Help:Referencing for beginners

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References (refs) on Wikipedia are important to validate writing and inform the reader. Any editor can potentially remove unsupported material, and unsubstantiated articles may end up getting deleted; so when something is added to an article, it's highly advisable to cite a reference to say where the information came from. It can also be a good idea to update or improve existing references. Referencing may look daunting, but it's easy enough to do. Here's a guide to getting started.

This page shows you how to use the most popular system for providing inline citations. There are other acceptable systems, including the use of inline parenthetical references and general references. As a good practice, the first major contributor gets to choose the referencing system for that article.

Good references[edit]

Shortcut:

A citation to a reference must verify the statement in the text. To verify the statement "Mike Brown climbed Mt. Everest", you cannot rely on a general reference about Mt. Everest or a reference on Mike Brown if it doesn't include the fact that he climbed Mt. Everest. You need to cite a source that directly supports the statement about his achievement. You must use reliable sources, such as published books and mainstream press publications. Blogs, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, SoundCloud, fan sites, and extreme minority texts are not usually acceptable, nor is original research (e.g., your own unpublished, or self-published, essay or research), or another Wikipedia article.

Using refToolbar[edit]

The default, RefToolbar 2.0b. Note the Cite widget on the right and the drop down menu of styles on the left.

RefToolbar is a toolbar full of JavaScript tools added atop the edit box, that helps editors save keyboard strokes. Using the refToolbar to add citations minimizes the need to reference the various {{Cite}} templates. If your browser does not support JavaScript or it is disabled, refToolbars will not work, (but see {{Cite}} for what to type-in manually).

The method of activating the citation-entry dialog depends on the refToolbar version. See RefToolbar Versions for the location of the control and for how to choose a version. What differs between the three versions is the activating widget, the quantity of the various cite templates offered, whether or not the edit box becomes temporarily deactivated by a wizard, and the quality of the dialog. The default configuration for all editors is RefToolbar 2.0b, which uses a wizard.

This screencast (5 mins. 3 secs.) walks through the citation wizard of RefToolbar 2.0b.

The image to the right is a refToolbar 2.0b video tutorial on how to use the citation dialog, which is also explained briefly below.

To use the refToolbar 2.0b method of adding citations, first position the cursor in the text where you will place a citation, then click the "Cite" widget. Next, click on the drop down menu labeled "Templates", and choose the citation type you would like to add (Web, News, Book, or Journal).

Once you select a type of citation, a new window will appear with a number of blank fields to fill in. While it is important to fill in as many of the fields as possible, make sure you at least provide a "Title" for the citation, as failing to do so will cause a citation error when you save the page.

When citing from a book, there is a feature that will automatically fill in many of the information fields, avoiding manual entry of this data. If you can find the ISBN of the book, enter it into the ISBN field in the form, then click on the "magnifying glass" search icon to its right. The software will look up the book information from a database on the Internet, and automatically fill in many of the fields for you. You should verify the information, since it sometimes is erroneous, incomplete, or badly formatted (especially if there are multiple authors). You should also add page numbers or other supplementary information as needed.

Once you have filled in the form, click on the "Preview" button at the bottom, and you will see the Wikisource text that will be inserted. If you then click on "Show parsed preview", you will see the citation displayed as it would appear in the finished article. When you are satisfied with the information in the citation window, clicking "Insert" will close the window and add the citation to the edit window, at the location you had selected prior to opening the citation template. This information will show up as a clickable superscripted citation number, when you preview or save your edit.

If the article did not have any visible references before you started, check to make sure that there is a "References" section towards the end of the article. If not, create a new level-2 section ("==References==") and add the following without the period: {{reflist}}. (See Inserting a reference, below.)

When your edit is saved, the text of citations within the article will appear in the References section. References added using the refToolbar can still be edited manually after they are added; details on how to manually create or edit references are discussed in the Manual Referencing section, later in this tutorial.

Citations for "Further reading" section[edit]

The refToolbar method can also be used to conveniently build correct citations for a "Further reading" or "Bibliography" section of an article, which do not use numbered superscripts. Use the refToolbar as described above, and insert the citation. Then, manually edit the newly-inserted Wikisource text to remove the <ref> and </ref> tags, to prevent the unwanted appearance of numbered superscripts.

Using VisualEditor[edit]

This screencast (5 min., 5 secs.) demonstrates adding references with VisualEditor.

If you prefer to use VisualEditor, you can use that to add the references. The video to the right demonstrates how to use VisualEditor to add a citation template, which formats your references for you. You can also insert a plain-text citation using this method.

The "reference" icon in the VisualEditor toolbar

Position your cursor after the sentence or paragraph that the citation is intended to support. Click the "Reference" icon in the VisualEditor toolbar. A dialog will appear, with a text box in which you can either insert a plain citation or a citation template. If you want to insert a template, click the puzzle piece icon to bring up the templates dialog. Type "Cite" into the template text box, and a number of suggestions will be provided. Choose the appropriate template, and add as many parameters as you can easily fill.

Manual referencing[edit]

Inserting a reference[edit]

A screencast that walks through the essentials needed in citing your sources

Wikipedia allows editors to use any citation system that allows the reader to understand from where the information came. Common choices include footnotes, parenthetical references, and inline URLs. This page will show you how to use the footnotes approach:

The first thing you do is to make sure there is a section where the footnotes will appear. It may already exist: look for a section that contains either the <references /> tag or, if you want to use more complex formatting, the {{reflist}} reference template. This section goes toward the bottom of the page, below the "See also" section and above the "External links" section, and is usually titled "References". Enter this code:

==References==
<references />

The next step is to put a reference in the text. Here is the code to do that. The code goes at the end of the relevant phrase, sentence, or paragraph to which the note refers. (If there is a space between the end of the phrase, sentence or paragraph and the beginning of the <ref>, then normal line wrap may cause the resulting numbered footnote to be separated from the text.)

<ref>           </ref>

Whatever text, formatting, or templates you put in between these two tags will become visible in the "References" section as your reference.

Test it out[edit]

Open the edit box for your user talk page (Windows: Ctrl+Click; Mac: Cmd+Click), copy the following text (inserting your own text where indicated), paste it at the bottom of the page, and save the page:

==Reference test==
This is the text that you are going to verify with a reference.<ref>Reference details go here</ref>

==References==
<references />

(End of text to copy and paste.)

Note the position of the reference after the full stop; see also WP:REFPUNC. When you save the page, you should see this on your screen:

Reference test
This is the text that you are going to verify with a reference.[1]
References
1. ^Reference details go here

You can also use the Wikipedia:Sandbox for test edits like this.

Information to include[edit]

You need to include sufficient information to enable readers to find your source. For an online newspaper source, it might look like this:

<ref>Plunkett, John. [http://media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,14173,1601858,00.html "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying"], ''[[The Guardian]]'', London, 27 October 2005. Retrieved on 27 October 2005.</ref>

When uploaded, it appears as:

Plunkett, John. "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying", The Guardian, London, 27 October 2005. Retrieved on 27 October 2005.

Note the single square brackets around the URL and the article title. The format is:

[http://URL "Title of article"]

Make sure there is a space between the URL and the Title. This code results in the URL being hidden and the title showing as a link. Use double apostrophes on either side of the name of the newspaper (to generate italics) and quotation marks around the article title.

Double square brackets around the name of the newspaper create an internal link (a wikilink) to the Wikipedia article (if any) about the newspaper - not really necessary for a well-known paper. If such brackets are used, the apostrophes must go outside the brackets.

The date after The Guardian is the date the newspaper article was originally published—this is required information—and the date after "Retrieved on" is the date you accessed the website, which is not essential but can be useful for searching the web archive in case the link goes dead.

It is best to include the place of publication if it is not already part of the newspaper's name. This avoids possible confusion with other newspapers of the same name. In the example, there are other newspapers called The Guardian published in cities of the world other than London.

References not online[edit]

You can use sources which are not online, but which you have found in a library or elsewhere—in which case, leave out the information that is not relevant. The newspaper example above would be formatted like this:

<ref>Plunkett, John. "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying", ''[[The Guardian]]'', London, 27 October 2005.</ref>

After you add this information and save your edit, it appears as:

Plunkett, John. "Sorrell accuses Murdoch of panic buying", The Guardian, London, 27 October 2005.

Here is an example for a book:

<ref>Charmley, John (2006). ''The Princess and the Politicians'', p. 60. Penguin Books, London. ISBN 0140289712.</ref>

After you add this information and save your edit, it appears as:

Charmley, John (2006). The Princess and the Politicians, p. 60. Penguin Books, London. ISBN 0140289712.

Make sure you put two apostrophes on either side of the title (to generate italics), rather than quotation marks.

Date format[edit]

These formats are preferred for dates:

27 January 2007
January 27, 2007
2007-01-27

Citation templates[edit]

Optionally, you may prefer to use a citation template to compile the details of the source. The template is placed between the ref tags, and you fill out the fields that you want to include. Such templates automatically format punctuation and other markup such as italics and quotation marks.

Basic citation templates can be found here: Wikipedia:Template messages/Sources of articles/Citation quick reference.

Same reference used more than once[edit]

The first time a reference appears in the article, you can give it a simple name in the <ref> code (such as the author or article title):

<ref name="smith">DETAILS OF REFERENCE</ref>

Subsequent times that you cite the same reference in the article, you can use a shortcut instead of re-typing it:

<ref name="smith" />

You can then use that shortcut as many times as you want, but never forget the /, or it will blank the rest of the section.

Names for footnotes and groups must follow these rules:

  • Names are case-sensitive
  • Names may not be purely numeric
  • Names must be unique—you cannot use the same name to define different groups or footnotes
  • Quotes are optional if the only characters used are letters A–Z, a–z, digits 0–9, and the symbols !$%&()*,-.:;<@[]^_`{|}~
  • Inclusion of any other characters, including spaces, requires that the name be enclosed in double straight quotes (")
  • Quote-enclosed names may not include a less-than sign (<) or a double straight quote symbol (")
  • Please consider keeping names simple and restricted to the standard English alphabet and numerals.
  • (You may optionally provide names even when the name is not required.)

For an example article where there are three sources, and they are each referenced three times, see William Bowyer (artist). For more details see WP:REFNAME.

Alternative system[edit]

The above method is simple and combines references and notes into one section. A refinement is to put the full details of the references in their own section headed "References", while the notes which apply to them appear in a separate section headed "Notes". The notes can be inserted in the main article text in an abbreviated form as seen in this version of the article Harriet Arbuthnot or in a full form as in this version of the article Brown Dog affair. The separation of "Notes" and "References" in this way is in line with scholarly works.