Young Adults' Credibility Assessment of Wikipedia

Authors: Ericka Menchen-Trevino and Eszter Hargittai

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Citation: Menchen-Trevino, E & Hargittai, E. (2011). Young Adults' Credibility Assessment of Wikipedia. Information, Communication & Society. 14(1):24-51.


Wikipedia, a publicly edited online encyclopedia, is accessed by millions of users for answers to questions from trivial to high-stakes topics like health information. This new type of information resource may pose novel challenges for readers when they evaluate the quality of content, yet very little is known about how Wikipedia readers interpret the material they find on the site. Do people know that anyone can edit the site? And if so, what does this lead them to believe about the reliability of the material they find? This study analyzes the information-seeking behavior of a diverse group of 210 college students as a first step toward addressing these questions. We find that a few students demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the Wikipedia editing process, while most have some understanding of how the site functions and a few lack even the basic knowledge that anyone can edit the site. Although many study participants had been advised by their instructors not to cite Wikipedia articles in their schoolwork, students nonetheless use it in their everyday lives. This paper lays the groundwork for further research to determine the extent of Wikipedia knowledge in the broader population and in additional diverse contexts.


  • Introduction
  • Introduction to Wikipedia technology and related social practices
  • Information seeking, credibility, and online sources
  • Methods
    • Data collection
    • Coding behavior and discourse
  • The sample
  • Accessing Wikipedia
  • Knowledge about how Wikipedia works
  • Information credibility discussion
  • Processing Wikipedia articles
  • Limitations
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix I. Task list administered during in-person observation sessions


The authors would like to thank Elizabeth Anderson, Eva Bognar, Waleeta Canon, Jessica Diamond, Gina Walejko and Heather Young for their help with data collection. This paper would not have been possible without the research assistants and staff of the Web Use Project group from 2007 to 2009. Coding assistance from Emily Hoffman, Jessica Diamond and Cassi Saari was especially significant. Lindsay Fullerton and Kristin Thomas provided helpful input. The authors acknowledge the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which made this research possible. The helpful support of Ann Feldman and Tom Moss is also acknowledged. The second author also thanks the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University for its support. This paper draws on material from a larger study led by Eszter Hargittai on college students' Internet skills.

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