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Wikipedia (EN): General information

Introduction to Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedic reference work, which is mainly useful for a first orientation on a topic. In this LibGuide you will find information about using Wikipedia for scholarly purposes.

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What will I find in Wikipedia?

Wikipedia contains millions of articles covering all disciplines. Many articles are available in several languages, but may differ strongly as to size and contents. Articles dealing with local topics are often only available in one language.

Can I use Wikipedia as a scholarly source?

Wikipedia is not compiled by scientists and scholars. Anyone can contribute to Wikipedia. As a result the articles differ in quality. Wikipedia performs quality checks, but be extra careful if you use articles for your scholarly work.

In reliable articles you will find recent references, a list of sources, footnotes and literature references which you can use as scholarly sources. If you decide to use Wikipedia as a scholarly source, you should keep the presence of such references in mind.

What can I 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.

Find out more

Are articles from Wikipedia reliable?

The quality of the articles differs because anyone can contribute to Wikipedia. Wikipedia aims at objectivity. That is why new articles are viewed with a critical eye. It is also possible to give feedback on articles, to add information or to edit the contents.

If an article is about controversial persons or events, there is the risk of subjectivity. If there are no references to literature or other sources or if there are other reasons to doubt the reliability of the text, a warning is usually placed at the beginning of the article: This article has multiple issues

It is always sensible to compare claims made in Wikipedia with other sources and to check the reading list, because you do not know the authors of the article and their intentions.

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