Using Wikipedia to write a paper? Here are some tips

I have been working towards a second bachelor’s degree for some time now, this time learning social media marketing. Papers are still required to be written and I’ve developed some tricks over the years. I know many of you look to Wikipedia for answers and some of you might even try to use it in a paper. In college, Wikipedia is not viewed as a credible source, however. Anyone can edit any Wikipedia page. The edits to require a source for it to remain permanent, but it does damage the credibility of Wikipedia in a serious paper. However, there are some ways you can use Wikipedia and not even use it as a source.

At minimum, Wikipedia is a good idea to familiarize yourself with a topic and explore related topics. If you have a paper on your state constitution, for example, you may be able to find some general background on it in Wikipedia. From there, you may find politicians involved you can research or perhaps historic events relating to the constitution’s creation or amendments to it. Use phrases, keywords, or general sub-topics here to search for credible sources in, perhaps, the library databases your school offers. This tactic helps narrow down a research paper’s topic drastically. Instead of “The Illinois Constitution” as a paper topic, which could be too broad of a topic to meet the paper’s requirements, the background Wikipedia might give you could help narrow the topic down to “How the Illinois Bill of Rights Differs from the US Bill of Rights.”

Let’s take this a step further, though. Everything in Wikipedia is required to have a source to backup the content. That means that everything you read on Wikipedia has a source you can look for. If you find a fact or statement that might be useful in a paper you’re writing, look for a tiny number at the end of it. This number refers to the source listed at the end of the Wikipedia page. Clicking the number will also jump you to the sources on Wikipedia too. You can then look for these sources in your library or databases and get more information or context to what is included in Wikipedia. Many of these sources are to other websites/articles or even to sections of books in Google Books, reducing the effort needed to find these sources.

However you use these 2 tips about Wikipedia, please don’t take the lazy way about it. Don’t take the information on Wikipedia at face value, then cite the source Wikipedia links to. There’s still a chance that the information on Wikipedia is inaccurate, out of context, or missing key points. Additionally, looking towards the sources directly will give you more information to include as Wikipedia always provides the shortest summary possible. Also, using the information directly from Wikipedia doesn’t help reduce the likeliness of being flagged for plagiarism. In fact, it would likely increase those chances.

If you have any tips to include, please share them with me directly or in the comments below. I’ll try my best to include them and credit who provided the tips. Good luck in your writing!

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