Wikipedia:Third-party sources

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Every article on Wikipedia must be based upon verifiable statements from multiple third-party reliable sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy. A third-party source is one that is entirely independent of the subject being covered, e.g., a newspaper reporter covering a story that they are not involved in except in their capacity as a reporter. The opposite of a third-party source is a first-party or non-independent source. A third-party source is not affiliated with the event, not paid by the people who are involved, and not otherwise likely to have a conflict of interest or significant bias related to the material.

This concept is contrasted with the unrelated concept of a secondary source, which is one where the material presented is based on some other original material, e.g., a non-fiction book analyzing original material such as news reports, and with a primary source, where the source is the wellspring of the original material, e.g., an autobiography or a politician's speech about their own campaign goals. Secondary does not mean third-party, and primary does not mean non-independent or affiliated with the subject. Secondary sources are often third-party or independent sources, but they are not always third-party sources.

Although there is technically a small distinction between a third-party source and an independent one, most of Wikipedia's policies and guidelines use the terms interchangeably, and most sources that are third-party also happen to be independent.

Wikipedia's requirements[edit]

Policies and guidelines requiring third-party sources[edit]

The necessity of reliable, third-party sources is cemented in several of Wikipedia's policies and guidelines:

  • Wikipedia's policy on both Verifiability and No original research states that "If no reliable, third-party sources can be found for an article topic, Wikipedia should not have an article on it."
  • Wikipedia's policy on Verifiability states that "Articles should be based upon reliable, third-party published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy."
  • Wikipedia's guideline on Reliable sources states that "Wikipedia articles should rely primarily on reliable, third-party, published sources".
  • Wikipedia's guideline on Notability states that "If a topic has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject, it is presumed to satisfy the inclusion criteria for a stand-alone article."

How to meet the requirement[edit]

An article must be based upon reliable third-party sources, and meets this requirement if:

  • Reliable: A third-party source is reliable if it has standards of peer review and fact-checking. In general, the more people engaged in checking facts, the more reliable the publication.
  • Third-party: A third-party source is independent and unaffiliated with the subject, thus excluding first-party sources such as self-published material by the subject, autobiographies, and promotional materials.
  • Sources: At least two third-party sources should cover the subject, to avoid idiosyncratic articles based upon a single perspective.
  • Based upon: These reliable third-party sources should verify enough facts to write a non-stub article about the subject, including a statement explaining its significance.

Once an article meets this minimal standard, additional content can be verified using any reliable source. However, any information that violates What Wikipedia is not must be removed, regardless of whether or not it is verified in reliable third-party sources.

Why third-party sources are required[edit]

Third-party sources are a necessary foundation for any article. Although Wikipedia is not paper, it is also not a dumping ground for any and all information that readers consider important or useful. For the sake of neutrality, Wikipedia cannot rely upon any editor's opinion about what topics are important. Everything in Wikipedia must be verified in reliable sources, including statements about what subjects are important and why. To verify that a subject is important, only a source that is independent of the subject can provide a reliable evaluation. A source too close to the subject will always believe that the subject is important enough to warrant detailed coverage, and relying exclusively upon this source will present a conflict of interest and a threat to a neutral encyclopedia.

Arguably, an independent and reliable third-party is not always objective enough to evaluate a subject. There are many instances of biased coverage by journalists, academics, and critics. Even with peer review and fact-checking, there are instances where otherwise reliable publications report complete falsehoods. But Wikipedia does not allow editors to improve an article with their own criticisms or corrections. Rather, if a generally reliable source makes a false or biased statement, the hope is that another reliable source can be found to refute that statement and restore balance. (In extreme cases, a group of editors will agree to remove the verified but false statement, but without adding any original commentary in its place.)

If multiple reliable publications have discussed a topic, let alone debated a topic, then that only improves the topic's probability of being covered in Wikipedia. First, multiple sources that have debated a subject will reliably demonstrate that the subject is worthy of notice. Second, and equally important, these reliable sources will allow editors to verify certain facts about the subject that make it significant, and write an encyclopedic article that meets our policies and guidelines.

Non-independent sources[edit]

Non-independent sources may be used to source content for articles, but the connection of the source to the topic must be clearly identified. I.e. "The organization claimed 10,000 people showed up to protest." is ok when using material published by the organization, but "10,000 people showed up to protest." is not.

Non-independent sources may not be used to establish notability.

Press releases[edit]

A press release is clearly not an independent source as it is usually generated either by the business or organization it is written about, or by a business or person hired by or affiliated with the organization. Press releases commonly show up in Google News searches and other searches that editors commonly use to locate reliable sources. Usually, but not always, a press release will be identified as such. Many less reputable news sources will write an article based almost exclusively on a press release, making only minor modifications. When using news sources whose editorial integrity you are uncertain of, and an article reads like a press release, it is crucial to check to see that the source is not simply recycling a press release. Sometimes, but not always, it is possible to locate the original press release used to generate the article.

Conflicts of interest[edit]

Any publication put out by an organization is clearly not independent of any topic that organization has an interest in promoting. However, less direct interests can be harder to see and more subjective to establish. For example, much scientific research is often funded by companies with an interest in the outcome of the experiments, and such research makes its way into peer-reviewed journals. Journals themselves can also have conflicts of interest due to their funding sources. Caution must be used in accepting sources as independent. While the peer-review process ensures greater independence, it does not guarantee independence of a source. This is especially true of controversial topics where there may be a great deal of debate and dissent, even in reliable sources.

When there is a potential conflict of interest, identifying the connection between the source and topic is important, such as by saying "A study by X found that Y." Rather than excluding such non-independent sources from a page, it is often best to include them, with mention of how the source is connected to someone with an interest in the topic.

Articles without third-party sources[edit]

An article without third-party sources should not always be deleted. The article may merely be in an imperfect state, and someone may only need to find the appropriate sources to verify the subject's importance. Consider asking for help with sources at the article's talk page, or at the relevant WikiProject. Also consider tagging the article with an appropriate template, such as {{primary sources}} or {{unreferenced}}.

If no amount of searching will remedy this lack of sources, then it may still be possible to preserve some of the information by merging it into another broad topic. But in order to avoid undue weight, the subject may first need to be summarized appropriately. Consider starting a merge discussion, using the template {{merge}}.

Otherwise, if deleting:

  • If the article meets our criteria for speedy deletion, one can use a criterion-specific deletion tag listed on that page.
  • Use the {{prod}} tag, for articles which do not meet the criteria for speedy deletion, but are uncontroversial deletion candidates. This allows the article to be deleted after seven days if nobody objects. For more information, see Wikipedia:Proposed deletion.
  • For cases where you are unsure about deletion or believe others might object, nominate the article for the articles for deletion process, where the merits will be debated and deliberated for at least seven days.

Some articles do not belong on Wikipedia, but fit one of the Wikimedia sister projects. They may be copied there using transwiki functionality before considering their merger or deletion. If an article to be deleted is likely to be re-created under the same name, it may be turned into a soft redirect to a more appropriate sister project's article.

See also[edit]