In this answer the answerer provides some theory names and a short citation ("See Barrett-Feldman et al."). One commenter links to What to do with answers that fall short of our standards of evidence? and requires that the citation should be in full. They say:

what is Barrett-Feldman et al.? Full citation is required as that could be anything

Is this necessary?

2 Answers 2


The purpose of citation is to credit work and to make it easier for people to find the work that is being credited. If you can't find the work then you can't check that the poster's reference is actually saying what they imply.

Full citations contain a lot of redundant information, which can be helpful if there is an error in one part. Ideally full citations or DOIs+author/date should be used. However, I think it's fine for citations to be abbreviated as long as they make clear what work is being referenced. In this case, "Barrett-Feldman et al." does not make clear what work is being referenced. If I go to Google Scholar and type "Barrett-Feldman et al" I do not get results that return the paper the post is referencing, therefore it is clearly an insufficient reference.

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    +1 and to add to this -- adding a weblink to the article can be of great help. Weblinks can expire however, so a full link (author, journal, date perhaps DOI) is necessary
    – AliceD Mod
    Jun 15, 2021 at 19:02
  • What do you think about combining with other keywords? In this case there is also "Theory of Constructed Emotion", so if the query also includes this the paper being referred may show up? I understand the concern about ambiguity, but my point is one only needs sufficient pointer to further their research. Is that a reasonable expectation?
    – Ooker
    Jun 15, 2021 at 19:32
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    @Ooker I think it's reasonable for the person who has the source in hand to do that work, and not leave it to the readers. Just because something can be plausibly found doesn't make it good enough, it should be straightforward and unambiguous.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 15, 2021 at 19:55
  • I continue my though in a separate answer. Can you check it?
    – Ooker
    Jun 16, 2021 at 9:54
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    +1 and two cents about the web link - if you can find one that's open-access, that might be the most helpful.
    – pep
    Jun 18, 2021 at 21:22

If we only have the abbreviated citation and nothing more, then I agree that it is not sufficient, as Bryan Krause said. However, there is always context, and the context will provide more keywords to narrow down the results. In this case there is "Theory of Constructed Emotion".

I agree that it's reasonable for the person who has the source in hand to credit a full citation. However, I think most of the time abbreviated citation together with keywords from context still help us locate the correct papers. Please note that I do agree that the poster shouldn't just leave that work to the readers. My point is that we can accept some tolerance on those who don't.

If we want to make this as a strict rule, that abbreviated citation-only should be treated as no citation at all, then we should explicitly say this somewhere. The post What to do with answers that fall short of our standards of evidence? doesn't say anything about this (and wasn't asked in order to talk about this).

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    I don't think it really needs further clarity except on a case-by-case basis. A "citation" that doesn't let you find the source readily isn't a true citation at all. Providing hint "key words" as if citation is like crafting a puzzle for others to solve is not sufficient.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 17, 2021 at 14:53
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    I agree with @BryanKrause -- many fields of research are exploding in size these days and common names with et al. and a year may already fail hopelessly to find the article in question (Like Miller et al. 1999 in a field like Psychology will readily yield a zillion hits).
    – AliceD Mod
    Jun 18, 2021 at 6:36
  • @AliceD That still doesn't include the keywords in context. I agree that it's like crafting a puzzle for others to solve, but if that puzzle saves the poster some cognitive workload, and still brings me the referred article, then I'm happy to solve it. In my experience it doesn't take much time. But I acknowledge the limitation of my experience.
    – Ooker
    Jun 18, 2021 at 8:12
  • And still, do we have a policy that treat abbreviated citation-only as no citation at all?
    – Ooker
    Jun 18, 2021 at 8:13
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    @Ooker I don't think we need that as a separate policy, the "citations required" policy is sufficient. If you have a policy "bring a pie", and someone brings you a pie crust, they haven't brought you a pie, the filling is a component of the pie and without it it isn't a pie. If you have a policy "bring a pie" and someone brings you a bunch of pie ingredients, they haven't brought you a pie. Our policy is that citations are required. I don't think we need a more specific policy of how exactly things need to be cited, but they always have to serve as a whole pie to count.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 18, 2021 at 14:12
  • @BryanKrause I agree that bringing a bunch of pie ingredients isn't bringing a pie. This is convincing and in effect I agree that this doesn't meet the policy.
    – Ooker
    Jun 19, 2021 at 5:47
  • I just want to further investigate the problem. In my understanding, the debate between "a half-citation is not a citation/a bunch of pie ingredients is not a pie" vs "as long as the readers can found the correct article/the consumers are happy to make the pie themselves, whatever method is fine" is really the debate between consequentialism vs deontology. I have only read the former, not the latter. In my understanding the former is still a strong argument
    – Ooker
    Jun 19, 2021 at 5:47

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