If you quote or paraphrase a work of literature or other in a post here, please include a precise citation that allows others to find the passage in situ. I've noticed many posts on this site that have not done that, and it's starting to annoy me.

Questions probably benefit from citations more than answer posts; if I'm going to attempt an answer, I'd like to see that quote you posted in context, and see if there's any material that's relevant to answering your question in the surrounding text. Of course, answers are also greatly improved by adding citations.

Besides, it's just nice to others if you don't force them to search (laboriously, if they don't have a digital copy of the work available) to find the thing that you have already found.

I don't think you need to quote the page number (unless there are relatively few editions, and the page numbers help greatly in finding the passage you need), or the edition (though that might be nice, in case there are many editions and/or you know that things have changed between editions). However, I think that the chapter should always be included in the post.

I do think you should cite the issue and page number if you're talking about comics. Even when there are digital editions available, apparently many common digital comic book formats don't have full text search. Including the page number ensures that someone reading your post will be able to find the quotation/panel that you've mentioned in your post. (And the issue number is obvious; it's no less valuable than a chapter number.)

Rule of thumb: include in your post whatever information allows other users to find the passage with relative ease.

Thank you.

In the first version of this post, I specifically excluded mention of voting, as that is always personal discretion. This seems to have confused a number of commenters and answerers, so let me clarify: I'm not advocating downvoting posts that don't include citations. Voting is always a matter of personal discretion. Users should downvote posts that they believe are low quality; missing citations can be a factor in judging quality, if voters so desire. In case you were wondering, I personally do not downvote otherwise good posts with skipped citations; I'll just leave a polite comment and leave it at that.

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    I considered singling out some extant posts where this is a problem, but decided against it. There's no reason to subject people to negative meta effect, IMO.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 1:03
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    While I think this is important, I don't think this should be a reason to downvote anyone. Just leave a comment asking them to include more information, and hope they respond.
    – user111
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 3:43
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    One thing about this post that is confusing is that you say that "Questions probably benefit from citations more than answer posts". I don't think that's true. If I'm reading an answer, I want to be able to find the quotes that answer is using, so I can use them as a starting point for my own research.
    – user111
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 3:46
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    I often find I've written an answer and forgotten to include the citations at the end. I might notice, and when I do I go back to edit, but if I don't notice then I think the best thing for the community to do is to leave a comment. I don't think downvoting is necessary, it can still be a good answer, just where you got the info from has been missed out, and that can be easily amended with a quick edit. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 7:26
  • @Hamlet 1) I didn't say anything about downvoting. I think one should DV if the post is "low quality," and this can be one factor in judging that. My personal policy is not to DV, but to comment, but to each their own. (Besides, voting is always personal discretion.)
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 13:35
  • @Hamlet 2) I didn't say that answers don't benefit from citations, just that it's been annoying me, and more of my personal annoyance has come from questions than answers, at least thus far.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 13:37
  • @BeastlyGerbil That's fair. Note that I was not talking policy, and that I specifically did not say anything about voting (though see my earlier comment to Hamlet).
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 13:38
  • CBRs never have full text search by definition they're just plain pictures put into a .rar or .zip archive and renamed. To have full text search one would have to scan and run OCR on them, and then make a PDF out of it all. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 6:28
  • @Gallifreyan Oh, I see. I knew what CBR stood for, but not really what it meant :p
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 13:23
  • I think it should be OK to include page numbers but not chapter titles.
    – user111
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 19:14

4 Answers 4


As a guideline, or recommended "good practice," I am 100% behind this. I wouldn't want to see it be anything more forceful than that, since I'm not sure we can do this consistently or well.

Lots of books don't have chapters. Or don't have numbered chapters, which would mean using full titles -- which can often be confusing, or distract from the question, particularly if you're just quoting a short snippet mid-text. Short stories usually don't have chapters at all.

I'm in favor of doing this when we can, but (a) often we can't, and (b) I wouldn't dock points from people who don't do this, particularly newcomers (although you can definitely ask them to narrow it down for you). So this can be a nice-to-have guideline, but exceptions are so prevalent, I can't see it becoming anything more binding than that.

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    Thanks for your input. I didn't mean for this to be policy, just an offshoot of "Be Nice." (A) I was only talking about when we can, see Rule of thumb (b) I didn't say anything about downvoting, but I think one might if the post is "low quality" in their eyes, and this can be one factor for judging that if they want. (Besides, voting is always personal discretion)
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 12:47
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    @Shokhet Cool. :) As a guideline, or recommended "good practice," I am 100% behind this.
    – Standback
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 12:48
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    About full titles of chapters: You can include those as <sup><sub></sub></sup> underneath the quotation, or as footnotes. No need for them to ever get in the way.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 13:56
  • @Shokhet apologies for understanding this wrong and answering in as balanced a way as Standback :). Fully agree with his reply just here.
    – VicAche
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 14:00
  • @Shokhet: Cool! I will look into that :)
    – Standback
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 14:13
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    @Shokhet The Be Nice policy is about rudeness, bigotry, and other ways of being a jerk - failing to be precise enough about citations definitely doesn't come under any of that.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 23:37
  • @Randal'Thor You're right, I saw Hamlet's edit. I should've skimmed the page before linking to it....just curious why you commented on Standback's answer instead of on my post or in chat.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 23:44
  • @Shokhet I commented here because you'd mentioned "Be Nice" in a comment here, and I thought the relevance of the Be Nice policy should be repudiated here (not in chat) and somewhere more visible than the edit history.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 0:05
  • Right. I forgot that I had mentioned it here. I stand corrected (again). @Randal'Thor
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 0:06

I absolutely agree that this is important. It's not, however, something we can force through policy. We need to cultivate a community culture of thorough citation, not try to define good or bad citation.

The purpose of citation is so folks can go find it for themselves--to see context, to double-check accuracy, whatever reason they might have. Proper citation is like maintaining the chain of evidence in a CSI show, but there is no universal golden standard for this stuff; if there was, we wouldn't have a half-dozen prominently used citation styles for academics to squabble over.

A good rule of thumb is that more citation information is always more important than what citation information. Folks reading ebooks, or different editions, may not be able to match up page numbers, but chapters only give you a general location--so page numbers are still useful for anyone who has a similar edition. The more information you can give about where you got a quote from, the better; you're never in danger of providing "too much" context.


I agree with the spirit of this post. However, I don't think there should be a precise definition of what a precise citation is. Some people may prefer to give chapter numbers, some people may prefer to give page numbers. They both accomplish the same purpose and there's no need to favor one over the other as official policy. As long as there is enough information to find the specific passage, we should be fine.

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    The problem with page numbers is that they are not universal to all editions, thus chapter numbers give a better placement Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 11:08
  • if academia is OK with page numbers but no chapter titles, then it should be good enough for us.
    – user111
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 12:52
  • I completely disagree, but hey your initialed to your own opinions. Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 13:27
  • I agree with your last sentence, but also agree with @Matrim's comment. Yes, there shouldn't be a precise definition of what a precise citation is, but page numbers specifically are often a confusing way of giving one, since they vary across different editions.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 13:37

I think we shouldn't persecute answers that omit this, especially from new users.

I would distinguish two cases: either the reference is easy to find, in which case I would suggest editing-it in and commenting on the need to have clear references, or the reference is impossible to find, in which case commenting + downvoting seems more appropriate.

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    Thank you for your input. I did not mention anything about "persecution" in my post; this was meant as a polite request for general post improvement. I apologize if that wasn't clear; please see my revised request.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 13:48
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    I haven't voted up or down on this answer. I agree that if it's easy to find, it should be edited in (+1), but I don't agree that DVs are the way to go if it isn't (-1). I'd just leave a polite comment.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 22:56

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