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Evaluating Sources

A guide to evaluating the credibility of the sources of information you use in your assignments.

Wikipedia - would you want to use it?

Wikipedia logo Anyone can write and edit the articles in Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia containing millions of articles. Anyone can write and edit the articles. This is seen by some as a weakness and by others as a strength. As anyone can write or edit an article you can never be sure that the information is not biased, out of date or simply incorrect. On the other hand, Wikipedia supporters claim that as so many people are constantly reviewing and updating the articles, any inaccuracies are swiftly identified and corrected. Some lecturers are opposed to students using Wikipedia and will mark down assignments which cite Wikipedia. On the other hand Wikipedia can be seen as a valuable and unique resource which many students use anyway... with or without their lecturers' approval.

Three ways to use Wikipedia for your study

1.  Background research – identifying the main players, topics and concepts

Wikipedia, like any encyclopedia can be very useful in providing overviews of subjects. Academic journals, such as the ones you will find in JCUs databases, assume that you already have specialised knowledge of the subject. They use technical terms and complex concepts without explanation. Because of this they are often not the best place to start researching a new topic. Wikipedia articles include a general overview of the subject, provide a useful introduction and define new or important terms, names and concepts.

2.  References – follow the links to resources you can use

The best Wikipedia articles contain references to their sources.  Some of these sources have little credibility such as self-authored web sites. Other references are to highly credible sources such as peer-reviewed academic journal articles. Even if you cannot cite the actual Wikipedia article, check out the sources referenced at the bottom of the page because you can quite often follow the links to primary sources that you can cite in your assignments.

3.  Use Wikipedia to identify search terms

A good Wikipedia article will identify the main players and terms associated with a subject. Use these as search terms when you search JCU databases for academic articles. You will still need to gauge the credibility of articles that you find in the JCU databases, but many will be citable.


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