Fan signs are an honored tradition in the weekly College GameDay football pre-game show on ESPN. Today’s Yale vs. Harvard matchup featured a sign that got a lot of traction on social media and the college football blogosphere: “Yale Cites Wikipedia“.
As the organization that bridges Wikipedia and academia, we agree with the sentiment of the sign: By the time you reach the university level — whether you’re at an Ivy League school or a community college — you shouldn’t be citing any tertiary sources in your research papers. Instead, you should be citing secondary and primary sources in your paper. Wikipedia is a great starting point for that paper, however: If the article covering your topic is good, you’ll be able to get a general overview on the topic by reading the Wikipedia article, and then look at the long list of references at the bottom of the article that contains links to those reliable sources you should be citing.
How do you know if a Wikipedia article is good? Consult our brochure Evaluating Wikipedia, which provides tips and tricks to identify high-quality work and articles that need some additional development. But what if that Wikipedia article you’re reading fits the definition of poor quality? Here’s where university students can really make a difference: Improve the Wikipedia article!
Once you’ve written that research paper on the topic, go back and add the information you found, cited to those reliable sources, to Wikipedia. The Wiki Education Foundation has developed an online training specifically for university students to help you learn how to edit, or you can consult our brochure Editing Wikipedia, which walks you through what you need to know.
Even better, convince your instructor to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool in his or her classroom. More than 500 classes at 200 universities have already participated in Wiki Ed’s program, where we provide support for instructors interested in using Wikipedia as a teaching tool in their classes. Instructors have found the learning objectives for a Wikipedia assignment make it a valuable pedagogical tool in a 21st century university classroom.
In other words, university students: Don’t cite Wikipedia. Write Wikipedia!
Director of Programs