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Friday, November 5, 2010

Using Wikipedia for research in grad school


At grad school you’ll be asked to submit lots of written report. These are in the form of research papers, reaction/critic papers, term papers, etc. The nature of these assignments would require you to cite several written works in order to substantiate your thesis or your main proposition.

There has been lots of debate lately about using Wikipedia for research. Several years ago, a history department from a college in the U.S. banned the citation of Wikipedia on research papers of students. I’m not aware if there are cases in the Philippines that promulgated such policies in colleges and universities.

However, banned or not banned I advice you not to cite Wikipedia in your research papers. Here are some of the reasons.

First, because it’s not credible. Some articles (not all) were done sloppily by individuals with no such credentials to write an encyclopedia entry. I repeat, not all.

Second, by academic standards, encyclopedia in general are not really acceptable sources for research articles. In the same way you cannot use Encyclopedia Britannica, Grolier’s, or even MSN Encarta as citations. Reason: these are general descriptions of the entries not specific ones.

Third, the content changes every now and then. The content of an article that you have read recently may have changed within the hour if a user in some part of the world edits it. Though the original versions are archived and numbered, this would surely be confusing when what the article says an hour ago is totally opposite to what it says right now.

Fourth, professors may not take your paper seriously. Citing Wikipedia is like citing a popular magazine for your scientific research paper. Reason: These are secondary sources of information meaning they are also citing those information from primary sources. Hint: Look for the primary sources (journals, books, government reports, etc.)

Fifth, your professors may think that you are a lazy student. Going directly to Wikipedia to get information hinders you the experience of real research. That is to painstakingly look for dozens or hundreds of sources, taking notes of some important points of each, filtering out the needed literature, composing an outline that will present and substantiate your main proposition, and writing it. The tendency for some students is to start at Wikipedia, (because it usually comes out first in a Google search). And because it seems that all the needed information is there, they practically stop right there too.

Given the above reasons, I hope that this would give an insight on why citing Wikipedia for your research paper is practically a no no for graduate school.

No, I’m not saying we don’t use Wikipedia at all for our research. It’s one of the wonderful things ever thought of in this era. In my future post I’ll provide you with tips on how to use Wikipedia for your research (without citing it).

Note: If you have comments regarding this post, please fell free to add it below.

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