|This page is an essay, containing 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 page in a nutshell: Some commons sense and objective observations are not original research.|
Common sense is not original research! This essay addresses when there are reasonable exceptions to original research, as well as how to avoid introducing it and resolving when others add it.
Original Research policy, guidelines, and opinions
The official policy of the Wikipedia project is that this is not the proper place for original research and/or original thought. This means that you must cite a source that is not yourself or your organization. Content you post must be verifiable by second- and/or third-parties, as well as hold a Neutral point of view. These three core policies complement one another well, and all tie in together to prevent Wikipedia from being overrun by nonsense, irrelevant cruft, inappropriate/unencylcopedic detail, and biased rants.
Other related policies:
- Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not outlines some more specific examples of what is considered original research (as well as other forbidden and discouraged content).
- Wikipedia:Conflict of interest generally prohibits the subjects of an article from editing about themselves.
- Wikipedia:Notability directs that notability is also a requirement for inclusion, and while the parameters are oft-disputed, usually can relate to original research.
- Wikipedia:Coatrack notes that original research should not be hidden in a related topic to avoid deletion/removal.
- Wikipedia:Assume good faith in everything that is not blatant/obvious origial research.
- Wikipedia:These are not original research
- Wikipedia:Common knowledge
- Wikipedia:You don't need to cite that the sky is blue
- Wikipedia:You do need to cite that the sky is blue
- Wikipedia:Comparison Articles and Original Research
Original Research will be abbreviated in the rest of this essay as "OR".
|“||"No Original Research" was never meant to prohibit simple observation. If you determine that Baltimore is north of Washington, or that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is in C minor, or that David Copperfield is a novel and is written in English, these things do not need cites. A surprising number of Wikipedians think otherwise.||”|
|— User:Antandrus, User:Antandrus/thoughts#On "NOR" Fundamentalism|
If something is an indisputable fact, then include it! Use your commons sense and worry abour sources and refrencing later; many other users will be more than happy to get around to it for you (also note that Wikipedia has no deadline, and needed changes will come about sooner or later). Wikipedia is not paper, and not constrained by the restrictions of size or layout; meaning that there is always room for more facts.
Some deductions are obvious to most people, educated or not. The sky is blue, such facts need no referencing (though you can reference it anyway if you desire). However, many people may disagree as to whether or not your facts are indeed indisputable. Most people have a hard time accepting that thier "expert opinions" might not only be poorly accepted amongst less-gifted individuals, but also completely wrong/biased! For example, while the vast majority of the modern world considers Adolf Hitler to be a less than moral man, there are many who do hold him and/or his views in high esteem. Attempting to reason with a fanatic of that belief would be counter-productive, and likely an exercise in needless frustration. Commons sense is not universal, and what may be glaringly obvious to you may not be true for another user.
Many editors, whether new to Wikipedia or long-established, have a hard time being objective to one degree or another. We are all human, and cannot be expected to be impartial about everything, which is where OR plays in: editors are expected to be objective enough that thier fanatic beliefs should be backed up by published sources, not introduced into Wikipedia as a new concept. Subject matter experts do not, for the most part, refer to Wikipedia as a source of fresh thought; Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a forum, soapbox, advertiser, or free web space.
Administrative concerns can also cause people to question OR. For example, compiling facts into a single place, comparing and contrasting facts, linking to synonymous terms and related topics, and translating from foreign languages is not original research. While errors in performing these tasks may occur, it is usually not disputable that they are true. One of the trickier areas is context: many sources are narrow in context (for example, an in-fictional universe "fact"), and must be translated to be encyclopedic.
Fact versus opinion
Facts generally don't leave room for argument or interpretation. The current definition is listed as "something that is true, something that actually exists, or something that can be verified according to an established standard of evaluation." However, a person may interpret a fact's significance or relevance to the topic at hand, thus the inclusion of a fact may not necessarily be appropriate to a given article.
Opinions, as the adage goes, are like assholes: everyone has one and always smell like bullshit. The good editor must be wary of opinions disguised as facts; many editors with less-than neutral intents can cite sources that do this as well. Be advised as well that a "fact" that cannot be easily observed, recreated, or comprehended is probably a well-disguised opinion. Historical "facts" are tough to verify, and thus, must be regarded as possible opinions; short of posessing evidence, human nature can distort "facts" through lying, exaggeration, faulty observation, and/or faulty memory; even evidence can be faked. This is why primary sources, people who are very close to the subject (eyewitnesses or polls, for example), must be simply descriptive, not analytical (thier intimacy with the subject could be considered a conflict of interest, or thier limited scope may not be sufficient for an objective analysis).
A conclusion is an educated opinion, based upon analysis of facts (evidence), assumptions, arguments, and premises. Arguing a conclusion is the basis of articles that are not indisputable facts, however, articles must not explicitly draw a conclusion, that is up to the reader to draw on his or her own. The vast majority of articles on Wikipedia fall in this category, where they revolve around some sort of conclusion, whether widely accepted or not, backed up by a number of facts. Because of the diverse audience (literally every person on the planet is a potential reader), it is a given that there will many different viewpoints, the majority of the conflicting. Wikipedia's policy on neutral point of view, however, doesn't mandate that an article cannot have facts; it merely prohibits twisting facts to represent an opinion. Even a widely-accepted view will inevitably have at least one person dispute it, and an editor must be consious of this. While one could easily be dismissive of a minority view, reasonable consideration must be given. This does not mean that evey crackpot conspiracy theory should automatically be given equal weight as a scientifically-proven thesis, however, acknowledgement of the theory and some sort of consensus must be established. The more widely accepted a view is, the more weight it can be given in an article, assuming the minimums of verifibility, style and format, and comprehensive coverage are met. Opinions that are not cited, verifiable, notable, or even comprehensable are thus not elligible for inclusion in an encyclopedia; and should not be found in Wikipedia, except perhaps as a footnote or background for a related topic. For example, the biography of a notable person may include mention of an obscure paranoid theory he has created, even if the theory has no merit, being mindful not to create a coatrack article.
One must also be aware of balance. Cherry picking of facts to represent an opinion does not result in a balanced article. Many editors, whether new or established, objective or with a single purpose, are passionate about a subject, and being ignorant of our rules, will be bold and add thier OR to the article. They must not be beat up about it unless they consistently disregard the policy!
One must also be careful about leading the reader to a conclusion. An encyclopedia should not contain persuasive writing; it must present the facts and let the reader draw his or her own conclusion. Summarizing is especially tricky, since it is easy to leave out relevant facts or arguments and throw off the balance. Editors must also be aware that some tricksters will deceptively cite sources that present an opposing or even unrelated conclusion; but sometimes they will simply cite a specific passage that is appropriate while other portions are not, these conflicting references are undesirable and should be replaced if possible.
While Wikipedians are not required to provide a résumé or establish thier credentials, many of them have great knowledge and experience (qualifying as experts), and it would be folly to deny them the chance to share it. One must be careful: the expert opinion can be, and often is, colored by bias, narrow scope/context, errors, and general human fallacies such as lying, exaggeration, and imperfect memory. Nobody is perfect, and nobody should expect an editor to be.
If an editor makes claims of being a subject matter expert, the best course is neither to naively believe them and swallow everything they say, but neither be a dick and accuse them of lying. The best course is to be slightly skeptical, but assume good faith if they can back up thier expert opinion well. Close coordination and some consensus with many interested editors should allow the healthy flow of information.
Upon finding what appears to be OR, an editor has several choices, some better than others. One must assume good faith and use thier best judgement to resolve the situation.
- The simplest, but worst, option is to simply revert the edit and remove the OR. However, this is generally not regarded as civil, even if the OR is blatently original. It can weaken Wikipedia by causing hard feelings and removing potentially valuable information.
- Another expedient solution is to inform another user, preferably an administrator, and let them handle it for you. You can simply find one and leave a message on thier talk page, or report it to the administrators' noticeboard. Even better, there is a dedicated noticeboard for potential OR. You can also tag the suspected OR with Template:Original research or Template:fact.
- Another option is to discuss the matter. Talk pages are available to discuss potential issues with OR. It would be a good idea to initiate the issue on the talk page for the article, so that interested editors can easily find the discussion, and leave a link to the discussion at the offender's user talk page. Try to keep within the talk page guidelines. It is recommended you mark the suspected OR with the OR warning template to alert other editors, which will warn users of unverified claims and stimulate discussion (there is also another template for unpublished synthesis of a conclusion).
- Probably the best option, which might not always be feasable, is to perform some research and bring the added content up to Wikipedia's established minimum standards. What appears to be OR may actually simply be an editor's regurgitation of his or her experience and observations, or simply a failure to properly cite a reference.
In any case, the editor may or may not know about the rules, some judgement must be used in how to approach this. It is not always obvious how experienced an editor is, and while one cannot assume that another editor is aware of every single policy and guideline, one must not bite the newcomers or act condescending to the regular editors.
The basis of this essay identifies strongly with inclusionism and eventualism. It also agrees well with the policy of Wikipedia:Ignore all rules, but one must remember that Wikipedia:Process is important and not to disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point.
Media can also be involved in OR. While Wikipedia encourages editors to upload thier own media (in order to reduce the amount of non-free content as much as possible), manipulation should not occur to that media to distort how it represents the subject.
Notes and refs
- Chamber's Dictionary, ninth edition.
- Concise OED definition