Is Wikipedia Reliable? – For Dummies

The creators of Wikipedia are the first to admit that not every entry is accurate and that it might not be the best source of material for research papers. Here are some points to consider:

  • Look for a slant. Some articles are fair and balanced, but others look more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If an article has only one source, beware.
  • Consider the source. Even if an article cites external sources, check out those sources to see whether they are being cited fairly and accurately — and do, in fact, reinforce the article’s points.
  • Look who’s talking. If you research the contributors themselves and find that they are experts in their fields, you can be more confident in the entry.
  • Start here, but keep going. Wikipedia should be a starting point for research but not your primary source for research material.

In this article by the authors discuss the accuracy of Wikipedia. Why would Wikipedia not be reliable? The reason is that the site is written on a wiki. A wiki is software that allows users to modify its content. I never realized how interactive this software was until I taught courses where students used a wiki in our online classroom. There have been studies to show that Wikipedia is as reliable as Britannica. However, even the creator of the site doesn’t recommend using it as a source for citing in studies. When you look up “Who Writes Wikipedia” on their site, the first answer they give is: You do! Because so many people are able to access the site and make changes, there can be errors. My personal experience has been good with Wikipedia. However, I always double-check to be sure they have listed reliable sources below to back up their information. I agree with Dan Woods and Peter Thoeny in the above article . . . you can start there to get an idea of a topic but look for information to back up what is stated. It should not be your only source of information.