It's time to debunk a very annoying myth: "You can't use Wikipedia as a source of information!" You hear it from university professors, research organizations and anyone else that wants you to put some kind of literature together with facts. Pah, I say.
Of course you can use Wikipedia! Just look at all that information sitting there, neatly arranged into sections to make learning quick and easy. The website might insist that it is run by volunteers, but don't be fooled--there are research and writing professionals behind most of Wikipedia's encyclopedia pages.
So what do you do if other sources are tough to find, or you're just short on time?
Open Wikipedia and Read the Page You Were Going to Read Anyway
Go on, just do it. Find the information you need, learn what you needed to learn and write your piece. Easy, right? Great.
The truth is, Wikipedia does a fantastic job of putting together tonnes and tonnes of information that would otherwise take hours to dig up from "reputable publishers." It's almost as if they're a....get this...encyclopedia company. But a better one that updates automatically so you don't have to buy a new set every 5 years. Wow! What an innovative idea!
The "Problem" With Sourcing
There is no actual problem with sourcing, unless you're just writing "Wikipedia" at the bottom of your paper or linking to a specific page. And yes, THAT would be ridiculous.
Here's what you should be doing, using an example I'm currently using:
I wanted to know how many people were living in Rome in the Middle Ages, and Wikipedia was pretty sure it could help me out (it did.) Here's the exact sentence I needed:
Now, there are two ways to use the information you find on a page such as this. In my case, there is no footnote marked for this particular fact. So, I head over to Google and type in the basic information as I've found it:
And then, do some scrolling...and there it is! A "real" source stating the same fact. Hurray! Open it up, double-check it, and go ahead and cite that thing.
Sometimes, it's even easier than that. For example, let's say the fact I wanted to find was actually about the origins of the name of the city itself. Using the same Wikipedia page, the following sentence does just that:
Now, see that tiny little "8" at the end of the sentence? That's what we call a footnote. It leads to the end of the document, where you will find the exact source from which the information came.
Click it, and it leads to this:
That's your source. Cite it. Stop worrying. Finish your project and chill.