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Searching Wikipedia

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"Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an openly editable model." - Wikipedia

This online encyclopedia is a collaborative, cooperative effort by volunteer writers to provide up-to-date information on any subject imaginable.

Wikipedia is one of the most popular reference websites online, with millions of visitors every month. There are more than 19 million articles and 82.000 active contributors.

Just as human knowledge evolves, so does our wiki coverage of it. Wiki articles are continually edited and improved over time, and in general this results in an upward trend of quality and a growing consensus over a fair balanced representation of information. It will tend to gain citations, new sections, and so forth. Dubious statements tend to be removed over time, but they may have a long life before they are removed.

However, few articles are of encyclopedic quality from the start. Indeed, many articles commence their lives as partisan drafts, and it may take a long process of discussion, debate, and argument to yield a consensus form. Other articles may, for a while, become caught up in a heavily unbalanced viewpoint, and it can take some time to restore a balanced consensus. Wikipedia has various processes to reach consensus about an article, including mechanisms to bring in broader participation to controversial articles.

Keep in mind that an encyclopedia is intended to be a starting point for serious research, not an endpoint. Though many casual inquiries will be satisfied merely by referring to Wikipedia, you will learn more by accessing the print and online resources we reference. We encourage you to verify our content by using independent sources. We also invite you to contribute back by fixing any errors you may find and adding relevant material that will be of interest to future researchers.

Evaluating Information - A WilmU Graduation Competency

Evaluating sources is a crucial step in the process of library research.  Whether you're looking at a web page, citation, a physical item or an electronic version of a book, article or review, ask yourself the same questions. Is it a useful, reliable resource for your specific research need? Why?

A few things to consider when evaluating a source:

Content/Coverage - The content should be consistent with what other experts in the filed are saying and be written in a style that is appropriate for the audience it is intended for (general public, other cholars, etc.) The item may also give new information about a topic.

The Author - Who wrote the item and what are their credentials? They might be content experts or journalists covering a topic. The level of knowledge in a field that the author posesses influences the content of the source. Also check for the Publisher of a source  - is it from a government agency, university press, or other reputable source.

Reviews - Find out what others are saying about the source by locating reviews of the book (try Proquest, Academic Search Premier or JStor). These are often written by others in the field who could speak to the accuracy and appropriateness of the source.

The Date - Is the date of the item appropriate for your topic? In some fields information changes rapidly making older publications less useful. This could be true for medical or scientific topics. For historical topics, items published during the time period or that are seminal (an important work in the field that influenced later developments) are appropriate. Don't simply disregard an item because it was published in the 1980s - it might be the prefect source!

Do's and Don't's


  • use Wikipedia to become familiar with a topic or as a starting point for research
  • use Wikipedia to find more search terms or keywords for your research topic
  • maintain a level of skepticism when reading Wikipedia articles


  • cite Wikipedia articles in your bibliography for assignments or papers
  • treat information on Wikipedia as facts, especially when concerning legal or medical advice

Can you use Wikipedia for academic research?

There are ways you can use Wikipedia in your academic research. At a college or university level, many faculty will not want you to use an encyclopedia as a cited source, so you should check with your instructor.  Nevertheless, an encyclopedia can give you a great overview of your topic as well as suggest key words for further searching in the library catalog or library article databases. Check out the 3.5 minute video from the Cooperative Library Instruction Project (CLIP).