|This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.|
Wikipedia is the ideal place to start your research and get a global picture of a topic, however, it is not an authoritative source. In fact, we recommend that students check the facts they find in Wikipedia against other sources. Additionally, it is generally good research practice to cite an original source when writing a paper, or completing an exam. It's usually not advisable, particularly at the university level, to cite an encyclopedia.
However, Wikipedia is a useful resource. Besides providing students with a global overview of a topic, it also provides students with links to reliable sources to further their research, such as links to scholarly journals and newspaper articles, which are listed in the citations. As a result, Wikipedia is a great place to start your research, but students should not use it as the final word on any subject matter.
Wikipedia is a "wiki" – a collaborative, open-source medium – thus, articles are never complete, and can be edited by nearly anyone with access to the web. Most articles are continually being edited and improved upon, and most contributors are real lovers of knowledge who have a real desire to improve the quality of a particular article. However, because of the nature of Wikipedia, vandalism and unintentional errors can be added to articles. The volunteer community of editors is vigilant in trying to check edits and correct errors, but at any one time, there is no guarantee an article is 100 percent correct. Since Wikipedia is a young project, most of our efforts until now have been focused on building the site, however, we are now dedicating much more energy to improving the quality of articles, and combating vandals, spammers, and marketers – who are a real threat to the integrity of our projects.
Having said that, in the fall of 2005, Nature magazine published an article that compared /Wikipedia/ articles to /Encyclopaedia Britannica/ articles. The comparison found that the average Wikipedia article contained four inaccuracies, while the average /Britannica/ entry contained three. This lead the magazine to claim that "the difference in accuracy was not particularly great."
Additionally, since Wikipedia is a project, made by the community for the community, individuals are encouraged to help improve Wikipedia and change any errors they see on the site. That is essentially what Wikipedia is all about – empowering every single human being with the ability to share in the sum of all knowledge.