Wikipedia a good source to begin with, but not for primary research

Students hear it all the time when preparing to write academic papers: “Wikipedia is not a source!” But don’t count Wikipedia out completely.

The online encyclopedia can be easily edited, which makes the credibility of the information questionable. Therefore, it’s perfectly understandable that it should not be cited as a primary source for any research paper.

But the site is a good place to go for a basic overview of information on a certain topic of interest. Some entries lead to other more reliable sources for more detailed information. Wikipedia has also created a monitoring system for some controversial topics through which entries are screened for accuracy. If the information is false, the post is taken down. While this does create a higher level of credibility, users should realize there’s a lag between when an entry is posted and when it is checked for accuracy, and Wikipedia is still not reliable enough to be used for academic research.

While the Internet age has made researching astronomically easier, when working on an academic paper, the library is always one’s friend. While it may be the more time consuming and “old school” option, books often hold more details than other types of sources. Furthermore, academic databases have electronic versions of books on seemingly every topic imaginable.

Special projects editor Courtney Jay for the editorial board.