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Policies and Guidelines
Research and referencing
The primary purpose of OpenCongress is to provide well-documented information lawmakers, Congress, and the legislative process in a non-partisan, fair and accurate manner. This includes biographical data on Senators and Representatives, articles on the structure of committees, and analyses of legislation.
The guidelines below indicate the types of information that are most important to include in the articles you submit. If you don't have all of the information listed in these suggestions, go ahead and provide the information that you do have. Hopefully someone else will be able to fill in the remaining pieces. That's the beauty of collaborative research!
Since OpenCongress explores the political process in government, including information and opinions about controversial issues, it is important to provide references to reports that document, as authoritatively as possible, the accuracy and fairness of your facts and analysis. Please try to keep rhetoric to a minimum, avoid speculation, and focus on providing verifiable facts. Each article should include a list of resources at the bottom: news stories, books, scientific studies, web sites, database or other documentary records that support the facts in the article and that can be consulted for further information. Whenever possible, each resource listed should include the following information:
- publication date
- name of author
- name, city and state of publisher (e.g., New York Times, Tarcher/Putnam publishing)
- URL (if the report is available online)
For a more detailed discussion of referencing in OpenCongress, see Help:Citing Sources.
Types of OpenCongress articles
Virtually any subject related to Congress is appropriate for a OpenCongress article. For tips on how to build quality OpenCongress articles, see the guideline article "How to build a good OpenCongress page".
Which kinds of material are appropriate for OpenCongress
All material contributed to OpenCongress should follow the guideline of being "fair, non-partisan and accurate." As a "citizen's encyclopedia of Congress," contributors should think of their additions as being reports of facts, preferably written in news style. (See our Manual of Style for more...) Try to present all sides of an argument, be accurate and give no special treatment to members of Congress because of their political affiliation.
Opinion vs. documented facts
All material should also be documented, referenced facts, not opinions. Characterizations should be avoided unless the evidence for such a characterization is basically beyond argument and even in that case should be narrowly restricted - no sweeping judgments, please. Please try to keep rhetoric to a minimum, avoid speculation, and focus on providing verifiable facts. Each factual assertion should be accompanied by a link to an external source (or an already-sourced OpenCongress article). Assertions that are not referenced (and thus verifiable by other users) will be deleted by the editors or other users. For a more detailed discussion of referencing in OpenCongress, see Help:References for specific guidance on how to reference material.
If you hit on an idea that you'd like to try and come back later to document, put it on your personal user's page and then put it up on a OpenCongress article when you're ready.
Not appropriate: opinions on the merits of candidacies
Because the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) are non-profit organizations, we do not support or endorse candidates for public office and, to the extent that users contribute material that appears to support or oppose a candidate, those are their words and not those of Sunlight and CMD. That said, the OpenCongress editors will edit any such content when they run across it and users are encouraged to, as well. Preferably the material can be edited to leave the facts in but take the rhetoric out, but in cases of pure rhetoric the material may be deleted.
OpenCongress is not a place to discuss the relative merits or qualifications of candidates for public office, nor to solicit support or opposition to such candidates. Likewise, do not mention political campaigns or candidacies of members of Congress unless they are tied in an important way to an issue of corruption or an official act. Do not suggest a preferred electroal outcome or speculate on a person's chances of reelection or compare incumbents with their challengers. In order for OpenCongress to function as a resource for the general public, partisan bias must be kept out of it. If users repeatedly engage in partisan rhetoric on OpenCongress they may be banned. See our general disclaimer and policy pages for more information.
Referencing partisan or biased sources
It may sometimes be necessary to link to partisan or biased sources. In the case of sources with an obvious partisan agenda (such as an officeholder's website or a party's blog), referencing material found there should be limited to documenting the fact that the source said what it did and not reporting what the source said as fact. In the case of less obviously partisan sources, keep a sharp eye out for bias and account for it in your contributions. For more details and guidance see Meta:References.
Report only material relevant to the public lives of political figures
OpenCongress should be used to document the official actions and statements of political figures, not details about their personal lives that have little to do with the public sphere responsibilities. It is, however, considered a part of a public figure's public sphere activities when they are being investigated or are convicted of a crime.
The one exception to this is rank hypocrisy—when there are confirmed details about a public figure's personal life that directly contradict statements or positions they have taken. Under this rubric, for example, allegations of an extramarital affair by a member of Congress are only appropriate on OpenCongress if that member of Congress has used their position to lecture other people on their marriages.