Home | People | News | Undergrad | Graduate | Courses | Learning Resources | Research | Initiatives | Projects | Search
UCSB English Dept. Home Page
Customized Views:
  Course Materials
Alan Liu

Student Wikipedia Use Policy (Short Version)
(see Full Version)


To the Student: Appropriate Use of Wikipedia

In recent years, Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/) has become one of the most important and useful resources on the Internet. Created by an open community of authors (anyone can contribute, edit, or correct articles), it has become a powerful resource for researchers to consult alongside other established library and online resources. As in the case of all tools, however, its value is a function of appropriateness. In the case of college-level essays or research papers, students should keep in mind the following limitations:

As in the case of any encyclopedia, Wikipedia is not appropriate as the primary or sole reference for anything that is central to an argument, complex, or controversial. "Central to an argument" means that the topic in question is crucial for the paper. (For example, a paper about Shakespeare or postmodernism cannot rely on an encyclopedia article on those topics.) "Complex" means anything requiring analysis, critical thought, or evaluation. (For example, it is not persuasive to cite an encyclopedia on "spirituality.") "Controversial" means anything that requires listening to the original voices in a debate because no consensus or conventional view has yet emerged. (For example, cite an encyclopedia on the historical facts underlying a recent political election, but not on the meaning or trends indicated by that election.)

However, a Wikipedia citation can be an appropriate convenience when the point being supported is minor, non-controversial, or also supported by other evidence.

In addition, Wikipedia is an appropriate source for some extremely recent topics (especially in popular culture or technology) for which it provides the sole or best available synthetic, analytical, or historical discussion. In such cases, however, due diligence requires at least glancing at the editing "history" of the article (available through the "history" tab at the top) to get a sense of how controversial or consensual, unstable or stable, the article has been. (Such due diligence is like sticking one's hand in the shower before getting in: not a precise measure of reliabillity, but a good way not to get burned.)

Wikipedia Students should be aware that Wikipedia is a dynamic, constantly mutating resource. Even if it is appropriate to cite it as a reference, the citation is not fully meaningful unless it includes the date on which the page was accessed, which would allow a reader to use the Wikipedia "history" feature to look up the specific version of the article being referenced. Indeed, Wikipedia articles on some topics change so frequently (even to the extent of vandals "reverting" to earlier scandalous misinformation) that a crucial citation should really include the exact time of access. (Where citation to a time-stamped version of an article is desired, one can make use of the version-specific URLs available through the time-date links on each article's history page--e.g., in the link labeled "17:30, 1 April 2007 76" on the history page of the article on "George Washington.")

(Go to Full Version of this policy statement for additional details as well as information about how this statement was developed)


Home | People | News | Undergrad | Graduate | Courses | Learning Resources | Research | Initiatives | Projects | Search
UCSB English Dept. Home Page
* Disclaimer | Copyright | Credits | About this Site * Site Map | Top | UCSB Home * Webcontact | Page updated: 4/15/07