User:Ealdgyth/FAC, Sources, and You

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WP:V and WP:RS are policy and guideline respectively and they are also criteria for WP:FA status. However, it's not always easy to determine what makes a source reliable and how to make a source verifiable. I get a lot of puzzled folks at my comments at FAC about sources and sourcing, and thought I'd lay out a few thoughts on how I look at sources and what makes me question things.

General background[edit]

First, I do in fact look at how the source is being used. I'm much more likely to get picky about sources that source something contentious or that might involve a living person. Also, fantastic claims, even if they aren't about living people, will probably draw scrutiny. That means that a statement that "On this album Enrico Caruso sings about Ethelred the Unready and Mary Wollstonecraft failing to join the Discovery expedition after they were blown away in a hurricane during the battle of Pearl Harbor." will probably get a bit more attention than you probably want.

Let's look at the two policies separately. First, the easy one, Verifiability.


Basically, verifiablity boils down to if it could be challenged, or is a quotation, you need to show where you got the information and to show it in such a way that others can go back and find it. In terms of FAC, that means that for books, magazines, newspapers, and other published sources[1] need to give at a minimum, title, publisher, date of publication, and location within the work. Usually the location means a page number, but for some small works or articles, that's not necessary. Ideally, you'd give the usual bibliographical information, which includes author, co-authors if any, translator if it is translated, where it was published, an ISBN/ISSN number or Library of Congress number and any other information. What edition the work is, if it has been revised, is also needed, as revising the work can change it substantially. For web pages, the needs are the same, publisher, title, and date of last access are the bare minimum, with any other information helpful.

Generally this means that I'll look at your citations, make sure that they are all giving the minimum information, and I may or may not check the publisher information against Google Books.[2]

This is the part where I get say "such-and-such a ref is missing publisher information" or "so-and-so book needs a page number". I'm not questioning the reliability with this, just the verifiability.

Reliable sources[edit]

The second part, WP:RS, is the bigger problem and usually causes the most confusion.

At the top of the RS page it says "This page in a nutshell: Articles should be based on reliable, third-party, published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy." I think everyone agrees with that ideal, but as usual, the devil's in the details.

For me, as I look at sources, I'll admit to looking at websites a little harder than books/magazines/newspapers. This doesn't mean I don't check printed sources out, just that more often it's harder to judge reliability on websites, and thus it gets the lion's share of my attention.

What makes me go "Hm... this doesn't look reliable"[edit]

Printed sources[edit]

For books/other printed sources (this includes albums and dvds that relate directly to the subject of the article):

  • A publisher I've never heard of. I'm a book collector and sell books as a sideline, so I've heard of a lot of publishers. If the publisher isn't in a "usual" location, but is out in the middle of nowwhere, I'll look at it a bit closer.
  • I'm much less likely to even think of questioning a book published by a university press, unless it's a university I've never heard of. Then I'll probably check it.
  • If the article mostly uses printed sources, but a LOT of information is missing from the citations, I'm going to be suspicious. Chances are good I'll double check everything.

For websites:

  • I will run my cursor over the links and double check that ones that do have publisher information from sources I'd trust (such as BBC, USAToday, International Herald Tribune, etc.) actually go to that site.
  • I will click through to every single article that lacks publisher information.
  • If I do the above and get to a site that is backed by a large media company or is a newspaper/tv station/radio station/official organization I'll usually deem it reliable.
  • If I do the above and get to a site that has an "about us" page, I'll go ahead and look at that, and see what they say about how they gather their information. Sometimes this will tell me that the site is actually backed by a big media company, etc. and it'll be reliable.
  • If I do the above, and the site is by a noted expert in the field, and/or a professor in that field, or is hosted by a college or university institute concerned with the field, I'll usually consider it reliable.
  • If it a governmental site, and it's generally connected to the field, I'll usually consider it reliable.
  • If it is a paid site that relies on the accuracy of their information for their living, such Equibase or the like, I will generally consider them reliable, although I might post a note asking that my understanding be clarified.
  • Some sites have proven that they are reliable in the past. Examples include (but are not limited to) IGN, CNET, Cricinfo, and others have established their reliability and won't be questioned.
  • If the site gives its sources, but still seems like a personal site, I may or may not question it further. A lot depends on what it is being used to source, and how well they put forth their sources. If they do it like a dissertation, I'm much less likely to be concerned. But if it just lists one or two sources at the bottom of a huge article, I probably will at least seek some clarification.
  • If I still can't rule it reliable at this point, and I've already looked for an "about us" page, I'll probably be posting a question on the FAC page for the candidate article.

Things that make it more likely I'll question it:

  • Lack of an "about us" page
  • Looks like a personal page
  • Plants five annoying popups on my screen before I can even find the about us page.

Sources I will always question:

  • IMDb for anything beyond the very basics of a film's cast or awards. Even then, you're better off just referencing the film or the awards site.
  • Anything that says it gets some or all of its information from Wikipedia
  • Anything that looks like a usenet posting or an archive of usenet postings
  • Anything that is a blog
  • Anything that looks like a forum post

Ack, you've gone "What makes this a reliable source?"[edit]

Okay, you have an article at FAC and I've posted the dreaded "What makes this site reliable?" message, but I'm obviously being my clueless Yank self. How do you persuade me that it's actually a reliable site?

It's actually pretty easy. Basically, we need to know what sort of fact checking they do. You can establish this by showing news articles that say the site is reliable/noteworthy/etc. or you can show a page on the site that gives their rules for submissions/etc. or you can show they are backed by a media company/university/institute, or you can show that the website gives its sources and methods, or you can show the author is a noted expert in their field, or you can show that the author is actually a member of the press. It's their reputation for reliability that needs to be demonstrated. Keep in mind though, that the some sites just aren't going to be reliable. The adage "Not everything on you read is true." is, unfortunately, quite true and it is alive and well on the Web.

Things that won't help.

Saying "It's reliable" 
I need to know why it is considered reliable.
Saying "It has an article on Wikipedia" 
Need I go into the ease of creating a Wikipedia article?
Saying "So-and-so Wikiproject says its reliable" 
This one, it all depends on how they arrived at their list of reliability
Saying "It's used in this-FA" 
Just like at AfD or the like, saying that other stuff exists isn't a valid argument.

A common question I get is why don't you support/oppose. I don't because I won't oppose or support just on the sources, I feel that you should only support/oppose if you do a full review of the prose of the article and the FA criteria. I just don't have time to do a full review on every FAC that comes up. Just reviewing the sources has cut into my article editing time by a good bit, but it needs to be done, so I don't mind. Generally, though, I only do full reviews on subjects that interest me, which are mainly history related.[3] I don't even do all history articles, but I try. I will oppose if the article clearly fails all the FA criteria, but that's a special case. Because I don't do a full review, I place my concerns over sources under a Comments heading. I do not know if SandyGeorgia and Raul take my comments into consideration when deciding whether a consensus exists to promote or not promote, but even if they do not, I would hope it's a help to other reviewers.

Sidepoint about printed sources[edit]

Sometimes it feels like editors have a bias against printed sources. I see this especially in the popular culture articles, where the suggestion that printed sources might be consulted is sometimes met with puzzlement. For some things, printed sources are still much better than online sources, and there is no reason not to use them.


  1. ^ Because you're not using unpublished sources per WP:RS, right?
  2. ^ I usually only do that if I have concerns about the reliability of the work, but sometimes I'm interested in a work enough to want to read it myself.
  3. ^ I'm more likely to fall for your "Please do a full review" pleading if the article is short, even if it isn't about history. And I've been known to get off into odd subjects. I generally do not review medical articles, they make my head swim.