Wikipedia Source References: Criteria for Citations

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Notability is the most important criterion for a Wikipedia article, good references to support statements in the Wikipedia article are a close second in importance.

This article will emphasize the importance of recognizing reliable sources for Wikipedia, highlighting that reliable sources are crucial for ensuring the accuracy and trustworthiness of Wikipedia articles. Reliable sources are typically characterized by their commitment to rigorous fact-checking and adherence to editorial standards, and they include scholarly sources, major news organizations, and certain electronic sources with documented professional oversight.

Understanding the difference between reliable and unreliable sources is a basic tool for Wikipedia contributors to create articles that will stand the test of time (i.e. not get deleted or rolled back). Scholarly sources, like peer-reviewed journals and academic publications, are deemed most reliable. Meanwhile, primary sources should be used cautiously, while secondary sources are preferred for their analytical depth (There is a section below about the differences). We will cover unreliable sources like tabloids, content farms, and biased online publications unsuitable for Wikipedia due to their lack of editorial rigor and factual inaccuracies.

The reliability of a source is based on its ability to support the information as presented in an article well [1]. Below, we will detail the criteria for reliable sources, including examples of good and bad references. Good references tend to stick, whereas bad ones tend to be removed along with the statement it was supporting on the Wikipedia page. Always use good references.

TLDR: Basic Guidelines for Wikipedia References

  • References should be by a third party, not the article’s subject.
  • The reference should be all about the subject. Not just a passing mention. Ideally, the subject’s name is in the headline.
  • The publication on which the reference is located should, ideally, have its own Wikipedia article.
  • If the reference is an article, it should be written by a staff writer, not a contributor.
  • The publisher being referenced should not be on the untrusted list here.
  • Industry publications are normally not as strong as more well-known publications. Example: Crypto industry publications tend not be as trusted as the New York Times.
  • The reference should, ideally, be in the same language as the Wikipedia article.

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Knowing what is a reliable source on Wikipedia, and what is not, is key for both Wikipedia editors and readers looking for verified and trustworthy information. Reliable sources on Wikipedia are published sources known for their commitment to fact-checking and accuracy, which is important for verifying content [1].

What’s considered a reliable Wikipedia source can vary widely, from academic and peer-reviewed publications to major news organizations. Some major news organizations that are not considered reliable might surprise you. This distinction between reliable and unreliable sources becomes the basis for proper citations and builds the scaffolding for a well-developed Wikipedia article [1][3].

Characteristics of Reliable Sources for Wikipedia

Contextual Reliability

Reliable sources on Wikipedia are essential for any material that is challenged or likely to be challenged [1]. The reliability of a source is context-dependent, which means that each source must be evaluated to determine if it is suitable for the specific statement being made in the Wikipedia article [1].

Scholarly Sources are the Most Reliable

Scholarship sources such as academic and peer-reviewed publications, scholarly monographs, and textbooks are generally the most reliable sources available [1]. These sources undergo rigorous peer review and are often the cornerstone for factual accuracy and detailed analysis in Wikipedia articles [1].

Most News Outlets are Reliable

News reporting from well-established news outlets is typically considered reliable for statements of fact [1]. These outlets have established editorial standards and robust fact-checking processes, making them trustworthy sources for current events and factual reporting [1]. But be careful; publishers like Fox News have both good and bad reputations on Wikipedia, depending on what part of the organization an article is using as a source.

Using Books as Source Material for Wikipedia References

Books can be good references for providing in-depth information and supporting articles.

Online and Offline Books

  • Online Books: Books that are published online in their entirety can serve as good references for Wikipedia articles. But, it’s important to note that while online availability can be convenient, it’s not entirely necessary if the book can be checked out at a library or purchased.
  • Offline Books: Books that are not available online but can be accessed through libraries or purchased are also suitable for Wikipedia references. It’s essential to ensure that the book is credible and relevant to the topic being referenced.

Biographies and Medical Information

For biographies of living persons (BLP), Wikipedia relies heavily on reliable secondary sources. Contentious material about living individuals that is unsourced or poorly sourced is often removed immediately[1].

In the realm of biomedical information, the ideal sources include general or systematic reviews in reputable medical journals, widely recognized standard textbooks, or medical guidelines from reputable expert bodies [1].

Accuracy and Use of Biased Sources

An example of a biased Wikipedia source we are often confronted with is a person’s own website in the case of a living person, or the corporate site of a business. The accuracy of quoted material, especially from living persons, is treated with what we call heightened sensitivity [1]. The same can be said for industry sources. Industry sources like a crypto-related publication writing about a crypto company will very often invite scrutiny. At Reputation X do not recommend using industry publications for certain industries at all.

Specialized Content Areas

Different subject areas on Wikipedia require sources that are appropriate to the field. Here are some examples:

  • Historical Articles: Use published scholarly sources from academic presses [1].
  • Physical Sciences and Medicine: Rely on peer-reviewed scientific publications and community consensus [1].
  • Law Articles: Cite legal texts and expert opinions within the jurisdiction [1].
  • Business and Commerce: Refer to independently audited accounts and notes [1].

A note on statistical data as a Wikipedia reference

Statistical data, often considered a primary source, should be used cautiously and only if sourced from reputable institutions where the data has been correctly interpreted [7]. Similarly, in historical articles and specialized fields like law and medicine, the emphasis is on using secondary sources that provide a layer of interpretation and analysis over primary data [7].

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources for Wikipedia

Primary Sources on Wikipedia

Primary sources provide firsthand information or original data.

They include original documents, creative works, interviews, speeches, artifacts, surveys, and historical records [6][10]. These sources are often challenging to use appropriately in Wikipedia articles due to their direct nature and the need for careful interpretation and contextualization [1].

Primary Source Material Examples for Wikipedia References

  • Original Documents
    • Unedited letters, diaries, manuscripts, and other first-hand accounts.
  • Speeches and Interviews
    • Transcripts or recordings of speeches, interviews, and oral histories.
  • An Organization’s Own Website
    • A business’s own website can be considered a primary source.

Secondary Sources on Wikipedia

Secondary sources analyze, interpret, or comment on the information provided by primary sources.

They provide context, background, or perspective and are typically seen in forms such as scholarly articles, biographies, historical studies, reviews, and textbooks [10][11]. These sources are crucial for adding depth and scholarly analysis to Wikipedia entries.

Tertiary Sources on Wikipedia

Tertiary sources consolidate, summarize, or index primary and secondary sources.

They aim to provide an overview or general knowledge on a topic, making them accessible but not detailed. Common examples include encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories, fact books, guidebooks, and manuals [10][11]. Wikipedia itself is categorized as a tertiary source due to its nature as a consolidated and summarized platform of information. However, it is not considered a reliable academic source due to its open-editing format [10].

Evaluating the Reliability of Different Types of Sources

The reliability of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources on Wikipedia is determined by many factors: the subject-matter expertise of whoever produced it, the clarity of the underlying original sources, the independence from the subject being discussed, and their general regard as reliable by others in the field [10]. When using these sources, Wikipedia editors have got to consider their appropriateness based on the content’s complexity and the availability of better sources. For instance, while tertiary sources might be useful for simple facts or general overviews, they are not considered suitable for controversial material or in-depth analysis [10].

Practical Applications in Wikipedia

In Wikipedia, the use of these sources ought to be balanced. Primary sources should be used sparingly, especially for controversial or detailed discussions. Secondary sources are preferred as they provide necessary analysis and interpretation, enhancing the credibility and depth of the articles. Tertiary sources, while useful for broad overviews, should not be relied upon for detailed claims or current information due to potential issues with comprehensiveness and timeliness [10].

Contributors vs Staff Writers

While a big publication like may be a solid publisher on which to find a suitable reference, who wrote the piece is important as well. Staff writers are far more trusted than contributors. Always choose a staff writer over a contributor when creating or citing references for Wikipedia articles.

Examples of Good Wikipedia Reference Sources

In the world of Wikipedia editing, understanding which types of links provide the most reliable information is key. For e-commerce related topics, it is generally more beneficial to reference direct e-commerce links rather than links from aggregators. This approach ensures that the information is sourced directly from the primary provider, enhancing the accuracy and reliability of the content on Wikipedia [1].

Academic Journals and Books

  • Example: Citations from peer-reviewed academic journals such as Nature, Science, or The Journal of Neuroscience are considered highly reliable on Wikipedia.
  • Why It’s Good: Academic journals and books are typically peer-reviewed and contain in-depth research conducted by experts in the field.

News Outlets

  • Example: References from reputable news organizations like The New York Times, BBC, or The Guardian are generally accepted on Wikipedia.
  • Why it’s Good: News outlets often have editorial oversight and fact-checking processes that ensure the accuracy of their reporting.

Government and Official Websites

  • Example: Citations from government websites, such as those ending in .gov (e.g., or official organizations like the World Health Organization, are considered reliable sources.
  • Why it’s Good: Official websites often provide data, statistics, and information backed by government or authoritative entities.

Scholarly Publications

  • Example: References from scholarly publications are generally considered acceptable on Wikipedia.
  • Why it’s Good: Scholarly publications are often written by experts in their respective fields and undergo peer review.

Books by Reputable Publishers

  • Example: Citations from books published by well-known and reputable publishers like Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, or Harvard University Press are considered reliable sources.
  • Why it’s Good: Books from established publishers often undergo rigorous editorial and fact-checking processes.

Avoiding Self-Published Sources

  • Example: References from personal blogs, self-published books, or non-peer-reviewed websites should be avoided on Wikipedia.
  • Why It’s Important: Self-published sources may lack editorial oversight and could contain biased or unverified information.

When adding references to Wikipedia, it’s essential to prioritize accuracy, verifiability, and reliability in order to maintain the integrity of the content.

Examples of Bad Wikipedia Reference Sources

State-Controlled Media

State-associated or state-controlled news organizations in countries with low press freedom may serve as propaganda outlets rather than unbiased information sources. These sources should be approached with caution when considering their use in Wikipedia citations [9].

Press Releases

Press releases are considered self-published and are not generally acceptable as quality Wikipedia references. While we do see press releases, we do not suggest using them.

Tabloid Journalism

Publications such as The Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, and the Daily Express are known for their sensational journalism. These sources are prone to sensationalism and occasional inaccuracies, making them less reliable for factual Wikipedia citations [9].

Self-Published Sources

Self-published sources, unless authored by an established expert on the subject matter, are generally not acceptable on Wikipedia [1]. This includes books, blogs, websites, press releases, and other forms of media where the author has not undergone editorial scrutiny from other experts in the field. At Reputation X, we recommend using books that are not self-published, if books need to be used as a source to support a statement on Wikipedia.

State-Controlled Media

State-associated or state-controlled news organizations may be used to determine the official positions of their sponsoring governments but should be treated with caution as they may also serve as propaganda outlets [9]. Examples of state media include China Global Television Network which was deprecated for publishing. non-factual information.

Unreliable Online Encyclopedias and User-Generated Content

Online encyclopedias that merely select and rewrite certain Wikipedia articles, such as New World Encyclopedia, and user-generated sites like h2g2, are not considered reliable due to their lack of formal editorial control [9]. Similarly, commercial sites like, which lack clear editorial oversight, and content farms that pay writers to produce articles based on popular search terms are considered unreliable for the purpose of Wikipedia sourcing [9].

Online Business News Sources

PR Newswire and VerticalNews are examples of platforms that should be considered primary sources unless verified for independent authorship and editorial review. Their direct nature often lacks the necessary scrutiny for Wikipedia standards [9].

Conspiracist Websites

Sites like Infowars are notorious for promoting conspiracy theories and misinformation. These sources are unreliable for Wikipedia as they compromise factual integrity and objectivity [9].

Biased Online Publications has a documented history of publishing distorted facts and outright falsehoods, particularly about political adversaries. Such sources undermine the credibility required for Wikipedia references [9].

Financial and Investment Opinion Sites

Opinion-driven platforms such as Seeking Alpha,, and The Motley Fool are influenced by external interests and market speculations, making them unreliable for factual reporting in Wikipedia articles [9].

Content Farms and platforms owned by Demand Media are known for their lack of rigorous editorial oversight. The content produced is often not sufficiently verified for use in Wikipedia [9].

Satirical and Parody Sources

The Onion, The Daily Currant, and similar sites publish content that is intentionally fictitious and satirical. These sources are unsuitable for factual citation due to their parody nature [9].

Predatory and Biased Scholarly Publications

Journals like the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons and others listed have reputations for bias or lack of rigorous peer review. They do not meet the high standards required for Wikipedia citations [9].

Wikipedia Mirrors and Circular Referencing

Using Wikipedia as a source within Wikipedia, or citing mirrors that simply copy Wikipedia content, leads to circular referencing and does not provide new, verifiable information [9].

Miscellaneous Non-Reliable Online Sources

Platforms like h2g2, BBC Music, and offer content that varies significantly in reliability and often lacks proper editorial oversight, making them questionable sources for Wikipedia [9].

Self-Published and Vanity Press

Books published through services like iUniverse and lack formal editorial processes and are generally not acceptable for credible Wikipedia citations [9].

Directory Scams and Fan Sites

‘Who’s Who’ directories often involve selling fraudulent memberships, and fansites, while sometimes containing useful historical scans, generally do not meet the reliability standards required for Wikipedia [9].

Personal Communications

Information from personal communications is considered original research and is not permitted in Wikipedia as it can’t be independently verified [9].


What defines a reliable source on Wikipedia?
A reliable source on Wikipedia is typically a reputable secondary source, such as documents or recordings that discuss information originally presented elsewhere. Also, respected tertiary sources like introductory university textbooks, almanacs, and encyclopedias can be used for citation purposes.

How can you determine the reliability of a Wikipedia article?
A Wikipedia article is considered reliable if the information presented is supported by citations from reliable sources. To ensure reliability, verify that the cited sources actually support the content of the article. Wikipedia content should be used directly only when the topic of the article is Wikipedia itself.

Are the citations found in Wikipedia articles considered reliable?
Citations within Wikipedia are not deemed reliable for formal academic writing. Many educational institutions, including schools and universities, do not accept Wikipedia as a primary source. Some have outright banned its use, while others may allow it solely as a means to direct readers to external sources.

Is it appropriate to use Wikipedia as a credible source for research?
Wikipedia is generally not recognized as a credible source for research in academic settings. Policies at numerous colleges, universities, and secondary schools, both public and private, often prohibit students from using Wikipedia as a reference for research papers, essays, or similar assignments due to its open editing nature, which allows anyone to make changes at any time.


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