Skip to Main Content
Ask Us!Toggle Chat Widget

Wikipedia: Getting Started

Learn what Wikipedia is and isn't. Take a look at some articles about Wikipedia.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia, written collaboratively by the people who use it. Many people are constantly improving Wikipedia, making thousands of changes per hour. 

"Typical academic writing requires students to do original research, have a point of view, and argue it. Wikipedia, however, is a tertiary source of informaton -- based on a collection of secondary resources writing about a primary source.

Simply put, Wikipedia is not a place to publish original research, but rather is a summary of what has been written in reliable sources about the original topic or research."

Wikipedia's approach to privacy - Wikipedia's updated privacy policy.

What Wikipedia "is NOT"

  • A paper encyclopedia or a dictionary.
  • A publisher of original thought.
  • An indiscriminate collection of information.
  • A personal blog or social networking vehicle.
  • A means of promotion.
  • A repository of links, images, or media.
  • A directory, manual, textbook, or scientific journal.
  • A democracy, bureaucracy, battleground or anarchy.
  • A crystal ball. 


(credit: University of Michigan)

Facts about Wikipedia

  • Content type: encylopedia articles
  • Scope: over 5 million articles
  • All subjects covered
  • Default Wikipedia is English
  • Default search results: relevance
  • Truncation symbol:  *
  • Full text search symbol: ~
  • Article title search: intitle:
  • Created by: volunteers worldwide; Wikipedia Foundation

(Adapted from Universiteit Utrect)

Wikipedia's Five Pillars

More details about the Pillars are available on Wikipedia.

  • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. It is not a soapbox, an advertising platform or vanity press, an experiment in anarchy or democracy, an indiscriminate collection of information, or a web directory. 
  • Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view.  Articles and documents should explain major points of view with an impartial tone. 
  • Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute.   No editor owns an article. 
  • Editors should treat each other with respect and civility. Apply Wikipedia etiquette even when you disagree. 
  • Wikipedia has no firm rules. Wikipedia has policies and guidelines, but nothing is carved in stone. 
    (Adapted from Iowa State Univ. Library)

Wikipedia Language Versions

Wikipedia has 284 language versions presently active (April 2017). Several of the most important are listed below:


What Makes a Good Wikipedia Article

  • Featured Article Criteria from Wikipedia
    • Well-written
    • Comprehensive
    • Well-researched
      • verifiable against high-quality reliable sources
      • supported by inline citations where appropriate
    • Neutral 
    • Stable
    • A concise lead section
    • Appropriate structure
    • Consistent citations
    • Appropriate images with acceptable copyright status
    • Appropriate length
  • See list of featured articles for examples


(Credit: adapted from UCLA Library)

Wikipedia in JSTOR: Articles about Wikipedia

Wikipedia: Go Forth and Cite! 

Links to several articles about Wikipedia found in JSTOR.

All of these articles have been made open - access and are available for free PDF download.  

(credit: JSTOR)