Plan: Your search strategy for Wikipedia

Academic health warning!

Take great care when you use information from Wikipedia. If your lecturer has explicitly stated that they do not want you to use Wikipedia as a source of information, that is exactly what they mean: do not use Wikipedia. You will not be the exception.

You may be able to engage your lecturer in a serious debate about using Wikipedia, with reliable evidence to support your argument, and validation from other authoritative information sources.

  • Do not tell them it is ‘easy to use’
  • Do not tell them that you know you could find the information somewhere else but you ‘couldn’t be bothered’
  • Do not tell them you used Wikipedia because ‘everyone else does’

These are not academic arguments for using an information source. You need to demonstrate that you have fully and critically evaluated the information you use in your academic work.

You, your lecturers, other students, and we know that many, many people use Wikipedia as an information source, and you, your lecturers, other students and we know that information from Wikipedia is used in academic work. If you decide to use Wikipedia, use it as the starting point of your research, and if you include information from Wikipedia in your academic work, include a full reference to this, and be prepared to justify why you judged it to be an authoritative and reliable source.

Watch: The InfoLit Dialogs #1: Presearch



  • What do you use Wikipedia for?
  • When have you used information from Wikipedia?
  • What do your lecturers say about Wikipedia?
  • What does ‘serious research’ mean to you?
  • Have you used information from Wikipedia and not cited it? Why?


You have used Wikipedia as the only source for key information in a piece of coursework. Your lecturer has told your class that he does not want to see any Wikipedia references in the coursework. You decide not to include a reference for the information you have used.

Your lecturer reads your work and reads your references. He doesn’t see a reference to key information you have included and knowing about common research practices, searches online for the information you have used. He finds it on Wikipedia. You’ve failed your coursework.

Watch: Wikipedia Tutorial: a guide for students



  1. Do you know what peer review is? If no, have a look back at section 1
  2. Do you know what a primary source? If no, have a look back at section 1
  3. How do you check the author’s qualifications? If no, look at the ‘do’ pages of this section
  4. Do you know how easily information can be changed on a wiki? No? Very, very easily. That’s why not everyone likes Wikipedia.


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