As a college student, you will find yourself engaged in countless hours of research. In that time, you will undoubtedly encounter differing opinions from one professor to the next about which sources are “valid” and which sources are not. One of these questionable sources is Wikipedia.
For the most part, college professors tend to frown upon internet-only sources in general and Wikipedia is one that is highly vilified. Because of its ease of access (free, no password needed) and the amount of information that can be found there, it is becoming more and more the go-to site for college students (and freelance writers) to get quick information.
Wikipedia is created, largely, by the general population and this is why college professors frown upon its use as a valid research tool. However, what most people don’t consider is that a large portion of the population creating Wikipedia pages are experts in whatever subject they are writing about and the information they publish there is verified before and after publication. That is to say, if new information is found after the publication of a page, the page can be and often is edited to reflect this.
Wikipedia also holds strict standards regarding what can and cannot be published on the site. A biographical page about a celebrity, for example, cannot use phrases like “most handsome man in American cinema,” unless that phrase can be traced to an official source. Perhaps he was awarded the title by readers of People Magazine. At that point it can be included in the biography but it must be cited just like you would have to do if including the same information in your own research paper (magazine title, issue/volume number, page number, etc.).
This guideline is actually what pushes Wikipedia over the line from quick easy secondary resource to excellent research tool. Students - or any researcher - can go first to a Wikipedia page to get the base information for their research then use the works cited to find more, in-depth sources for information. In truth, using Wikipedia as a sort of launch pad for your research is a great way to find sources, and information, you might not have found otherwise, providing an even richer research experience and more thorough final product.
The moral of the story is don’t use a Wiki page, or connected pages, to write your paper then pretend that you used the same sources as the page’s author.
Don’t rely on Wikipedia to count toward your required sources - if your professor wants ten sources, make Wikipedia your eleventh.
DO use Wiki pages to get your research off the ground.
DO use the site to give your research a boost if you come to page 8 of a 10 page paper and have run out of research information - whether that be to find more sources or to use it as a source, if your professor will allow that. If you follow these guidelines, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting the site past your professor’s fine toothed comb.