Can you reference Wikipedia in an essay or assignment?
Last week, I was meandering around the internet when I electronically bumped into a lovely woman who I midwifed through her Masters a few years ago.
“I’ve seen your new dissertation tips book“, she typed.
“What number tip is don’t reference Wikipedia lol?!”
There was a pause before I typed back: “I can’t believe I didn’t put that phrase in!”
She sent a shocked emoji.
And the chat reminded me (in a very nice way!) of how often I have uttered those words when I’ve been supporting people writing up their research.
The pros and cons of Wikipedia
Because here’s the thing. Wikipedia is fabulous for finding information about Meat Loaf’s back catalogue. Or discovering why you shouldn’t get too attached when unknown ensigns appear in old episodes of TNG. If you need a definition of postpartum haemorrhage, though. Or if your work requires you to quote the distance between the earth and the moon in the Precambrian period, there are better and more reliable academic sources. And they’ll make your work look more reliable, robust and polished.
Other lecturers may disagree, but here’s my take. If I read an essay, assignment, dissertation or thesis written by someone who has used wikipedia as a primary source for a piece of factual information relating to their field of study, I tend to think one of three things.
(a) They couldn’t be bothered to go to the relevant professional or academic text.
(b) They didn’t know how to find the information.
(c) They genuinely think that Wikipedia (or similar online sources) are a good a source of knowledge on such topics.
And unfortunately, none of the above possibilities give me confidence that I am looking at the work of someone who is excelling in their field.
So I’m adding tip 102 here, because I really, really want your work to impress your readers (who will include the assessors, examiners or markers) from the outset. And it is my belief that the few extra minutes that it will take you to get your facts and citation from a classic textbook or an academic article will be well worth the investment.
Unless you’re writing your PhD on changes in the public understanding of the composition of the Bat Out of Hell trilogy. If that’s the case, then go right ahead. Please post below and tell me what you discover. 😀
If you’re a student and you’d like some help and advice from someone who has been there, please take a look at my book, “101 tips for planning, writing and surtiving your dissertation“. You don’t even need to wait til you begin your dissertation either; it’s useful from the very beginning of your studies.
And you can read the first chapter for free.
Photo by Jonathan Velasquez via Unsplash
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