Students use Wikipedia for first source of information

More than 80 percent of college students use Wikipedia as a research tool, according to a report released by the University of Washington.

The report detailed a survey of more than 2,300 students, many of whom said they used Wikipedia as a starting point for course-related research papers. According to the study, nearly 90 percent of the students polled said they also use the online encyclopedia for non-course-related research.

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that is easily edited and stores millions of pages devoted to various topics with more than 3 million published pages in English.

Provost Nowell Donovan said the site should not be used for research papers because many Wikipedia articles are not well-written, and may include incorrect information because the site could be edited easily by anyone with an internet connection. He said that if at any point a student were to take information from Wikipedia, or any other source, and use it in his or her paper without citing the source, the student would have plagiarized that work. Donovan said he could not say whether there was any correlation between Wikipedia users and those who plagiarize because he had not seen any data outlining a connection between the two.

Trevor Baham, freshman political science major, said he uses the site about once a week because it is a quick and easy way to look up information, and his computer came equipped with a Wikipedia bookmark. He said he uses the site to get background information or to familiarize himself with terms such as acronyms used to identify organizations.

Baham said he thought the site was reliable to a certain extent and thought the site’s reliability has improved since its creation in 2001, but he would never use the site for a research paper.

“I think it’s more reliable, but I still wouldn’t trust it totally,” Baham said.

Some Wikipedia entries, however, do link to reliable third-party sources as a way to trace where the information came from.

Adam Schiffer , associate professor of political science, said he agreed that the site’s credibility has improved over the past few years, but he said he would still not recommend using the site as a primary source for research because there are more direct sources available. Some scholars have exaggerated the problems with Wikipedia, but the site’s visibility and popularity has contributed to the improvement, he said.

“The more people who have eyes on it, the less chance that errors will go uncorrected,” Schiffer said.