How to Cite Wikipedia

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How do you cite Wikipedia?

Easy. Two words: you don’t.

The internet makes it so easy to find information, doesn’t it? We have the world at a click of a button, click of a Google search, and apparently–click of a Wikipedia page. As an editor, seeing someone cite Wikipedia in text or in a references page strikes me in the core of my being–and not in a good way.

I would say it’s like nails on a chalkboard, but that’s cliche and, I hate cliches. But hopefully you get the picture.

Authors often say to me, “But I got the information from Wikipedia! So how else do I cite it?” Or, “It’s an encyclopedia, so it’s reliable.” The answer is no, no, and no.

Here’s why:

Any page on Wikipedia can be written—or worse, edited—by anyone. Whether that’s someone who’s spent the last twenty years studying genetic mutations of frogs in the Amazon, or someone who has an opinion on something, but has never read a book in their lives, for instance. Again, two opposite ends of the spectrum, but it’s true: anyone and everyone can write and edit Wikipedia. And while we all wish the person who studied genetic mutations of frogs in the Amazon for the last two decades was the person who wrote the entry you’re looking at on Wikipedia, chances are: they aren’t.

Second: Technically, anything on Wikipedia should have a superscripted number or symbol that, when clicked, sends you to the page where that person got the information. The idea is to have legitimate and trustworthy sources: medical journals, periodicals, newspapers, and magazines. Then, what’s written on Wikipedia is backed up with something reliable.

Which brings me to the one exception: if and only if what you’re citing on Wikipedia has a source linked to it within the entry and, when you go to that source, the source is legitimate and trustworthy, then and only then can you cite that source. But never, ever cite Wikipedia as the first place you visited to get to that source. Otherwise, it doesn’t look good to anyone except you.

Back to the point. Research today is not what it was even ten, or fifteen years ago. The internet has made things too easy for users and frankly, has made us lazy when it comes to research. I remember “back when I was in college” (which wasn’t that long ago), we had to have five resources and three of them had to be non-internet. That’s right, folks. You heard it: non-internet sources.

You may be saying, “How did you find anything without the internet?!”

The answer: a library. It’s full of legitimate, reliable, and trustworthy resources that make us editors oh so warm and fuzzy on the inside.


Questions? Comments? Ask an editor below and we’ll get back to you shortly.