Wikipedia can be a great tool for learning and researching information. However, as with all reference works, not everything in Wikipedia is accurate, comprehensive, or unbiased. Many of the general rules of thumb for conducting research apply to Wikipedia, including:
- Always be wary of any one single source (in any medium—web, print, television or radio), or of multiple works that derive from a single source.
- Where articles have references to external sources (whether online or not) read the references and check whether they really do support what the article says.
- In most academic institutions, major references to Wikipedia, along with most encyclopedias, are unacceptable for a research paper.
As a student you are expected to submit your own work rather than directly copying material from elsewhere. This is called plagiarism and is not tolerated in education and may be an infringement of copyright. Teachers and lecturers are able to detect plagiarism either directly from the content, or by using special software to check if the submitted material is copied from the internet.
To produce high quality work for school, college, or university information should be gleaned from a wide variety of sources. With Wikipedia you can follow the links supplied in the references or read the books which an article mentions. Often an ISBN for a book is given and clicking on it will let you check to see if your local library has a copy. It should be remembered that the internet has only existed for a very short time compared to the history of printing and publishing so there is a huge amount of material that is only available in undigitized book form.
For students, especially at a tertiary level of education, Wikipedia should only be seen as an entry into a new field of learning. The references supplied will open out into the vast resources of the internet that we are now fortunate to have at our fingertips.