I've noticed that on several sites there is a variation in the importance of citation within an answer. I find adding citations to answers to be silly due to what I mentioned in this comment here on the English Language and Usage Stack Exchange site.

Should citations be of high or low value on Stack Exchange sites? Should it differ as it does?

The biggest issue I noticed about it was that if a user "moves" from a site that does not encourage, and in fact discourages the use of citations (as they are not considered important or sometimes useful on those sites) (like Stack Overflow), to a site that highly encourages citations, it becomes confusing to the answeree, and (for me at the least) ruined the experience.

Also, by "citation," I do not mean reference to gain further knowledge, I mean reference to support your answer, like it is an argument.

  • Perhaps a good solution to this is to only encourage references that cite, as well as provide further knowledge? instead of encouraging one over the other? – user281052 Sep 26 '16 at 2:36
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    I just read the comment that you linked to. Please be aware that many/most of us do not think Stack Overflow/Exchange provides forums. We think our focussed Q&A sites are much more valuable than discussion forums. – PolyGeo Sep 26 '16 at 3:03
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    Does SO actively discourage citations? – Cai Sep 26 '16 at 7:25
  • Your answer on ELU proves that an answer on any language sites should provide supporting citations or links. Your answer is wrong. That's why you need to check some citations or references not only for a correct answer, but for your own knowledge. You ended up providing a partly wrong answer and your answer ended up getting accepted which might mislead current and future users into believing that what you wrote without citations is correct. – Rathony Sep 28 '16 at 9:27
  • @Rathony Ok. I will take point that research would be more thorough with citations. However, I still argue that because someone has more citations is not a way to say someone is right, but rather seemingly more right. I feel that relying on citations to prove rightness can be extremely misleading when it comes to the internet. Which is why I disagree with its usage on SE sites. – user281052 Oct 2 '16 at 9:42
  • @DaMaxContent Well, it depends on what SE sites you are talking about. Is there any harm citing some sources? I don't see any harm and it will increase the helpfulness of an answer. Why not? It does more harm than good. Also, if it harms a post, users will comment on it. Good luck. :-) – Rathony Oct 2 '16 at 9:44
  • To make my point clear, imagine if I posted on 4chan, asking users to start citing an encyclopedia (that is let's say completely wrong about every fact inside it) on every single answer they can get there hands on in SE, just for giggles and pranks. I could do that, because its the internet. My answer would have a citation, but it would be completely wrong – user281052 Oct 2 '16 at 9:44
  • @Rathony since this type of "intellectual epidemic" is ridiculously possible on the internet, I don't see how a citation is therefore any more helpful than your-word-of-mouth. I think people need to realize that on the internet, when picking "the right answer" they need to heavily rely on personal judgment, rather than what the answeree provides, regardless of the website's or that answeree's reputation – user281052 Oct 2 '16 at 9:53
  • @DaMaxContent I don't think you got my point. Your answer on ELU is partly wrong. A citation would have helped you to correct your answer. As I mentioned in the previous comment, it is necessary not only for a correct answer, but also for your own knowledge. It's up to you. If you want to get more upvotes, please use some citations, if you are happy with less upvotes or even downvotes, don't. Again, it's entirely up to you. Nobody is forcing you to do so, right? – Rathony Oct 2 '16 at 10:04
  • @Rathony fair enough. On a further note, I don't feel in the mood any longer today to continue to use SE. I understand what it is happening and why it is, and I respect those who oppose me, but it doesn't help the feeling that I am being outcasted from SE. – user281052 Oct 2 '16 at 10:09
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    @DaMaxContent Sorry to hear that. Cheer up!! – Rathony Oct 2 '16 at 10:09
  • On that note I will try. On a logical note, I resign from using SE actively, since the community highly disagrees with an opinion I regard highly, and (both I and the community) refuse to back down on. As you made clear, I'd only get downvotes, and that is just depressing. – user281052 Oct 2 '16 at 10:13

I actually take issue with that comment. You write

Well, I don't see value in providing references on a forum site (that seems really silly). My answer stays as is (in terms of reference). I see it silly for 2 reasons, A. it's a forum site. Forum site's are ridiculously known for misleading people, so it is absolutely worthless to add reference.

A few specific responses to that:

  1. Stack Exchange is not a forum. We're a network of Q+A sites. Each site's tour states

    This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat.

    We do get quite touchy about this.

  2. Even if we were forums - which we aren't - we don't have a reputation for "misleading people". Stack Overflow, for instance, is extremely popular among programmers and developers worldwide. I come from non-programming Stack Exchange sites, and when I began programming, I was shocked to see just how well-respected SO is. If Stack Exchange was consistently misleading, would this be the case?
  3. I'm never a fan of the idea that if a ship's sinking, you should give up. Your last sentence seems to suggest that adding citations won't do anything; it would be like bailing out the Titanic with a soup bowl. It's not. It works, on a surprisingly large number of sites - because Stack Exchange isn't a sinking ship. We're not awash in a sea of trash like you might find in, say, Yahoo! Answers. This brings me to Point #4 . . .
  4. . . . most of the rest of Stack Exchange is not like Stack Overflow. Again, this is my bias from smaller sites speaking, but other topics may require references that a programming question won't. For instance, you can often test code from an answer just by running it. On the other hand, on English Language and Usage (to take the site your comment's on), you can't really test out a word or phrase in the same way. You need to know definitively what it means. But in answer to your question, yes, the necessity (or lack thereof) of citations differs, for reasons such as the one I gave above.

Take my answer in context: I come from sites where citations are either required or strongly encouraged. If I claim, in an answer on Mythology, that Homer described X in the Iliad, I should back that up with a reference to the exact passage. On Astronomy, when presenting results of measurements of the solar wind, I should link to where I got the figures from. So citing sources is, to me, a personal requirement in most cases. I generally don't answer without doing so.

Just take that into account when considering my points. I also hope this didn't come out too harshly; citing sources has always been one of my pet peeves, so to speak.

  • Very good points. Even though I disagree with the aspect of "no misleading people" on stackexchange (Think about the spammers, and new users who don't know what they are doing, the ones who don't have a reputation) (I find a lot of these people on stackoverflow), I think you may have convinced me. – user281052 Sep 26 '16 at 3:30
  • And no harm done, I actually do find a lot of sense in your points. Hence, my +1 – user281052 Sep 26 '16 at 3:34

You asked:

Should citations be of high or low value on stack exchange sites? Should it differ as it does?

I think the answer is that it will depend on the site and its community.

In some sites the community has decided that it wants to engender high academic standards while in others demanding such high standards can be seen as a way to disenchant current and potential users.

I recommend that on any site which you think has unacceptably low/high standards related to citation requirements, you should use that site's Meta to discuss your case. The standard required by each community you consider posting in should be quickly determinable from their help/on-topic page and a perusal of their recent Q&As.

Some communities may evolve from low to high requirements for citations, while others may do the reverse. Each site evolves towards the state that meets that community's requirements and direction.

On one site that I moderate (Genealogy & Family History) we currently seem happy for questions to be asked with few citations but when we think more are needed then we simply ask for them using comments. Using copious citations within our questions can be very valuable for genealogy professionals but doing so at the outset can also make for dry reading and fewer questions from the enthusiastic amateurs (like me) that I think we equally want to attract to keep our community vibrant.

  • This is a very good point. So, how do we determine what's more important? potential users or community users? – user281052 Sep 26 '16 at 2:42
  • Also, I like your point about taking the problem head on, and just asking them straight up not to – user281052 Sep 26 '16 at 2:45

I see absolutely nothing wrong with supporting answers.

If you are a non-native speaker and you write an answer on EL&U or ELL, it's best you backup your solution with a reference. The reference confirms your answer.

If you a native speaker, a reference will strengthen further your answer, and provide the querent the evidence that you know what you're talking about. Unless you are a fluent speaker and have a sound knowledge of grammar, you cannot test an English language answer in a matter of minutes.

That is why factually correct answers on EL&U and ELL will always be upvoted by experts and enthusiasts, but if the answer is also supported it will probably earn upvotes across the board.

Is there something wrong with that?

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