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How to use Wikipedia in your research as well as how to contribute to it.


1. Wikipedia is completely free, providing access to information on millions of topics to anyone with access to the Web.

2. Wikipedia is constantly updated. In comparison, print encyclopedias are usually updated annually.

3. Wikipedia is a great place to start your research, giving you background information on your topic and possible keywords to help you conduct more in-depth research elsewhere.

4. Sources used in the articles are cited, allowing further investigation into any topic.


1. Anyone can create, edit, or delete Wikipedia articles.

2. Wikipedia articles cannot be considered scholarly or academic because we know nothing about the contributors.

3. Articles are works-in-progress, meaning changes are constantly occurring to the information. When an article is first published, the information might change often until it is substantial. Viewing the behind-the-scenes discussion can be a valuable way of learning about those varying perspectives.

4. Sometimes articles are vandalized, whether for fun, as a hoax, or because the subject is controversial.

5. The intended audience can vary-- some articles are written from a insider's view, with highly technical language, while some are written for a more general audience. This can be both frustrating and valuable depending on what one is looking for, and either way is a warning sign that the information can be inconsistent.

How Wikipedia Works

Five Pillars. It's important to understand purpose of Wikipedia. The fundamental principles that guide Wikipedia form Five Pillars. These include:

  1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.
  2. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view.
  3. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute.
  4. Editors interact with each other in a respectful and civil manner.
  5. Wikipedia does not have firm rules.

Closely Monitored. From celebrity gossip to mass shootings, Wikipedians closely monitor breaking news and strive to post accurate information quickly. However, they sometimes protect pages that are likely to be vandalized by restricting users who can edit these pages. A Biographies of Living Persons policy stresses the importance of taking great care when reporting on living people.

Protected Pages. Some articles allow only restricted editing. This protection may include full protection, pending changes protection, or even permanent protection. The Martin Luther King, Jr. article and Area 51 article are examples of a semi-protected pages. The protection is intended to reduce vandalism and encourage reliable information.

Go to the Abraham Lincoln article and try to edit the page. This is a semi-protected page, so only user accounts with a particular level of access can change this page.

Abraham Lincoln

Message Boxes. Many Wikipedia articles contain message boxes at the top of the page indicating an issue that should be addressed to improve the article. These messages may dispute the neutrality of article, question the factual accuracy, or note the need for additional citations for verification. Pay careful attention to these warning messages before using information from a page with multiple issues. Better yet, help make the article better by making a contribution to the page.


Neutrality. Wikipedia articles are intended to provide a Neutral Point of View. A student discussion of neutrality is a wonderful opportunity to explore the topic of fact versus opinion. For instance, an article dealing with Water Stagnation may view stagnant water as a danger or as an important habitat for living creatures. In some cases, pages have been created to focus on a particular controversy such as the Aspartame Controversy .

Verifiability. One of Wikipedia's core content policies relates to the use of reliable sources to support information posted in an article. Many articles contain a message box at the top of the page indicating the need for citations. You need to determine whether the information meets the Verifiability guidelines.

Permanent Links. Many Wikipedia pages have been updated many times. The article you read last week may change this week. Think about how many times an article on a topic like Climate Change has been revised over the past decade. If you want to cite an article as it exists the moment you read it, use the permanent link. Find the permanent link in the sidebar navigation. It will provide an address for the current revision of the page.

Portals. Although most searches are done using the search box, consider using a portal for major categories of information related to a subject. A portal is a topic starting point that provides readers with key articles, images, and categories. The Portal: Content page provides a master list of topics such as literature, arts, geography, health, history, mathematics, science, social studies, and technology.

News. The Portal: Current Events provides accurate, concise, current information from around the world. The articles often cover topics that are overlooked by the mainstream news media. However keep in mind that Wikipedia is intended to be an encyclopedia, not a newspaper. A sister website called Wikinews provides in-depth news.

Fictional Worlds. You may think of Wikipedia as an information resource for social studies or science topics, however it's also a great place to explore a wide range of topics. From an article on Tolkien's Shire of Middle Earth to details on C. S. Lewis' Narnia, Wikipedia provides a wonderful resource to explore the fictional worlds found in literature.

Spoken Word Project. Wikipedia has a spoken word program. Go to the Spoken Articles page for a master list of articles with a spoken word version. The audio recording for Saturn can be found near the top of the page on the right hand side. The spoken word option is particularly useful for topics such as Greek Mythology that contain words that are difficult to pronounce.

Guidelines. For those interested in editing or creating articles, a set of Guidelines have been established that represent best practices. These are helpful in knowing how to behave when collaborating on Wikipedia articles, editing and creating content, and addressing style requirements.

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