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Doctors use Wikipedia as a reference source. Good or bad?

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I recently saw a report about how 60% of european doctors admit to using Wikipedia as a reference source. Was this report appraising the usefulness of Wikipedia or a slight at irresponsible doctors? Personally I think it’s the former and also down to usual journalistic hyperbole; its highly unlikely that Wikipedia would be the only reference tool used by these doctors.

Wikipedia is accessed by 400 million users each month; it is the world’s fifth most popular website and it’s accuracy has been praised in several studies- it seems as though professionals all around the world are utilising this website. Sounds pretty good, right?  So why do lecturers at university advise students to steer away from Wikipedia? Why is that Wikipedia should not be seen in your endnote library? Why is it that when someone tells you something and says ‘I read it on Wikipedia’ you make a mental note to go and check out that fact?

To name the fairly obvious- anyone can publish an article on Wikipedia and the article isn’t authenticated so it can contain errors as well as false information. This sounds very disturbing. I certainly wouldn’t want my doctor’s prognosis based on wrong information concocted by any old individual on the net. However, such a scenario is unlikely, in fact many studies have appraised Wikipedia for its accuracy across such a vast amount of information. Now the best thing about Wikipedia it is FREE; no catches, no hidden costs, just plain and simple free! Anyone with an internet access can point their browser to wikipedia.com and jump into the pool of knowledge. Remember the saying about the internet being the  ‘information superhighway? That’s Wikipedia. 

In this blog I thought I’d give you some pointers on how to use Wikipedia to your advantage and if you have any tips of your own make sure to comment below :-)

We’ve all used Wikipedia at some point in our life: finding out the history of Starbucks while waiting for your frap, or uncovering more out about the topics covered in your coursework or even, heaven forbid, for your dissertation. But do you know how to make the most of it? 

The most important point is to avoid the ‘ctrl V + ctrl C’ combo for any assessed work. I cannot not stress this point enough. No matter how close the deadline is, not only is there a chance that your work may be similar to someone else's in your course, but with softwares such as Turnitin in place such actions of plagiarism are quickly caught out. It really is not worth it. 

Usually, whatever sources are used, it is important to reference them at the end of you work. Using Wikipedia references will not please your assessors. It shows laziness and poor usage of references and overall poor scholarship. Wikipedia articles should be used to increase your understanding around a topic of your work and not be the work itself.

I think Wikipedia is a good place to look when learning something new; it’s a good starting point. The language is easily comprehendible, the format is clean and gives you the main facts. Once the main breadth of the topic is obtained the individual can go gather information elsewhere. Remember the amount of sources used to do your work will reflect on the grade you will achieve, so avoid using wikipedia as the only source.

Excluding peer review and inaccurate citing, a study showed that three errors in average are found in a Wikipedia article, in comparison to four errors in Encyclopaedia Britannica. So whilst in general the articles can be trusted, three errors in an article are simply too high for healthcare professionals- make sure its not your ONLY source of information. At the bottom of each article there are references that can be further explored, so do have a quick glimpse if the article is of some interest.

Finally, remember, Wikipedia is a great tool to enhance your learning-let it be a foundation to build on. It has its pros and cons but as long as you use it wisely the pros definitely overweigh the cons. Also if an article on Wikipedia has really helped, do donate a few pennies to help the site being free from advertisements and most importantly free for everyone.

 

 

 

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