Wikipedia:Identifying and using self-published works
Self-published works are those in which the author and publisher are the same. Anyone can self-publish information regardless of whether they are truly knowledgeable about the topic in question. Therefore, self-published works should be examined carefully when determining whether a specific self-published work is a reliable source for a particular claim in a Wikipedia article.
In determining the type of source, there are three separate, basic characteristics to identify:
- 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.)
Every possible combination of these three traits has been seen in sources on Wikipedia. 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.
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.
The 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style says, "Any Internet site that does not have a specific publisher or sponsoring body should be treated as unpublished or self-published work." However, the converse isn't true: if a site does have a specific publisher or sponsoring body, it might still be self-published.
- 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 (including online-only content of widely-circulated magazines and newspapers)
- Books published by established publishers (like Random House)
- Research published in peer-reviewed journals
"Self-published" does not mean "primary" or "non-independent"
"Self-published" does not 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.
The relationship between the author and the publisher is the key point. If it's the same person (or the same group of people) doing both, then it's self-published. If it's a different person or group of people voluntarily deciding whether to make the authors' works available to the public, then it's non-self-published. The type of content is irrelevant. The same document can be self-published by the author or non-self-published by others:
|Primary source||Alice Expert writes an original report about her experiment, and she posts her own report on her blog.||Alice Expert writes an original report about her experiment, and the independent editors of an academic journal published her report in their academic journal.|
|Secondary source||Alice Expert combines data from a dozen previously published experiments into a meta-analysis, and she posts her own report on her blog.||Alice Expert combines data from a dozen previously published experiments into a meta-analysis, and the independent editors of an academic journal published her report in their academic journal.|
"Self-published" does not 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
One characteristic of self-published material is lack of reviewers who are independent of the author (those who are not hired and fired by the author, and whose employment does not depend upon agreeing with the author).
- 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 (2018): "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."
|Alice Expert writes about her experiment, and she hires a freelance editor to help her improve her draft before sending her book to a vanity press. If she disagrees with the editor, she can reject his advice, fire him, or (if the editor is employed by the self-publishing printer) go to a different printing house.||Alice Expert writes about her experiment, and submitted it to the independent editors of a magazine. If she disagrees with these editors, they won't publish her article in their publication.|
Self-published doesn't mean a source is automatically invalid
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 (but not for third-party claims about living people). Sometimes, a self-published source is even the best possible source or among the best sources. For example:
- If you are supporting a direct quotation, the original document is the best source because the original document will be free of any errors or misquotations introduced by subsequent sources.
- A self-published source by an expert may become an authoritative reference for a claim, as with the best-selling self-published book The Joy of Cooking as a source for claims about cooking techniques.
- A self-published source by an expert may include a significant opinion that hasn’t yet appeared in a non-self-published source.
Conversely, properly published sources are not always "good" or "reliable" or "usable", either. Being properly published does not guarantee 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.
- 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 independent editorial oversight or independent peer review processes.
A self-published source can have all of these qualities.
Using self-published sources
Self-published works should be examined carefully in determining whether a specific self-published work is a reliable source for a particular claim in a Wikipedia article.
Not all self-published sources are equal. A personal blog post claiming that the Twin Towers fell as the result of a controlled demolition, written by someone with no expertise, is not at the same level as a personal blog post about physics written by the chairperson of the physics department at a major university.
A non-self-published source that verifies the same information is usually preferred to a self-published one. If it is not clear which source is better, they can both be cited.
Acceptable use of self-published works
- For certain claims by the author about themselves. (See #For claims by self-published authors about themselves)
- The author is an established expert on the topic of the article whose work in the relevant field has previously been published by reliable third-party publications, except for exceptional claims. 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.
Unacceptable use of self-published works
- Claims by the author themselves don't meet the criteria in #For claims by self-published authors about themselves)
- Exceptional claims, even when the author is an established expert on the topic citedexceptional sources
- Third-party sources about living people, even if the author is an expert, well-known professional researcher, or writer.
For claims about living people
Never use self-published sources as third-party sources about any living people, except for claims by the author about themself. This holds even if the author of the source 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 their neighbor, business partner, or friend.
For claims by self-published authors about themselves
Self-published and questionable sources may be used as sources of information about themselves, usually in articles about themselves or their activities, even if the source is not a published expert in the field, so long as:
- the material is neither unduly self-serving nor 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 seldom 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 like at a library or archive. 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 cited 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. Archived from the original on May 10, 2016. Retrieved July 11, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Nonprint and Electronic Sources". Academic Integrity at Princeton (PDF). Princeton University. 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 17, 2020. Retrieved July 11, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- 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: