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Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, is quoted as saying that he has no sympathy for students who cite his popular encyclopedia in college papers: "Mr. Wales said that he gets about 10 e-mail messages a week from students who complain that Wikipedia has gotten them into academic hot water... he thinks to himself: ... you're in college; don't cite the encyclopedia.'"

"Wikipedia Founder Discourages Academic Use of His Creation."
The Chronicle of Higher Education: Wired Campus Blog. 12 June 2006.

What is it? | Strengths | Weaknesses | McQuade Librarians Recommend |
For Further Reading

What is it?

  • "The free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit" available at www.wikipedia.org
  • Jimmy Wales invented it in early 2001
  • It's the world's largest freely available online encyclopedia, available in over 100 languages
  • It recently surpassed 2.7 million entries!

    To learn more about this encyclopedia, see North Carolina State University Libraries excellent six minute video entitled "Wikipedia: Beneath the Surface" which focuses on how information is created.


  • "Wikiality"
    Citizen authored content – anyone can create or edit articles.
  • Strong in areas of popular culture, current affairs and science
    (see I Want My Wikipedia! article published in Library Journal)
  • "Self-correcting"
    Wikipedia is constantly improving, as Wikipedians can correct errors in seconds!
    With time, articles seem to get better and better.
  • Convenient
  • Free
    Many other online encyclopedias are not.

    For more strengths see:

    Why Wikipedia is So Great

    (According to Wikipedia)


  • "Wikiality"
    Are scholars or experts in the field writing and editing these entries? Take your chances.
    Some wikipedia contributors have even faked their credentials!
  • Entries have errors
    Entries may be disorganized, have duplications, and be inconsistent.
    Take a look at the long list of Wikipedia articles needing factual verification.
    Wikipedia itself makes no guarantee of validity!
  • Not definitive
    Founder Jimmy Wales notes, “It’s good enough knowledge, depending on what your purpose is.”
  • A work in progress
    Wikipedia does not declare any of its articles to be "complete" or "finished."

    For more weaknesses see:

    Why Wikipedia is Not So Great

    (According to Wikipedia)

McQuade Librarians Recommend...

Wikipedia may be approprate for some recent topics (especially in popular culture or current affairs),

  • Wikipedia is a place to begin researching a topic, but certainly not a place to end it.
  • If you need to consult an academic encyclopedia, try Britannica Online or Grolier Online. Credo Reference contains approximately 350 electronic reference sources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and more. Or, search in Reference Universe to find subject specific reference sources located at McQuade.
  • For most topics, you should use and cite a scholarly work rather than Wikipedia.
  • Like with any other source, in print or on the web, take time to critically evaluate it, and cross check facts with other sources. Make sure it is the best source for your information need.
  • Talk with scholars at Merrimack College and discuss Wikipedia.

For Further Reading

    If you have any questions or comments about this page, please contact Lyena Chavez.
    Last updated 3/26/09