The question of who is eligible for a Wikipedia page comes up several times a day at our agency. Wikipedia maintains a powerful global presence and once there is a page about a person, it’s usually among the top two or three results for a Google search about that individual. So it makes sense that highly accomplished professionals who’ve received recognition in their fields would like to see those achievements reflected on the world’s largest and most prominent encyclopedia.
The standards by which “notability” is measured on Wikipedia are very different than in professional spheres. According to Wikipedia policy, notability typically doesn’t depend on a person’s accomplishments, but rather on press coverage those accomplishments have received – though there are a few narrow exceptions, such as when a person has won an award, like a Grammy.
It’s important to know that notability is not an assessment of merit by Wikipedia. It’s a policy designed to avoid the subjective judgments of editors who aren’t industry experts. The notability policy establishes criteria that can be evaluated by most any Wikipedia editor, even if they know nothing about your field. Unfortunately, that means the policies are rather rigid and don’t account for measurements of accomplishment that might be more typical for a profession.
This blog post focuses on the policies and best practices for establishing that a living person meets Wikipedia’s qualification criteria. In the future, we will write about establishing the eligibility of organizations and companies; subjects such as medical or scientific topics; events; and a variety of other subjects. In the meantime, you can take a look at our many guides to notability, which overviews of most every notability topic.
Two quick points before we dive into some specifics:
1) Wikipedia policy requires public disclosure of conflict of interest (COI) if you are the subject of an article draft or have a connection to the subject. And because your connection renders you biased, you’re required to submit drafts to independent editors for review prior to publication. They decide whether a draft meets Wikipedia standards and should be published.
2) Even if you meet the criteria for “notability,” your page still may be declined or deleted if it fails to follow other important Wikipedia rules, such as “No Promo”, “Reads like a Resume”, “Verification”, “Reliable Source”, or “Neutral Point of View.” Collectively these are the equivalent of hundreds of pages of Wikipedia policies, and it’s very difficult to correctly conform to these policies without study and practice.
What is the Primary Way to Qualify for a Wikipedia Page?
Wikipedia typically determines notability based on the depth and breadth of reliable, independent press coverage about the person. This usually means substantial print press coverage, though books and even broadcast media can count in some circumstances. For an individual, this means there will need to be significant coverage of your life and achievements in reliable sources, which we’ll discuss in more detail later in this article.
There’s no fixed number of sources required, but a highly unofficial rule of thumb, based on our firm’s experience, is that three or more profiles of a person, assuming original reporting is evident, means that it’s likely the page meets the eligibility criteria. Quality of the story and publication might mean fewer or more articles are required – the rules become hazy about exact numbers.
What if There Aren’t Enough Feature Stories or Profiles Focused Exclusively on Me?
There is a secondary criteria within Wikipedia’s notability policy that allows for coverage in which a person isn’t profiled, but is still featured as a substantial part of the story. In this scenario, a person would have to be heavily featured in numerous pieces of reporting to be considered. A passing mention or a quote – even in a publication like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times – doesn’t count as “significant coverage.”
A word of caution: many Wikipedia editors who review proposals from COI editors flat out ignore this secondary criteria. It can be subjective as to whether press coverage not focused on another topic contains enough information about you that it should count toward notability, so they tend to just not count these types of articles at all.
Are There Any Special Qualifications for People Who May Not Have Significant Press Coverage?
Yes. There are many special criteria under which you can qualify for a Wikipedia page even without having been profiled in the press. The criteria can include receiving a significant award or honor (think MacArthur Fellowship, Grammy, or Pulitzer Prize); making a widely recognized contribution in a specific field; or being included in a country’s standard national biographical dictionary.
There are Also Special Qualifications for Specific Professions:
- Scientists, researchers, philosophers and other scholars can demonstrate notability within the world of ideas without their biographies being the subject of press coverage.
- Politicians and judges who have held international, national, or (for countries with federal or similar systems of government) state/province–wide office, or have been members of legislative bodies at those levels.
- Athletes and sports personalities who have won a significant honor. That said, most persons wining high honors are likely to receive significant coverage in sources that are independent of the individual.
- Entertainers who’ve had significant roles in multiple notable films, television shows, stage performances, or other productions; or who’ve made unique, prolific or innovative contributions to a field of entertainment.
- Creative professionals who are widely cited by peers or known for originating a significant new concept, theory, or technique; or whose work has been institutionally established in galleries, museums, or as a monument; or has created or played a major role in co-creating a significant or well-known work or collective body of work.
*Even though special criteria exist, the general rule when it comes to notability is: The more reliable sources, the better.
What are the Characteristics of a Reliable Source?
- It’s verifiable. All material added to Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source. This means any reader should be able to check the source of the information and confirm that it supports what’s written in the article.
- It’s independent. The source must have no vested interest in the subject of the content. This means the source should not be connected to the subject in a way that could compromise the source’s neutrality.
- It demonstrates notability. This means that the subject of the Wikipedia article page is covered to a reasonable degree in the source.
Examples of Reliable Sources
- Mainstream newspapers
- Established magazines with editorial boards
- Academic and peer-reviewed publications
- University textbooks
- Books from reputable publishers (i.e.: no self-published material)
- Encyclopedias (excluding Wikipedia itself)
- Coverage in other publications, such as regional newspapers or prominent trade journals can be used to augment a case for notability, but can’t serve as the primary basis. Notability hinges upon significant coverage in mainstream sources.
Significant coverage means in-depth profiles or feature stories written by journalists or other researchers in mainstream publications. The stories don’t have to be recent, but they do have to involve original reporting. That means certain stories, no matter how in-depth they may appear, are excluded from consideration by Wikipedia.
What Types of Sources Don’t Count Toward Establishing Notability?
- Paid promotional content
- Q&As: Whether in print, TV broadcast interview, or a podcast
- Rehashed press releases that contain no original reporting
- Any content from the subject’s own website or written by the subject
- Self-published material, such as blogs or books
- Original material from company websites
And where the story comes from also matters. A story that may appear legitimate will still be excluded from Wikipedia if it’s published in a questionable source.
Which Sources Will Be Excluded?
- Most trade journals, unless it’s the clear industry leader and has a solid editorial reputation.
- Hyperlocal, neighborhood publications (but not city-wide publications, which are good)
- Social media, such as LinkedIn columns
- Publications that do not have a reputation for “editorial accuracy” (this excludes some smaller internet-only publications/blogs.)
- Websites that are not journalism publications
How Many Sources are Needed to Establish Notability?
Wikipedia doesn’t specify a certain number of sources necessary to establish notability. It merely stipulates that a person should have “significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject”.
Even though Wikipedia doesn’t require a specific number, having at least three sources is the rule of thumb. Anything less would indicate that there’s probably not enough reliable and independent information available to create a verifiable, neutral, and comprehensive Wikipedia article.
But having the right number of quality sources simply means meeting the threshold for qualifying for inclusion on Wikipedia. Sources are just the beginning. And once they’re compiled, the real work begins.
Anyone can draft a new article for creation on Wikipedia. But without a deep understanding of complex Wikipedia policies, it’s very easy to make catastrophic errors. And once errors have been made, they can be exceedingly difficult – sometimes impossible – to correct.
An article can be teeming with reliable sources that leave no doubt as to the subject’s notability but if the language does not strictly adhere to a neutral point of view, Wikipedia editors will reject the page. If the language is promotional, uses marketing jargon, or reads like a resume, editors will reject it. Even the faintest whisper of self-promotion is likely to draw the attention of editors who are either committed to upholding Wikipedia’s principles of neutrality, or who have an ax grind with other editors who have a Conflict of Interest (which, if you’re curious about creating a Wikipedia page for yourself or someone you know – is you.)
Writing for Wikipedia involves navigating a landmine of other complex policies, and one false step can lead to a quagmire of editorial disputes. The key is to do it the right way the first time.
WhiteHatWiki is one of the few consultancies that is committed to staying within the bounds of Wikipedia policy. If you have questions about notability or are wondering if you qualify for a page, we can help.