Wikipedia:Counting and sorting are not original research

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Young Wikipedians engaged in counting.

Wikipedia maintains a policy against publication of original research. However, counting and sorting are not original research and therefore can be included in any article where taking simple mathematical measures would add benefit.

When working on an article with a large amount of data, it may be advantageous to group, sort, count, and rank data that has been reported in other reliable sources. Such examples include "the coach with the most wins" or "the fifth most frequent winner at the Oscars" -- In both of these cases, the ability to sort data from other sources can prove very helpful to the article. Likewise, being able to count and complete other basic mathematical analysis should not be impeded as well: "Mario Cuomo served 12 years as governor of New York, from January 1, 1983 to December 31, 1994." If you have the data stating that Mario Cuomo took office on January 1, 1983 and left December 31, 1994, there is no need to find another source that states he held the office for 12 years. You can count the number of years or otherwise complete basic calculations to arrive at a meaningful answer.

You don't need to find a source that says "December 31, 1994 minus January 1, 1983 is 12 years" because the number of years can be counted.


Why counting is okay[edit]

Counting is a simple and widely accepted operation. Certainly sources exist to provide that information, but such sourcing would become clumsy and would detract from the article rather than add to it. Therefore, counting the number of items in a simple list or group of data is acceptable. It is not original research.

However, reporting the number of items in a large group (such as the population of the United States) is different because no one person actually counted them. Many people collaborate for such data and then a group (in this example, the U.S. Census Bureau) reports the results. Such cases would indeed warrant a reference.

Why sorting is okay[edit]

Sorting data is a well-defined process.
Sorting data is a well-defined process.

Wikipedia tables have the ability to sort. With that function built in, one can put the data in a table and then sort it using Wikipedia tools. We do not need a reference to say that "2 > 1" or "A comes before B" in an article.

Classification Mass (kg) cost ($)
Group A 34 17
Group B 16 21
Group C 25 8

Why ranking is okay[edit]

Ranking and rank order of data is acceptable because "ranking" is really nothing more than "sorting" data and then counting the data. It therefore stands to reason that ranking results is also acceptable.

This applies to any mathematical ranking. An arbitrary ranking such as "My Favorite Comic Books, in Order" would clearly be original research.


If the counting, ranking, and/or sorting can be reasonably disputable then it likely at that point would be considered original research. For example, counting the number of fictional children in The Brady Bunch is simple and cannot be reasonably disputed. However, counting the number of grains of sand on a beach is a different story. It is correct that the number of grains of sand on the beach is a finite number, but how can someone be sure that they have counted correctly? Disputes of this nature are best left to discussion among Wikipedia editors and handled by consensus.

The same would be true for disputable ranking and sorting. Therefore, it could be that disputed counting, sorting, and ranking would fall under original research.

When in doubt[edit]

When in doubt, let consensus prevail.

See also[edit]