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From the author of How to Use Wikipedia for Research

How to Use Wikipedia for Research

A cautious researcher, then, would not take any Wikipedia article as the final word on a topic. I like the approach of "trust but verify"—that is, use Wikipedia as a base or overview for your research, but then independently verify the information you find there. It's all a matter of starting with Wikipedia but then going beyond that with your own verifiable research.

In addition, it's important to remember that Wikipedia is not an original source of information. Like any encyclopedia, it repeats only information that originates in other sources. And you should never cite secondary sources such as Wikipedia in any formal research paper or report.

Think of it this way. Wikipedia retells stories that were reported elsewhere; Wikipedia doesn't do the reporting. It assembles information from a variety of sources, but doesn't create any information of its own. It's a consolidator of information, not a creator—just like any traditional encyclopedia.

It's a matter of primary versus secondary sources. When writing a school paper or preparing a research report, primary sources—the original source of the information—can and should be cited. Secondary sources—Wikipedia and other encyclopedias—should not. You want your paper to reflect as close a relationship to the primary sources as possible. Wikipedia is too far removed to be acceptable.

Wikipedia, then, should be thought of as a source of background information for the topic at hand, not the ultimate source of details. You can trust what you read in a Wikipedia article to a point, but you should always verify what you read.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should never copy the exact text from a Wikipedia article into any scholarly or research paper and then try to pass it off as original work. This is plagiarism, pure and simple, and will eventually be discovered.

For these reasons, then, many schools won't accept papers sourced partially or exclusively from Wikipedia. Relying on a secondary source to essentially write the paper for you is viewed as lazy scholarship. If a teacher sees or senses that you've based your paper on a Wikipedia article, you'll likely get low marks—or have your paper rejected completely.

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