Observatory Contributor Writing Ethics and Standards

From Observatory

You have been invited to contribute to the Observatory because your work deserves to be read, and trusted, by wide audiences for years to come.

We have set high standards for all of our contributors to build the strongest trust possible.

Please familiarize yourself with (and adhere to) the following guidelines for all content you submit to the Observatory.

Citing Sources[edit | edit source]

Use a combination of quotation and paraphrasing, and couch it within your own analysis, with proper attribution.

If you are starting to feel like you might be plagiarizing, you’ve gone too far. It is increasingly hard to evade even insufficient citation, much less plagiarism (see more on Fair Use, Public Domain, and Copyright below). The Observatory editorial mission believes that all quality information is produced socially, and often across different editions.

Be As Accurate as Possible, With Details in Your Source Attributions[edit | edit source]

Every time you quote or paraphrase someone else’s written or spoken words, clearly indicate where it previously appeared or was said. Place quotation marks around any words copied verbatim. Include credit and a source link if one exists. Do not paraphrase incompletely. Do not assume readers will know you are quoting or paraphrasing without attribution.

Neither should you put your original ideas in someone else’s mouth. Do not misrepresent the words or intent of a quoted source.

Make sure that the sources you cite are accurate and authoritative (within the context of their subject matter) and will stand the test of time without requiring an update or correction as much as you can possibly anticipate. Consider how your writing will hold up over time so you can make a lasting impact.

Longer public exposure typically improves the credibility of information as experts and the public make use of it, and bring their background knowledge and wider research to test its accuracy.

Time-Sensitive Phrases and the Shelf Life of Observatory Content[edit | edit source]

Write with an eye toward evergreen or long-term trends. Our goal for your work is to maximize its usefulness for readers. Please communicate in a time frame where your work will remain valid for years.

Use absolute dates (the month, day, and year even if it is this year or the previous or upcoming year) rather than relative dates (such as “last year,” “in five years,” “yesterday,” “this week,” “on Monday”) to extend the shelf life of your article.

Avoid using the future tense for events we know will happen on a particular date (especially any within the next few years—that should give a sense of the different scale of time you’re working with compared to news articles that operate within a few days’ range!).

Fact-Checking[edit | edit source]

Please do your best to make sure facts are correct, from historical details to the spellings of names, organizations, events, and places as well as dates. Use your peer groups to validate and improve your original work. The Observatory is set up to have reader, peer, and staff editorial quality control on work produced by contributors.

Libel/Slander[edit | edit source]

You may not maliciously and knowingly deceive your audience in writing or speech. If you are alleging something that there’s any chance you might have to later correct, and apologize for, remember that the social standards on the burden of evidence to warrant your claims are very high. When in doubt, leave it out, if the piece can work without it—or, get what you need through legal means. The Observatory will review legitimate claims about published works along these lines first and foremost in the name of accuracy.

Bias and Disclosure[edit | edit source]

Use care with subjective inferences—either avoid them or make sure it is not ambiguous as to how you have drawn your conclusions.

Unless you have clearly labeled your piece/content as falling under opinion-editorial (op-ed) in some way, or your statement(s) that include editorialization has been labeled as such in a way that is clear to most readers, avoid inserting bias. Keep in mind maintaining a consistent tone and disclosing if there is any possibility of bias.

This is how you can shore up your writing against criticism to make your observation as effectively as possible.

Fair Use, Public Domain, Permissions, and Copyright[edit | edit source]

Fair Use[edit | edit source]

Fair use” refers to a legal concept that permits a clearly defined, limited amount of reuse of copyrighted content without making a request for permission, if it meets certain criteria. For more on this, see our style guide and resources from the American Library Association (ALA) and the U.S. Copyright Office.

The criteria for determining fair use include the character of the use (criticism or analysis, personal profit or public good), the length of the quoted material relative to its original source, the nature of the copyrighted work, and the effect (if the use would compete with someone purchasing the copyrighted material). It may be used to take very short snippets of text (no more than a few lines of a book, no more than a sentence or two that is properly sourced/attributed/cited and in quotation marks as a quotation from a published article, etc.).

Permission and Attribution: In General and in Your Contributed Text[edit | edit source]

Even if you have permission from an organization or individual to use their written or spoken words or ideas, you need to properly credit them, and it’s best to intersperse your analysis rather than repeat their words, to add value and explanation beyond the original material. And always give credit using quotation marks and attribution to the original speaker/source if you are quoting or paraphrasing.

If you don’t have permission from a copyright holder to use their words or ideas, you need to be very careful not to plagiarize or violate copyright.

We take this very seriously, so please do your homework on this (we offer resources here) and learn about fair use, public domain, copyright, and attribution before filing articles.

For Images and Other Media You Are Including on the Observatory[edit | edit source]

For multimedia content you include on the Observatory (images, photographs, illustrations, charts, graphs, tables, videos, audio files, pdfs, etc.):

  • The media file is ideally available on Wikimedia Commons (see further explanation below)
  • The license is listed as Creative Commons 4.0
  • You must share the link with your editor/Observatory liaison confirming the two prior points

Wikimedia Commons and Creative Commons Licensing[edit | edit source]

For visual data, Wikimedia Commons links are easiest in the Observatory wiki environment, both from a rights and a system perspective. But check first to make sure they are under a Creative Commons license and not in dispute (in good standing), and the attribution can be automatically included when your editor adds this to your piece and the Observatory media library.

If you have an original image, photograph, graph, or other media file, you must provide written documentation to your editor that says you are the copyright holder to the media and all media in it and approve it for use on the Observatory under a Creative Commons CC 4.0 license (which other publishers may republish under the same license), and if you are not, you must provide written permission from someone saying the same (they are the copyright holder, and they grant this right to you and the Observatory under CC 4.0 and understand it cannot be revoked).

Here’s the link to the license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/

Here’s the link to the Observatory’s Reuse and Reprint Guidelines you may share with copyright holders to explain the intended use: https://observatory.wiki/Project:Content_reuse_and_reprint_rights

Examples That Satisfy the Requirements of License and Attribution[edit | edit source]

  • You own the copyright, or the copyright holder has confirmed they own the media.
  • The copyright holder told you they approve of the media being used by the Observatory.
  • The copyright holder understands their media will be available under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.
  • The copyright holder has provided permission in writing.
  • You have provided the copyright holder’s written permission to your editor/liaison to be filed by the Observatory. (This final step is an essential part of any other permission case above.)

You May Use

For images, photographs, illustrations, charts, graphs, tables, videos, audio files, etc., here are some examples of content that satisfies the criteria for you to have the right to upload and use it on the Observatory:

  • An image from the Wikimedia Commons with the Creative Commons license CC 4.0, and attribution is given as the license specifies in the Observatory version.
  • A 100 percent original image you produced, and you gave your editor/liaison written permission to use it on the Observatory under an irrevocable Creative Commons 4.0 license.
  • An image downloaded from a government website that has a Public Domain license clearly specified on the source link (and you have provided your editor with the source link).

You May Not Use

  • An image available on the Wikimedia Commons that is not marked as available under a Creative Commons license.
  • An image produced by a colleague who gave verbal permission to use it. (You must obtain written permission from the copyright holder to use it on the Observatory.)
  • An image you produced of copyrighted material that you did not get written permission to use.
  • A digital resource that provides license-free use of its contents (Pexels, Pixabay, etc.).

About This Guide[edit | edit source]

This reference guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Reprinting with attribution to the authors for ​​noncommercial use is allowed under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license guidelines, excluding third-party content.

For inquiries regarding content reuse, reprint rights, and licensing, visit the Observatory’s Reuse and Reprint Rights Guidance page.

Last Updated: December 15, 2023

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