This is a list of key points of frequently misinterpreted sourcing policy, guidelines, and community norms at Wikipedia. It also covers some related issues surrounding enforcement. It is not complete, and may mutate over time. It is primarily focused on WP:Verifiability, WP:Identifying reliable sources, and WP:No original research § Primary, secondary and tertiary sources.

As of 2020, the points below badly need to be reinforced in our policies and guidelines, perhaps in multiple places (though in much more compact wording – this page explains the issues, and is not wordsmithing them into rule rewrites):

What a writer/organization is an expert in matters – a lot[edit]

Editors misuse authors who are expert in one field, for their claims regarding another field.

For example, it doesn't matter if an author is a world-class expert on quantum mechanics, if what they're writing about is a professional digression into human psychology or the history of Cyprus. They are not necessarily more reliable for those topics than any other random writer.

Wikipedia over-focuses on publisher instead of author reputability[edit]

Editors use the existence of a publisher as evidence of an effective field review system that would ensure the quality of an author's claims.

Most of our assessments of publisher reliability are based on pre-Internet reputation, and reputable publishers often print material by people who turn out to be quacks or frauds, anyway.

Editorials, columns, and blogs are categorically primary sources[edit]

Editors misuse opinion as fact. The opinions of geniuses and respected organizations are still just opinions.

Most editorials, op-eds, reviews, blogs, and advice and essay columns are not high-quality primary sources. When they have not been written by notable individuals (in their areas of expertise) or those acting as official spokespersons of notable organizations, either with their own sources cited or at least a very clear indication where the information is ultimately coming from, they're just noise.[a]

Journalism and news are not guaranteed reliable or secondary sources[edit]

Editors use journalism and news reporting for claims which newspapers, magazines, documentaries, and news sites cannot substantiate.

Journalism "proper" and news reporting are not the same (though the profession of journalism covers both). Each has its reliability problems.

Not all tertiary sources are created equal, and none are ideal[edit]

Editors use poor-quality tertiary sources where appropriate higher-quality secondary sources should be cited.

Reputable encyclopedias and dictionaries, both general and field-specific, are reasonable (at least temporarily) for basic and uncontroversial information, as long as we understand that more in-depth and current secondary sourcing trumps them. Being a compilation of previously-published claims doesn't "automagically" make a work reliable.

Scholarly coverage does not equate to scholarly consensus[edit]

Editors mistake claims about reality for reality itself, and equate both frequent coverage and newness to veracity.

Editor understanding of original research is at an all-time low[edit]

Editors both create original research by inferring correlations, and fail to summarize reliable-source consensuses by claiming that it would be original research.

The WP:No original research policy needs to be rewritten with greatly enhanced clarity, both as to what various classes of sources are permissible for what kind of info in what contexts, and as to what does and doesn't constitute original research at all.

We should enforce against disruptive editing more swiftly and broadly, with less drama[edit]

Our editorial community and admin corps are not taking sufficient steps to protect the integrity of the content and of the project.

Wikipedia can and should more quickly shut down disruptive editing of all kinds. This is especially the case when discretionary sanctions (WP:AC/DS, or just "DS") have been already been authorized for a topic; what are we waiting for? This includes enforcement of WP:Wikipedia is not, and the WP:Core content policies, not just WP:Civility-related matters.

In conclusion[edit]

If a lot of the above were resolved through better-written policies (and better enforcement thereof), then it wouldn't matter so much if screaming obsessives on either side showed up to rant about Trump or e-cigarettes or a fringe topic. If they tried to use sources incorrectly we'd just revert them, and if they unreverted, someone else would revert them again because we'd all be on the same page about sourcing. If they didn't stop, they'd be swiftly removed from the topic area, but given a chance to learn from the experience.


  1. ^ Occasionally, the noise is actually what we want, as a primary source; e.g. when someone famous wrote something inflammatory, and our article is writing about the controversy.
  2. ^ Technically, "non-indiscriminate" a.k.a. "non-trivial"; WP:Notability only determines whether a topic can have a stand-alone article here, while the standard for inclusion inside another article is WP:What Wikipedia is not § Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information.

See also[edit]