WriteCheck Blog

Why isn't Wikipedia a reputable source?

In the past few months we have talked about the importance of finding reputable sources for academic papers and why students shouldn't "just google it." We also touched on why Wikipedia is not a reputable source to cite in  an academic paper in Writing tip #21: I can't use Wikipedia? According to Turnitin, Wikipedia remains the most popular single source for student-matched content on the Web (see "Plagiarism and the Web: Myths and Realities" white paper). For that reason, we want to make sure that students understand the difference between Wikipedia and other sources. In this video, educator Renee Swensen Nimtz will tell you exactly why you can't use Wikipedia as a source in academic papers:

Why isn't Wikipedia a reputable source? | WriteCheck from Turnitin on Vimeo.

Read along:

Why does Wikipedia get such a bad wrap from teachers?  Why can’t we use Wikipedia in our writing?

Lots of students have been told not to use Wikipedia because it is not reputable, anyone can alter a given wiki page, etc.  But is that really the reason why we shouldn’t use Wikipedia? Trust? We don’t trust the information? We don’t trust the people who post the information?

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that presents information from consensus.  This is a phenomenal concept, so typical of the way we think about the world today, that’s is, inclusive:  YouTube, allows you to perform your own show, even have your own channel; Facebook, allows you to publish “news” about you.  Wikipedia joins this social revolution and allows you to join the conversation and create knowledge.  Isn’t that the real purpose of writing in academics? To join an academic conversation?  Or is it just an assignment for a class?  Well, yes.  Yes to both.  It is an assignment and you feel the pressure to get the work done for a grade.  But the purpose of the assignment is to grow you as a scholar.  To have you converse like academics do about academic “stuff” if you will.

Wikipedia is not really the problem.  Academic writing requires that we look at primary or secondary sources, that is studies or an author’s write up about a study.  These are typically presented in academic journals.

Wikipedia is an overview of information; it’s general and written for the general public.  Even if you were to use a print Encyclopedia, you would still not be approaching your writing from an academic’s perspective.

In your papers you are to show that you know who the experts are and you’ve gone to those experts to help back up our ideas or claims.  That authority, or ethos is important to illustrate.  When you go to scholars to see what they have said and include this in your paper, you add ethos.

Think of your paper like this: You are the Master of Ceremonies or the MC.  When you have the mic and pass it to someone new, you introduce the speaker and usually why we are hearing from that other person.  So in your paper, you want to use language such as “according to Dr. James Keller, Professor of Psychology…” to introduce the scholar and add ethos.

So the reason we don’t use Wikipedia is not really because the information can change and the information is somehow unreliable, but Wikipedia is general information and simply not the type of sources required in academics.

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