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Course & Subject Guides

Library Research Help @ Pitt

This guide will help you with your research paper or project.

What is Wikipedia?

"Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an openly editable model." - Wikipedia

This online encyclopedia is a collaborative, cooperative effort by volunteer writers to provide up-to-date information on any subject imaginable.

Wikipedia is one of the most popular reference websites online, with millions of visitors every month. There are more than 19 million articles and 82.000 active contributors.

The Five Pillars

Wikipedia is guided by the following principles, referred to as the Five Pillars:

  1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.
  2. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view.
  3. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute.
  4. Editors should interact with each other in a respectable and civil manner.
  5. Wikipedia does not have firm rules.

Anatomy of a Wikipedia Article

Title: The subject of the article, like "University of Pittsburgh" or "George Washington."

Summary/Opening: An overview that gives general information to describe and define the subject.

Contents: An outline of the information presented in the article. You can click on any of the sections to automatically navigate to that section. 

Sections: Divisions of the information in the article.

References: A list of sources that the editors and contributors consulted while writing the information presented in the article. 

External Links: Links related to the subject of the article. 

Wikipedia's Disclaimers

Strengths

1. Wikipedia is completely free, providing access to information on millions of topics to anyone with Internet capabilities.

2. Wikipedia is constantly updated by the hour. In comparison, print encylopedias are usually updated annually.

3. Wikipedia is a great place to start your research, giving you background information on your topic and possible keywords to help you conduct more in-depth research elsewhere.

4. Sources used in the articles are cited, allowing further investigation into any topic.

Weaknesses

1. Anyone can create, edit, or delete Wikipedia articles.

2. Wikipedia articles cannot be considered scholarly, because we know nothing about the contributors.

3. Articles are works-in-progress, meaning changes are constantly occuring to the information. When an article is first published, the information might waver back and forth between viewpoints before achieving a neutral tone. Viewing the behind-the-scenes discussion can be a valuable way of learning about those varying perspectives.

4. Sometimes articles are vandalized, whether for fun, as a hoax, or because the subject is controversial.

5. The intended audience can vary-- some articles are written from a insider's view, with highly technical language, while some are written for a more general audience. This can be both frustrating and valuable depending on what one is looking for, and either way is a warning sign that the information can be inconsistent.

Wikipedia Mistakes