Wikipedia: to Cite or Not to Cite?

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Should I Cite Wikipedia?

There are many things to love about Wikipedia. It is completely free.  It is inclusive in scope because anyone can publish an entry on Wikipedia; in this sense, it represents democracy at its best.  The collaborative nature of Wikipedia is also commendable.  For someone who is just starting their research, it can be a good place to get some basic background information.

But should you cite Wikipedia in your papers?  Our recommendation (and we know this is predictable since we are librarians), is that you should not. Why? Anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, so the person writing about a topic may not be an expert.  The number of people contributing to a Wikipedia article can be numerous, and this may create some inconsistencies. Finally, unless the Wikipedia entry has an extensive list of references, you do not know where the writer got his or her information.

More importantly, as BC students, you have an array of online encyclopedias and other references books.  We link to the Online Encyclopedia of Social Work from our portal page, and this is a comprehensive, searchable four-volume work. You will find many other online encyclopedias and handbooks on each of our research guides.

Although we do not recommending citing Wikipedia, it can still be a very useful tool for you as you start your research. If you look up a topic you do not know very much about, a Wikipedia entry may give you some the background information that you need in order to do further research. Many Wikipedia entries include a list of references, and you may find that obtaining these references will help get you started. So by all means, use Wikipedia, but do not rely on it as a source that you will cite in your paper.

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About swllibrarian

The Social Work Library serves the research needs of students and faculty at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.
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