Military Wiki:Identifying reliable sources

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Although this Wiki has different standards of inclusion and notability than Wikipedia, every effort should be made to ensure articles are based on the most reliable sources possible. This is especially true with Biographies of living people.

The guideline in this page discusses the reliability of various types of sources. The policy on sourcing 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.

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.


Articles should be based on the most accurate and reliable sources available. The best sources are those published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy.

Definition of a sourceEdit

With relation to this project the word "source" has three related meanings:

  • The piece of work itself (the article, book)
  • The creator of the work (the writer, journalist)
  • The publisher of the work (for example, Random House or Cambridge University Press)

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 publishedEdit

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 mattersEdit

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 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. Sources should directly support the information as it is presented in the article.

Some types of sourcesEdit

Many articles on this project rely on scholarly material. When available, academic and peer-reviewed publications, scholarly monographs, and textbooks are usually the most reliable sources. However, some scholarly material may be outdated, in competition with alternative theories, or controversial within the relevant field. Try to cite present scholarly consensus when available, recognizing that this is often absent. Reliable non-academic sources may also be used in articles about scholarly issues, particularly material from high-quality mainstream publications. Deciding which sources are appropriate depends on context. Material should be attributed in-text where sources disagree.


  • Articles should rely on secondary sources whenever possible. For example, a review article, monograph, or textbook is better than a primary research paper. When relying on primary sources, extreme caution is advised: Do not interpret the content of primary sources. If the meaning is unclear and it must be stated in the article for some reason then state that as a note.
  • Material such as an article, book, monograph, or research paper that has been vetted by the scholarly community is regarded as reliable, where the material has been published in reputable peer-reviewed sources or by well-regarded academic presses.
  • Completed dissertations or theses written as part of the requirements for a PhD, and which are publicly available (most via interlibrary loan or from Proquest), can be used but care should be exercised, as they are often, in part, primary sources. Some of them will have gone through a process of academic peer reviewing, of varying levels of rigor, but some will not. If possible, use theses that have been cited in the literature; supervised by recognized specialists in the field; or reviewed by third parties. Dissertations in progress have not been vetted and are not regarded as published and are thus not reliable sources as a rule. Some theses are later published in the form of scholarly monographs or peer reviewed articles, and, if available, these are usually preferable to the original thesis as sources. Masters dissertations and theses are considered reliable only if they can be shown to have had significant scholarly influence.
  • One can confirm that discussion of the source has entered mainstream academic discourse by checking the scholarly citations it has received in citation indexes. A corollary is that journals not included in a citation index, especially in fields well covered by such indexes, should be used with caution, though whether it is appropriate to use will depend on the context.
  • Isolated studies are usually considered tentative and may change in the light of further academic research. If the isolated study is a primary source, it should generally not be used if there are secondary sources that cover the same content. The reliability of a single study depends on the field. Avoid undue weight when using single studies in such fields. Studies relating to complex and abstruse fields, such as medicine, are less definitive and should be avoided. Secondary sources, such as meta-analyses, textbooks, and scholarly review articles are preferred when available, so as to provide proper context.
  • Care should be taken with journals that exist mainly to promote a particular point of view. A claim of peer review is not an indication that the journal is respected, or that any meaningful peer review occurs. Journals that are not peer reviewed by the wider academic community should not be considered reliable, except to show the views of the groups represented by those journals.[1]
  • In recent years there has been an explosion in new journals of very low quality that have only token peer-review if any (see predatory journals). They simply publish whatever is submitted if the author is willing to pay a fee. Some go so far as to mimic the names of established journals (see hijacked journals).[2][3][4][5] If you are unsure about the quality of a journal, check that the editorial board is based in a respected accredited university, and that it is included in the relevant citation index.

News organizationsEdit

News sources often contain both factual content and opinion content. "News reporting" from well-established news outlets is generally considered to be reliable for statements of fact (though even the most reputable reporting sometimes contains errors). News reporting from less-established outlets is generally considered less reliable for statements of fact. Most newspapers also reprint items from news agencies such as BBC News, Reuters, Interfax, Agence France-Presse or the Associated Press, which are responsible for accuracy. The agency should be cited in addition to the newspaper that reprinted it.

Editorial commentary, analysis and opinion pieces, whether written by the editors of the publication (editorials) or outside authors (op-eds) are reliable primary sources for statements attributed to that editor or author, but are rarely reliable for statements of fact.

  • When taking information from opinion content, the identity of the author may help determine reliability. The opinions of specialists and recognized experts are more likely to be reliable and to reflect a significant viewpoint.[6] If the statement is not authoritative, attribute the opinion to the author in the text of the article and do not represent it as fact. Reviews for books, movies, art, etc. can be opinion, summary or scholarly pieces.[7][8]
  • For information about academic topics, scholarly sources and high-quality non-scholarly sources are generally better than news reports. Many news organizations rely heavily on press releases from the organizations or journals involved. News reports may be acceptable depending on the context. Articles which deal in depth with specific studies, as a specialized article on science, are apt to be of more value than general articles which only tangentially deal with a topic. Frequently, although not always, such articles are written by specialist writers who may be cited by name. The popular press is generally not a reliable source for biomedical information in articles.
  • The reporting of rumors has a limited encyclopedic value, although in some instances verifiable information about rumors may be appropriate (i.e. if the rumors themselves are noteworthy, regardless of whether or not they are true). This wiki is not the place for passing along gossip and rumors.
  • Some news organizations may use articles as a source for their work. Editors should therefore beware of circular sourcing.
  • Whether a specific news story is reliable for a specific fact or statement in an article should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
  • Some stories are republished or passed along by multiple news organizations. This is especially true for wire services such as the Associated Press. Republished stories are not considered separate sources, but one source, which has simply appeared in multiple venues.
  • News organizations are not required to publish their editorial policy or editorial board online. Many major newspapers do not publish their editorial policies.
  • One signal that a news organization engages in fact-checking and has a reputation for accuracy is the publication of corrections.

E-commerce sourcesEdit

While the content guidelines for External links prohibits linking to "Individual web pages that primarily exist to sell products or services," inline citations may be allowed to e-commerce pages such as that of a book on a bookseller's page or an album on its streaming-music page, in order to verify such things as titles and running times. Journalistic and academic sources are preferable, however, and e-commerce links should be replaced with non-commercial reliable sources if available.

Biased or opinionated sourcesEdit

Articles are required to present a neutral point of view. However, reliable sources are not required to be neutral, unbiased, or objective. Sometimes non-neutral sources are the best possible sources for supporting information about the different viewpoints held on a subject.

Common sources of bias include political, financial, religious, philosophical, or other beliefs. While a source may be biased, it may be reliable in the specific context. When dealing with a potentially biased source, editors should consider whether the source meets the normal requirements for reliable sources, such as editorial control and a reputation for fact-checking. Editors should also consider whether the bias makes it appropriate to use in-text attribution to the source, as in "Feminist Betty Friedan wrote that...", "According to the Marxist economist Harry Magdoff...," or "Conservative Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater believed that...".

Questionable sourcesEdit

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Reliable sources must be strong enough to support the claim. A lightweight source may sometimes be acceptable for a lightweight claim, but never for an extraordinary claim.

Questionable sources are those with a poor reputation for checking the facts, or with no editorial oversight. Such sources include websites and publications expressing views that are widely acknowledged as extremist, that are promotional in nature, or which rely heavily on rumors and personal opinions. Questionable sources are generally unsuitable for citing contentious claims about third parties, which includes claims against institutions, persons living or dead, as well as more ill-defined entities. The proper uses of a questionable source are very limited.

Beware of sources which sound reliable but don't have the reputation for fact-checking and accuracy. The Journal of 100% Reliable Factual Information might have a reputation for "predatory" behavior, which includes questionable business practices and/or peer-review processes that raise concerns about the reliability of their journal articles.[9][10]

Self-published sources (online and paper)Edit

Anyone can create a personal web page or publish their own book, and also claim to be an expert in a certain field. For that reason self-published media—whether books, newsletters, personal websites, open wikis, blogs, personal pages on social networking sites, Internet forum postings, or tweets—are generally discouraged. This includes any website whose content is largely user-generated, including the Internet Movie Database (IMDB),, content farms, collaboratively created websites such as wikis, and so forth, with the exception of material on such sites that is labeled as originating from credentialed members of the sites' editorial staff, rather than users.

"Blogs" in this context refers to personal and group blogs. Some news outlets host interactive columns they call blogs, and these may be acceptable as sources so long as the writers are professional journalists or are professionals in the field on which they write and the blog is subject to the news outlet's full editorial control. Posts left by readers may never be used as sources.

Self-published material may sometimes be acceptable when its author is an established expert whose work in the relevant field has been published by reliable third-party publications. Self-published information should never be used as a third-party source about another living person, even if the author is a well-known professional researcher or writer.

Self-published and questionable sources as sources on themselvesEdit

Self-published or questionable sources may be used as sources of information about themselves, especially in articles about themselves, without the requirement that they be published experts in the field, so long as the following criteria are met:

  • The material is neither unduly self-serving nor an exceptional claim.
  • It does not involve claims about third parties (such as people, organizations, or other entities).
  • It does not involve claims about events not directly related to the subject.
  • There is no reasonable doubt as to its authenticity.
  • The article is not based primarily on such sources.

These requirements also apply to pages from social networking websites such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

Reliability in specific contextsEdit

Biographies of living personsEdit

Editors must take particular care when writing biographical material about living persons. Contentious material about a living person that is unsourced or poorly sourced should be removed immediately; do not move it to the talk page. This applies to any material related to living persons on any page in any namespace, not just article space.

Primary, secondary, and tertiary sourcesEdit

Articles should be based mainly on reliable sources, i.e., a document or recording that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere.

Reputable tertiary sources, such as lower-level textbooks, almanacs, and encyclopedias, may be cited. However, although Warticles are tertiary sources, this wiki employs no systematic mechanism for fact checking or accuracy. Thus, articles on this wiki should not be considered reliable sources for any purpose.

Primary sources are often difficult to use appropriately but can be allowed on this wiki. While they can be both reliable and useful in certain situations, they must be used with caution. While specific facts may be taken from primary sources, secondary sources that present the same material are preferred. Large blocks of material based purely on primary sources should be avoided. All interpretive claims, analyses, or synthetic claims about primary sources must be referenced to a secondary source, rather than original analysis of the primary-source material.

When editing articles and the use of primary sources is a concern, in-line templates, such as {{primary source-inline}} and {{better source}}, or article templates, such as {{primary sources}} and {{refimprove science}}, may be used to mark areas of concern.


The accuracy of quoted material is paramount and the accuracy of quotations from living persons is especially sensitive. To ensure accuracy, the text of quoted material is best taken from (and cited to) the original source being quoted. If this is not possible, then the text may be taken from a reliable secondary source (ideally one that includes a citation to the original). No matter where you take the quoted text from, it is important to make clear the actual source of the text, as it appears in the article.

Partisan secondary sources should be viewed with suspicion as they may misquote or quote out of context. In such cases, look for neutral corroboration from another source.

Any analysis or interpretation of the quoted material, however, should rely on a secondary source.

Academic consensusEdit

The statement that all or most scientists or scholars hold a certain view requires reliable sourcing that directly says that all or most scientists or scholars hold that view. Otherwise, individual opinions should be identified as those of particular, named sources. Editors should avoid original research especially with regard to making blanket statements based on novel syntheses of disparate material. Stated simply, any statement that academic consensus exists on a topic must be sourced rather than being based on the opinion or assessment of editors.

Usage by other sourcesEdit

How accepted, high-quality reliable sources use a given source provides evidence, positive or negative, for its reliability and reputation. The more widespread and consistent this use is, the stronger the evidence. For example, widespread citation without comment for facts is evidence of a source's reputation and reliability for similar facts, while widespread doubts about reliability weigh against it. If outside citation is the main indicator of reliability, particular care should be taken to adhere to other guidelines and policies, and to not represent unduly contentious or minority claims. The goal is to reflect established views of sources as far as we can determine them.

Statements of opinionEdit

Some sources may be considered reliable for statements as to their author's opinion, but not for statements asserted as fact without an inline qualifier like "(Author) says...". A prime example of this is opinion pieces in mainstream newspapers. When using them, it is better to explicitly attribute such material in the text to the author to make it clear to the reader that they are reading an opinion.

Note that otherwise reliable news sources—for example, the website of a major news organization—that publish in a "blog" style format for some or all of their content may be as reliable as if published in a more "traditional" 20th-century format.

There is an important exception to sourcing statements of fact or opinion: Never use self-published books, zines, websites, webforums, blogs and tweets as a source for material about a living person, unless written or published by the subject of the biographical material. "Self-published blogs" in this context refers to personal and group blogs.

Breaking newsEdit

Breaking news reports often contain serious inaccuracies. As an electronic publication, the articles on this wiki can and should be up to date, but we are not a newspaper and it does not need to go into all details of a current event in real time. It is better to wait a day or two after an event before adding details to the encyclopedia, than to help spread potentially false rumors. This gives journalists time to collect more information and verify claims, and for investigative authorities to make official announcements. The On The Media Breaking News Consumer's Handbook contains several suggestions to avoid unreliable information, such as distrusting anonymous sources, distrusting unconfirmed reports and those attributed to other news media, seeking multiple sources, seeking eyewitness reports, being wary of potential hoaxes, and being skeptical of reports of possible additional attackers in mass shootings.

Claims sourced to initial news reports should be replaced with better-researched ones as soon as possible, especially where incorrect information was imprudently added. All breaking news stories, without exception, are primary sources, and must be treated with caution.

When editing articles covering current events, also keep in mind the essay on recentism bias.

{{current}}, {{recent death}}, or other current event-related templates may be added to the top of articles concerning breaking news, to alert readers that some information may be inaccurate, and to draw attention to the need to add improved sources as they become available. Keep in mind, however, that these current event-related templates are not intended to be used to mark an article that merely has recent news articles about the topic; if it were, hundreds of thousands of articles would have this template, with no informational consequence.


  1. Examples include The Creation Research Society Quarterly and Journal of Frontier Science (the latter uses blog comments as peer review).
  2. Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers (2nd edition)
  3. Gina Kolata (April 7, 2013). "Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too)". Retrieved April 11, 2013. 
  4. Declan Butler (March 27, 2013). "Sham journals scam authors: Con artists are stealing the identities of real journals to cheat scientists out of publishing fees.". Retrieved April 11, 2013. 
  5. "Who's afraid of peer review?". 4 October 2013. pp. 60–65. Digital object identifier:10.1126/science.342.6154.60. 
  6. Please keep in mind that any exceptional claim would require exceptional sources, and this is policy.
  7. Princeton (2011). "Book reviews" (in English) (html). Scholarly definition document. Princeton. Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  8. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (2011). "Book reviews" (in English) (html). Scholarly definition document. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  9. Beall, Jeffrey (April 2010). ""Predatory" Open-Access Scholarly Publishers" (PDF). pp. 10–17. 
  10. Beall, Jeffrey. "Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers". Retrieved 23 July 2013. 

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