Wikipedia talk:Citing sources

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
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.

reference with the text, or in the References section?[edit]

Not that I am disagreeing, but an editor moved a reference to the References section. Specifically, <ref name="xxx"/> in the text, with the full <ref name="xxx">...</ref> in References. Personally, I think this is fine, as it often makes it easier to edit references, but rarely see it done. It seems that the visual result is the same in both cases. Gah4 (talk) 20:06, 29 April 2019 (UTC)

@Gah4: WP:LDR is an acceptable citation style, but the original citation style of an article should not be changed unless there is consensus to do so. – Finnusertop (talkcontribs) 20:44, 29 April 2019 (UTC)
A common disputation is whether changes that make no difference in the display of the text are subject to CITEVAR. The reason you don't see things done in certain ways is often because there's herd mentality of doing things just like everyone else does. ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 22:27, 29 April 2019 (UTC)
I have made this sort of change without prior discussion before myself, but I think if there is any objection then you need to stop and discuss rather than keep pushing for it in the article itself. There are pluses and minuses to placing references at the end like this. On the one hand, it unclutters the wikitext of the article so you can actually find the text you're trying to change. On the other hand, it makes section-by-section editing much harder, because the references you need for the section aren't there. On the whole I prefer putting them at the end but I can see how reasonable editors would disagree. I think there is also scope for disagreement on whether this is covered by CITEVAR, too (the actual question here) so that's why I tend to take an intermediate position: try it only once and then back off if anyone objects, more quickly than I might back off for other kinds of changes. —David Eppstein (talk) 00:08, 30 April 2019 (UTC)
That's how I view WP:BRD: feel free to try something, but back-off if anyone objects. ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 23:30, 30 April 2019 (UTC)
The article I was asking about is pretty small (one paragraph) and only one reference. (Probably should be called a stub.) I didn't actually know how to put references in the References section before, and now that I do know, I might be more likely to do it. Gah4 (talk) 07:12, 1 May 2019 (UTC)
You might also be interested in seeing WP:Basic citation concepts. ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 21:53, 1 May 2019 (UTC)
Somewhat off topic, but perhaps useful:
I have quite a bit of experience with this. Years ago I sought and received a local consensus to convert an entire article to LDR while it was still being actively developed. Once I completed that, I found that every last editor still did citations the other way, for any of a number of reasons. So I became the unintended LDR-keeper at the article, converting each new citation to LDR and cleaning up the errors resulting from editors' lack of understanding of LDR. Despite seeing those edits in the page history and the effect in the wikitext, even the regulars at the article still did citations the other way. It's a chicken-and-egg problem: editors won't understand LDR unless it's widely used, and it won't be widely used unless editors understand it. I don't think LDR will ever be really viable absent an editor willing to make such a time-consuming commitment as LDR-keeper. Anyway, as suggested above, it's unclear whether LDR is a net benefit when all factors are considered. ―Mandruss  22:29, 1 May 2019 (UTC)
We should talk about LDR someday. When we can find a few "round toits"? :-) ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 21:06, 2 May 2019 (UTC)

──── I thought WP:CITEVAR as it currently stands is pretty clear. In the "To be avoided" section:

So I thought this was against guidelines? If it's ok, then I owe a fellow editor a big apology. —hike395 (talk) 21:27, 22 May 2019 (UTC)

Keep in mind that WP:CITEVAR is part of a guide line, not a third rail, and that it explicitly refers to making edits per personal preference and without consensus. But then, there have been numerous disputes where some editors maintain that it applies only to the displayed style, and does not apply to trivial "under the hood" details like, oh, template formatting style. I'd say that while "asking first" for any possibly contentious edit isn't required, anyone editing boldly (perhaps brashly?) should not take offense when there is push-back. ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 23:23, 22 May 2019 (UTC)
I think, as a rule of thumb, CITEVAR is best understood as: "Lots of ediitors care a lot about various aspects of citations. Please respect that and be doubly careful about seeking consensus and to avoid making changes that aren't absolutely necessary. There have been huge conflicts and edit wars about this. Which is dumb. So please bend over backwards to avoid creating such in future." Switching to or from LDR is thus clearly what CITEVAR is trying to address: not the technicalities or technical details, but the "avoid creating needless conflicts" sense. Or put another way; to argue whether a particular change to citations is covered by CITEVAR is effectively missing its main point. --Xover (talk) 05:57, 23 May 2019 (UTC)
Well said. But some editors will insist that "there's no rule against it", or complain of WP:OWNership, or some such. ♦ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 18:53, 23 May 2019 (UTC)

RfC regarding italicization of the names of websites in citations and references[edit]

There is a request for comment about the italicization of the names of websites in citations and references at Help talk:Citation Style 1#Italics of websites in citations and references – request for comment. Please contribute. SchreiberBike | ⌨  04:53, 18 May 2019 (UTC)

Citation template of jpg and other images[edit]

There is a url used as an inline citation (an image of a grave stone).

I would like to place it in a citation with a website, title, etc. Is there a specific template for dealing with such things? PBS (talk) 11:56, 22 May 2019 (UTC)

Perhaps {{cite sign}}.
Trappist the monk (talk) 12:57, 22 May 2019 (UTC)

When no (Google books) preview available for cited book[edit]

Hello - Is there a Wikipedia protocol or 'best practice' concerning Google books citations that lead to a book without a preview or search function, such as this one or this one? If not, some insightful advice would be welcome. Thanks, cheers. TP   12:28, 26 May 2019 (UTC)

I would just remove it - it's not much better than just linking to an Amazon page for the book (minus the obvious promotionalism). Primefac (talk) 13:07, 26 May 2019 (UTC)
For the avoidance of doubt, you might want to clarify that you'd remove the link from the citation, not remove the whole citation itself. Provided, of course, the citation otherwise contains all the necessary bibliographic details. Personally, I tend not to include google books links at all, unless the source is accessible there in full: reliance on previews and snippets encourages not taking account of the context, and so is bad for article quality. And a caveat: whether a source is accessible on google books, and how much of it is accessible, probably varies with time and place: what you're allowed to see on your computer today might not be the same as what another user in a different country will be able to see next month. – Uanfala (talk) 13:23, 26 May 2019 (UTC)
Thanks for your replies. But isn't just citing x page in y book, without means of verification, a bit of an open door to a contributor 'sourcing' dubious claims? In the article I'm presently working on, some have been kind enough to provide quotes from some inaccessible material, but even this is not always verifiable. TP   15:20, 26 May 2019 (UTC)
Citing x page in y book is the means of verification. See WP:SOURCEACCESS. – Uanfala (talk) 15:25, 26 May 2019 (UTC)
So to verify that citation, one would have to actually find the book in print (university, library, bookstore)? Again, that seems to be an open door to 'itsintherejusttakemywordforit-ism'.
But come think of it, I've had to resort to that for some rarer subjects (an article about a train that once ran a ring around Paris that stopped running in the 1930s, for example - only a few out-of-print books and archive records were available)... but what about citations where more modern/mainstream publications are available, around controversial topics, or on doubtful claims are concerned? One can claim (or 'interpret') just about anything if the source work cited is not available. I would tend to doubt such sources for extraordinary/dubious claims, but would appreciate some other thoughts/experiences about that. TP   16:45, 26 May 2019 (UTC)
Of course you have "resort" to going to a library to look at a book or journal that's not on the internet. We not only can't, but absolutely shouldn't, try to build an encyclopedia based only on online sources. Peter coxhead (talk) 18:43, 26 May 2019 (UTC)

@ThePromenader: This is bit tricky. In general there is no reason to link google books if no preview is available. However due to the weird (partially personalized) inner workings of google algorithm, the fact that you can't see it (now), doesn't mean that other people can't see it or that you or other won't be able to see it in the future. Also sometimes while one edition of a book might become inaccessible at Google books another edition might still be accessible. So before deleting one should check that the content is not accessible in other editions.--Kmhkmh (talk) 19:54, 26 May 2019 (UTC)

I don't see how one is supposed to determine that, given that accessibility may depend on factors like what country one is trying to access the link from. So it's safest just not to delete these links. —David Eppstein (talk) 20:17, 26 May 2019 (UTC)
I agree but and i sort of want to hint atthat. However afaik there is no consensus on that, some people procipally delete links that are or seems dysfunctional (and some don't like to see Google linked at all). Bare of consensus or clear regulation editors will simply have to use "good judgement".--Kmhkmh (talk) 00:40, 29 May 2019 (UTC)

It seems to me that a Google preview or snippet of a book page, to which some text of a WP article is presumably referenced, is better than not having such preview. Yes, having the entire book online would be ideal, but failing that, why not prefer a snippet; why opt to avoid a snippet, which could show, explicitly, the basis for Verification? DonFB (talk) 00:03, 27 May 2019 (UTC)

Google snippets can sometimes be useful provided care is taken to ensure that they're not something that could be contradicted by unseen wording outside the snippet: if there's an issue with snippet or preview, add |quote= to the reference template and quote the words you're working from, that will be helpful for anyone else searching for the relevant part of the source. Better, when possible, to look at the original book – full text online is helpful, but subject to transcription errors. . . dave souza, talk 09:44, 27 May 2019 (UTC)
From a reader-verification perspective, I see sense in asking (the contributing author) for a quote if the original work is not accessible (as a minimum courtesy)... and that might dissuade the temptation to cite 'interpreted' sources (or partake in WP:SYNTH), also. Might this even be Wikipedia protocol material? TP   10:07, 27 May 2019 (UTC)
I completely disagree. The editor or author is only required to give an exact (offline) reference and nothing more - period! Such "courtesy quotes" just bloat references and are a dangerous simplification as you can verify something properly only if you read the context of that quote as well, so the surrounding text in the source.
There is however another sort of courtesy that is if another editor has reason to distrust the reference or has some other question, then he may request a quote or private copy. For that he can ask the author who inserted the source or ask at WP:RX.--Kmhkmh (talk) 00:52, 29 May 2019 (UTC)
The primary goal of a citation is to tell the reader where they can find the source. For a book, the title, author, page number, and perhaps publisher is what you need. If you've got an ISBN, that's a great convenience, because it makes searching easier. And, likewise, if you've got an on-line version, a URL to that is an even greater convenience. But, a URL that just points to a google/amazon/whatever index page, doesn't add anything useful. -- RoySmith (talk) 01:05, 29 May 2019 (UTC)

How to handle reliable sources that provide conflicting info?[edit]

I'm currently working on adding cites to a page that has a banner declaring the need for such work. (Sorry, I don't know the technical terms Wiki uses for this stuff.) I currently have 2 sources that state one thing and 2 that state something completely different - specifically the date of formation of a band.

The issue: The band formed with 4 members for a short time, disbanded and at some point reformed with some same, some different members relative to the initial group. This occurred over the fall of one year into the spring of the next year. The reformed group with the somewhat different members is the one that was signed to Columbia Records. Like I mentioned I currently have 2 sources that support one date, 2 that support a different date.

All four source are publication/interview based (Rolling Stone & Boston Globe, actually) and web based with editorial oversight. In reading over and comparing info I think I can come to a reasonable conclusion on the matter, but it's a bit tricky in places. Is it best to present my conclusion and use all four sources to cite that conclusion? Provide a brief mention of the conflict, mentioning each date with cites that support each date? I'm still acquiring sources also - I have about 12 so far. Thanks for any help offered. THX1136 (talk) 03:01, 27 May 2019 (UTC)

Don't add your interpretation, that is WP:OR. From what you've said I'd base things on your second paragraph: "The band initially formed in 2000.[1][2] It disbanded the following year and reformed with a partial change of members.[3][4]"Martin of Sheffield (talk) 09:26, 27 May 2019 (UTC)


  1. ^ Cite 1
  2. ^ Cite 2
  3. ^ Cite 1
  4. ^ Cite 2
Thanks for your input, Martin. Seems like a good path forward.THX1136 (talk) 13:42, 27 May 2019 (UTC)
  • I faced this problem in Margaret Sibella Brown. I just cited all the sources and added a note explaining how the sources differed and why I chose the one I did to believe. That way, people can still go look at the original sources and draw their own conclusions. -- RoySmith (talk) 15:16, 4 June 2019 (UTC)

How to cite an English translation?[edit]

In Draft:History of the models of the solar system, Kaulins, Andis (2005). "Die Himmelsscheibe von Nebra: Beweisführung und Deutung" is a paper cited in the original German. There's also an English translation available. What's the best way to provide URLs for both the original and the translation? I shoved the english URL into the Translated title field, but that's not really right. -- RoySmith (talk) 15:22, 4 June 2019 (UTC)

Provide the one you read per WP:SAYWHEREYOUGOTIT. If the other is generally interesting, you can place it in further reading, or if you read both, use a separate reference for each, or if you're really certain you want them in context of each other, two templates in the same ref statement. --Izno (talk) 15:54, 4 June 2019 (UTC)

(edit conflict)

Yeah, don't do that; it doesn't work for you and it doesn't work for readers. You are trying to use {{cite journal}} for something that it was not designed to do: cite two sources with a single template.
To render the translated title, Module:Citation/CS1 adds &#91; at the start of the value assigned to |trans-title= and it adds &#93; at the end; these are the brackets that are used to identify the translated title in the rendered citation. But, in this case, MediaWiki thinks that the trailing &#93; is part of the url; doesn't like that.
The content of |trans-title= is not made part of the template's metadata so readers who consume your citation via the metadata will not know that there is an English translation.
Were it me, I would cite both sources separately, perhaps in the same <ref>...</ref> tag:
{{Cite journal |last=Kaulins |first=Andis |date=2005 |title=Die Himmelsscheibe von Nebra: Beweisführung und Deutung |trans-title=The Sky Disk of Nebra: Evidence and Interpretation|url=|journal=Efodon-Synesis|language=German|issue=2|pages=45-51}}
Kaulins, Andis (2005). "Die Himmelsscheibe von Nebra: Beweisführung und Deutung" [The Sky Disk of Nebra: Evidence and Interpretation] (PDF). Efodon-Synesis (in German) (2): 45–51.
{{cite web |last=Kaulins |first=Andis |date=25 June 2005 |title=The Sky Disk of Nebra: Evidence and Interpretation |url= |website=Ancient World Blog}}
Kaulins, Andis (25 June 2005). "The Sky Disk of Nebra: Evidence and Interpretation". Ancient World Blog.
Trappist the monk (talk) 16:19, 4 June 2019 (UTC)

Guidance on self-citing sources?[edit]

I'm sure there's something written up about this, but I haven't found it. I see a lot of "Song 'Foo' is played during the climax of film 'Bar' {Citation needed}" (or "historical character 'John Smith' appears in book 'Tam'" {Citation needed}) out there. It seems to me that "Bar" is its own best reference to what it contains. Is there guidance for when and when not to add citations here? - Immigrant laborer (talk) 18:30, 15 June 2019 (UTC)

@Immigrant laborer: A piece of media—book, movie, song, etc.—is a permissible primary source for itself. So long as you are only citing it for non-controversial factual information about itself it is a perfectly reliable source, and may often be the best and preferable source for that information. For any information that is controversial (e.g. did a given artist collaborate on a given song) or any interpretive statement you will need to cite a secondary source.
There is, sadly, no good guidance on this in any policy that I have found. The closest to address it directly is MOS:PLOTSOURCE, which has a fairly narrow focus. The rest is just a logical consequence of WP:PSTS (part of WP:NOR) and things like WP:ABOUTSELF (part of WP:V) and WP:SELFSOURCE and WP:RSPRIMARY (both part of WP:RS). But discussions at WP:RS/N have repeatedly found primary sources to be reliable sources for non-controversial factual information about themselves, so this isn't really a controversial issue in general, even though any given application of this principle may well be so. --Xover (talk) 05:15, 16 June 2019 (UTC)

Personally, I've long held that when it comes to most citations there's little practical difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources: no matter what the "kind" of source, we can only use the source for what it says and cannot make our own interpretation. There's nothing magic about a "secondary" source that changes any of that, it seems to me that people just confuse the heuristic that a secondary source is more likely to contain the kinds of interpretation we need for an encyclopedia article with some intrinsic property of being "secondary" (even WP:RSPRIMARY falls victim to this). Or are trying to use WP:N-like language to deal with the lack of a policy about "relevance to the topic" when someone comes along trying to cast aspersions in an article.

People seem to also sometimes confuse "secondary" with "independent" or "reliable". When something is controversial we want it filtered through some authority on the subject that is still considered independent. This particularly can break down when we're citing a statement like "Authority X says Y", as the citation may well use some publication of X as a (primary) source for that statement.

Also of note is WP:BLPPRIMARY, which forbids using primary sources for BLPs. In glancing through past discussions, it seems this is a combination of avoiding linking to documents that would be useful for doxxing, the "no 'relevance' policy" thing, and concern over casting of aspersions by using sources that were later proved erroneous. Anomie 12:32, 16 June 2019 (UTC)
Thank you both! - Immigrant laborer (talk) 13:01, 16 June 2019 (UTC)
@Anomie:WP:BLPPRIMARY does not forbid the use of primary sources in biographies of living persons, it says "Exercise extreme caution in using primary sources." So there would be no problem using the dust jacket of a book by the subject of a biographical article, published by a reliable publisher, as a source for an uncontroversial statement about the author. Jc3s5h (talk) 14:43, 16 June 2019 (UTC)