Open main menu

Wikipedia talk:Citing sources

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
Why doesn't Wikipedia require everyone to use exactly the same style for formatting citations on every single article, regardless of the subject?
Different academic disciplines use different styles because they have different needs and interests. Variations include differences in the choice of information to include, the order in which the information is presented, the punctuation, and the name of the section headings under which the information is presented. There is no house style on Wikipedia, and the community does not want to have the holy war that will happen if we tell people that they must use the style preferred by scientists in articles about history or the style preferred by artists when writing about science. Editors should choose a style that they believe is appropriate for the individual article in question and should never edit-war over the style of citations.
What styles are commonly used?
There are many published style manuals. For British English the Oxford Style Manual is the authoritative source. For American English the Chicago Manual of Style is commonly used by historians and in the fine arts. Other US style guides include APA style which is used by sociologists and psychologists, and The MLA Style Manual which is used in humanities. The Council of Science Editors and Vancouver styles are popular with scientists. Editors on Wikipedia may use any style they like, including styles they have made up themselves. It is unusual for Wikipedia articles to strictly adhere to a formally published academic style.
Isn't everyone required to use clickable footnotes like this[1] in every single article?
Footnotes (also called "<ref> tags") are popular but not required. The purpose of an inline citation is to provide information about where that material came from. Any system that allows someone to figure out which source supports which material achieves that goal and is therefore acceptable. Other styles, such as parenthetical citations, are simpler for new users to understand, are commonly taught in schools, and may be the style preferred by the relevant academic discipline.
Why doesn't Wikipedia require everyone to use citation templates in every single article?
Citation templates have advantages and disadvantages. They provide machine-readable meta data and can be used by editors who don't know how to properly order and format a citation. However, they are intimidating and confusing to most new users, and, if more than a few dozen are used, they make the pages noticeably slower to load. Editors should use their best judgment to decide which format best suits each specific article.
Isn't there a rule that every single sentence requires an inline citation?
No. Wikipedia:Verifiability requires citations based on the content rather than the grammar. Sometimes, one sentence will require multiple inline citations. In other instances, a whole paragraph will not require any inline citations.
Aren't general references prohibited?
A general reference is a citation listed at the end of an article, without any system for linking it to a particular bit of material. In an article that contains more than a couple of sentences, it is more difficult to maintain text-source integrity without using inline citations, but general references can be useful and are not banned. However, they are not adequate if the material is one of four types of content requiring an inline citation. The article Early life of Joseph Smith, Jr. is an example of a featured article that uses some general references.
Can I cite a sign?
Yes, signs, including gravestones, that are displayed in public are considered publications. If the article is using citation templates, then use {{cite sign}}. You may also cite works of art, videos, music album liner notes, sheet music, interviews, recorded speeches, podcasts, television episodes, maps, public mailing lists, ship registers, and a wide variety of other things that are published and accessible to the public.


[sic] in citations?Edit

A situation came up at Ali MacGraw, regarding MacGraw's name being incorrectly spelt as "McGraw" in this reference title. This is the sequence of edits in question: [1] -> [2] -> [3] -> [4].

It was always my understanding that we retain spelling differences (including errors) in quotes and titles. However, "[sic]" is usually added after a spelling error in a quote to indicate the error is in the original document, but I have never come across a "[sic]" in a citation title before. "Correcting" a spelling error seems like a natural action to take so I was wondering if there is a convention for including or excluding "[sic]" in citations? Betty Logan (talk) 13:16, 19 September 2018 (UTC)

I agree that we should not "fix" errors in quotes or titles. And generally I would not add the "sic", even though there are some who presume to "fix" what they "know" is wrong. But authors' names are key words, and raise a problem: if an article gets an author's name wrong, should we stick with the error (to identify the article), or "fix" to correctly identify the author?
By a curious coincidence, I was wondering just this morning about a more general case of using brackets in citations. This arises from one of the distinctions of citation style: whether authors' "personal" names (what we stuff into |first=) are spelled out in full, or reduced to initials. It is generally desired to be consistent one way or the other. However, our sources vary in this regard. To be consistent in an article we have to either (a) reduce some names to initials (resulting in a loss of information, and in some cases creating ambiguity), or (b) expand initials to full names. The problem with the latter approach is that we are adding information not in the original. The standard way for handling this is to enclose the augmenting material in brackets. E.g.: "J[ellybean] Smith". The problem with that is that it likely messes up COinS (and other archival methods). Okay, simple solution there: have COinS filter out brackets.
But then we have the prospect of something like "Johhn[sic] Smith" turning into "Johhnsic Smith". ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 21:48, 19 September 2018 (UTC)
There's not much point in fixing typos or mistakes in titles, but authors' names are pieces of information that should be presented accurately, especially as they may be collected and aggregated by external users via the microformats. In those cases, I can see no valid reason not to correctly identify the author. The article itself will have sufficient other attributes to identify it anyway, if needed.
As for initials, I would always recommend expanding them if we're sure we know the full name, even from another source. Conversely, the suggestion of reducing full names to initials appals me. It really would be foolish to sacrifice first names on the altar of "consistency" – that's genuine "small-minded hobgoblin" territory.
Because the processing of metadata is done by individual third parties, each one would have to implement a "brackets filter" individually. That's a huge waste of resources when we could simply not pollute the metadata with brackets in the first place. --RexxS (talk) 18:07, 20 September 2018 (UTC)
I pretty much agree with you, but there is one nagging reservation. As any expansion or augmentation carries a chance of error, the brackets distinguish what the original author is responsible for, and what a subsequent editor has done. In quoted text we absolutely make that distinction, but perhaps with metadata we need to establish a different convention. Such as expansion of author's names does not require editorial attribution. If that is expanded to include correction (which can get touchy) then we don't need "[sic]" in author names.
As to errors in titles (the original question here), I don't know. I lean somewhat towards leaving out "[sic]". But I also have a lot of sources that are abstracts, and I feel these should have "[abstract]" appended to the title. ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 20:08, 20 September 2018 (UTC)
Why in the title? If your source gives the abstract but not the full publication, isn't that more for |format=? —David Eppstein (talk) 21:17, 20 September 2018 (UTC)
Perhaps you are thinking of the "abstract" section typically found at the head of scientific articles, papers, etc.? I was refering to certain kinds of documents that summarize work being done (sometimes an abstract of an article, but not necessarily). The |format= parameter refers to the file format of a document, not the type of document. ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 23:17, 20 September 2018 (UTC)
For which one might reasonably use |type=. --Izno (talk) 00:59, 21 September 2018 (UTC)
Perhaps. But 1) I find that parameter's usage to be ambiguously defined, and 2) it uses parentheses, whereas I believe brackets ("[" and "]") should always editorial emendations. ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 20:01, 21 September 2018 (UTC)

Citation Machine substitute?Edit

Moved from the top. Note: please click on the "New section" tab to start a new section, and ALWAYS sign your posts with the four tildes. ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 22:14, 2 October 2018 (UTC)

Right now, there's linked in the resources section. Citationmachine is owned by Chegg Inc., a company that bought up most online citation generators, e.g.,, and as mentioned before-hand: Chegg now plastered all their sites with AdSense banners, and other types of monetization; it become really difficult to use their sites. See user report here:

I recommend replacing that link with - it's ad-free and much easier to use.— Preceding unsigned comment added by 2A02:168:A063:0:CC7C:ACF2:BB32:72A2 (talk)

Agreed, and it apparently doesn't require registration. 21:39, 1 October 2018 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

Further readingEdit

Source integrity: — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:54, 6 October 2018 (UTC)

"Further" reading? On what? Do you have a question or comment? Also: please sign your talk page comments with "~~~~". — Preceding unsigned comment added by J. Johnson (talkcontribs)

Citing the US CensusEdit

There is a common problem with citing population figures from the US Census. For example, the infobox at Dallas cites the 2017 population estimate from this:Bureau, US Census. "American FactFinder". Retrieved May 25, 2018. Clicking through the link, the population figure is not on that page, nor is there an obvious link taking the user to a population for Dallas. Is this a proper citation? Thanks, Oldsanfelipe (talk) 15:04, 7 October 2018 (UTC)

It would be better to give a link to the page with the exact figure. But not all web sites work this way. We can expect readers to take fairly obvious steps once they arrive at the web site in the citation to find the specific piece of information, just as we can expect them to look up a word in a dictionary. In the case of the Dallas example I was able to find the 2017 population in 2 steps and it took about a minute. Jc3s5h (talk) 18:53, 7 October 2018 (UTC)
Just to be clear as well; citations are to allow people to find the information, it doesn't mean they have to find it in 1 second. For example, there is information which can be found in online databases like American FactFinder. The way that database works, you cannot link to the result page, instead you input information into a query, and it returns the information. The fact that you cannot directly link to a URL that contains the information is irrelevant: it can be found publicly, and it is reliable. That's all we need here. We don't demand, for example, that print sources are available online, merely published. If I can find a book in a library, then I can cite it. I don't need it to be a one-click link to be a reliable source. --Jayron32 16:00, 16 October 2018 (UTC)

Acknowledging outside assistance?Edit

I recently found a historical image on-line, which turned out to have an error in the caption (mis-identified which university the subject of my article got a degree from). The archivists at the university and at the historical society hosting the image were both very helpful in confirming that this was indeed an error, and correcting the on-line information. I would like to thank both of them for their assistance, but it's not clear how best to do that in encyclopedic style. My first thought was as a field in the cite template, but there's no such field. Suggestions? -- RoySmith (talk) 14:44, 16 October 2018 (UTC)

This is not something the citation is for. --Izno (talk) 15:06, 16 October 2018 (UTC)
I think it is the responsibility of the source to acknowledge the people who improved the source. It isn't Wikipedia's responsibility. Jc3s5h (talk) 15:54, 16 October 2018 (UTC)
Return to the project page "Citing sources".