Research:The role of citations in how readers evaluate Wikipedia articles

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23:07, 31 May 2018 (UTC)
Duration:  2018-06 — 2019-06

This page documents a research project in progress.
Information may be incomplete and change as the project progresses.
Please contact the project lead before formally citing or reusing results from this page.

As part of an ongoing effort to assess and improve the integrity of the knowledge captured in Wikimedia projects, this project will involve research into how Wikipedia readers use the citations (references) to external information resources in order to achieve learning goals—i.e. the ostensible reason that they have chosen to read a Wikipedia article in the first place.

Previous research suggests that citations can help readers achieve their learning goals in at least two ways:

  1. by providing them with evidence that the information about a particular topic on Wikipedia is credible, and
  2. by providing them with signposts to additional information resources about that topic

Learning more about the role that citations play in readers' experience of Wikipedia can help Wikimedia contributors focus and prioritize their sourcing efforts, and help Wikimedia Foundation Product teams build improved features and functionality to support readers’ learning goals and their digital literacy.


This study will begin with a review of existing academic literature related to reader perceptions of the trustworthiness of web content (including Wikipedia content) and the ways that readers use Wikipedia content to learn in both formal and informal learning contexts.

Subsequent to that analysis, the researchers will develop a survey instrument, based on the the one developed for Research:Characterizing Wikipedia Reader Behavior, with the question list slightly altered and supplemented with additional questions focused on gaining insight into how readers perceive and interact with the citations in Wikipedia articles. A link to the survey will be deployed to a sample of readers on English Wikipedia, when they view articles, using the QuickSurvey extension.

Additional research qualitative methods--such as ethnographic interviews and lab studies--are also planned. These methods will help the researchers gain a deeper understanding into the factors (e.g. information needs, available technology, profession, education level) that mediate a reader's perception of citations: when, how, and why they use them; and what characteristics of a Wikipedia reader (e.g. demographics) or their context of use (e.g. desktop/mobile) are associated with likelihood to engage with citations, evaluation of citations, or other article features that readers draw upon when evaluating the accuracy, neutrality, or usefulness of Wikipedia content.


July-September 2018
background research, study plan
October 2018 - January 2019
develop, deploy and analyze first survey on English Wikipedia; develop taxonomy of reasons for trusting Wikipedia content.
February March 2019
deploy second-round survey on English and analyze data; recruit for an begin conducting follow-up interviews; select additional languages for survey deployment; translate and deploy survey in those languages
analyze multilingual survey results; analyze interview results; perform cross-wiki survey analysis; report and publish project findings


First round (EN)[edit]

Survey ran from 2019/1/7 to 2019/1/9. We received 297 complete survey responses (425 responses total).

See also[edit]

Related project pages[edit]

Subpages of this page[edit]

Pages with the prefix 'The role of citations in how readers evaluate Wikipedia articles' in the 'Research' and 'Research talk' namespaces:

Research talk: