Dispatches: Reliable sources in content review processes

By Ealdgyth, June 26, 2008

One of the features of Wikipedia's best articles that sets them apart from much of the Internet is the skill with which they are verified (WP:V) and reliably sourced (WP:RS); these processes are derived from policy and guideline, respectively. Wikipedia's authority on the Internet partly relies on its attention to these two issues. Like all of Wikipedia's content, featured article candidates (FACs), featured list candidates (FLCs) and good article nominees (GANs) are scrutinized by reviewers for their grounding in sources our readers can rely on. This is explicitly reinforced in FA Criterion 1c, in the lead of the FL criteria, in Good Article Criterion 2 and at peer review. FA Criterion 2c also stipulates that featured articles should have consistently formatted inline citations.

Determining what makes a source reliable and text verifiable is often not a straightforward task, and can require considered judgement; but this process is within the reach of all good Wikipedian writers. This dispatch sets out advice for how to evaluate sources – especially for nominators and reviewers at Wikipedia's content review pages. This is not an exhaustive list, but aims to help Wikipedians to acquire the necessary skills.

When evaluating sources, look at how the source is being used; contentious statements or anything related to a living person require a high-quality source. Exceptional claims, even if they aren't about living people, require high-quality reliable sources and will draw scrutiny.

Citing sources

See also: WP:CITE and WP:CITE/ES

Content sourced to books, magazines, newspapers, and other published sources should specify the title and publisher, as well as author, date of publication and location within the work when available. Usually, "location" means a page range, but for small works or articles this may not be necessary. The edition of the work (3rd ed., revised) is needed, as revisions of a source can change it substantially.

For web pages, the needs are similar: publisher, title, and date of last access are the bare minimum, and author and publication date should be given when available.

If a citation is missing publisher information or page numbers, text may be hard to verify and reliability is difficult to evaluate; before approaching FAC, make sure all of your sources are complete and consistently cited, as required by Criterion 2c and Wikipedia's citing examples. GAN does not have a requirement for consistently formatted citations, but consistency may increase the impression of authority and accuracy in an article.

Reliable sources

WP:RS says "Articles should be based on reliable, third-party, published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy." Websites may receive more scrutiny than books, magazines or newspapers; while printed sources are also checked, it can be harder to judge reliability on websites, and so they often warrant extra attention. Explicit opinion pieces in newspapers and magazines need to be assessed in relation to the overall balance in an article, in line with the WP:NPOV policy.

Printed sources
In general, the most reliable sources are peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses; university-level textbooks; magazines, journals, and books published by respected publishing houses; and mainstream newspapers. As a rule of thumb, the greater the degree of scrutiny involved in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the evidence and arguments of a particular work, the more reliable it is. Academic and peer-reviewed publications are highly valued and usually the most reliable sources in areas where they are available, such as history, medicine and science. Material from reliable non-academic sources may also be used in these areas, particularly if they are respected mainstream publications. The appropriateness of any source always depends on the context.
WP:Verifiability, June 23, 2008

For books or other printed sources – including albums and DVDs that relate directly to the topic – the following warrant closer scrutiny of the sources:

In some popular-culture articles, a bias against printed sources may be detected. Printed sources are often more reliable than online sources, and there is no reason not to use them where they are available.

Websites

The following are some things reviewers can check in citations sourced to websites:

  • If a site is backed by a large media company or is a media or official organization, it may be reliable, depending on the text being cited.
  • If a site has an "about us" page, "contact us" or FAQ page, check those for information about how the site gathers information.
  • If a site is written by a noted expert who has been independently published by reliable sources in the field, or is hosted by a college or university institute concerned with the field, it may be reliable, depending on the text cited or whether there should be other, more reliable (for example, peer-reviewed) sources available.

Websites with the following attributes should be questioned:

Responding to queries about reliable sources

Anyone can create a website or pay to have a book published, then claim to be an expert in a certain field. For that reason, self-published books, newsletters, personal websites, open wikis, blogs, forum postings, and similar sources are largely not acceptable. Self-published material may, in some circumstances, be acceptable when produced by an established expert on the topic of the article whose work in the relevant field has previously been published by reliable third-party publications. However, caution should be exercised when using such sources: if the information in question is really worth reporting, someone else is likely to have done so. Articles and posts on Wikipedia may not be used as sources.
WP:SPS, June 23, 2008

Reviewers need to know what sort of reputation for accuracy, fact checking and editorial oversight the website has. You can establish this by showing:

Meeting these criteria doesn't necessarily mean a source is reliable (depending on the text cited) or that you've used the best sources, but they do set a minimum threshold you should be prepared to meet.

Things that won't help:




Also this week:

Board elections — BLP enforcement — Global groups — WikiWorld — News and notes — Dispatches — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report


(← Previous Dispatches) Signpost archives (Next Dispatches→)