Everyone who’s ever written an academic paper knows that academia in general doesn’t much care for Wikipedia. Citing the Internet’s largest open encyclopedia is more or less a guaranteed fast track to a failing grade, and a great many experts caution against using it, stating that the information contained on the site is both incomplete and unreliable.

It’s not hard to understand why they hold these views, either: anyone can edit a wiki page, and although there are certainly a great many users who make it their mission to seek out errors and correct mistakes, they can’t be everywhere at once, nor are they infallible. Wikipedia is, at best, an imperfect source. At it’s worst, it’s a completely unreliable source of information. In reality, it’s somewhere in between.

Wikipedia’s actually a pretty awesome starting point if you’re seeking to learn more about a particular topic, whether your pursuits are academic or simply steeped in personal interest. Many of the articles on the site (most, in fact) cite sources of their own, and provide enough knowledge for a very basic framework- though I’d caution against setting it up as the only framework for your information.

What you’ll want to do when using Wikipedia for research, then, is look at the sources linked in the article you’re reading. Track them down, and have a look at them. Use them to fill in any knowledge gaps left by the Wikipedia article, and to fill in any holes in your research. In other words, use Wikipedia- but don’t use it in the way you’d use any other source of research. Instead, think of it as a repository of information,a  place where you can go when you’re not sure where to look next.

Chances are good that even if you don’t find what you need on the site, you’ll find it in the sources.

Image Credits: [Wikipedia]