Wikipedia:Party and person

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Different content policies and guidelines use slightly different standards. One of the commonly misunderstood distinctions is between "secondary source" and "third party".

"Secondary" does not mean "independent" or "uninvolved". Most independent sources are not secondary sources.

What is a primary or secondary source?[edit]

Primary source material is original material or conclusions. Secondary sourced material is based on primary sourced material, and may include synthesis, but not novel conclusions. A tertiary source is one that is based on a broad base of material, usually secondary. Many sources contain a combination of primary/secondary/tertiary material.

What constitutes an "original material" depends on the context. As a rule of thumb, if the document is dramatically closer to the event than you are, then it should be treated as a primary source. For example, any ancient manuscript will be considered an "original document" by modern scholars. Wikipedia normally treats century-old newspaper reports as primary sources.

Person Simple example
Primary source material
  • An account of an event, written by an eyewitness.
  • Novel conclusions in scientific report.
  • Court filings, legal documents, and patents.
  • Speeches given by politicians or activists about their views and goals.
Secondary source material
  • A magazine article based on previous media reports.
  • A book about a historical event, based on letters and diaries written at the time.
  • A systematic review, or literature review that combines the results of previous research.
Tertiary source material
  • A modern encyclopedia or dictionary.
  • A book about a historical event, based entirely on other people's books about the event.
  • Most history and science textbooks intended for children.

What is a third-party source?[edit]

Further information: Wikipedia:Third-party sources

A third-party source is a source that isn't involved in the event. The third party is generally expected to be an independent, outside observer. It is common for the third party to be neutral and even-handed, but, in some instances, the third party may have strong opinions about the event. However, he or she takes no direct part in the event.

Party Example
First party
  • An eyewitness account of an event, by a person participating in the event.
  • The inventor of a new device.
  • A press release from a political campaign.
  • The website or other marketing materials for a company.
Third party
  • An eyewitness account of an event, by a bystander who was not participating in the event.
  • A subject-matter expert who reviews the inventor's new device.
  • A journalist reporting on the campaign.
  • A consumer organization writing about the company's products.

For some subjects, there are no first-party sources. For example, no one is an "involved" party in simple arithmetic or basic anatomy, so any reliable source supporting a statement like "two plus two equals four" or "the human hand typically has four fingers and one thumb" will be a third-party source.

For other subjects, no third-party sources exist, because the only people who have published information are the people involved in it. Wikipedia should not have articles on any topic that third-party sources have never written about, or have published only trivial, routine, or passing mentions.

Some sources combine first-party and third-party material. For example, journalist Rose Kushner's first book, Breast Cancer: A Personal History and Investigative Report, presents both the author's personal experiences with having breast cancer in the 1970s (first-party material) and information that she researched from academic and professional sources (third-party material).


Here's how this combines:

First party Third party
Primary source Scientist publishes an original report about his experiments Bystanders at a house fire write about what they saw
Secondary source Scientist combines data from a dozen of his own previously published experiments into a meta-analysis Author uses the bystanders' reports to write a book about house fires

Doesn't "third party" mean "independent"?[edit]

A represents independent sources; B represents third-party sources. Some third-party sources are not completely independent because they have a conflict of interest.
Further information: Wikipedia:Independent sources

Although third-party sources are often also independent (that is, without a conflict of interest), it is not always the case.

Imagine that two large companies are involved in a lawsuit. An investor who is not part of the dispute may still have a conflict of interest, because of plans to profit from the stock market's response to the lawsuit. This investor is a third party, but is not financially independent. He (or she) may have a vested interest in the dispute being seen in a particular light, or being prolonged, even though the investor is not directly involved in the lawsuit.

Consider an election with multiple candidates. Candidate Smith gives a speech attacking Candidate Jones. A third candidate, Roberts, publishes an advertisement decrying the attack. Roberts is a third party—he is not attacking or being attacked—but he is not independent, because he has a vested interest in the situation.

Doesn't "third party" mean "third person"?[edit]

Further information: Grammatical person

Whether a source is first-person, second-person, or third-person is strictly a matter of grammar, not factual content.

Person Example
First person I walked across the room.
Second person You washed the clothes.
Third person They walked to the park.

See also[edit]