Kent State students, faculty debate Wikipedia’s place in college research

Kiera Manion-Fischer

Illustration by Kristine Gill

Credit: Ron Soltys

Whether for looking up a random fact or researching a paper, Wikipedia is a popular information source for students.

Although many Kent State students and faculty acknowledge the site’s usefulness, they agree the collaborative online encyclopedia should not be cited in scholarly work.

John Jameson, professor and chair of the history department, said he recommends students “use Wikipedia just like you would use a printed encyclopedia.”

He said it could provide a good overview on a topic but should not be cited in a paper.

Chris Hallahan, junior electronic media production major, agreed.

The Web site has no place in research papers, he said, because references are not required in Wikipedia’s online articles.

“It makes it debatable as to whether or not it can be a credible source, but it gives you lots of information,” said Hallahan, whose professors have cast the Web site in a negative light.

Joe Salem, head of reference services at the university library, said because anyone can edit Wikipedia, the biggest concern about students using it for scholarly work is the authority behind it.

Salem said he recommended students verify what they read on the encyclopedia using other sources, such as reference materials in the library. He said many other encyclopedia sources are available online.

Jeanne Smith, instructor in the writing program and director of the Writing Center, said Wikipedia and search tools such as Google are useful to clarify a student’s understanding of a topic or for basic knowledge to explain a lecture or a reading.

Smith said because anyone can edit the encyclopedia, wrong information can be changed in seconds, which adds to Wikipedia’s accuracy.

“The whole world is watching,” she said.

Hallahan said Wikipedia is a good source of information about television and the media because the information is so current.

Junior nursing major Ashley Laughlin, who cited Wikipedia in a research paper, said she thinks it’s a reliable source of information.

“It links you to other sources too, which can be really useful,” she said.

And although she doesn’t use it very often, Laughlin said Wikipedia is her preferred encyclopedia.

Harlan said Wikipedia can be useful if for researching general topics and can give students ideas about other subjects as well.

He said he’s never found anything he’s recognized as being inaccurate and called Wikipedia fairly “self-correcting.”

Hallahan said he also likes the fact that users can contribute to it.

“I think there are other points of view besides media professionals,” he said. “Users have a different perspective.”

Hallahan said he loves Wikipedia.

“It’s a culmination of everything – every idea on the Internet,” he said. “It’s all in one place.”

Harlan said he uses Wikipedia often and has edited articles on the Web site a couple times.

“I might have added a date or something really small,” he said. “Someone might have forgotten punctuation or something.”

If students need research help, Salem said they can ask librarians questions in various ways: by calling, instant messaging at IMaKSULibrarian or going in person to the reference desk. More information is available by visiting the library’s Web site at

Students can also make appointments for personal research consultations by visiting the reference desk or calling (330) 672-3150.

Contact news correspondent Kiera Manion-Fischer at [email protected].