Wikipedia:These are not original research
|While this essay is not a Wikipedia policy or guideline itself, it is intended to supplement the Wikipedia:No original research page, to which editors should defer in case of inconsistency between that page and this one.|
This essay describes some examples of analysis that the authors believe do not constitute original research. This page is not policy, and should not be applied as if it were. For the policy, please see Wikipedia:No original research.
- Accurate paraphrasing of reliable sources is not considered original research. In fact, in most cases you are actually required by policy to write in your own words rather than plagiarizing the source's wording. This includes:
- using synonyms rather than quotations;
- using plain English rather than jargon from a technical source; and
- summarizing whole pages, chapters, or books in one or two sentences.
- Any relatively simple and direct mathematical calculation that reasonably educated readers can be expected to quickly and easily reproduce. For example, if given the population and the size of a specific area, then the population density of that area may be included.
- Complex calculations (for instance, those involving statistics) should not be used to build an argument, because they require skills that common educated readers do not possess, or involve a large number of steps that may not be obvious, making it difficult to detect errors. However, you can use simple descriptive statistics to describe data without advancing any argument. For example, rather than reproducing an entire table of data, you may describe the range or the median from a table of data, e.g., "The town's population during the last century has ranged from X to Y".
- You may round to appropriate levels of precision. If the source says that "23.64456% of the objects are foo"—and that level of precision is not relevant or an appropriate level of detail for the article—then it is acceptable for you to write that "about 24% are foo" or "about one-quarter are foo". Any reasonably educated person can see that this is an accurate descriptions of what the source says.
- You may describe quantitative relationships in words. If the source says that "25% of the objects are foo and 75% are bar", then it is acceptable for you to write that "For every one foo object, there are three bar objects" or that "Most objects are bar".
Compiling facts and information
- Compiling related facts and information from independent sources is part of writing an encyclopedia. For example, multiple secondary sources are usually required before the notability of a subject is established. Those sources must then be combined to produce a cohesive, comprehensive, and coherent article. Neutral point of view requires presenting all significant viewpoints on an issue, and may include collecting opinions from multiple, possibly biased and/or conflicting, sources. Organizing published facts and opinions which are based on sources that are directly related to the article topic—without introducing your opinion or fabricating new facts, or presenting an unpublished conclusion—is not original research.
- Comparing and contrasting conflicting facts and opinion is not original research, as long as any characterization of the conflict is sourced to reliable sources. If reliable references cannot be found to explain the apparent discrepancy, editors should resist the temptation to add their own explanation. Present the material within the context contained in reliable sources, but avoid presenting the information in a way that "begs the question". An unpublished synthesis or analysis should not be presented for the readers' "benefit". Let the readers draw their own conclusions after seeing related facts in juxtaposition.
- Identifying synonymous terms, and collecting related information under a common heading is also part of writing an encyclopedia. Reliable sources do not always use consistent terminology, and it is sometimes necessary to determine when two sources are calling the same thing by different names. This does not require a third source to state this explicitly, as long as the conclusion is obvious from the context of the sources. Articles should follow the naming conventions in selecting the heading under which the combined material is presented.
Conflict between sources
At times, sources provide conflicting facts and opinions. Comparing and contrasting these conflicts is not generally classed as original research (as the nature of the conflict can be referenced to sources meeting WP:VERIFY), but synthesis or unsupported conclusions based on those conflicts must not appear in an article. These source conflicts fall into two broad categories: factual and summation.
A factual conflict arises when reliable sources present facts which appear to contradict each other. As an example, one source may claim a town had a population of 5,000 in 1990, while another claims a population of 7,000 in the same year.
A summation conflict arises when sources disagree in conclusions or interpretations that can be drawn from facts. For example, if one source says that currently low inflation will result in an improvements in the economy, and another source says that currently low inflation will lead to a worsening of the economy. Both sources agree that inflation is low, but disagree as to what that means.
It is important to keep in mind that in cases of apparent contradictions, both sources may in fact be correct in their own contexts. For example, in the case of the population of a town, the sources may use different boundaries to define the town, or different criteria as to who counts as a member of the population.
To resolve such conflicts, consider the quality, number, and respective age of reliable sources.
- If all, or nearly all, high-quality sources agree with each other, it is appropriate to omit the information in the lower quality sources, per WP:GEVAL, or the rare minority source, per WP:DUE.
- If equally reliable sources disagree, present all of the information: "The town's population in 1990 has been reported as being 5,000 and 7,000." You may also note that sources disagree, if the disagreement is general: "Inflation has been low, and experts disagree on the effect this will have."
- You may attribute the conflicting positions directly to the sources with WP:INTEXT attribution: "Famous Expert A says that because inflation has been low, the economy will improve. Famous Expert B says that low inflation will lead to a worsening of the economy."
- If the sources differ significantly in time it is advisable to do more research to determine if a change in meaning or view has occurred.
- If the conflict represents information that is trivial or of limited value to the article, you may also omit the disputed information entirely.
- Take care to avoid characterizing, implicitly or overtly, the accuracy of otherwise reliable sources in any article. We do discuss and evaluate sources as part of our work in researching material for inclusion in articles, but the policy no original research prohibits combining material from multiple sources to reach or imply a conclusion not explicitly stated by any of the sources. There are times that a reliable source is simply incorrect, but it is inappropriate to imply or state that is the case without a reference to a reliable source. You may not, using the examples above, say "Source A asserts the town's population as 5,000; however, this is disproven by the following sources and circumstances, and the true population was at least 7,000 in 1990."
- If another reliable source discusses the accuracy of one or another source, it may be appropriate to use that source to choose between alternative sources or to discuss the conflict between them, depending on the strength of the sources and the relative importance of the material. For example, if source C says that source A is incorrect, it may be appropriate to simply state "The town's population in 1990 was 7,000" and cite source B and/or C, or to say "Source A asserts the town's population as 5,000, but Source C disputes the accuracy of that claim. Source B asserts the population was 7,000 in 1990."
- If reliable sources exist which show that another apparently reliable source is demonstrably factually incorrect, the factually incorrect material should be removed. (See also WP:Inaccuracy).
Works of fiction
A book, short story, film, or other work of fiction is a primary source for any article or topic regarding that work. Anything that can be observed by a reasonable person simply by reading the work itself, without interpretation, is not original research, but is reliance upon a primary source. This would include direct quotes or non interpretative summaries, publication dates, and any other patent information that can be observed from the work. For example, if there are multiple versions of a particular story, and one version does not have a particular character, or has extra characters, that is clear simply by reading or watching the work. The fact that one would have to read or watch the whole thing does not make the matter original research. The work is verifiable, even if it takes more time than flipping to a single page.
The same is true for non-fiction works: You may use a book like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as a primary source for a description of what the book is about.
Translation and contextualizing
Sources are written in a given language and context, and may need to be translated into a specific dialect of English, or placed in an encyclopedic context. Caution is needed to ensure that the original meaning is preserved in any transformation.
- Wikipedia articles are written in a consistent dialect of the English language. It may be necessary to change spelling, use synonyms, or rephrase text written in different dialects to conform to the chosen dialect. This is not original research as long as the original meaning is preserved.
- Although the English language version of a source should be used when it is published in multiple languages, foreign language sources are also welcome, and even encouraged to reduce systemic bias. In this case, a previously published translation is preferred if one is available. Text from another language that has no translation into English available may be newly translated. Any original translations should be faithful, to the point of literalness; if interpretation is called for, it should be explicitly in parenthetical notes.1 Fluency in a foreign language is an exception to the "without specialist knowledge" provision.
- Sources may be written in a fictional, nationalistic, religious or other narrow context. Material from these sources incorporated in Wikipedia must be placed in a broader, more encyclopedic context. Placing material in an encyclopedic context is different from taking things out of context. For example: material written in a fictional context needs to be described in an out of universe perspective; material written from a localized or nationalistic perspective must be presented in a perspective consistent with a world-wide viewpoint; religious dogma must be characterized as such, and not presented as accepted fact outside of that religion.2 This is not original research when good editorial judgment is used.
- Source information does not need to be in text form - any form of information such as maps may be used to provide source information. Interpretation of such media is not original research provided that it is done in a routine manner observing any limitations usually associated with the medium concerned and such interpretations are readily verifiable by anybody who has access to the same source.
Typos and proofing errors
Many sources contain typographical and proofing errors. Claiming tendentiously that such a mistake represents the author's intent is often dishonest. However, it is important to be exacting when using direct quotations. The proper way to deal with them is:
- If at all possible, if the mistake is trivial (spelling, grammar) avoid the problem by paraphrasing the source. People who verify the citation will read it in context, and see that it is obviously an error in the printing.
- If the text must be quoted, either place the correction in brackets,3 or mark it with a [sic] to clearly indicate errors. The best choice between these two options should be determined in Wikipedia's Manual of Style.
Caveats about expert material
Experts are human, and can publish statements that are contradicted by known facts, or otherwise erroneous. The reasons for this contradiction vary: intentional bias, a failing of editorial oversight, or lack of context. Sometimes the statements of experts can become obsolete or inaccurate in light of the normal process of peer-review and advancement in their field.
Wikipedians are not mere copyists, bound to repeat simple statements absent context or without thought. The intent of the NPOV is presenting the dialogue that is apparent in the body of reliable references, not to mechanically include every possible opinion about the subject. We have a responsibility to present an accurate and factual overview of the topic addressed in the article. This may include indicating when a given authority may be wrong and presenting contradicting claims using proper weighting.
A solution is to accurately and honestly cite the authority, while also citing the conflicting fact(s); point to the problem, but do not attempt to solve it with your own arguments. Stating emphatically that the authority is wrong because of these facts, is original research; you are introducing a novel interpretation of the facts. This caveat may be done by way of a footnote, or a short statement appropriately placed in the article. Following each statement with an elaborate response that disrupts the flow of the article should be avoided; if the authority needs to be qualified on several points, the reliability of that expert or particular work may be questionable. It may also be appropriate to create a separate section (or another article), for these qualifications—with the appropriate citations, of course. In that case, this is not presenting original research, but deepening Wikipedia's coverage of the discussion on this subject.
- ^Note 1 : The credit for any new translation should be (tr:WP). The translation must, of course, be editable. Fair use caveats apply as they do for other quoted texts; note that while the original text may be public domain, translations of it may be copyrighted.
- ^Note 2 : This does not apply to direct quotations, which should be quoted exactly. The lead-in or follow-up to the quote should provide appropriate context.
- ^Note 3 : For example: If the original text reads "Smith decided it was a impossible task", rendering it as "Smith decided it was a[n] impossible task" or "Smith decided it was [an] impossible task". This clearly shows the reader the correction made from the original source.
- "It is impossible to overemphasize [emphasis added] the importance of meticulous accuracy in quoting from the works of others." (Chicago Manual of Style. 15th Edition. University of Chicago Press (2003). Pg 445. ISBN 9780226104034.)
- Sagan, Carl (1995) The Demon-Haunted world ISBN 0-394-53512-X pg 212-216