really varies by the article and some rely largely on outdated sources.
Another reason why you should go beyond Wikipedia in doing research is that your professors want to see that you have done the hard work of looking up sources in a library or online database. So no matter how good a Wikipedia article is you want to show your professors that you know how to do research and that you have worked hard.    
Alyce-Hannah G. | Just Calling Me Alyce Is All You Need To DoJust Calling Me Alyce Is All You Need To...
As someone who just graduated with my B.A., I have to tell you that I know of no teacher who accepts Wikipedia as a reliable source. You have to remember that one is allowed to change and add information to the site, so you have to realize that what is written is not necessarily coming from someone who knows the topic well. I agree with the person who said that academic journals are the best sources, but you can also use information from professional association sites, like the American Psychological Association if you are writing about psychology. When you write a research paper and need more academic journals, your local college or university usually has connections to databases that let you specify parameters such as peer-reviewed journal articles, which are the best sources. If you need more than just academic articles, then ask your librarian what kinds of places online or in the library may have information on your topic. They are experts at research and can help you enormously!
Jacqueline G. | Last Call: Summer College Counseling Sign-Up Special $65 hr/ Ends 7-31Last Call: Summer College Counseling Sig...
4.9 4.9 (160 lesson ratings) (160)

I actually was asked to write an article about this issue for The Washington Post.  It ended up being syndicated by several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Morning News and others.  I hope it proves helpful as you ponder this question.

The Washington Post

Wikiality in My Classroom
By Jacqueline Hicks Grazette
Sunday, March 25, 2007

It's another Monday morning, and I click online and scroll through my e-mail for the take-home exams my high school students finished over the weekend. I am delighted that most look good, but as I read one I notice an answer that ends with a footnote, something I have never seen on a take-home test.

The footnote directed me to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute articles and information. My high school student was letting me know that he had used it to help him answer this exam question. What was not clear was how he had used it. What part of the answer relied on Wikipedia? Had he just lifted something verbatim and pasted it in? Had he been caught up in comedian Stephen Colbert's infamous "Wikiality" -- an online world made up of collections of untruths that are widely accepted?

In the online world in which teachers and students navigate, ambiguity of this kind is daily fare. For young people who have grown up with instant access to information, it seems like no big deal. But to educators, trained in accurate sourcing and correct attribution, deciding what the limits should be often poses a dilemma.

Wikipedia use has become a hot issue on high school and college campuses. The history department of Middlebury College has declared that Wikipedia "is not an appropriate source for citation," though it can be useful in pointing students to sources of more reliable information.

But Wikipedia isn't the only online source kids use, and teachers' concerns are broader. Googling has made even graduate students more apt to click online before they click "on-mind" to complete assignments. I had a graduate intern who wasted hours trying to find a phone number through Google even though it was readily available in the local phone book. That tells me that online search engines may be taking a toll on students' ability to take initiative and be resourceful problem solvers.

A few clicks on the computer and today's students find data that might have taken my 1980s college generation days or weeks to track down in a library. That may not necessarily be a good thing, because we may be developing the same kind of dependence that leads some to blame calculators for declining math skills.

Are we creating a generation of kids who can neither formulate a research plan nor analyze their findings? Jumping from page to page and source to source for quick "fact bites" on the Internet may weaken a student's ability to complete in-depth reading and carefully assess data, so important for critical thinking. As one student put it to me, "It's very hard for me to read a book or a long news article."

There is also the issue of plagiarism and cheating. When Duke University's Center for Academic Integrity (CAI) surveyed 12,000 college students and 18,000 high school students, roughly 40 percent of the college students and half the high school students indicated that they had cheated using online sources. This included such things as not citing those sources, purchasing exams and papers online, and cutting and pasting downloaded information. Exchanging e-mails about assignments that were not team projects was also cited as a less-than-kosher practice.

Many teachers do not know how to detect online cheating, and others are reluctant to report it, another CAI survey found. There is pressure to produce high achievers. Cheating scandals may bring bad publicity and drawn-out administrative procedures to a school. Worse, CAI's numbers suggest, today's networked students are part of a culture that considers online cheating "no big deal."

I saw support for that finding when I interviewed public and private high school students in the Washington area. Most knew of online cheating, and while they didn't condone it, the majority said they would not report it. "We are part of a networked society," one student told me. "Your world is different from ours. We are taught to share information and collaborate. We do it all the time. No one really cares where it came from."

That, in a sense, is the essence of online culture. Shareware sites (free programs and information) abound. Unattributed information constantly arrives in my inbox -- Internet "warnings," excerpts from articles, quotes and YouTube moments that someone thinks are a riot. Rarely is the author or source identified. News agencies quote from blogs.

Can we expect our students to model behavior that is any different from those of the adults around them? Princeton University thinks we can. A university Web site called Academic Integrity at Princeton acknowledges the paradigm shift that students I interviewed described: "Much of the ethic of the Internet, which emerged from the computer culture of collaborative work . . . is in tension with the values and practices of traditional scholarship," it states.

Yet Princeton makes clear that it is not for students to decide what is "common knowledge," and insists that they obey the standard of traditional notation for intellectual property or suffer serious academic consequences. Its model of online ethical standards declares that non-print and electronic sources must be treated with the same respect as printed materials. It provides a protocol for citing electronic sources and warns about the quality of some online sources.

My student with the questionable footnote appreciates this type of direct guidance. As it turned out, even with the online help his answer was wrong. Outcomes like that may be the best antidote of all to a student's online dependency.

As we talked about his answer, he confessed that he used Wikipedia because he felt he could not comprehend or complete all the readings assigned, and was desperate to get the question answered. And he noted that parents or teachers often tell kids who ask questions, "Look it up online." He felt that kids are so programmed to be on the fast track in high school -- "from high school to the great college to the job to the 2.5 kids and the beautiful house" -- that no one really wants to slow down and deal with ethics.

Librarians are a key resource in teaching appropriate Internet skills. Many have invested in databases that direct kids toward quality online sources and research methods. Few students remember to use them, and even fewer teachers assign them as a first source for research projects. The Prince George's County Memorial Library System offers online tutors to help kids think through proper methods for finding answers. When I tested the program, it was not a "let me tell you the answer" approach but a true partnership of inquiry between the tutor and the student.

Not every teacher finds students' preference for online research a bad thing. Brad Rathgeber, a history teacher and academic technology director at the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, thinks the Internet, used properly, can be an innovative extension of the classroom. Students at Holton-Arms have turned their knowledge of Wikipedia's methods into an asset.

Rather than create "truthiness" (Colbert's word for something that sounds true but is not), Holton students work in teams to build "wiki" pages after extensive research and writing. This requires them not only to find facts and data, but also to analyze the quality of the information and present it in a well-written fashion, able to withstand scrutiny. That's important, because once the information is posted on a password-protected school server, other students and faculty rely on it.

In my American Government class, the Internet is a tool -- but only that -- as students study the Constitution through Supreme Court cases. Deciphering written opinions can be difficult for high schoolers, so I send them to the Supreme Court's Oyez Web site to listen to recordings of oral arguments. Their understanding of the constitutional issues improves dramatically when they hear the justices' questions and the lawyers' answers. Students can compare the give and take with their own analyses. In this way, the Supreme Court comes to life for them.

Making use of kids' natural comfort with online learning may require a different skill set for teachers. Most schools do not evaluate teachers on the innovative use of online technology. And with all the other watchdog roles on teachers' plates, many may not welcome the new role of monitoring Internet ethics. Changes will be needed in how teachers are trained and rewarded to fulfill the Internet's educational potential.

Will teachers be able to keep up with this iPod generation? The honest answer is that the jury is still out. The only thing we do know is that students are using online resources. We can no longer afford to ignore the "downloading" classroom.

Jacqueline Hicks Grazette taught American government, history and journalism at St. Albans School. 


TJ C. | Musical Public Speaking CafeMusical Public Speaking Cafe
5.0 5.0 (3 lesson ratings) (3)

Great question! Unfortunately, the "newer" we get in technology and age, the "farther" away we sometimes get from authenticity. When it comes to an actual paper or essay where you are delivering a non-fiction piece of educational information, your best resources will always be primary sources of documentation. First hand testimony or direct evidence for information is most effective in a paper or any true material of writing.

Examples of primary sources can include newspaper articles, periodicals, government documents, SOME books (many information in textbooks are practically outdated as soon as they print so this is tricky), maps, and even music. The best direct source is oral history, and if you can ever "find" an individual who was "around" during the time of your paper/essay, that's a first hand account and a truly informative/original paper.

Joe W. | Learning for a lifetime of success!Learning for a lifetime of success!

Wikipedia is generally not considered a scholarly source. It is not peer reviewed as most reputable journals or other online or print material are that are considered "expert" sources. Also, Wiki is open source. Anyone with Internet access can be published, and while there are many that contribute there (and some are indeed very passionate about the subject material) the chance that you take if you choose to use it is not worth finding out that the material is incorrect.

In a nutshell it has many potential pitfalls, so I recommend not using this as source material.

Good researching skills lead to new knowledge. Avoid the Wiki trap.

Chelsea P. | Sturgis Ky American History and Social StudiesSturgis Ky American History and Social S...

Wikipedia is not a good source of information.

We all know as we start researching Wikipedia is usually one of the web-sites to pop up. You should really expand you research. When you go to search engines like GOOGLE OR BING , for example, type in a specific event a long with the persons name as well. For example, I go to GOOGLE and type: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. There will be other sources to pop up besides Wikipedia. Before you decide to use Wikipedia see if the person has a web-site. Use key words.


Most of the time when you are in high school or college, instructors will advise you not to use Wikipedia. Its not reliable. Anyone can go in there and edit anything or even suggest an edit and apparently it'll happen. Be more open to other sources on the internet. Honestly, you can never go wrong by using books in the library. Just be sure to source your information at the end of the paper.

Roman C. | Masters of Education Graduate with Mathematics ExpertiseMasters of Education Graduate with Mathe...
4.9 4.9 (294 lesson ratings) (294)

I agree. I would also avoid using wikipedia. There are many circumstances in which it is a reliable source, but when writing papers, you want expert opinions on your topic, and not all writers of wikipedia articles are experts. For example, I am a math expert and very good at physics, but I am no expert in history. Yet I can log into wikipedia and edit a history article.

Also, you must be cautious when using wikipedia. There is a professor who has her students find and edit articles so that some information in them is wrong. She has them do this as an experiment to see how long it takes for wikipedia to detect these bad changes and correct them. When I took "History of Mathematics for Teachers", our professor brought up an article on Copernicus. In it, we saw it mention Copernicus' birth year as 2021 or so and death year as something like 2048. After I came home, I searched for Copernicus and found that this error has been corrected. Who knows, there may be people out there who create accounts on wikipedia and make similar bad edits but do so for the thrill of it. I would bet that wikipedia closes accounts that such people create.

Andrea C. | Effective, Experienced, CaringEffective, Experienced, Caring
5.0 5.0 (1 lesson ratings) (1)

I think if a Wikipedia article has good citations, then you can use it.  There are worse resources out there.  However, try to find better research, or double check anything you find in Wikipedia against other sources so you know your information is accurate.

Brian W. | Highly qualified writing, english, reading, and vocabulary tutorHighly qualified writing, english, readi...
5.0 5.0 (12 lesson ratings) (12)

One final point.  Wikipedia sources, word for word, sound canned, as if someone else obviously wrote them.  Your teacher, professor, (whatever) will most likely read your response and react negatively to it.