As a student of the institution of journalism, which places high emphasis on accuracy in one’s work, I have heard nothing but terrible things about Wikipedia. True, it provides a vast wealth of free information on essentially everything, but it can be edited by absolutely anyone. This brings its credibility under scrutiny, as there is no way to know for certain whether the information you read is accurate.
Still, because of its vastness and user-friendly interface, Wikipedia is very popular with college students as it offers quick and easy information that requires little research skills. Many students, when having to choose between running a Boolean search on a library database and typing in a keyword into Wikipedia, will opt for the latter if there are no consequences.
Of course, college professors have been aware of Wikipedia’s unfortunate popularity, and if mine are anything to go by, they make a point of crusading against Wikipedia in their remarks about their paper citation policies. Even if your professor doesn’t explicitly convey their distaste for Wikipedia, you’re better off assuming that it is unacceptable in their class. If they see that Web address in your citations, it tips them off that you are either new to writing college-level papers, or else a lazy student. You do not want them to assume either about you, so it is best to leave the Wikipedia references out of your paper entirely.
Wikipedia does have its benefits, however, so even though it is widely despised by academics, you shouldn’t swear it off completely.
Though you should never cite Wikipedia, or base your analysis off the information presented in its databases, it can be an excellent place to begin your research (if you are discerning). This is especially true if you are researching a topic you are not familiar with. Running a search on Wikipedia can turn up related keywords and concepts, which can supplement your thesis once you plug said information into a reliable database. The best articles on Wikipedia have in-text citations, which can also be very helpful in finding new angles for your paper.
Wikipedia can be a great resource for fleshing out ideas, so long as you take care to cross-reference and attribute these ideas to more dependable sources. Once you have the terms and concepts you need to write knowledgably about your topic, and have verified their accuracy against reliable external sources, Wikipedia is no longer necessary.