Wikipedia College Policy

By Deane Barker on February 13, 2007

College: Wikipedia not source for papers: Interesting. Perhaps a little bitter.

The school’s history department recently adopted a policy that says it’s OK to consult the popular online encyclopedia, but that it can’t be cited as an authoritative source by students.

The policy says, in part, “Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation, even though it may lead one to a citable source.”

History professor Neil Waters says Wikipedia is an ideal place to start research but an unacceptable way to end it.



  1. why bitter?

    wikipedia is a good starting point. but there is no guarantee that anything you quote from it is either true, or still going to be there when someone chases down your references.

    my wife ran into the same issue grading some reports last week, and independently came to the same opinion: good starting point, completely insufficient as a quoted source.

  2. This is just not a big deal for several reasons. First, Middlebury College has approximately 2,400 undergraduate students. This is somewhere on the order of .01% of all undergraduates.

    More importantly, college/university level students should not be citing encyclopedias regardless of whether they exist in print or electronic formats. Encyclopedias are generally tertiary sources; they in turn cite secondary sources which refer to primary sources. While this is fine for getting a general understanding of a subject, it just doesn’t give the level of detail that most college/university studies demand.

    I didn’t go to “a leading liberal-arts school,” I went to a big public university, but I know that if I turned in a paper with citations from an encylopedia (even a specialized one like the New Grove music encyclopedia) I would not have recieved a passing grade on that paper.

  3. I have had a professor at my college (also in the History department interestingly enough) include a similar wiki-no in her syllabus. I would never cite Wikipedia in an academic work but it is a good starting place for getting an overview of a subject.

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