Is Wikipedia a Legitimate Source for Writing Term Papers?

The most common reasons offered against using Wikipedia for research papers are the fact that anyone can add information which may or may not be relevant to the topic and the lack of citations for the providence of this information. While these are valid points, I am against using Wikipedia for other, perhaps more obscure reasons.

Wikipedia, like Google, is an internet phenomenon. If anyone wants to find out anything at all, they 'Google' it, and often Wikipedia is the first link shown on the first search results page. Markers reading research papers with Wikipedia proliferating in the citations will, fairly or unfairly, come to two conclusions:

1. The paper will be lightweight and lacking depth, as Wikipedia is more a fact checking resource than a valid research tool.

2. The paper is not going to stand out from the crowd, as it is based on knowledge easily and readily available.

The way to avoid these possible judgements is to dig deep into the internet and look at links on the third, fourth or even fifth and later pages of your search results. Let me give you a working example to explain what I mean. When I did my BA dissertation, I based it on Shakespeare's First Tetralogy - the 3 parts of 'Henry VI' and 'Richard III.' In my internet research, I came across the Richard III Society, which exists purely to discount the bad press associated with the king - most of which arises from the Shakespeare play of that name.

I chose the First Tetralogy rather than the second, much better known Second Tetralogy, covering Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, because I wanted to find something new and different to say. On the Richard III Society website, I found a little known research paper posing the question - was Shakespeare's play great drama or poor history? This paper gave me both the title for the dissertation and the direction to take with it, tapping into contemporary history, monographs on the Wars of the Roses and other literature to illustrate my arguments. I achieved a First for that dissertation, which tipped the balance to a First for the degree, as the results were so close that my degree classification was decided by the dissertation.

My advice to students at all levels of education is this: use Wikipedia to start you on your research journey, but make the overnight stops in the further, out of the way places of the internet. That way your study trip will be so much more rewarding.

Published by Sandra Piddock

I'm 57, married with a grown up family, and I divide my time between the Costa Blanca in Spain and Cornwall in England. I make a modest living as a freelance writer and website editor. I write on anything wh...  View profile

  • Wikipedia is an internet phenomenon, but anyone can edit its content.