Chapter 5: Page 38

Faculty Spotlights: Melissa Seelye and Matt Martin of the SFSU J. Paul Leonard Library

Melissa Seelye

Matthew Martin

So…can I use Wikipedia?

Yes, you can use Wikipedia…

You’ve probably been warned not to cite Wikipedia as a source for your assignments, right? There are good reasons for that, and even the Wikipedia community acknowledges that Wikipedia is not a reliable source, especially for academic use. However, it can be a very helpful starting point, as long as you keep a few points in mind:

  • Wikipedia articles are written, edited, and maintained by volunteers, known as Wikipedia editors or Wikipedians, and like all sources, the quality of Wikipedia articles depends on the knowledge and skill of those creating them.
  • The Wikipedia community discourages original research but expects editors to draw from and refer to reliable sources. You can find these cited throughout Wikipedia articles as well as at the bottom of each article, and you can often use those sources for your assignments.
  • Wikipedia requires that all content be written from a neutral point of view, but like many other sources, Wikipedia is hindered by systemic bias. This shows up in the underrepresentation of certain topics as well as in biased writing. 

Did you know that you can help improve Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is an extremely popular source, and it exists in hundreds of different languages. Yet, while billions of people consult Wikipedia each month, far fewer contribute content, which only reinforces issues related to systemic bias. You can help change this!

By contributing to Wikipedia, you can use your knowledge and research skills to make a real-world difference. You can also choose to focus on improving Wikipedia’s coverage of underrepresented figures, topics, and viewpoints.

Editing Wikipedia is also a fun way to develop your research and writing skills!

It’s easier than you think…and did we mention it’s fun?!

It only takes a couple of minutes to create a Wikipedia account, and once you do that, there are many ways to contribute.

A great way to start editing Wikipedia is by adding references to reliable sources

You can find Wikipedia articles that have been flagged as needing citations by using the Citation Hunt tool.

You can also skim articles of interest and look for “citation needed” tags, which indicate that information has not been properly sourced.  

For step-by-step instructions on adding a citation, consult our Wikipedia in the Virtual Classroom Guide. The Wikipedia community also maintains lots of instructions for editors, which can sometimes seem overwhelming, but their Introduction to Wikipedia provides a very useful overview. 

If you would like to participate in a group editing activity, also known as an edit-a-thon, you can download or make a copy of our supplemental Google Doc handout.

Happy editing!

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