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Policies and Guidelines
Research and referencing
Please take note of the following guidelines to citing sources of OpenCongress articles:
- Reference links should point directly to the relevant page on the referenced website. It is not sufficient to merely give a link to the home or "root" page. The aim is to make it as easy as possible for readers to verify assertions in articles.
- While providing a simple url weblink in square brackets is useful, it is best to provide full reference details. For example, often a url will go dead and, depending on what text is cited, it can often be difficult to find substitute reference links. However, if a full reference is included -- author, title of the article, publication, date of publication etc -- it makes it far easier to find an alternative link or at least find the original article in news databases;
- You should consider the authoritativeness of the external website when giving a citation. For example, many Wikipedia articles are themselves extremely poorly referenced, and so Wikipedia is not considered an authoritative source for external references. (If you want to do something about this, please join the Wikipedia Fact and Reference Check project).
- If you fail to provide adequate and convenient references for your article or contribution, expect it to be heavily edited down by other users or OpenCongress editors, relocated to the 'talk' page pending verification or deleted altogether. Although OpenCongress employs paid editors, it is not their job to bring contributions up to the required referencing standard. That is your job.
General sourcing guidelines
Primary and secondary sources
It is worth remembering that a link to a primary source is usually more valuable than a secondary source.
For example, the statement by George W. Bush that America is "addicted to oil" can be found both in mainstream media outlets and in the official transcript of the 2006 State of the Union address. The advantage of a link to the primary source is that readers can read the full context of the original statement. Where possible, link to primary sources.
Often short mainstream news reports will omit important contextual information or miss important leads.
Referencing partisan or biased sources
Because OpenCongress is dedicated to documenting the activities of public officials, people and organizations who are not unimpeachable sources of information, it is sometime necessary to reference their websites or other sources to make that documentation. Additionally, sometimes third-party documents are housed on the websites of biased sources, making it necessary to use those websites as a source. In these cases the website and the content should be clearly identified rather than treating the source as objective.
For example, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) released a report on Republican congressional corruption. A proper way to cite the material would be to write, "Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) released a report in 2006 accusing Republican members of Congress of designing the nations energy policy to ‘enrich the oil and energy interests that have financed the Republican agenda’," and link to the report on her website as the source. An improper way to cite the material would be to write, "Republican members of Congress designed America’s national energy policy to benefit the oil and energy industries that have financed the Republican agenda," and link to the report on her website as a source.
If you would like to explore allegations like the one Rep. Slaughter made then an even more valuable way of contributing to OpenCongress would be to locate the original sources in her report, verify the information and present it in a fact-based, objective manner. That way what is documented is not the fact that Rep. Slaughter made the allegations but that her allegations are (possibly) true.
- Institutional sources vs. blogs and other amateur sources:
- Not a problem: Rhetoric and opinion in a source: Reporting that uncovers new and valuable information is done on blogs and other sites that are written by people with a distinct point of view. These include pieces in magazines that have ideological points of view (including the Washington Monthly and the National Review as well as some blogs like Talking Points Memo. It is best to find a source that has an established, independent point of view in order to aid other editors in quickly evaluating the reliability of your additions. However, sometimes a "biased" source is simply the best one. While the opinions they express should not be treated as facts, there are two types of information you can glean from them:
- Definite, incontrovertible statements of fact like a quote or action. Not to be confused with a characterization of something, which is basically an opinion.
- Documentation that the writer of the piece said something. Sometimes when reporting on writings by pundits or reporters it is useful to document that they said something, in which case their "biased" piece is the primary source.
- Not a problem: Profanity in sources: In the blogosphere particularly, authors sometimes use profanity. While it is best to link to a source that does not contain profanity in order to protect other editors who are checking your work from having to be exposed to it unwillingly, sometimes a source that includes profanity is simply the best one.