Citations, the Internet, and Wikipedia: How do people approach teaching students how to cite an internet source? If one is citing an on-line article with an authors and date, I don’t think there is much of a problem, however how does one deal with wikipedia?

My thinking is that wikipedia shouldn’t be cited at all as it cannot be considered a reputable source, _but_ as many wikipedia entries do have citations, perhaps one could “cite a wikipedia citation”? That is, can a student give the source for a piece of information that the wikipedia article has, but somehow indicate that this citation was found on wikipedia and the student has not yet look at the cited material first hand?

And if people are doing such a thing, is there a convention for doing the citation? How do people deal with such issues?


Actually Wikipedia makes this really easy. When you are on a wiki page click on the toolbox (left of the screen) and there is an option to cite this page. Click the link and you will get a page with many
recognised formats. (This is an extension to MediaWiki – Think Wikieducator would benefit from this too.)

There is some research to match the reliability of the content on wikipedia with that of Encyclopedia Briticannica and it concluded there was not much difference (Sorry can’t provide the reference). If
you read the note at the start of the wiki citation page that gives the wikipedian view.

With the continuous peer review I think it can be considered a reputable source particularly since many pages now have a comprehensive list of references and have to pass through moderators (much like formal research papers).


There was an interesting article comparing scientific accuracy in Wikipedia with Britannica published in Nature: Internet encyclopedias go head to head. Giles, Jim; Nature; Dec 15, 2005; 438, 7070; Britannica rebutted the article and Nature fired back. Fascinating, but ironically you’d need subscriptions to read the articles 🙂

I grade papers regularly and I do not accept Wikipedia as a citation; nor do I accept Britannica. If I published a scholarly article using Wikipedia (or Britannica) as a cited source, it would in all probability be weeded out during the editorial process. This is the standard for my field and I therefore hold my college students to the
same standard. It’s not about the quality of the source; rather it’s about primary Vs secondary sources.

Having said that, I regularly encourage students to use encyclopedias as starting points in their research. I use Wikipedia for rapid facts for my own work. Personally I find it approximates traditional encyclopedias in many ways and I find the graphics very convenient for lecture presentations. It’s also easier to use than many online
encyclopedias. I needed information about kuru today – started in Wikipedia; grabbed some nice graphics regarding prion replication; moved on to the New England Journal of Medicine for maps; genotypic
frequencies of resistant alleles etc. The images from Wikipedia I could choose to share online and reuse in any way I liked (public domain image in this case). The NEJM images – I could purchase a slide set for $15 and reuse would involve some sort of copyright process I’m sure. Importantly, the Wikipedia information on kuru was spot on and cited the NEJM paper that I also used.

My take home is that Wikipedia is as useful a traditional encyclopedia. Neither is a primary source, and I ask my students to use primary sources. But consider this: many if not most students use primary sources incorrectly. They pull information from the introductions……and introductions are written on the strength of
other published articles…..introductions are in fact secondary sources embedded within primary sources. Oh the joys and complications that presents….I’m ranting slightly….clearly I should be grading lab reports on natural selection in goldenrod galls.


I know this is a little off the subject, but your statement that using encyclopedias as a “starting point” is of course one of the key reasons for OER materials. A multimedia presentation of an age appropriate learning situation, example or problem situation on a smartboard would give more reality to what is being taught. While a textbook is still the prime source in a classroom the presentations gives it, if done correctly, depth and a reality to the learner.
Ideally the presentations would be situations that the learner or fellow learners encounter in their daily life.


I would say you are exactly on topic. If we can engage students, get them thinking critically about new material, and considering the quality of sources, then we will have taken an important step.


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