Wikipedia talk:Identifying reliable sources

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Where should I ask whether this source supports this statement in an article?
At Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard. Don't forget to tell the editors the full name of the source and the exact sentence it is supposed to support.
Do sources have to be free, online and/or conveniently available to me?
No. Sources can be expensive, print-only, or available only in certain places. A source does not stop being reliable simply because you personally aren't able to obtain a copy. See Wikipedia:Reliable sources/cost. If you need help verifying that a source supports the material in the article, ask for help at Wikipedia:WikiProject Resource Exchange or a relevant WikiProject.
Do sources have to be in English?
No. Sources can be written in any language. However, if equally good sources in English exist, they will be more useful to our readers. If you need help verifying that a non-English source supports the material in the article, ask for help at Wikipedia:Translators available.
I personally know that this information is true. Isn't that good enough to include it?
No. Wikipedia includes only what is verifiable, not what someone believes is true. It must be possible to provide a bibliographic citation to a published reliable source that says this. Your personal knowledge or belief is not enough.
I personally know that this information is false. Isn't that good enough to remove it?
Your personal belief or knowledge that the information is false is not sufficient for removal of verifiable and well-sourced material.
Is personal communication from an expert a reliable source?
No. It is not good enough for you to talk to an expert in person or by telephone, or to have a written letter, e-mail message, or text message from a source. Reliable sources must be published.
Are there sources that are "always reliable" or sources that are "always unreliable"?
No. The reliability of a source is entirely dependent on the context of the situation, and the statement it is being used to support. Some sources are generally better than others, but reliability is always contextual.
What if the source is biased?
Sources are allowed to be biased or non-neutral. Only Wikipedia articles are required to be neutral. Sometimes "non-neutral" sources are the best possible sources for supporting information about the different viewpoints held on a subject.
Does every single sentence need to be followed by an inline citation?
No. Only four broad categories of material need to be supported by inline citations. Editors need not supply citations for perfectly obvious material. However, it must be possible to provide a bibliographic citation to a published reliable source for all material.
Are reliable sources required to name the author?
No. Many reliable sources, such as government and corporate websites, do not name their authors or say only that it was written by staff writers. Although many high-quality sources do name the author, this is not a requirement.
Are reliable sources required to provide a list of references?
No. Wikipedia editors should list any required sources in a references or notes section. However, the sources you are using to write the Wikipedia article do not need to provide a bibliography. Most reliable sources, such as newspaper and magazine articles, do not provide a bibliography.

Encyclopaedia Britannica[edit]

After recently being rapped over the knuckles for using Britannica as a source, I thought I'd read this article to see what I had done wrong. I found this:

Tertiary sources such as compendia, encyclopedias, introductory textbooks, obituaries, and other summarizing sources are helpful for overviews or summaries, and in evaluating due weight, but should not be used in place of secondary sources for detailed discussion

I am just as confused as before.

  • What are "summaries" and "overviews" in WP. Are there summary/overview articles where I could use EB, or are there parts of an article (eg. the lead) where I could use EB?
  • How could EB be used to "evaluate due weight"? I can't see anything obvious in the due weight article.
  • How can I tell that EB is being used for "detailed discussion"?

It seems to me that articles in EB, given the way that articles there are produced, are easily the equivalent of academic articles, or books. Myrvin (talk) 07:50, 15 December 2014 (UTC)

I have read Wikipedia:WikiProject Encyclopaedia Britannica, but this doesn't seem to help. However, if EB isn't to be used, how come there's a WP project on how to use it? Myrvin (talk) 09:14, 15 December 2014 (UTC)

"Overview" means that a different encyclopedia entry might give you, as an editor, a good mental picture of how other people have summarized the topic. They are useful for editors to read while editing, to get a sense of the topic, even if we don't cite them for detailed material. They can help editors decide if certain information is worth investigating in less tertiary sources.
The "evaluate due weight" means that if we find that some piece of information is covered in a tertiary encyclopedia entry, it's probably likely that secondary sources have noted the information as well. Presence in a tertiary source is a helpful indication that it's probably also been noted by secondary sources and is probably worth including in our article, (but it's not a replacement for actually finding some of those secondary sources). __ E L A Q U E A T E 14:43, 15 December 2014 (UTC)
The WikiProject is part of Wikipedia's absorption of some public-domain tertiary sources wholesale. This type of use is usually clearly marked within articles where we're basically reproducing a whole article not wriiten by Wikipedia editors. It's not a model for building new articles, written by editors, out of disparate sources. It's not a model we can use for any of the tertiary sources that are currently under copyright, either.__ E L A Q U E A T E 16:28, 15 December 2014 (UTC)
You may have encountered one of our many made-up rules. Rumors like this get started and passed around for years. We don't actually ban the use of EB (or any other source, for that matter; see the /FAQ at the top of the page). In fact, if your information actually comes from EB, then you are required to state that fact, per WP:SAYWHEREYOUGOTIT. EB is cited in more than 10,000 articles.
However, the person who complained is correct that a tertiary source is not an ideal source for most purposes, and it is especially inappropriate for detailed, complex, or contentious matter. Whether a source is "reliable" depends on the statement that you're making. If it's uncontentious, almost sky-is-blue material, then an encyclopedia is an okay source. You don't need a gold-plated academic journal article to say that Abraham Lincoln was a US president (unless your main goal is to look like Wikipedia Iz Serious Academic Bidness, which is not a view I subscribe to). If you are supporting complicated material, though, like exactly what happens to protons inside a nuclear reactor, then you should look for a more appropriate (e.g., more technical) source.
By the way, in case it comes up, by supplying EB as a citation, you have met your WP:BURDEN. There is no requirement that you fulfill requests for "better" sources (no matter how "better" is defined). If the other editor wants a better source, it's his job to find it. WhatamIdoing (talk) 01:28, 16 December 2014 (UTC)
Hello WhatamIdoing, nice to see you again. Perhaps this particular made up rule comes, in part, from this RS guideline. I came to this article because I was looking for reasons why, or why not, EB could be cited, and I know that I should only cite reliable sources. However, it looks to me as if the words I quoted above are not to do with sources to be cited, but sources for research - which is what I think ELAQUEATE is saying. It can easily be read to say that tertiary sources should never be cited, because in WP articles we are always putting in "detailed discussion" and never summaries or overviews. As you know, I'm having problems with GA reviews. Does your advice go for GAs too? Myrvin (talk) 07:43, 16 December 2014 (UTC)
I don't think it can be read that "WP articles we are always putting in "detailed discussion" and never summaries or overviews" because WP is a tertiary source - and so a general purpose of WP is summary and overview. Alanscottwalker (talk) 12:14, 16 December 2014 (UTC) As for GA, well the strength and draw back of that system is that you are submitting it to the reviewer for them to declare it "good". It is inevitable that some demand they make may seem (and even be) whimsical or capricious. So, only you, as submitter, can decide if it is worth it. -- Alanscottwalker (talk) 12:30, 16 December 2014 (UTC)
Yes, I see that. I was trying to think from where these whimsies might come. I have given up completely on GANs for that very reason. A nominator can spend hours and hours doing requested changes, only to find that the article is not good enough, because - inter alia - the article cites Britannica. Myrvin (talk) 13:03, 16 December 2014 (UTC)
Well, the only solace maybe - take the 100,000 foot view - generally, an anon on the internet making some evaluation of another anon's work - it is what it is. Alanscottwalker (talk) 13:50, 16 December 2014 (UTC)
Yes, I think that some of these "whimsies" do have a reasonable origin. Our years-long telephone game often causes us to lose nuance.
What do you all think about adding a bit in the guideline about "the kind of source to use for general research" vs "whether this particular source is reliable for that particular statement"? We focus mostly on the latter, which might make our occasional statement about the former be confusing. WhatamIdoing (talk) 19:06, 17 December 2014 (UTC)
The rest of the section, and article, is about citations. So I think this should be too.Myrvin (talk) 20:13, 17 December 2014 (UTC)
Instead of the words quoted above, how about:

Respected tertiary sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Judaica, and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, may be cited, as long as such citations are not in the majority in an article.

Myrvin (talk) 12:47, 22 December 2014 (UTC)
I think that those exact words might result in needless complaints about stubs (which often have only a single source). But perhaps we could add something like it. WhatamIdoing (talk) 00:15, 24 December 2014 (UTC)
Ah yes, I see that, WhatamIdoing. I added the 'majority' thing to reinforce the guideline's statement about articles being "based mainly on reliable secondary sources". Since it already says that, I guess it doesn't need to be repeated. How about:

Respected tertiary sources, where articles are written by experts in the field and have editorial panels, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Judaica, and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, may be cited.

Myrvin (talk) 18:10, 28 December 2014 (UTC)
How about just "Reputable tertiary sources, such as lower-level school textbooks, almanacs, and encyclopedias, may be cited"? If you wanted to be more specific, you could add something like "especially for uncontroversial or general statements". WhatamIdoing (talk) 22:59, 28 December 2014 (UTC)
I've put in your first set of words. Myrvin (talk) 08:02, 29 December 2014 (UTC)
I changed the wording a little, by removing "lower-level; I asked, "What is 'lower-level' in this case, and why are we singling that out?" Flyer22 (talk) 08:30, 29 December 2014 (UTC)
Alanscottwalker, regarding this edit you made, I think that the reason the policies weren't linked for those parts is because the top of that section already points to the policy definitions. And if you notice, the policy definitions point to the Wikipedia articles for a better understanding. Flyer22 (talk) 21:50, 29 December 2014 (UTC)
In general, overview sources are not optimum, because the content they contain isn't originally from them. The general idea so far as I can tell is that we try to use the sources which either first proposed or most notably advanced certain content, and, pretty much by definition, most encyclopedias don't meet those criteria. There will be exceptions. I remember one, short, encyclopedia article relating to the philosophy of religion which gave as references exactly two other sources, both of which were, you guessed it, articles in other encyclopedias on the same topic. In some cases, like that one, we would certainly want to use the cited sources as the required indicators of notability of the topic, if it were to have a stand alone article. And, yeah, in some cases, if the material in an encyclopedia is based on some obscure book in Urdu not available in the West, they can be the only sources we have readily available, as that theoretical Urdu source probably isn't available to us. But I think those tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule, and if we have secondary sources other than overviews available, they would be preferable, except perhaps in the rare cases when the encyclopedic content itself more or less qualifies as a secondary source. John Carter (talk) 21:59, 29 December 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I apologize for the lateness of my replies:

  • Flyer, I included the phrase "lower-level" because upper-level textbooks (approximately the level you might seen in graduate school, but it depends) are usually secondary sources, not tertiary. We don't want to have this guideline "define" all textbooks as being tertiary sources.
  • John Carter, the main point of this guideline is to tell people what the minimum standard is, not to help them find the best possible source. Overview sources are not optimal (for many statements), and they are not even reliable for some, but they are acceptable if the specific claim being made is suitable to being supported by an overview source. Whether the source that either first proposed or most notably advanced an idea is a good one depends on your subject. In some areas, especially hard sciences, the goal is often to provide the most recent high-quality source rather than the historically important one. WhatamIdoing (talk) 02:31, 25 January 2015 (UTC)
You reverted; I don't mind since you've explained. Flyer22 (talk) 02:42, 25 January 2015 (UTC)

TV programs[edit]

There is a discussion on Talk:Lewis Carroll about the use of a BBC TV documentary as a reliable source. There is no mention of broadcast documentaries in this guideline, and I wondered if editors had views on the general use of such sources. I note that Wikipedia:Citing sources#Film, TV, or video recordings has a suggestion for citing them. Myrvin (talk) 20:40, 4 February 2015 (UTC)

An edit war about this is now underway.Myrvin (talk) 18:32, 5 February 2015 (UTC)

About reliability of[edit]

Hello, can anyone tell me whether this website [1] is reliable or not as per WP:RS? Itz arka (talk) 10:04, 12 February 2015 (UTC)

We need need to know more information to answer your question. Reliability depends on context. Which WP article are we talking about, and what specific statement in that article would it support? Blueboar (talk) 13:26, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
Blueboar, I need to know whether the attendance records listed in this website are true or not, whether this website is reliable or not on the context of attendance figures for all sports played in Australia. In fact, in all sport articles, they add the attendances of each and every match in the scoreboards here in Wikipedia, but recently some WP:Cricket users are randomly deleting the attendance figures from cricket articles. Some of them are saying that the attendance figures should be sourced. Now this website has all the attendance figures listed for cricket matches played in Australia (as well as for other sports played there too). So when I mentioned about this website, then some of them are asking whether this website is reliable or not. You can follow the long discussion (or consensus) here Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject_Cricket#Attendances. That's why I want to know about the reliability of this website. Itz arka (talk) 15:38, 12 February 2015 (UTC)
This discussion should probably be moved to Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard. Sparkie82 (tc) 22:36, 17 February 2015 (UTC)

Reliability changes over time[edit]

I think perhaps we should add a statement about the reliablility of sources (creators and publishers) changing over time. Newer authors and companies can gain reliability with experience and established sources can lose reliability when there are changes in personnel or policy. And maybe a statement that reliability should be determined as of the date of publication (because the reliability of a specific work shouldn't change just because its creator or publisher changes over time). Since this concept applies generally, I think maybe it should be in the section "WP:RS#Definition of a source". Sparkie82 (tc) 22:36, 17 February 2015 (UTC)

Done. Sparkie82 (tc) 21:22, 1 March 2015 (UTC)
I've just reverted this. It unfortunately would create the absurd situation of defining fraudulent and severely outdated scientific sources as being "reliable", because "as of the date of its publication" (which might a century ago!) everyone thought it was a great source.
The actual rule is pretty much the opposite: No matter what people thought of a source on the day of its publication, all that matters is whether the source seems reliable today. WhatamIdoing (talk) 21:45, 1 March 2015 (UTC)
Source is a vague term becuase it refers to any of: the publisher, the creator, or the published work itself. What needs to be stated in the guideline is: just because the reliability of a publisher or creator has changed since a particular work was published does not necessarily change the reliability of the work when it was published. For example, if an otherwise reliable journalist decides at some point in her career to move from doing hard news to doing more biased reporting at an entertainment-oriented publisher, it does not mean that her previous work becomes unreliable. Or if a publisher decides to tighten up standards at some point, it does not make previously published works more reliable. The purpose of the proposed change to the guideline is to avoid a situation where the reliability of published works necessarily change as a consequence of later actions by its creator or publisher. How can that be stated in the guideline? Sparkie82 (tc) 15:23, 2 March 2015 (UTC)
It can't be stated in the guideline, because sometimes the reliability of published works does change as a consequence of later actions by its creator (especially) and publisher (less often). The "later action" of confessing to fraud in your peer-reviewed scientific articles – even if you claim that the fraud didn't affect the source in question – really does change people's willingness to accept any of your sources.
(If you're dealing with a dispute related to this, then I'd recommend taking it to WP:RSN and encouraging people to WP:Use common sense.) WhatamIdoing (talk) 01:25, 6 March 2015 (UTC)

National Archives[edit]

Where countries hold official materials and records of events, such as maps, military records, government papers, local authority records and the like. Are these classed as acceptable sources, or original research. For example the British National Archives, at Kew, permits free and unfettered access to any source of documents that are kept there. If it is acceptable then it should be stated in the main page. Equally so it should be stated if they are not permitted. At the present it appears that an author can access those records, interpret them as they see fit and publish a book, which is then considered as an acceptable published source. Richard Harvey (talk) 09:29, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

The answer to your question really depends on the specific document, and exactly how you try to use it. For the most part (and there are exceptions), such records would be considered reliable... but they would also be considered primary sources. While we can cite them, the situations in which it is appropriate to cite them is limited... so they have to be used with great caution. The real issue isn't so much whether the documents are reliable or not... the real issue is whether you are using them to support original research or not. (See WP:PRIMARY for more on this). Blueboar (talk) 12:21, 23 February 2015 (UTC)


I wonder if someone who follows this page, and has the time and patience, might perhaps look at an issue raised in a DYK nomination that is under consideration? The conversation there is long. I apologize for my part in that.

In short, the part that an RS expert can help with, especially one who has given thought to this guideline's language with regard to the use of primary vs. secondary sources, is whether certain statements by certain secondary RS sources can be relied upon there. This is a bit more complicated than determining whether they are RSs -- it is more about whether what they stated can be viewed as RS-supported.

The discussion is here. As the DYK is caught in a bit of difference of opinion, any assistance will be much appreciated.

Many thanks. --Epeefleche (talk) 02:32, 24 February 2015 (UTC)

Sourcing question[edit]

  • When including info about an author’s published works in a Wikipedia article, is an officially published book a valid secondary source that can be used to document basic info about the work and its author? For example, here’s an on-line version of a book published by National Defense University. Would this be an appropriate source to document Wikipedia text that said: “In 1996, Alan Gropman wrote a book on World War II logistics” in an article about Mr Gropman? It seems like this should be good secondary sources since it is formally published by independent third-party publishers.--Orygun (talk) 22:12, 24 February 2015 (UTC)
    • Orygun, usually these kinds of questions are best asked at WP:RSN, but the answer is easy: yes, you may use that type of a source, and also, you may use the source itself. The copyright page of a book is considered not merely "reliably", but also authoritative for information like the title, author, and date of publication. (The copyright page of the book can't tell you that said fact is WP:DUE; that's a consideration that independent sources are better at. Also, please not that WP:Secondary does not mean independent. Your source might be both secondary and independent, but it might also be primary and independent.) WhatamIdoing (talk) 21:51, 1 March 2015 (UTC)

Sourcing question: Commercial sales sites[edit]

WP:ELNO prohibits External links to web pages that are primarily commercial sales sites. For example, we can't cite a book and link to the page where you can buy that book. However, there's no word about that in regards to inline citations. So if we cite, and drive traffic to, commercial web pages selling the book, song, etc. in question, is that really allowed in footnoting, though disallowed in ELs? --Tenebrae (talk) 20:10, 2 March 2015 (UTC)

Technically, when we link to newspapers, magazines, and other resources of that nature, we are also driving sales of those publications. However, for all practical purposes, there's a "necessary evil" component at play that as to provide verification, we have to link to something that will gain commercial benefit from our link. So it is the nature of the use of a link. Linking to Amazon as an EL directly would be a problem, but linking to Amazon to provide a release date or similar piece of data as an inline reference is not one. Its the context that is more important. --MASEM (t) 20:13, 2 March 2015 (UTC)
Thanks for taking the time to try to answer. I think we're talking about two different things, though, to an extent. I wasn't referring to links to newspapers or magazines that have passive advertising. I'm talking about links to e-commerce pages, those specifically designed to let you order something. For example, to verify that Game of Thrones figures are sold by Dark Horse, I'm not sure about linking to here, or to verify that episodes of Angry Beavers run 24 minutes each that we would link here, as some have suggested.
From what I can see, nothing at WP:IRS mentions context or using our individual judgment about e-commerce pages, and theoretically we could link to an Amazon e-commerce page to cite TV-show running times for every show it sells, since runtimes without commercials are otherwise hard to find. Yet virtually everything disallowed in WP:ELNO is disallowed in WP:IRS, and I have to wonder whether this was intended or not. It seems strange to me that e-commerce links would be disallowed in External links yet allowed as inline citations. What are editors' thoughts about linking to e-commerce pages? --Tenebrae (talk) 14:08, 3 March 2015 (UTC)
If it seems strange to you, then you have not read the footnotes that I littered liberally all over the EL guideline, which explicitly say that those rules don't apply to inline citations.
If Amazon's e-commerce pages are what you actually used to find the information, then WP:SAYWHEREYOUGOTIT. We don't care if a source is trying to sell something. We care whether it (credibly) verifies the information in question. Also, just as a point of reference, Wikipedia tried referral links to places like Amazon some years back, and it made very little money. So the odds are that the e-commerce links won't actually sell anything extra as a result. WhatamIdoing (talk) 01:31, 6 March 2015 (UTC)
What we are really talking about here are "courtesy links". If you don't like courtesy links to an e-commerce site like amazon, the solution is to find another copy (either on-line, or in "dead tree", hard copy form) and replace the citation. Remember that we are always allowed to replace a citation that verifies information with a better one that also verifies the information. Blueboar (talk) 14:22, 6 March 2015 (UTC)

Vicious Candy[edit]

Is Vicious Candy considered a reliable source? Since the full birthdate and birthplace of Ashley Hinshaw appears in no journalistic cite but only on IMDb, which this appears to copy, I'm not sure and would like other editors' opinions: --Tenebrae (talk) 19:46, 5 March 2015 (UTC)

You should ask that question at WP:RSN. WhatamIdoing (talk) 01:32, 6 March 2015 (UTC)