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Wikipedia: Overview

A quick introduction to Wikipedia and its use as a research tool

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Wikipedia is a free online collaborative encyclopedia. Launched in 2001, it has grown in popularity and become one of the most visited websites on the internet, with millions of visitors every month.

Wikipedia is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization that also hosts a range of other projects:

A vast amount of online help is available to help you understand what Wikipedia is, how it operates, and how you can contribute to the resources.

A range of other online reference resources are available you you at the University.  Check out all the information on the Online Reference Resources LibGuide

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The fundamental principles of Wikipedia may be summarized in five "pillars":

  • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia
  • Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view
  • Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute
  • Wikipedia's editors should treat each other with respect and civility
  • Wikipedia has no firm rules

A major difference between Wikipedia and other large reference resources is that Wikipedia articles  can be edited by anyone.  This can be seen as a strength and a weakness.

It benefits from vast numbers of volunteer contributors from all walks of life, facilitating the unprecedented depth and breadth of articles which can be updated as events evolve and change over time. 

However this community aspect can also mean that entries are susceptible vandalism, bias and questionable quality and accuracy.

Wikipedia has a community of editors who review and keep articles up to date and accurate, but you should be aware of this key issue and critically assess and verify material that you find in Wikipedia.

Video published by Justin Franco  on Dec 2, 2009.

This is a short video about how the online information repository Wikipedia came into being.

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  • Wikipedia is one of a number of projects of the Wikimedia Foundation.
  • All the projects can be accessed via the Wikimedia Projects page.
  • The projects are all collaboratively developed by users around the world using the MediaWiki software.
  • All contributions are released under a free Creative Commons license, meaning that any project content may be freely used, edited, copied, and redistributed, subject to the terms of the license. 
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