Answered By: Sarah Taylor
Last Updated: Dec 19, 2017     Views: 6

A very good question.

We all use Wikipedia from time to time (even librarians!) and there are some pros to using it:

  • It covers pretty much any subject and any person you can think of
  • It contains over 5.5 million articles
  • An average of 600 articles are added daily
  • It's really useful to access definitions of terms that you can then use to further your research. Indeed, Discover@Bolton links its topic definitions for this very reason
  • The fact that it is used by hundreds of millions of people every months means that it's possible to get a fairly good picture of the types of information people are looking for.

However, there are some real issues with Wikipedia that you need to be aware of:

  • Anyone can add or edit an article. And they might not be right, either accidentally or deliberately!
  • Something that you read one day might disappear overnight
  • Unlike scholarly publications, there is no formal editorial board
  • There is a high risk of bias

So, if you do end up reading a Wikipedia article, just consider the following:

  • Use with caution! Don't assume 100 per cent accuracy or provenance
  • Use it to help you identify keywords than you can apply during your search strategies
  • See if you can establish the author as you would with any other web source
  • See if there are good quality links and references attached to the articles

And remember, do not rely on Wikipedia as a source for research material, don't cite it and don't assume it always presents fact! Do ask the Subject Librarians for further guidance, take a look at LEAP Online for help to improve your skills at appraising web-based material.