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How to cite Wikipedia if you need a reference source
If you need to cite a reference source, it can be very easy to be lazy and default to Wikipedia. Many a student has phoned in their academic paper by quoting the website. Although it can be seen as a somewhat lazy way to conduct historical research, there are ways to cite Wikipedia if you really need to. We’ll cover the four main styles and why you should hesitate to cite them in the first place.
To cite Wikipedia, decide if it needs to be in MLA format, APA format, Chicago format, or Harvard format. Each one has its own style and requirements. Then follow the format shown below.
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Should you cite Wikipedia?
Citing and linking to Wikipedia entries is generally heavily discouraged in academic and business circles. It can be useful for the first draft of a paper — to build a basic foundation upon which to flesh out with later research from more reliable sources. But to rely solely on Wikipedia is like building a house on an earthquake fault line. It’s very unreliable and prone to collapse at the slightest inspection.
Wikipedia has never been 100% accurate, and although editorial standards have greatly improved over the years, you can never be completely sure if an erroneous detail has inadvertently slipped through the cracks. Prominent figures embellish their pages all the time, and controversial figures and events have their pages vandalized all the time. Given how big Wikipedia is, it can be a while before false information is found, changed, and the page locked to prevent it from happening again.
How to cite Wikipedia
If the above doesn’t deter you, and you still need to cite Wikipedia, then here are the four major styles you will likely have to choose from, along with their citation format.
MLA format needs to include the publisher’s name and the date of the last modification of the article. You can get this date by scrolling down to the very bottom of the page. The date of the last modification will be displayed there.
The MLA format
"Article Title." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Date of last modification, URL.
“Android (operating system).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 October 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Android_(operating_system).
APA requires that you link to an archived version of the Wikipedia page, so anyone checking your sources will see what you saw. Then if the page is subsequently changed, you can still prove that the information was correct at the time you cited it.
Click View history at the top of the page. Then click the link to the current page version. This is the link you must cite to conform to APA standards.
The APA format
Article title. (Year, Month Day). In Wikipedia. URL
Android (operating system). (2022, October 16). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Android_(operating_system)&oldid=1116429618
The Chicago format also requires the date that the article was last modified. But unlike the MLA format, Chicago also requires the time of the day that the article was changed.
The Chicago format
“Article Title,” Wikimedia Foundation, last modified Date, URL.
“Android (operating system),” Wikimedia Foundation, last modified October 16, 2022, 14:40, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Android_(operating_system).
The Harvard format is somewhat different than the others. The main difference is that the citation requires an ‘access date.’ This is simply the day you ‘accessed’ the information on Wikipedia (so, most likely today.)
But the Harvard format is also simpler in that it doesn’t require linking to specific versions or specifying the date and time the article was last modified.
The Harvard format
Wikipedia Contributors (published date year). Article title. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: article URL [Accessed access date]
Wikipedia Contributors (2022). Android (operating system). [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Android_(operating_system) [Accessed 19 Oct. 2022]
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia where anyone can make an account and contribute to subjects they feel they are an expert in. Wikipedia is also available in nine languages other than English.
It costs nothing to get a Wikipedia page. However, in Wikipedia’s terms, the page’s subject must be “noteworthy.” The subject must have been cited in reputable news sources, and those news sources must be linked to the Wikipedia page. Failure to meet those standards will result in the page being deleted by a Wikipedia editor.
In theory, there’s nothing to stop you from making an anonymous account and making a page about yourself (or altering an existing page about yourself.) Understandably, Wikipedia heavily frowns upon it as you can’t remain neutral writing about yourself. The article also needs to meet the noteworthy standard. However, people have been caught writing their own pages based on their IP address, which is logged on the Wikipedia page history.
The main criticism leveled against Wikipedia is that anybody can make an account and post whatever they like. Editorial standards are much stricter now than they used to be, so false information is usually removed quite quickly. However, it still stays on the page until somebody notices it and flags it, which can be hours or even days. Pages about controversial people and controversial events are also often vandalized.
There are websites that will automatically generate Wikipedia citations for you. One good one is MyBib.