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Jan 26 / Chelsea Becker

Content Standards: Attributing stats and factual information

Knowing when to attribute information to a third-party source is an important skill for any writer. In most cases, it’s pretty straightforward. When it comes to the presentation of stats and other factual information, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s fair game and what owes credit to someone else’s reporting.

It’s obviously fair game to use basic win-loss stats for Clayton Kershaw’s season without attribution, or to include a widely reported fact about his background in a biographical piece. But when it comes to factual information that isn’t as widely available—or when factual information is presented in a way that mirrors the work of somebody else—usage is only acceptable with proper attribution to its source.

This post focuses on best practices for proper attribution in such cases.


Let’s use this ESPN article from Mike Wells as an example.

Wells outlines easily obtainable stats from the 2014 AFC Championship Game here: “New England followed up rushing games of 234 and 246 yards by rushing for 177 yards, including 148 yards and three touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.”

Now, if I’m a B/R writer reporting on this game, can I reference the same stats? Definitely. Can I phrase the same exact stats in an identical or near-identical way and present the passage as my own? Definitely not. I’d have to give credit where it’s due.

If I wanted to use Wells’ specific language, I’d follow B/R’s Attribution Guidelines for crediting direct quotes, which advises, “When you extract a word-for-word passage from the work of another author, you’re obligated to (a) introduce the quoted material with a hyperlinked reference to the original source …”

My attribution would look something like this:

As ESPN’s Mike Wells notes, the Patriots “followed up rushing games of 234 and 246 yards by rushing for 177 yards, including 148 yards and three touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.”

Obviously Wells is not the only reporter using this data, and you are free to reference the Pats’ 177 rushing yards in your own work without sourcing the ESPN piece. However, his organization of the stats and information is unique to him and therefore requires attribution if we present the information in the same or similar way.

Originally reported factual information

If a piece of factual information comes from an identifiable source and is uncommon enough that it can’t be considered widely known, it needs attribution to the source that brought you to that information.

For example, mentioning that Mike Conley was a calming influence for his high school team comes from someone’s research and original reporting. In this case, Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams provided us with that piece of knowledge and deserves credit.

Conley playing high school basketball with Ohio State University teammate Greg Oden does not need a source because it’s a fact available at hundreds of media outlets and not the result of a reporter’s unique research.

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The art of proper sourcing gives fellow writers their due for helping you construct your piece. Look at it this way: If another journalist was using your ideas, words or research, you’d also want credit for your work.

If you are on the fence about whether something should be attributed, ask yourself whether you’d have that essential piece of knowledge without coming across the content in question. If your work has relied on another piece, your readers should know about it.

As we’ve written time and again, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to proper attribution. If you’re ever in doubt about whether something requires attribution, don’t take unnecessary chances—simply email for guidance.

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Chelsea Becker is a Content Moderator at Bleacher Report. Content Moderator Nick James contributed to this post.