Wikipedia is a popular place to start your research and will likely be one of the top results in a Google search of your topic. A well-developed Wikipedia article, with its content boxes and overviews, will provide a “road-map” of your subject and help you to focus on related and narrower sub-topics. Most introductory paragraphs will offer definitions, related terms, and key historical dates where relevant. Every article provides links to external references and further reading that can be useful sources for you to follow up with. In fact, no Wikipedia article can be published unless it is backed with a list of credible sources. See Wikipedia’s own policy on Verifiability and its discussion of what can be considered a reliable source.
However, while it is not quite true that anyone can edit a Wikipedia article, there are concerns about the potential for inaccuracies and misinformation. This is especially true for controversial topics; a quick look at the “Talk” page of any article will reveal how editors are actively involved to ensure that information presented is free from bias and maintains neutrality. Unlike more traditional scholarly sources of information, content on Wikipedia is continually changing. For these reasons, your instructors may caution you against using it in your research, and will probably discourage you from citing it.
What you can do with a Wikipedia article is look at the external links, the supporting references, and the suggestions for further reading. As someone new to a topic, these sources can be a goldmine; try locating them in the library’s collection or on the internet.
Activity: Watch, think and learn
The following short video from Civic Online Reasoning at Stanford University demonstrates how Wikipedia can be used effectively in early stages of your research.