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]


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SoundCloud, fan sites, and extreme minority texts are not usually acceptable, nor is original research (e.g., your own unpublished, or self-published, essay or research), or another Wikipedia article.

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:


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 (after any punctuation, and without a space before the beginning of the <ref> tag).

<ref>           </ref>

Whatever text, formatting, or templates you put in between these two tags will become visible in the "References" section as your reference. Do not place content in <ref></ref> tags after the <references /> tag or {{reflist}} template — they belong in the body of the article where you want the link to the footnote to appear.

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>


(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]
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. [,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.

Using refToolbar[edit]

RefToolbar 2.0b as it appears above the edit window. Note the Cite widget on the right and the drop down menu of styles on the left.

RefToolbar, which appears atop the edit box in browsers that support JavaScript, contains useful tools for editing Wikipedia articles. RefToolbar can be used to easily add properly formatted citations without having to learn how to use the {{Cite}} templates. If your browser does not support JavaScript or it is disabled, refToolbars will not work (see Template:Cite for what to type-in manually).

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

Click on the play button on the image to the right to view a refToolbar 2.0b video tutorial on how to use the citation dialog. Instructions on using the citation dialog are also included below:

  1. If you don't see a drop-down menu labeled  Templates MediaWiki Vector skin action arrow.png  on the toolbar above the edit window, click on "MediaWiki Vector skin right arrow.pngCite" at the top of the toolbar to activate refToolbar.
  2. Position the cursor in the text where you want the numbered link to your citation to appear. This should be at the end of the relevant phrase, sentence, or paragraph that the citation is verifying (after any punctuation, see MOS:REFPUNC for more information). Do not position the cursor at the very end of the article or in the ==References== section — place it directly after the text that your citation will be verifying.
  3. Click on the drop down menu labeled  Templates MediaWiki Vector skin action arrow.png , and choose the citation type you would like to add ("cite web" for websites, "cite news" for newspaper articles, "cite book" for books, and "cite journal" for academic journals).
  4. Once you select a type of citation, a new window will appear with a number of blank fields to fill in. Fill in as many of the fields as you can. It's okay to leave some fields blank, but make sure to at least provide a "Title" to avoid causing an error message when you save the page.

    If you are citing from a website, make sure to enter the web address of the page in the "URL" field. Click on the Insert current date button next to the "Access Date" field to indicate that you checked the information on the website you're citing today.

    If you are 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 Autofill 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 that the information is correct, since it sometimes is wrong, incomplete, or badly formatted (especially if there are multiple authors). You should also add page numbers or other information if available.
  5. Once you have filled in the form, you can optionally click the Preview button at the bottom to see the code that will be inserted. If you then click on the "Show parsed preview" link under the code you will see the citation displayed as it would appear in the finished article.
  6. When you are satisfied with the information in the citation form, clicking the Insert button will close the form and add the code for your citation to the edit window at the location you had selected prior to choosing a citation type. This information will show up as a superscript numbered link 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, add the following to the end of the article (See Inserting a reference, below):


When your edit is saved, the text of citations within the body of the article will automatically 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.

Date format[edit]

These formats are preferred for dates:

27 January 2007
January 27, 2007

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 inside the first <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 this shortcut instead of re-typing it (which adds a /):

<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 quotes (")
  • The quote marks must be the standard straight keyboard marks ("); curly or other quotes will be parsed as part of the reference name.
  • 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 systems[edit]

Notes and references[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. To add the citation:

  <ref name="smith">Smith, 1946, p=157</ref>

it will appear in the {{reflist}} at the end of the article. At the end of the article the mark-up is as follows:

==See also==
    * Full Citation 1
    * Full Citation 2
    * Full Citation n
==Further reading and external links==

The separation of "Notes" and "References" in this way is in line with scholarly works.

Foot-notes, notes and references[edit]

A further refinement that is used by some scholarly editors is to use notes and footmotes. For example the article on Franz Kafka is referenced this way making use of two helpful templates. {{sfn}} and {{efn}}. Throughout the article you add the reference so:

{{sfn|Smith|1889|p=157}}  or {{sfn|Smith|Jones|1892|pp= 213-218}}

that is the name, year and page reference or author, second author, year and page references. The full citation, which is generated by the method above is added (without its reference tags) is added to the Bibliography section.

{{efn|Free-text note}} 

is inserted in the text and will appear in the {{notelist}}[a] This has many uses.

The last sections of the article provide the links for the references and the notes: they take this mark up.

==See also==
        * Full Citation 1
        * Full Citation 2
        * Full Citation n
    ===Further reading===
        * Further Citation 1
        * Further Citation 2
        * Further Citation n
==External links==

This method is useful when you are making many page references from a limited number of books. It relies on on the Authors name and Publication year to make the links. Which ever system is used try to be consistent.


  1. ^ To get an attractive autolink between the {{notelist}} and the {{cite_family}} full-citations; the text ||ref= harv or ||ref = {{sfnRef|''Los Angeles Times''|2009}} must be added to the {{cite XXXX}} code. The former links on name and year but the latter links on the chosen freetext- such as the publication, and year.