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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Wikipedia (EN): Get going

What is Wikipedia?


Wikipedia is an extremely extensive general reference work (70 times the largest print encyclopedia) compiled by volunteers (from teenagers to emeritus professors), available in many languages. Wikipedia is free of charge, ad-free, and is wholly funded by donations. Anyone may edit Wikipedia meaning that not all articles have the same quality. Behind the screens each adjustment is visible and discussable. It is also good to know what Wikipedia is not.

Language versions: choose the best each time

Important Wikipedia versions:

Language versions are no straight translations. For each topic find out which language has the best article for you. The English version is often the most elaborate or reliable, but certainly not always!

View the list with information about all languange versions of Wikipedia

What can scholars use Wikipedia for?

  • Initial exploration of a subject
  • Gaining ideas about search terms to be used in (scientific) search engines: it is often possible to click on these search terms for a quick check to see if the term matches your ideas on the subject
  • Finding out or checking facts, but please do a double-check
  • Literature references: often there are references to a small number of crucial publications
  • Source references: in the footnotes of many articles detailed source references can be found
  • As object of study: in what way is a subject written about in an influential reference work?
  • As quick translation tool, for words, but particularly for concepts for which mainstream (online) dictionaries offer no solution

Read also what Wikipedia itself thinks about using Wikipedia in research.

How about citing Wikipedia articles?

As a rule you are allowed to cite anything you want, but there are two conditions:

  • the role the article plays in your paper matches the character and level of the article: if you build your paper on conclusions form an article you have read, the quality of that article must be beyond any doubt
  • you cite the article because it plays a substantial part in your paper, not because you want show off or boost citation figures

However, in science citing reference works such as encyclopedias is not a common practice. Exceptions to this rule are:

  • if there is no other source available (but in the case of Wikipedia not very likely, because all articles should have source references);
  • if the article in the reference work is your object of study, in other words: if you study the way in which a subject in a reference work is dealt with

Each Wikipedia article has a cite button in the left margin to generate a reference in a certain citation style.

Yet you will find an increasing number of articles about Wikipedia and articles citing Wikipedia in serious scientific journals.

More on checking the quality of Wikipedia articles on the page Find out more in this Wikipedia LibGuide.

Wikipedia: a community effort

You can help improve Wikipedia if you know a lot about a particular subject.

You can create a new article or edit a Wikipedia article. More information at the Wikipedia Community portal or follow a crash course. Concepts in red in an article mean that no information is available on that concept yet.

How to create a Wikipedia article (3 min.) - by Howcast

How to edit a Wikipedia article (3 min.) - by Howcast

Facts and figures

  • Type of contents: encyclopedic articles
  • Scope: 4,5 million articles (English version); 1,7 million articles (Dutch version)
  • Subject coverage: all subjects
  • Default search method: English
  • Default output order: relevance
  • Trunctation (word stems) with: *
  • Full text search with: ~
  • Search article titles with: intitle:
  • Created by: volunteers worldwide, initiative from Wikimedia Foundation

Do you use Wikipedia in education and research?

Do you use Wikipedia in education and research?
I am a student and use it weekly: 0 votes (0%)
I am a student and use it monthly: 1 votes (25%)
I am a student and hardly use it: 1 votes (25%)
I am lecturer/researcher and use it weekly: 2 votes (50%)
I am lecturer/researcher and use it monthly: 0 votes (0%)
I am lecturer/researcher and hardly use it: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 4