Wikipedia:Avoiding untrue text in articles
|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.|
This essay, WP:Avoiding untrue text in articles is about considering issues of truthful information when writing articles, and how to denote former incorrect ideas in the text. There are several levels of "Truth" which writers must heed, to avoid writing incorrect information, which is known to be false, as if the truth of the text did not matter. It does.
Although Wikipedia cannot determine "ultimate truth" (as by divine guidance), there are many areas where WP policies require editors to be truthful in writing articles. The text, although written in original phrasing, is required to truly match factual data which reliable sources (WP:RS) have written, and editors are expected to be truthful in discussing the details about article text. Editors are expected to truly write text, in their own words, and not plagiarize sources as copyright infringement. When an editor claims to have "added 4 sources" but actually deleted 6 paragraphs of carefully sourced text, then those actions are discouraged. Hence, any claims that "Wikipedia is not about truth" (misleading) are completely out-of-touch with the reality of how Wikipedia editors are expected to edit articles.
Writing about failed or disproven ideas
Because Wikipedia contains vast amounts of historical data, many articles explain prior false notions or failed beliefs from the past. The wording about those issues should clearly indicate that those ideas are known, in modern times, to be false. Text can be phrased with signal words which directly state how the ideas are completely false, such as "formerly believed" or "incorrect concept" or "disproven theory" (etc.). In areas of belief systems, try to attribute the specific ideas directly to the sources, rather than stating ideas as if implicitly or inherently true.
Rejecting questionable text
Although many editors understand that Wikipedia articles cannot contain patent nonsense, it is also important to reject questionable text which seems to be untrue. For example, if a report stated, "Police clocked the car travelling 985. kilometres per hour [612 mph]" then beware the number is almost certainly a typo, where the "985." should have been 98.5 kilometres per hour (61 mph). Find another source, or footnote the "98.5" as matching other speed aspects. Another common case of untrue text would be when later sources have corrected the details for factual errors stated in early reporting about a subject. Ideally, the entire early-released reports should be discounted as invalid sources, where the later, more-accurate sources would be used to verify all other issues written in the article about the subject. Wikipedia editors should not act foolish, as if "born yesterday" with careless, naive or irresponsible acceptance of nonsensical or out-dated text. It is not acceptable to claim "Wikipedia is not about truth" (never) and then parrot lies or put other knowingly incorrect text into articles, which is phrased to imply the false information is being presented as if true. In cases of personal opinion, the source could be quoted (up to about 9 words) as truly reflecting the opinion in the source.
In cases of implied conclusions, it is easy to mistake all the possible results, so text should not be rejected when original conclusions, based on reported facts, could appear to be untrue. Instead, the focus, for spotting untrue text, is when a specific phrase, by definition, is obviously untrue and should not be repeated, or paraphrased, within an article as if being true.
Beyond rejecting untrue or out-dated text, it is also important to avoid rumors or gossip in article text. For controversial information, seek multiple sources with corroborating evidence to support the claims. It is important to avoid untrue claims, or derogatory remarks. See also policy: WP:BLP.
- Wikipedia:Verifiability – WP policy about ensuring text is verifiable.
- Wikipedia:Children's, adult new reader, and large print sources questionable on reliability – WP essay.