Wikipedia as a research tool?

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Your instructors have undoubtedly stressed that Wikipedia is not an academic source, so you can’t cite it as such in your research paper. All that is true—Wikipedia clearly doesn’t pass the CRAAP test as a peer-reviewed, academic research source.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t use it at all. Wikipedia can be a great starting point for general information as you familiarize yourself with your research topic. There are also many links in most Wikipedia entries that will send you in many other directions to related subjects, experts, and fields of study as you explore your topic and formulate your ideas.

It’s also a great source for different keywords on your topic. Keywords are the words you enter in any search field to get results. To state the obvious, the results you get out of a search are only as good as the keywords you put in. Wikipedia can show you which words and phrases are commonly used in a specific field, and using those terms and keywords when you search will allow you to “speak the language” of that subject and get you better results. For example, a read of the Wikipedia entry for Social Media yields myriad other related terms, like consumer-generated media, social networking, digital media, content marketing, social media activism, online presence management, and many more, that become useful keyword lingo.

So while Wikipedia is most definitely not an academic source it can still be a useful research tool. Try integrating it into your next project. And if you’ve discovered other uses for Wikipedia in your own research, leave a comment and let us know. Happy researching!

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