Wikipedia:Identifying and using self-published works
This is an explanatory supplement to the Wikipedia:Verifiability § Self-published sources policy.
Self-published works are those in which the author and publisher are the same. There are many bestsellers that are or were self-published works, like The Joy of Cooking, including some all-time bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey. As such, self-published works are acceptable in Wikipedia so long as certain conditions are met.
There are three questions to consider about a possible source:
- Is the source self-published or not? (This is the topic of this page.)
- Is the source independent or third-party, or is it closely affiliated with the subject? (See Wikipedia:Identifying and using independent sources.)
- Is the source primary or not? (If so, then see Wikipedia:Identifying and using primary and secondary sources.)
Any combination of these three traits can produce a source that is usable for some purpose in a Wikipedia article. Identifying these characteristics will help you determine how you can use these sources.
This page deals only with the first question: identifying and correctly using self-published sources.
- 1 Identifying self-published sources
- 2 The problem with self-published sources
- 3 Using self-published sources
- 4 Unpublished sources
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
Identifying self-published sources
Identifying a self-published source is usually straightforward. You need two pieces of information:
- Who is the author or creator of the work?
- Who is the publisher of the work?
If the answers to these questions are the same, then the work is self-published. If they are different, then the work is not self-published.
In determining whether a source is self-published, you should not consider any other factors. Neither the subject material, nor the size of the entity, nor whether the source is printed on paper or available electronically, nor whether the author is a famous expert, makes any difference.
Be careful in identifying the publishers of books. In some cases, authors will create a trade name so that it will look like a separate entity has published their works. If the author directly controls the decision to publish the books, then those books are still self-published. Self-published books may be printed by a vanity press or a publisher that prints books by only that author.
If the author works for a company, and the publisher is the employer, and the author's job is to produce the work (e.g., sales materials or a corporate website), then the author and publisher are the same.
- Examples of self-published sources
- Almost all websites except for those published by traditional publishers (such as news media organizations), including:
- Books printed through a vanity press
- Advertisements, pamphlets, and press releases
- Newsletters published by organizations
- Patents (see Wikipedia:Reliable source examples#Are patents reliable sources?)
- Examples of non-self-published sources
- The contents of magazines and newspapers, including editorials and op-ed pieces in newspapers
- Books published by established publishers (like Random House)
Doesn't "self-published" mean "primary"?
Self-published sources can be primary, secondary, or tertiary sources.
A personal blog is always a self-published source. Here are examples of how different postings on the same blog could be classified:
- When the blog posting provides information about what the author cooked last night, it is a primary source for its subject matter.
- When the blog posting provides an analysis of an event that happened decades before, it is a secondary source for its subject matter.
- When the blog posting provides a simple list of tourist attractions in a given area, it is a tertiary source for its subject matter.
Doesn't "self-published" mean "non-independent"?
Self-published sources can be independent sources or non-independent sources.
- A corporate website is self-published. When it provides information about the business, it is non-independent.
- A personal blog is self-published. When it provides information about a book the blog's author borrowed from the library, it is independent of its subject matter.
The problem with self-published sources
Anyone can self-publish information regardless of whether s/he is truly knowledgeable about the topic in question. For that reason, self-published works are largely not acceptable to use as sources, though there are exceptions.
Self-published material is characterized by the lack of reviewers who are independent of the author (those without a conflict of interest) validating the reliability of contents.
- The University of California, Berkeley library states: "Most pages found in general search engines for the web are self-published or published by businesses small and large with motives to get you to buy something or believe a point of view. Even within university and library web sites, there can be many pages that the institution does not try to oversee."
- Princeton University offers this understanding in the publication Academic Integrity at Princeton (2011): "Unlike most books and journal articles, which undergo strict editorial review before publication, much of the information on the Web is self-published. To be sure, there are many websites in which you can have confidence: mainstream newspapers, refereed electronic journals, and university, library, and government collections of data. But for vast amounts of Web-based information, no impartial reviewers have evaluated the accuracy or fairness of such material before it’s made instantly available across the globe."
- The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition states that "any Internet site that does not have a specific publisher or sponsoring body should be treated as unpublished or self-published work."
Self-published doesn't mean a source is automatically invalid
Some self-published works are sometimes acceptable as sources, so self-publication is not, and should not be, a bit of jargon used by Wikipedians to automatically dismiss a source as "bad" or "unreliable" or "unusable". While many self-published sources happen to be unreliable, the mere fact that it is self-published does not prove this. A self-published source can be independent, authoritative, high-quality, accurate, fact-checked, and expert-approved.
Self-published sources can be reliable, and they can be used (except for claims about living people). Sometimes, a self-published source is even the best possible source, such as when you are supporting a direct quotation. In such cases, the original document is the best source because the original document will be free of any errors or misquotations introduced by subsequent sources.
Properly published sources are not always "good" or "reliable" or "usable", either. Being properly published does not mean that the source is independent, authoritative, high-quality, accurate, fact-checked, expert-approved, or subject to editorial control. Properly published sources can be unreliable, biased, and self-serving.
According to our content guideline on identifying reliable sources, a reliable source has the following characteristics:
- It has a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy.
- It is published by a reputable publishing house, rather than by the author(s).
- It is "appropriate for the material in question", i.e., the source is directly about the subject, rather than mentioning something unrelated in passing.
- It is a third-party or independent source.
- It has a professional structure in place for deciding whether to publish something, such as editorial oversight or peer review processes.
A self-published source can have all of these qualities except for the second one.
Using self-published sources
Self-published sources are largely not acceptable on Wikipedia, though there are exceptions. And even though a self-published source might be acceptable, a non-self-published source is usually preferred, if available. Examples of acceptable sourcing of self-published works:
- A self-published source may be used for certain claims by the author about himself, herself, or itself. (See #For claims by self-published authors about themselves)
- Self-published sources may be considered reliable when produced by an established expert on the topic of the article whose work in the relevant field has previously been published by reliable third-party publications. Take care when using such sources: if the information in question is really worth reporting, someone else will probably have done so.
- A self-published work may be used as a source when the statement concerns the source itself. For example, for the statement "The organization purchased full-page advertisements in major newspapers advocating gun control," the advertisement(s) in question could be cited as sources, even though advertisements are self-published.
For claims about living people
Self-published sources may not be used for any claims about living people, except for claims made by the author about himself or herself.
Never use self-published sources as sources about any living people, except for claims by the author about himself or herself. This holds even if the third-party author is an expert, well-known professional researcher, or writer.
Acceptable: The website for a company to support claims about itself or its employees.
Acceptable: The self-published autobiography to support claims about the author.
Unacceptable: Someone's personal blog about his neighbor, business partner, or friend.
Self-published and questionable sources may be used as sources of information about themselves, usually in articles about themselves or their activities, without the requirement in the case of self-published sources that they be published experts in the field, so long as:
- the material is not unduly self-serving and exceptional in nature;
- it does not involve claims about third parties;
- it does not involve claims about events not directly related to the source;
- there is no reasonable doubt as to its authenticity;
- the article is not based primarily on such sources.
Self-published sources for notability
Self-published sources are never useful for demonstrating the notability of any subject.
An unpublished source is any source that has not been made available to the public in some form. Examples include:
- Letters or diaries found in your family's home
- Internal documents or papers at your work
- Letters or e-mail messages sent to you or to a small number of people
Unpublished sources may not be used in any article. There are no exceptions to this rule.
- Matt Elton (26 May 2016). "Writing history in the 21st century" (Podcast). BBC. Event occurs at 28:00. Retrieved June 2, 2016.
- "Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask". University of California, Berkeley. May 8, 2012. Retrieved June 2, 2016.
- "Nonprint and Electronic Sources". Princeton University. 2011. Retrieved June 2, 2016.
- Please do note that any exceptional claim would require exceptional sources
- Further examples of self published sources include press releases, material contained within company websites, advertising campaigns, material published in media by the owner(s)/publisher(s) of the media group, self-released music albums and electoral manifestos: