Many questions and answers will involve citing journal articles and other scientific works.

Clearly, it's desirable if there is a link to a free online version of the article. However, such links (e.g., from an academic's website) often disappear over time. So it is also desirable if at the very least, enough information is given to enable someone to find the article even if the article disappears.

  • Is there a preferred way to cite articles in a question or answer?
  • Could you edit this to bump or feature this? I think this is handy, particularly about the DOIs. Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 16:00
  • Is the "faq" tag appropriate? Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 23:38
  • 1
    That works. I just wanted this to be more visible. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 4:45

6 Answers 6


The following represents the preferred style for references and citations on this site. Broadly speaking, the site follows APA style. Following the style is optional, but all users are encouraged to edit posts that are missing one or more of the elements discussed below.

Inline Citations

References should be in APA inline format. This allows the reader to know where a claim is coming from without forcing them to read a footnote1

As mentioned in Smith and Jones (2008)


As seen in several studies (e.g., Smith & Jones, 2008)

Reference List

A full APA Style Reference List is preferred at the end of the question or answer. The paper title should be a link if possible and the DOI should be provided (and also a link) if possible. By providing the full citation a user can find the article even if the posts links break (which is common) and the DOI is not known. These references can be separated from the body text of the question/answer using the Block Quote.

Mercier, H. and Sperber, D. (2011). Why do humans reason? arguments for an argumentative theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34(02):57-74. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X10000968

Smith, J. and Jones, D. (2012). An article about stuff. Journal of Stuff, 28(3):71-74.

Google Scholar makes it easy to quickly obtain an APA formatted reference based on a quick search (see this guide).

PDF and DOI Links

If possible a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) should be provided. Other sources such as PDFs may be removed and result in broken links; DOIs are eternal.

Link the DOI with https://doi.org/ and then the DOI number goes on the end of that.

For example, the DOI number for Mercier & Sperber (2011) above is 10.1017/S0140525X10000968 and that number is best linked to https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X10000968 making the linked reference

Mercier, H. and Sperber, D. (2011). Why do humans reason? arguments for an argumentative theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34(02):57-74. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X10000968

If you have found a freely available copy of the article such as a PDF or full text link, please use it in addition to the DOI, or in place of the DOI if no DOI is available.

1: Footnotes are a pain in the butt and harm the flow of reading hence they are not used in standard APA

  • From chat, it sounds like this will be the canonical answer to the question of references and citations and thus, as other specific issues related to referencing get resolved in separate meta questions, they will be incorporated into this answer. Or if anyone objects to ideas here, feel free to start a separate meta thread. Commented Feb 11, 2012 at 13:35
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    @JeromyAnglim: I agree with this in the long run, but I would advise from doing so at this time. We need to give the democratic process some more time, and making this answer visible was mainly meant to attract attention to it so more people would give feedback on how they feel about it. If no concern is raised to this answer, we can later incorporate more specific formatting decisions in it. In that case this should probably become community wiki. In short, don't rush it. ;p
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Feb 11, 2012 at 15:14
  • Additionally, when making edits (including reference edits) take the following guidelines into account.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Feb 11, 2012 at 16:37
  • I am starting to dislike the 'blockquote' list of references. It's not a quote, why use blockquote? I generally prefer Jeromy's original method of adding a '###References' header at the bottom, followed by a list. E.g. here. Could you take the formatting specific issue out of this question so we can discuss it in this meta post instead?
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 14:28
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    @StevenJeuris I never liked the blockquote stuff, What exactly doesn't work about the <sub> method? it works just fine with multiple lines for references.
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 14:41
  • @BenBrocka: Just stating it would be more constructive to separate those issue into the relevant other meta question. :) Otherwise this will become a loooong comment thread.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 14:42
  • The "Cite" function on Google Scholar often provides inaccurate formatting. For example the capitalization in book titles is wrong, and volume numbers are added unnecessarily. They are a good basis to copy-paste, but might need some editing.
    – user3116
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 6:56
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    I format references as a list, since no hanging indentations are available here. That way the references are well structured and easy to parse visually.
    – user3116
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 6:58

I think we should provide DOI links (i.e. http://dx.doi.org/...) for peer-reviewed articles as they are standard and stable. Of course it is good to point to an open copy but (as it may disappear) as an additional source.

See e.g. a related thread on meta.tp.se (there is an encouragement to use arXiv links (e.g. http://arxiv.org/abs/...) as it is both open-access and points DOI, but it works only for physics, mathematics and cs papers).

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    DOI links are ideal but sometimes hard to find; we should edit and add them to questions citing articles whenever possible.
    – Zelda
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 14:33
  • @BenBrocka Well, when there is one (i.e. DOI identifier), it is not difficult to find, as it is usually on the official article webpage or on the first page of the paper. Of course, the status is when applicable (as many sources, being non peer-reviewed articles, does not have one). Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 12:50
  • On occasion I've found articles that do have cannonical DOIs but certain reproductions of them do not have the DOIs included. Some people also might not know what they are as well.
    – Zelda
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 14:08
  • @BenBrocka I am far from requiring to include DOI. But is it can be readily find - it is preferred. And not only the author may provide one, but an editor. Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 15:39
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    I definitely agree posts should always be edited to add a DOI if possible. I just wanted to point out there might be reasons people don't initially post DOI :)
    – Zelda
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 15:46

Is there a preferred way to cite articles in a question or answer?

One think to mention here, mostly for any users finding this answer who are not familiar with Stack Exchange, is that it is not acceptable to simply link to an article as your answer.

That is, good answers are more than just links, they contain content as well. This is doubly true if the link goes to some paid source. I for one have no access to paid sources of cognitive science articles. But even for those who do, as you said, the links may go dead.

Always include relevant links and provide proper citation / attribution, but always quote the relevant parts of what you link to.

As an example, I'll quote what user Brian R. Bondy posted in his answer to a question about how to answer questions with a link from Meta Stack Overflow:

Summarize but give credit to the source via a name and link.

Links alone can get broken over time. A summary can be improved upon by others who edit your post in the future.

Posting links alone helps the person asking the question, but for future people it's nicer to explain in the answer.

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    I think anyone familiar with proper research knows that you can't just drop a name and a reference and expect people to read the article :). So far I haven't seen anyone just drop a link to an article as an aswer.
    – Zelda
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 14:09
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    @BenBrocka: Sorry to disappoint you, cogsci.stackexchange.com/a/83/21
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 0:21

I think we should use inline APA style whenever possible.

This is of the (Watson, J, 1960) format. We can make the citation a link as well, though SEO wise the title of the article should be the link. This allows us to provide a proper academic reference without harming the flow of the question or answer.

In my opinion posts should be edited to include APA style references to journals to maintain an academic appearance and ease of reading throughout the site.

  • As I mentioned in chat, I feel it is important to add the date as well to be able to judge whether or not a given answer contains recent research. +1
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 0:28
  • APA inline includes the date as well, not to show recency but to differentiate multiple papers by the same authors.
    – Zelda
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 0:35
  • So that's a win-win no? :)
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 0:36
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    Would you extend the idea to recommending the inclusion of the complete references at the end of the answer, as per a journal article? I've asked this question on meta here: meta.cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/85/… Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 3:51

I have a few initial guiding principles that I've been using in the first few days of private beta:

  • provide enough of a citation somewhere in the text to enable someone to find the article even if the url breaks (which PDF urls often do). In general, this means author, year, and article title.
  • Link to free PDFs where available and indicate that the link is to a PDF. I think it's good if a reader can know that a link is to a free full text source before they click the link.
  • If no free PDF is available, then I don't provide a link, not that I object to links in this case).
  • Also, If I have a choice between references, I generally choose the references where a free full text pdf is available.
  • I actively try to give the reader a sense of what they are about to click on. E.g., if you are going to click on a link that is a wikipedia article, then I'll let people know that, instead of just converting a word to a link.

You can see some examples of this approach in this answer, of which I quote one example below:

See for example this paper on "the role of deliberate practice in chess expertise" PDF by Charness, Tuffiash, Krampe, Reingold, & Vasyukova, (2005).

I also quite like the idea of APA style where you include both inline citation and a full reference at the end, but I also realise that adding formatted complete references is a bit more work. I also think that there is an issue of the optimal placement of the link to the PDF. Do you put it inline or at the end of text reference?


In response to Jeromy Anglim's answer:

provide enough of a citation somewhere in the text to enable someone to find the article even if the url breaks

That's a very good guideline which results in a true benefit.

I actively try to give the reader a sense of what they are about to click on. E.g., if you are going to click on a link that is a wikipedia article, then I'll let people know that, instead of just converting a word to a link.

Agreed to some extent. By using APA style as in Ben's answer it's clear you're referencing a scientific paper. For other sources, wiki/webpages like you say, it's best to mention them prior to quoting them as e.g. I did in my amateuristic answer.

On the other hand, I do not feel terminology links should be announced, as I did e.g. for online disinhibition effect. They provide a quick link for people who aren't familiar with the subject, and the source of the information is less important. If the link shows up dead they can still google it.

As to the other points Jeromy mentions, I am not entirely convinced. I would definitely also link to paid links, even if it is just to be able to read the abstract, simplify searching the paper and as proof you're not just answering from the top of your head.

I wouldn't worry about dead links in general, as long as enough context is given to understand the answers without having to follow the links. This is a general SE guideline which we definitely should follow as well. When links do turn up dead after a while, it wouldn't be too difficult to find working links again, provided that all the other guidelines are followed.

  • Thanks for the response; A few thoughts: (a) background definitional links without explanation seem fine to me; (b) I have no problems with links to paid sites, but I prefer to give the reader a sense of what they are going to get (e.g., a paid site with the abstract, or a free full text PDF). I personally find it more enticing to click directly on a full text PDF. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 3:42
  • @JeromyAnglim: As in your meta post, perhaps we could add that information to the references at then end of the answers? I'm afraid mentioning 'PDF', 'paid site' mid-sentence all the time might read sluggish.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 9:36
  • APA style also has rules for citing web pages, but I agree those don't need APA format.
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 21:44

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