BASIC COURSE POLICY ON WIKIPEDIA: APPROPRIATE AND INAPPROPRIATE USAGE
“As in the case of any encyclopedia, Wikipedia is not appropriate as the primary or sole reference for anything that is central to an argument, complex or controversial.”
The aim of citing sources in your academic writing is to draw on credible sources to support your claims.
- Primary sources are sources founded on first-hand observations or original writings or research about a subject — they are, therefore, the most credible sources for scholarly research.
- Secondary sources are the next most credible kinds of sources. They offer commentaries on or evaluations of primary sources, from criticism to film and book reviews to news reporting.
- Finally, there are tertiary sources, which tend to be shorter or longer summaries of the first two kinds of sources. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/), as an encyclopedia, is a tertiary source.
This means that relying on Wikipedia in and of itself to support an argumentative or analytical claim in a scholarly paper (in the absence of any other corroborating sources) is equivalent to offering no supporting evidence or sources whatsoever.
Your aim in a university-level course should be to engage with and draw on primary texts and primary research as much as possible. Yet Wikipedia, as its editors openly admit, in the Wikipedia website policy documents (link here), “does not publish original research or original thought.”
Does this mean that Wikipedia should not be used? No, only that it should be used with an acknowledged and demonstrated awareness of its limitations.
This also means that you should raise challenging questions for your other instructors about the other kinds of texts they use in their classrooms. Many standard textbooks, after all, are little more than summarizing sources: third-order tertiary sources that provide general summaries of primary and secondary sources. Professors that are concerned about Wikipedia usage should also be concerned about textbooks that simply generalize and popularize scholarship for easy (student) consumption, avoiding the often challenging language and abstract concepts found in primary sources.
Alan Liu, professor or humanities/literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara has outlined some of the limitations of using Wikipedia in student academic writing. He has outlined his position in a document that has become a reference point for many instructors. I reproduce it here in its entirety as a general set of guidelines for our course as well.
— Liu, Alan. “Student Wikipedia Use Policy.” Course Materials Page, Department of English, University of California, Santa Barbara. 1 May 2009 <http://www.english.ucsb.edu/faculty/ayliu/courses/wikipedia-policy-short.html > .
FURTHER READINGS + RESOURCES
Capilano University – Library Guide to Online Research
Capilano University – Wikipedia Guide