What Makes a Reliable Source for Wikipedia?

On the surface, it seems like nothing could be easier to create/edit than a Wikipedia page.  After all, Wikipedia is an open, public source of information that anyone can edit.  How difficult could it be?  

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Very, very difficult. A lack of Wikipedia-friendly sourcing is one of the most common reasons that new drafts get declined, existing pages get tagged or deleted, and edits get reverted.

This isn’t because other editors are evil or out to get you.  It’s because Wikipedia has rules and guidelines in place to assure its millions of readers that the information on Wikipedia is as accurate and trustworthy as possible.  

Strong sources are an incredibly important part of this because they create verifiable citations, and the citations are what substantiate a page.  Without the sources/citations you can’t have a Wikipedia page because the content won’t stick.

So, how do you know what sources will make the cut? Keep reading and we’ll share what we’ve learned helping everyone from international nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies manage their Wikipedia pages.

Qualifications for reliable sources

There are three top qualifications that editors are looking for when they review sources.

1. Verifiable

According to Wikipedia, “verifiability means other people using the encyclopedia can check that the information comes from a reliable source.”  In other words, to be verifiable, any link that you provide, or any book you reference, must be easy for another editor to find, and the information you claimed is there, must be there. 

2. Independent and Reliable

All sources must be from second or third parties that are fact-based and trustworthy. If someone directly associated with the topic of the Wikipedia page is quoted in the source, that quote cannot be used. 

For example, if you have 15 articles from major news publications that you want to use, but the only coverage in the publication is a quote from the CEO of the company you want to write about, you will be caught trying to game the system and the citations will be flagged as not reliable.  

3. Notable

The topic of the Wikipedia page must be significantly covered in the source in order to establish notability. This is often overlooked but it is very important, especially for new pages. 

Ideally, at least a few sentences of the article should be devoted to the company or individual you want to write about. More is always better. A good rule of thumb is that if the article is about the company or individual you want to write about, it probably meets the “significant coverage” criteria – bonus points if the company/individual’s name is in the title.

If you are drafting a new page, you need at least three sources that meet the verifiable, reliable, notable criteria. If you are unable to find that many, your topic is not ready for a Wikipedia page.

Final bit of information – you need to have a source for anything that someone could challenge, something someone already has challenged, or any time you directly quote someone.  When in doubt, err on the side of needing a source.

Examples of reliable sources

The good news is, you have a lot of options here.  You can almost always use the following, as long as anyone affiliated with the topic of the Wikipedia page is not named as an author:

  • Academic and peer-reviewed publications
  • University-level textbooks
  • Books published by respected publishing houses
  • Magazines
  • Journals
  • Mainstream newspapers (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Financial Times, etc.)
  • Newspaper and magazine blogs (exercise caution here because the blogs might not be subject to the same fact-checking process as other parts of the newspaper, and might be too opinion-based to count as reliable)
  • Almanacs
  • Encyclopedias (but not Wikipedia)

You could also use regional newspapers or trade publications. You won’t want these to be your only sources though. Remember, there is a notability requirement, especially for new pages. You won’t be able to claim notability if your topic was only covered in one or two smaller publications.

When selecting a source, pay attention to when it was published.  If it’s breaking news, later stories might contradict early reported information.  On the flip side, if something was published too long ago, new information might exist that makes the older claims incorrect. You also must be sure that you avoid copyright violations. Do not copy and paste text verbatim, or with only minor changes.

For more detailed information, check out this list to see how Wikipedia editors have rated certain sources. It isn’t exhaustive, but it is a good starting point and will help you understand how Wikipedia judges publications.

Examples of questionable or bad sources

Wondering if you can use the 65 press releases you found that were meticulously handcrafted to share important news about a company?

Check out the above criteria. Do press releases pass all three?

That’s right. Press releases are expressly forbidden. Wikipedia doesn’t want any sources that “have a poor reputation for checking the facts, lack meaningful editorial oversight, or have an apparent conflict of interest.”  If the information comes from a company website or marketing team, that is an automatic conflict of interest.

This means you may NOT use:

  • Anything on a company or individual’s website
  • Company newsletters
  • Company created biographies for speaking events
  • Press releases and reprints of press releases – this includes finding a site, like Yahoo Finance, that is reposting a press release without identifying it as a press release. Many editors can tell what a press release sounds like and will flag the source
  • Sponsored posts
  • Personal blogs
  • Social media
  • Sites with user-generated content – this includes Yelp, YouTube, and Glassdoor
  • Untrustworthy sites
  • Anything said by an individual affiliated with the topic of the Wikipedia page in question – this includes podcasts and TV interviews
  • Call transcripts
  • Wikipedia

But what about the company or celebrity pages you’ve visited on Wikipedia that have all sorts of personal website citations?  Unfortunately, all that means is that no one is paying attention to that page.  In other words, those sources haven’t been called out yet, but they are a ticking time bomb.  They could get reverted at any moment and what’s worse is that the page could be slapped with a “conflict of interest” tag, or an “overly promotional” tag.  These are not things that you want on your page.

A possible exception here is annual reports. People frequently ask if these are okay to use for the revenue numbers found in info boxes. Technically, annual reports go against Wikipedia’s wishes, but this seems to be a gray area for editors. We recommend that you try to find other sourcing for financial stats and, if you have to default to annual reports, only use them to source info box data.

What if things go wrong?

What can you expect to have happen if material isn’t sourced, or if the source’s reliability is in question? 

  1. The information might be deleted by another editor.  If this happens, you can check your page’s “View History” tab to see why someone removed the information.  The editor will probably include a note with the edit that says something like, “no source/bad source.” (A bad source could be a source that doesn’t focus on the topic, or a source with a bad link.)
  2. An editor might put a “citation needed” tag on the page.  This is better because it gives you time to find a reliable source, or it might even lead to another editor finding a source for you.
  3. Another editor might find a source they deem more reliable and add it to the page.

If information is removed because of a citation issue, do not try to add it back without having one or more reliable sources you can include. Consistently trying to add sourceless information could lead to the page being more closely monitored, making it more difficult to make changes in the future.  If you find a source you think is reliable and use it to add the content back, but someone else deletes it anyway, be very careful of ending up in an edit war.  You want to avoid these.  If you’re locked in a back-and forth battle with the same content being added and deleted over-and-over again, move the conversation to the Talk Page and ask for help.

The Highlights

In a nutshell:

  • Source everything
  • Stay far away from anything self-published
  • Focus on respected, peer-reviewed academic sources and major news publications
  • Use sources that have your topic as the primary focus
  • If something is removed, don’t add it back without finding one or more Wikipedia-friendly sources

It isn’t the simplest process in the world, but following these guidelines is definitely worth it. It will put any edits you make and any drafts you create in a better position than many of those currently awaiting review.

If you’d like more help or have any questions at all about Wikipedia, send us a message.

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