Wikipedia:Ref reform

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Note: while this proposal failed to gain traction, a similar system has been implemented as list-defined references.
How it looks now - text is virtually unreadable
Under a sane system - text is easily readable

Because the ref system is structured in a way where citations are noted within the body of the text, editing articles with a high number of refs is difficult.

  • If the citations' text can be directly noted in its own section, the body of articles will become easier to edit.
  • That is, instead of having lengthy refs making the body of articles highly convoluted, a word/number can link the ref, with the ref noted in its own section, outside the body.


  • -- (talk) 04:06, 22 November 2007 (UTC)
  • El_C 18:17, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
  • I support the changes to the current style and hope to see it implemented asap.--MONGO 19:05, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
  • support: Ombudsman 19:09, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
  • I provisionally support any proposal to rid of us of the current "ref" system, which turns articles into obscene, unreadable jumbles in the edit window. --Tony Sidaway 19:25, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Support but we already had this discussion, see Wikipedia talk:Footnotes. We had a huge poll where around 70 people said they wanted this fixed. There are bugs in Bugzilla, e.g. here. - FrancisTyers · 20:12, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Support Would certainly be nice. --InShaneee 20:17, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Comment Wasn't the previous system just like that? It was extremely hard to link multiple citations to the same reference unlike with the current system.--Eupator 20:22, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
    • Comment See my conditional support and the embedded link. I believe it solves the problems. Hipocrite - «Talk» 20:34, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Support. Also note bugzilla:2745, a general suggestion for a second edit window for citation info. (SEWilco 05:12, 4 August 2006 (UTC))
  • Support. Same as Tony S. Anything to rid us of the ref tags. SynergeticMaggot 05:59, 6 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Support. -- Wikipedical 02:02, 16 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Support. References' content should sit in one place and not be scattered across the article. We need One True Reference Style, supported by the MediaWiki. GregorB 23:19, 18 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Support. Yes, can't happen soon enough. Stop the insanity! Morton devonshire 05:02, 24 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Support. Stopping of insanity is a good thing. Shortfuse 02:42, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support. Ref's are getting messy. Laurənwhisper 01:18, 18 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support. The current referencing system is cumbersome, messy, and no doubt daunting to new users. Can't sleep, clown will eat me 17:52, 4 October 2006 (UTC)
  • Support I believe the <refdefine> system (explained in the bottom of the page in section Patch) would provide the ideal fix. Unfortunately it does not seem to work yet. Jarekt 02:59, 20 September 2007 (UTC)
  • Support - I think that having all reference text in the references section can only be a good thing (it won't change the reader's experience from what I can tell, only the editor's experience). Just make sure that when this is first implemented a bot is made that runs around doing the legwork so that we don't have to move all the references in all Wikipedia articles ourselves. It Is Me Here (talk) 21:58, 29 September 2008 (UTC)
  • Support the system defined by Dragonsflight's patch at the end of the page. This does not look like illustrated above left, but sensibly extends the current system by allowing (although not requiring) a reference to be defined out of line (using <refdefine>{{Citation|params...}}</refdefine>) and linked to using in-line <ref name=foo/> tags. (talk) 06:42, 24 July 2009 (UTC)

Conditional Support[edit]

  • Conditional Support I support the change as detailed here. I do not support any change that does not support many-to-one citing, auto-numbering and auto-linking. Hipocrite - «Talk» 20:20, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
  • As per Hipocrite - the new method must support many-to-one citing, auto-numbering and auto-linking; we already have alternative methods of doing refs that don't support that. Jayjg (talk) 23:04, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
  • As per Hipocrite and Jayjg. Kirill Lokshin 16:13, 2 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite. --Zoz (t) 16:18, 3 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite also. Without auto-numbering, such a system would be a nightmare. Dark Shikari talk/contribs 17:55, 3 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite. Stifle (talk) 10:52, 4 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite - those are very important features. --Kristjan Wager 17:16, 4 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite. —Nightstallion (?) 02:08, 5 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite - any change should also fully support the existing format for citations; I find the status quo to be fine for articles that are not citation-heavy. Liffer 05:20, 5 August 2006 (UTC)
  • The simplicity of the screenshot above would probably be too much to ask for a system with all the nice features we wouldn't want to lose, but I would really like to see something like {{ref}} built into MediaWiki, with better autonumbering. Christopher Parham (talk) 07:40, 8 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Vague support, in that I can't stand the current system and this one would be better provided it had support for the things Hipocrite identifies. (I still prefer Harvard-style references, though. Any footnote-based system is cumbersome, in that one must jump to the end of the document and manually associate numbers just to find out which source is being cited. A simpler way of implementing footnotes would be a step forward, but it would still suffer from all the problems of footnotes.) — Haeleth Talk 18:00, 9 August 2006 (UTC)
    Harvard referencing vs footnoted referencing is a separate issue. The question here is whether to improve the system for footnoted referencing. If we have named references and a ref list, it should be possible to have a user setting to generate Harvard references instead of footnotes, though. If you have that setting, instead of giving a number, it would give you the author's name and the year of the reference.--Slashme 15:28, 11 September 2007 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite - that solution would appear to offer increased flexibility without sacrificing current features. Lyrl Talk Contribs 01:14, 18 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite. --Sam Blanning(talk) 15:20, 20 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite. --Andromeda 02:39, 30 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Conditional support as per Hipocrite, but two conditions. A means is needed to automatically relocate references entered into the body the text (post-edit processing already happens, see subst). This is because when working references into a article being writen, it is often far easier to write their description in the location where it is needed, not breaking up flow by having to scroll to the bottom of the article (which, it should be noted, isn't possible when editing a section). Secondly, a special:checkrefs or similar is needed to allow a quick means to see if a reference definition exists to match uses of the definition - and hence providing a safety check against forgetfulness. Ideally a better means to access all this information would be availible, but this may not be the best place to discuss that. LinaMishima 01:44, 2 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Per Hipocrite - I've definitely noticed this problem. Ideally there might be a system where clicking the ref number in the edit field would cause the reference to expand revealing the text of the citation, however this would require a more sophisticated editor so it seems unlikely. GabrielF 22:26, 10 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Conditional Support - As to those who are objecting, I agree that we cannot go over to a system where all of the inline citations become just numbers, there must be more information available in the text, maybe scrolling over the reference number and the reference information comes up. Judgesurreal777 02:35, 12 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Conditional support - In the current cite.php system, the first use of a named reference must contain the text repeated for all uses of the name. When an article gets reorganized a reference is often used before it is named. This enhancement avoids that problem by relaxing the "first use" constaint, and that much I support. However, the present proposal would seem to require two passes to render (=bad). Also it seems to separate the reference text from the main text (when editing a section), which was one of the drawbacks of the ref/note system, and which needs a solution. One solution would be to have the reference text available at the bottom of the edit page like transcluded templates. Clicking on one would bring up an edit page for that reference text only. Perhaps every <ref> tag could be treated as a distinct level-5 section which could be edited independently (but not generate an [edit] link when viewed normally)? A solution of this nature would involve software changes beyond the cite.php system. This partly addresses BrownHairedGirl's objection below. As a related enhancement, each use of a named ref should allow some variable text to support page numbers. Gimmetrow 03:29, 18 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support Exactly what Hipocrite linked to. Refs should still be referred to by a name chosen, but allow for the actual reference text to occur somewhere else. Kevin_b_er 00:01, 7 October 2006 (UTC)
  • Support per Hipocrite. In addition, it would be nice to be able to provide full citations at the end of sections, rather than only at the end of articles. Vectro 17:09, 11 October 2006 (UTC)
  • Conditional Support to the extent that I agree that the current system could be improved, and needs to be improved. Perhaps a toggle in the edit screen (1)Show text only with placeholders for refs (2)Show text with in-line refs expanded. Then, those who wish to edit the text can do so without 'clutter'. WLD 22:06, 12 October 2006 (UTC)
    Toggle buttons kick ass! I love this idea. And the rollover idea. Maybe eventually citations will be handled kind of like how ISBNs are rendered by the Mediawiki software. Xaxafrad 00:47, 3 August 2007 (UTC)
  • Conditional Support I support the change as detailed here as well. I think lesser support will result in more confusion. Wikipedia isn't perl. Simultaneous (talk) 17:59, 31 January 2008 (UTC)


  • Reluctant but firm oppose. I strongly sympathise with the problems identified in the current system, but the proposed fix seems to me to open up a new and equally serious problem. AFAICS, under the new system, the referenced footnotes would either be off the screen, or (when editing a section) not available in the current edit. I can't see a solution which doesn't have on problem or the other, and it seems to me that current system works very well for articles which are not heavily referenced, and that sems to me to cover the majority of articles.
    If someone could propose a solution which avoided both problems, I'd be delighted ... but sadly it seems to me that this proposal just takes us from the frying pan to the fire. --BrownHairedGirl 09:12, 3 August 2006 (UTC)
    All articles should be heavily referenced with reliable sources. :) - FrancisTyers · 11:19, 4 August 2006 (UTC)
  • Oppose as per BrownHairedGirl. I also think, however, that the issue needs to be fixed. Would it be possible to have two textareas side by side, the left pane containing the article text, including the words/numbers that link to the references, and in the right pane, include only the references? Although it would be difficult to edit on a smaller screen, it would solve the problem of being unable to edit the references on the screen. --Iamunknown 16:49, 10 August 2006 (UTC)
    One above the other, on smaller screens? – Gurch 16:11, 17 August 2006 (UTC)
    See bugzilla:2745, a general suggestion for a second edit window for citation info. (SEWilco 05:41, 19 August 2006 (UTC))
  • Oppose. I like it the way it is now. -- cmhTC 01:49, 7 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Reluctantly Oppose. The present system can be muddy when editing, that's for sure, but the new system threatens IMHO to disconnect the footnote editing from the text editing, leading to mis-aligned footnotes ("Oops, no, #2 was supposed to say what #3 says"). It is also unclear to me what happens when one adds a footnote in the middle of an article that is already heavily footnoted. We will have footnotes that will eventually go 1, 2, 3, 12, 4, 5, 11, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10?? Madman 12:11, 8 September 2006 (UTC)
    • Basically the same as most of the conditional supporters, then :) LinaMishima 01:36, 9 September 2006 (UTC)
      • Maybe.  : ) Madman 03:28, 9 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Oppose, since adding references is so simple with the current system. One edit to a section and you're done. The current proposal isn't practical for reasons stated above (and in conditional supports) and there isn't an easy workaround. It's helpful if one's concern is ease of reading through the edit box, but that's more easily addressed in the current system by telling people to add line breaks in their cite templates. - Bobet 10:32, 13 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Good idea, but no Doesn't address the failings of {{ref}} and {{note}} and why m:cite.php is in favor: The proposed system doesn't seem capable of handling automatic numbering within the article, and also appears to break wikisyntax. Implementing this proposal would be a headache. Suggest fix per bug 5885. Note that my vote would be Support if it didn't abandon m:cite.php; think of all the references that would need to be converted to the proposed style. --DavidHOzAu 12:32, 13 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Oppose - per BrownHairedGirl. I don't really like the current system, but this proposal would render section editing unusable, without having all the info inline with the ref tag it would take matching up two sections and editing them together to get stuff to come out right. I know that it isn't too hard to do that, but it is still more difficult then the current system. Also some unused references would inevitably get left behind in the page and simply perform nothing. However, as long as auto-numbering is maintained I'm not to strongly opposed to this... --T-rex 03:55, 17 September 2006 (UTC)
    I didn't see the example as being that specific. Note bugzilla:2745 proposes adding a second edit window for references, so with undefined reference formats you'd have two edit forms on the same page. If there is a structured ref/citation format then the reference edit section might support it (fields for title, author, etc?). (SEWilco 04:15, 7 October 2006 (UTC))
  • Oppose. First of all, the proposed solution would require a commitment of developer time, which might be better spent on some of the more pressing issues on Wikipedia (like automatically softblocking Tor IPs or stable versions). Secondly, this solution would make adding or editing references much more difficult. It would basically take us back to the system that we had in the days of the 'ref' and 'note' templates, which was complained about extensively and was the primary reason for bringing in cite.php in the first place. Cynical 19:46, 13 October 2006 (UTC)
  • Oppose. I don't think the current system is particularly hard to edit. I like being able to see the reference detail immediately adjacent to the text which it supports, as edits to both text and reference often must be done at the same time in the same edit. Separation into two areas may result in discontinuities between the information. Successful implementation of this this idea might require either a two-panel simultaneous viewer, with sycnchronized scrolling so the ref was visible at all times next to the note. The proposed solution seems much more complicated than the present simple methods, which are easy to learn. A simpler solution for the visual clutter issue, which I agree can be a problem, would be to keep the display as it is now but put material that is between ref tags into a different color font than the main text. If refs and main text were visually distinct by color (or perhaps also by font type) then it would be easier to read the display but everything would still be in one place, which is what I like. Buddhipriya 09:12, 30 July 2007 (UTC)
  • Perhaps you edit lightly-referenced pages. Look at the 2nd picture. Can you read the prose? Of course not. It's a counterintuitive mess. El_C 09:14, 30 July 2007 (UTC)
I prefer to work on very heavily-referenced pages, such as Ganesha. Please don't dismiss my opinions because they differ from your own. I also strongly oppose the use of named references, which create many maintenance problems. Buddhipriya 09:18, 30 July 2007 (UTC)
I did not dismiss your opinions; that you choose not to address the image example speaks volumes on these, however. El_C 09:26, 30 July 2007 (UTC)
  • Oppose. I edit some heavily referenced pages and never have any trouble working with the pages.If you have trouble reading the prose—that's why there there's that little button called "preview". –SESmith 09:32, 30 July 2007 (UTC)
    You don't think that with 40K+ edits I'm aware of the preview button? It's crucial to be able to read it in the edit window, too, is the point. El_C 09:37, 30 July 2007 (UTC)
    It's not all about you, i.e., my comments weren't addressed necessarily to just you. My overall point is that I've never had the problem you describe of reading the prose in the text edit pane, even in the example you provide, but if some editors find it troubling, they can easily use the preview button. –SESmith 00:47, 3 August 2007 (UTC)
  • Oppose While I support this proposal in theory, I think those who pledge their unconditional support simply don't have minds inclined to syntantical analysis. It's not an "insane mess" but something closer to organized chaos. Yes, inline refs make the text hard to read, but are achy eye muscles really a good reason for this kind of a reform? I might change my "vote" to support if I could see a live, working implementation (you could test the waters here). Xaxafrad 23:57, 2 August 2007 (UTC)
  • Oppose I am reluctant to endorse a system where editing of footnotes is removed from the related text. Though I do recognize and acknowlege that "named" references, in their second and later uses in an article can be a distance from the content of the reference material. There are some article editing conventions that can improve the editing of article with many references, that I resort to, to aid in distinguishing between text and references. These can and do make it easier to edit. These can reduce the difficulty described, though does not solve it, and rely on cooperation of other editors, as is the case in all of wikipedia.
Here is the convention:
  • 1. after the ref tag, enter a newline
  • 2 before the close of the reference text, but before the closing tag, enter a newline
  • 3. after the closing ref tag, enter a newline.
The result is that the end of each reference is visible in the first column of the editing screen, and sentences start in the first column of the editing screen too. the result is that text and references text can be more easily distinguished than when it is all run together. An example can be the lede of Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy. For posterity, here is a particular version where the convention was used.
I further note, when reorganizing articles, especially copying sections into new articles, or new sub-articles, the process with the proposed change would require careful effort to extract the footnotes that are married to the text. The present system brings the text with the references in copy/paste re-organizing (except for 2nd and later "named" references).
-- Yellowdesk 15:52, 3 August 2007 (UTC)
  • Absolute oppose. I completely fail to see a possibility to create a system of this style that will not recreate all the issues that Cites.php was meant to fix to begin with. This is just the template system under a different name. Circeus 20:35, 3 August 2007 (UTC)
Oppose for the reasons BrownHairedGirl noted (though I also want a change here, and better standardisation!) - As per Iamunknown and Gurch, the best way would be to have a software-level change where references are done in a separate window - it could be a lot smaller, similar to the edit summary window. It was possible to do this for file uploads on projects like Commons, so it should be possible here (I do know the scale of the problem is much more substantial, though!) Ingolfson (talk) 08:49, 30 July 2008 (UTC)


  • Neutral Eh, doesn't matter to me either way. Is this poll going to do anything, btw? People Powered 13:10, 8 October 2006 (UTC)
  • Maybe. The WP:AFDC poll I authored around the same time resulted in getting categories for AfD, so one out of the two works for me. El_C 09:15, 30 July 2007 (UTC)
  • The point is that people tend to resist change and the rationalizations follow from this instinctive impulse rather than a careful review. El_C 09:42, 30 July 2007 (UTC)


I have submitted a patch to Avar (the original author of the Cite extension) that addresses several of the objections being raised here.

The two main features of note:

  1. Creation of a <refdefine> tag that defines a reference in the same way that <ref> does, but may be placed anywhere in a document and outputs nothing.
  2. The ability of <ref name="foo"/> references to work even if the associated content is defined later in the page.

Dragons flight 20:00, 6 August 2006 (UTC)

Great work, Dragon's flight! That short-circuits the need for this proposal quite neatly. --DavidHOzAu 01:16, 20 September 2006 (UTC)
It is only a short-circuit if the patch is implemented before other action related to the proposal takes place. Has the patch been implemented? (SEWilco 02:53, 20 September 2006 (UTC))
I sent it both to Avar (ref's original author) and several weeks later put it on bugzilla, but so far nothing has been done (bugzilla:5997). Neither Avar nor anyone else have commented on status. Dragons flight 03:49, 20 September 2006 (UTC)


Leaving a note here for future reference: the patch indicated immediately above is a good idea, what would be nice is if this could be extended further, so that refs defined with <refdefine> could actually be used in more than just one article. Some might not like this approach because it means you might have to go to another article (or a parent transcluded template) in order to get access to the raw text of the ref definition. dr.ef.tymac 19:12, 22 September 2007 (UTC)