Wikipedia:Identifying reliable sources

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Wikipedia articles should be based on reliable, published sources, making sure that all majority and significant minority views that have appeared in those sources are covered (see Wikipedia:Neutral point of view). If no reliable sources can be found on a topic, Wikipedia should not have an article on it.

The guideline in this page discusses the reliability of various types of sources. The policy on sourcing is Wikipedia:Verifiability, which requires inline citations for any material challenged or likely to be challenged, and for all quotations. The policy is strictly applied to all material in the mainspace—articles, lists, and sections of articles—without exception, and in particular to biographies of living persons, which states:

Contentious material about living persons (or, in some cases, recently deceased) that is unsourced or poorly sourced—whether the material is negative, positive, neutral, or just questionable—should be removed immediately and without waiting for discussion.

In the event of a contradiction between this guideline and our policies regarding sourcing and attribution, the policies take priority and editors should seek to resolve the discrepancy. Other policies relevant to sourcing are Wikipedia:No original research and Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons. For questions about the reliability of particular sources, see Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard.

Overview

Source reliability falls on a spectrum: highly reliable sources, clearly unreliable sources, and many in the middle. Editors must use their judgement to draw the line between usable and unreliable sources.
Further information: WP:BESTSOURCES

Articles should be based on reliable, third-party, published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy. This means that we publish the opinions only of reliable authors, and not the opinions of Wikipedians who have read and interpreted primary source material for themselves. The following examples cover only some of the possible types of reliable sources and source reliability issues, and are not intended to be exhaustive. Proper sourcing always depends on context; common sense and editorial judgment are an indispensable part of the process.

Definition of a source

The word "source" when citing sources on Wikipedia has three related meanings:

Any of the three can affect reliability. Reliable sources may be published materials with a reliable publication process, authors who are regarded as authoritative in relation to the subject, or both. These qualifications should be demonstrable to other people.

Definition of published

The term "published" is most commonly associated with text materials, either in traditional printed format or online. However, audio, video, and multimedia materials that have been recorded then broadcast, distributed, or archived by a reputable party may also meet the necessary criteria to be considered reliable sources. Like text sources, media sources must be produced by a reliable third party and be properly cited. Additionally, an archived copy of the media must exist. It is convenient, but by no means necessary, for the archived copy to be accessible via the Internet.

Context matters

The reliability of a source depends on context. Each source must be carefully weighed to judge whether it is reliable for the statement being made in the Wikipedia article and is an appropriate source for that content. In general, the more people engaged in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the writing, the more reliable the publication. Information provided in passing by an otherwise reliable source that is not related to the principal topics of the publication may not be reliable; editors should cite sources focused on the topic at hand where possible. Sources should directly support the information as it is presented in the Wikipedia article.

Age matters

Especially in scientific and academic fields, older sources may be inaccurate because new information has been brought to light, new theories proposed, or vocabulary changed. In areas like politics or fashion, laws or trends may make older claims incorrect. Be sure to check that older sources have not been superseded, especially if it is likely the new discoveries or developments have occurred in the last few years. In particular, newer sources are generally preferred in medicine.

Sometimes sources are too new to use, such as with breaking news (where later reports might be more accurate), and primary sources which purport to debunk a long-standing consensus or introduce a new discovery (in which case awaiting studies that attempt to replicate the discovery might be a good idea, or reviews that validate the methods used to make the discovery).

With regard to historical events, older reports (closer to the event, but not too close such that they are prone to the errors of breaking news) tend to have the most detail, and are less likely to have errors introduced by repeated copying and summarizing. However, newer secondary and tertiary sources may have done a better job of collecting more reports from primary sources and resolving conflicts, applying modern knowledge to correctly explain things that older sources could not have, or remaining free of bias that might affect sources written while any conflicts described were still active or strongly felt.

Sources of any age may be prone to recentism, and this needs to be balanced out by careful editing.

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