by Timothy McAdoo
First things first. Is it a good idea to cite Wikipedia in your research paper? Generally speaking, no. In fact, if you’re writing a paper as a class assignment, your teacher may specifically prohibit citing Wikipedia. Scholarly papers should generally rely on peer-reviewed and other scholarly work vetted by experts in the field.
Does this mean Wikipedia contains bad information? Not at all. It is a great way to get an overview of a topic that might be new to you. And, because many Wikipedia entries contain thorough citations, they can be good starting points to find the original source materials you do want to use. Don’t quote or paraphrase from the Wikipedia entry in your paper, but check the entry’s Reference section to find links to more authoritative sources. And be sure to find and read these sources to verify the facts, figures, and points of view they present.
But, of course, there are times when citing a Wikipedia entry itself is appropriate. For example, let’s say you are writing a paper on how social media and crowdsourcing influence definitions of common psychology terms. Wikipedia would be one excellent source for this topic!
Example 30 (“Entry in an online reference work, no author or editor”) from p. 205 of the Publication Manual can be used for Wikipedia or other wikis. The following example is for the Wikipedia entry on “psychology.” Note that the retrieval date is needed in this case because, as true for any wiki entry, the source material may change over time.
|Psychology. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 14, 2009, from|
Citation in MLA style, as recommended by the Modern Language Association:
- "Plagiarism." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 10 Aug. 2004.
Note that MLA style calls for both the date of publication (or its latest update) and the date on which the information was retrieved. According to the most recent edition of the MLA Handbook, there is now information required about any foundation involved. Also note that many schools/institutions slightly change the syntax.
In 2009, MLA released a revised version of their citation style which changed several things. One of these is the inclusion of either Web. or Print. after the date of creation. Another is that URLs are no longer required. Should you wish to include them, place them in brackets at the end of the citation.
An example with a URL:
- "Plagiarism." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 10 Aug. 2004. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism>
MLA 7 says to leave out the URL unless the source cannot be located without it.
Here is the same example with the URL omitted:
- "Plagiarism." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 10 Aug. 2004.
Be sure to double check the exact syntax your institution requires.
For citation of Wikipedia as a site, use:
- Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 10 Aug. 2004.