Wikipedia:Editor integrity

Wikipedia editors have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of Wikipedia and respect intellectual property rights of the sources they draw upon when they create and improve encyclopedia pages. This includes avoiding plagiarism, respecting copyright, and presenting appropriate citations.

Assuming good faithEdit

First and foremost, we need to assume good faith. Many new editors make honest mistakes about how to edit Wikipedia correctly. Most do not cite their sources, and many are unaware of Wikipedia's standards. For any obviously new editor, we should educate, not correct; help, not punish. However, when a user displays obvious academic dishonesty, it should be dealt with swiftly and decisively.

Collaboration at WikipediaEdit

Wikipedia is covered under the GFDL; all work is licensed for redistribution. By editing articles, Wikipedians enter into a tacit agreement that their work is open for editing and redistribution by others under a different standard of copyright protection than is usually found in print media. This sort of arrangement exists because it owes itself to the collaborative nature of Wikipedia.

However, we should not forget that the entire world of academia is NOT run on this system. People who publish works outside of Wikipedia expect to be credited for the work they do, and rightly so. It is their right to be credited for the work they do; and it is our duty to do so. We must not confuse the collaborative nature of Wikipedia as a free-for-all to copy and borrow from outside sources.

Obvious cases of academic dishonestyEdit

The following criteria should be considered before any accusations of academic dishonest arise.

Criterion 1: Editor experienceEdit

As noted above, we should assume good faith in the actions of all editors, especially new editors. One could not expect a High School freshman to understand the intricacies of the MLA format for Works Cited Pages, on the other hand, a post-graduate student should understand how to properly cite their references and must be held to such a standard.

If a new user adds unsourced statements, depending on the severity of the mistake, a {{fact}} tag can be added, the unsourced information can be removed, or best of all, an experienced editor can fix the mistake. In all cases, the mistake should be corrected, and such corrections should be noted BOTH on the article talk page, and on the talk page of the user in question.

Users that have substantial edits on Wikipedia should be familiar enough with proper referencing, and should be held to a higher standard. Still, a single mistake by an experienced user should not justify accusations of academic dishonesty. But when considering whether or not to raise questions of an editor's motives and honesty, their experience should enter into consideration.

Criterion 2: Number of instancesEdit

A single unsourced statement may not be academic dishonesty. What needs to be established is a pattern of behavior. Does the user show a proclivity towards adding unsourced information to articles or claiming information as their own? Does the user make repeated copyvios? Most importantly, have other experienced editors and admins tried to educate the user on Wikipedia's policies regarding proper referencing and of the problems or plagiarism?

Criterion 3: Potential for controversyEdit

Adding a missing birth date to an article about a long dead historical figure and not referencing the addition is not really plagiarism. It is a trivial fact, it can be found in MANY resources, and it is not likely to generate controversy. If the article is already well referenced, the fact can be checked in the other references the article provides. However, adding wild, potentially controversial statements to an article DO require extensive referencing in reliable sources. If I edit the article on George Washington, and claim he was a pedophile and kept a harem of small boys at Mount Vernon, I had better be able to back such a claim up with reliable sources. Even more important is correct citation of criticism. It should be clear that critical statements about a subject should be referenced to the work and author where the critical statement was made. If people feel that George Washington was hypocritical for fighting for freedom AND owning slaves, then such criticism needs to be attributed to reliable sources. Simply making such a statement is either Original Research (if it is ONLY the thought of the editor making the edit) or is Plagiarism (if the criticism is taken from an outside source, that source should be credited).

Criterion 4: Unrepentance on the part of an editorEdit

Editors that have been made aware that their edits are frequently controversial and unreferenced should be given a chance to improve as editors. If an editor has acknowledged the criticism against them and either disregards it or openly dismisses it, such behavior should be seen as more serious than a new user who is unaware of how to edit correctly. If experienced editors don't help editors having problems, then they will never get better. If an editor is uninterested in becoming a better editor, and is making their edits in blatant disregard of established policy, or of general understanding of academic honesty, then that editor should be dealt with.

What to do about dishonestyEdit

When confronted with blatant evidence of dishonesty, and assuming that ample warnings have gone unheeded for considerable time, the user should be blocked or banned. Dishonesty cannot rightly be called vandalism; it is not an attempt to disrupt the editorial process. Still, repeated dishonest behavior that meets all of the criteria above needs to be dealt with decisively. Depending on the nature of the dishonesty, everything from semi-protection of articles in question, to medium-to-long term blocking (months to a year) to permanent banning should be considered.


Copyright is the legal protection afforded to the creator of a work or their designees with regard to the right to reproduce that work. Laws vary between various jurisdictions, and since Wikipedia is an international venture, it is perhaps impossible to devise a legal policy that will fit all of the world. Still, certain principles of copyright apply across nearly all jurisdictions, and should hold true in any circumstance:


A copyright violation exists if the copied text represents a substantial portion of either the original work or the derivative work. That means that if you have copied a substantial portion of something, or if copied material represents a substantial portion of what you are creating, then a violation has occurred. The law in most cases leaves this intentionally vague, and we should too. The principle that should be followed here is: Is the new work recognizable as a completely independently created work? If it is patently obvious that the new work contains a substantial portion of its text from another work, regardless of the percent of text copied, then a violation has occurred.

Rights of the copyright holderEdit

The copyright holder of a work has certain rights to prohibit others from republishing it. For example, if an article at Wikipedia is copied from Encyclopædia Britannica, this is a violation of the Britannica's copyright.


Short (sentence or paragraph length) quotations are not necessarily copyright violations, especially when they do not represent a significant portion of the work. It may still be copyright violation if the text is not properly attributed to its original source, but one should not be concerned about a properly attributed quote from another author, especially if it adds to the value of a Wikipedia article.

Attempts to evadeEdit

As with any other principle, an obvious attempt to evade a law is evidence of personal awareness of wrongdoing. Patently obvious attempts at evading copyright law, such as changing random words to synonyms, reformatting text, moving sentence order, etc. are still violations of the most serious kind. All text created at Wikipedia should be the product of the mind of its editors. If you read something, thought about it, and put it into your own words from scratch, it is not a copyright violation (it may still be plagiarism. See below). If however, you have cut-and-pasted, or read and retyped word-for-word, from another source, even if you do extensive copyediting to "cover your tracks" it is still academic dishonesty, and still a copyright violation.


Wikipedia does NOT publish original thought. It is a tertiary source. What this means is that Wikipedia is written from the writings of other people who themselves did original research. As such, no writing on Wikipedia is the original idea of its editors. The prose itself should be the creation of the editors (if it is not, it may be copyright violation, see above), but the ideas should all appear in reliable, third party sources. If you borrow an idea from another source, it MUST be properly attributed.

Chain of sourcesEdit

Ideally, every idea contained in every Wikipedia article should be traceable back to the originator of that idea through the use of each works sources. That does NOT mean that you should cite the sources of a source. If you have a book open, and are using it to help develop an article, you should cite THAT SOURCE. This is because each author, while relying on the work of others, still adds a unique perspective on their work. Give credit where credit is due even if the source is not covered by copyright law.


You wish to add a birth date to an article about a notable person. You do not need to (and in fact should not) cite the actual birth certificate. You should cite a reliable biography that you are actually looking at. If you were to find that biography's sources, and then find that source's source, and so on, you should eventually arrive back at a primary source, such as a birth certificate. But you should not do that. You should cite the source YOU used to find the information.

Harm of plagiarismEdit

Because plagiarism is harder to nail-down as a concept than copyright violation, many people think that it is a less serious violation. Indeed, while copyright violation has real civil and criminal legal penalties attached to it, there is no such law against plagiarism. This does not make violations of plagiarism any less serious. Academic institutions such as colleges and universities consider plagiarism as the highest form of academic dishonesty, and often reserve its most serious penalties for serious plagiarism. The basic principle is: You must NOT present the ideas of another as your own. Since Wikipedia does NOT publish original thought, all ideas here originate with authors outside of Wikipedia. Thus, we need to credit those that we get ideas from.

Appropriate use of citationsEdit

References should present information fairly and faithfully, use quotations in context, and include specific line citations.

An editor who creates the first line citations to a previously unreferenced article may select any standard citation format such as Harvard referencing or Chicago Manual of Style. Subsequent editors should add new citations in whatever format is already in use. If a change in the format seems desirable, discuss the idea in advance on the article's talk page.

Any editor who attempts to reference a passage is responsible for creating citations in standard format including specifics such as page numbers. An editor who merely names an author or a book has not created a reference because readers cannot be expected to search through hundreds of pages for some specific passage the editor had in mind; likewise, a URL link that merely goes to the home page of a large website does not constitute a citation. Removal of such material does not constitute violation of WP:V.

Some facts, however, are verifiable but inherently difficult to access. An editor may use a standard format citation to a public archive for a land sale that occurred in 1910. Such hard-to-verify citations should be avoided when reliable alternatives are available: references to Shakespeare's plays would normally cite a modern edition rather than an archival quarto.

When an article makes multiple references to the same source, the same edition of the source is normally preferred for all citations. An exception to this would be an article whose purpose is to document such differences, such as Bible translations.

New edits to previously cited textEdit

Care should be exercised when editing article passages that are already referenced with line citations. Hasty or poorly planned edits can turn an appropriate citation into a bad one. Review the source material before making an alteration that could substantially alter the accuracy of the cited text.

Before adding additional references to a well-cited article, check the existing citations to make certain the addition does not duplicate a citation that has already been made. New citations normally follow whatever citation format the article already uses. If a changeover to some different format seems desirable, propose the change on the talk page.

Altering footnotesEdit

When editing footnotes, update the associated text as appropriate to ensure that the entire citation remains accurate and the article remains consistent.


A history article uses several citations to an online translation of a source. An editor wants to cite a different translation from another website. It is not good enough to just cut and paste the new URL into one of the footnotes. The editor who makes this change also needs to update the name of the translator, the site access date, and any page number in the footnote. Update relevant article text, especially direct quotations because different translators use different wording. Make corresponding changes to other footnotes so that the entire article cites the same translation.

NPOV and citationsEdit

Articles should present divergent opinions fairly and devote proportionate space based on each viewpoint's relative acceptance among notable experts and based on the dispute's relative importance to the overall article topic. The article text must refrain from commenting editorially on the relative merits of different cited opinions, however, each citation of a notable viewpoint should be an accurate representation of the subject's views.


An article about Helen Keller cites her opinion of socialism. It would not serve WP:NPOV or the proper use of sources to alter the citation so that Helen Keller appears to be neutral about socialism. She was an outspoken socialist. Likewise, it would not be neutral to quote her opinion of socialism and add your own editorial comment, she was right or she was wrong.

What would be NPOV is to present her viewpoint accurately. If commentary is desirable, cite notable supporters and detractors in appropriate proportion on the specific topic of Helen Keller's socialist beliefs.

See alsoEdit