On Citing Wikipedia

Let’s be clear: You should never, ever cite Wikipedia in an article or book, unless you writing about Wikipedia itself. But it drives me crazy when people hear the word “Wikipedia” and immediately respond, “Wikipedia? Give me a break. It’s so unreliable.”

There is nothing wrong with using Wikipedia to get a quick sense of a subject and to lead you to more reliable sources. Encyclopedias, survey-level textbooks, desk references, and similar resources have been used the same way for generations. If you are trying to nail down some definitive piece of information, then you should never settle for Wikipedia. As your starting point, however, I think there are few options that are much better.

For that matter, Wikipedia is an excellent resources for certain subjects, such as:

  • Controversial subjects that many people, with many different perspectives, care a great deal about. Theology is a great example. If Catholics, Calvinists, Wesleyans, Orthodox, and even Swedenborgians can come up with an article on justification that they all more or less accept, I bet that’s going to be a pretty decent article.
  • Obscure pop culture facts, like alternate versions of the comic book character Nightcrawler.
  • People you are encountering for the first time, and need to get a quick triangulation on them, like Emanuel Swedenborg.

I use Wikipedia everyday, and there’s nothing wrong with it. If Wikipedia is your only source of information, then there’s something wrong with you, but don’t blame Wikipedia.