How to cite Wikipedia

In academic writing, whenever you quote or paraphrase someone else’s work or draw on their ideas, you need to cite the original source.

Wikipedia is a useful source of background information that students often use in the early stages of research. However, when you’re writing your paper, it’s usually better to seek out a more reliable source and cite that instead.

If you’re sure you want to cite Wikipedia, make sure to correctly format the citation according to the citation style you’re following. There are many different styles of citation: APA, MLA, and Chicago style are three of the most commonly used.

How to cite Wikipedia in APA style

In APA style, only the first word of the title is capitalized, and there is no period after the URL.

APA Wikipedia citation example
FormatArticle title. (Date of archived version). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from URL
Reference listEvolutionary history of life. (2019, November 13). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://­en.wikipedia.org/­w/­index.php?title=Evolutionary_­history_­of_­life&oldid=925898335
In-text citation(“Evolutionary history,” 2019)

APA recommends linking to a specific archived version of the Wikipedia article so that the reader can be sure they are accessing the exact same version. This can be accessed by clicking the “View history” tab at the top of the article and selecting the latest revision:
Where to find an archived version of a Wikipedia page

How to cite Wikipedia in MLA style

In MLA style, the title takes headline capitalization, the publisher is included, and there is a period after the URL.

MLA Wikipedia citation example
Format“Article Title.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, date of last modification, URL.
Works Cited“Evolutionary History of Life.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Nov. 2019, https://­en.wikipedia.org/­wiki/­Evolutionary_­history_­of_­life.
In-text citation(“Evolutionary History”)

The date of last modification can be found at the very bottom of the article (“This page was last edited on…”).

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How to cite Wikipedia in Chicago style

In Chicago style, Wikipedia can be cited informally in the text:

The Wikipedia article on photosynthesis states that…

However, if you want to create a more formal citation, Chicago has guidelines for two different referencing styles: author-date or notes and bibliography.

Author-date

In author-date style, a parenthetical citation appears in the text, and full details are given in the reference list.

Chicago Wikipedia citation example (author-date)
FormatWikipedia. Year. “Article Title.” Last modified Date. URL.
Reference listWikipedia. 2019. “Evolutionary History of Life.” Last modified November 13, 2019. https://­en.wikipedia.org/­wiki/­Evolutionary_­history_­of_­life.
In-text citation(Wikipedia 2019)

Notes and bibliography

In this style, you cite sources in footnotes or endnotes. You can either use full notes that give all publication details, or you can use short notes in combination with a bibliography.

Chicago Wikipedia citation example (full notes)
Full note format1. “Article title,” Wikipedia, last modified Date, URL.
Full note example1. “Evolutionary History of Life,” Wikipedia, last modified November 13, 2019, https://­en.wikipedia.org/­wiki/­Evolutionary_­history_­of_­life.
Chicago Wikipedia citation example (short notes and bibliography)
Short note format1. Wikipedia, “Shortened Article Title.”
Short note example1. Wikipedia, “Evolutionary History.”
Bibliography formatWikipedia. “Article Title.” Last modified Date. URL.
Bibliography exampleWikipedia. “Evolutionary History of Life.” Last modified November 13, 2019. https://­en.wikipedia.org/­wiki/­Evolutionary_­history_­of_­life.

Should you cite Wikipedia?

Using Wikipedia as a source is generally discouraged in academic writing, and your institution may even have a specific rule against doing so.

Why is Wikipedia not considered a reliable source?

Wikipedia is a compilation of information from various places rather than an original source in itself; in general, only primary and secondary sources should be cited in an academic paper. In addition, Wikipedia pages can be edited by anyone, which makes it difficult to determine the accuracy of the information they contain.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use the site at all. Wikipedia is often a good starting point for your research, since most of its articles comprehensively cite the original sources of information.

How to use Wikipedia wisely

You can often find useful sources through sections like references, further reading, and external links, located at the bottom of a Wikipedia article. Look for reliable sources such as scholarly journals, published books, and official websites.

You may occasionally want to cite a piece of general (rather than specialist) information from Wikipedia. When doing so, it’s good practice to independently verify any information you are not sure about before citing it.

Make sure to check for any warnings at the top of the article that might indicate the information is unreliable. In this case, it might not be a good idea to use the article even for background information.

Example of a poor-quality Wikipedia article

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

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