Some stacks (or should I say: all scientific and linguistic ones) have extensive quotation needs, others do try to make people back it up, best with citations to authorities. Some Q&A might cite not just one but many sources or need to point to some 2 dozen parts of a text.

To denote citations, currently the only options seem to be:

  • manual work with superscript and bibliography at the end (which is a MESS and takes hours)
  • inline citations (which I find ugly)
  • superscript-inline (a compromise of A & B which breaks accessibility)
  • not quoting at all, which defies that we should quote, reducing the quality of the answers.

Can we get a neat <ref></ref>, [ref=...] or [cite=...] feature that auto-generates superscript numbers and puts whatever is between them after a line at the end of the text? This would guarantee accessibility and convenience at the same time.

Possible usage mockup

This is shown by Smith in his work[ref=Smith, John: Example Reference Work, p.17] and makes me think XYZ is a solution to the problem.


This is shown by Smith in his work 1 and makes me think XYZ is a solution to the problem.

  1. Smith, John: Example Reference Work, p.17
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    Right off the top of my head, just thinking about the stacks I'm either a member of or have visited because of interesting HNQs, I can see this being used in English Language & Usage, Mi Yodeya, English Language Learners, Law, Politics, Biblical Hermeneutics, and I wouldn't be surprised if it would also be useful in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and any of the language-specific stacks. Commented May 21, 2021 at 17:10
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    @JeffZeitlin Add RPG (rules lawyering) and any language one.
    – Trish
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 17:15
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    As <ref> looks like but is not HTML, it would bother me just a little. I could actually see this looking more like the SE "magic links" but not actually linking, perhaps something like [ref=Smith, John: Example Reference Work, p.17]. But the functionality is definitely highly desirable. Commented May 21, 2021 at 17:34
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    @Mast can you please point out which ones do? If it would replace them or just be one of those available to all might depend on the implementation.
    – Trish
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 18:48
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    @JeffZeitlin Also the scientific stacks - I'm involved in Biology, Psych&Neuro, and Medical Sciences which all use citations extensively and effectively require them for nearly every answer (and most good questions as well), and I imagine other scientific stacks outside my bailiwick as well. Commented May 21, 2021 at 18:48
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    @Mast I think you are referring to the feature to generate a citation to that SE post (an extension of the "share" functionality in a format readable by citation managers), whereas this is asking about a tool to add citations from a SE post to other sources. In that sense, unless I'm missing something, it's orthogonal. Commented May 21, 2021 at 18:50
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    This has been suggested and shot down before: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/116397/… but I think it's worthy of another look 5-10 years later. Commented May 21, 2021 at 18:52
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    I seriously doubt SE would make their implementation of commonmark even more personalized. They dropped the html tag for defining syntax highlight for code blocks in favor of something supported by the library.
    – Braiam
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 18:58
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    Looks like a userscript to help fulfill this need was created some time ago over on StackApps, it's referenced in an answer to the original Q shared by BryanK above. No idea on whether it works today or not, but it's worth a mention.
    – zcoop98
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 19:04
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    Another possible option is to use Kramdown's syntax for footnotes, which I personally like a lot. Unfortunately, CommonMark doesn't seem to support this yet.
    – hkotsubo
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 19:08
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    As I see it, the previous related questions were asking for the citations to be automatically generated from an external source, sometimes with links. While the links would be nice - and perhaps the Wikipedia format/implementation for what amounts to this functionality might be worth looking at - I don't see this request as asking for the linking functionality, just the generation of the footnote, as in the example that was edited in. Commented May 21, 2021 at 19:15
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    @hkotsubo There are extensions for CommonMark that adds the exact same thing from Kramdown (and many other Markdown flavors) Commented May 22, 2021 at 3:40
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    This citation style with superscript footnotes is extremely unusual in fields I am familiar with (mathematics, computer science). How would the citation feature cater for different citation styles? Commented May 22, 2021 at 6:27
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    @Trish But Emil's concern is that using a number linked to a footnote is not common in a lot of academic writing. Much formal citing is done in MLA or APA, which has inline citations like (Name, Year) and sorts the references section by name and year as well. A system entirely built around numbers would confuse some people or be of no use to them. And what happens if you need to use the same citation twice?
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented May 23, 2021 at 14:56

1 Answer 1


Which of the myriad of citation styles shall we implement?

You suggest superscript with footnotes - love it for Law SE, it's very close to OSCOLA (which, of course, has its own national variations); hate it for English and all the other language sites - they have to use MLA obviously.

History SE has to use Chicago A, Personal Finance has to use Harvard, Education has to use APA and Electrical Engineering has to use IEEE. You get the idea.

Unless we can get a consensus on the right way to cite (which has eluded academia for 500 years) we would have to implement all of them. This can be done, but its a complete business model distinct from Stack Exchange's.

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    Even though a different or customizable implementation for each site might be a nice bonus, I think any of the sites would settle for any style given that currently there is no implementation at all and references need to be formatted manually.
    – Marijn
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 6:39
  • Usually individual academic journals have a house style, similarly each stack site might have it's own house style. There are libraries that can format citations in almost any imaginable style (see for instance github.com/jgm/citeproc). Also there is a specification for citation styles: docs.citationstyles.org/en/stable/specification.html. Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 7:23
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    As suggested, I just want a tool that allows to format with footnotes - style is all manual.
    – Trish
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 7:35
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    “Unless we can get a consensus on the right way to cite we would have to implement all of them” — That’s clearly not true though: journals decide which citation style publications have to use. Stack Exchange could(/should) do the same (though given the prevalence of vastly different styles for different domains, it would almost certainly make sense to decide this on a per-site basis). Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 11:02
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    @Trish the point is that by using numerical, superscript footnotes you are already imposing a particular style, regardless of how the text of the reference is formatted. Other people might prefer inline non-superscript numerical like see also [1] or author-year like as shown by Smith (2010), which is not (trivially) possible with your proposal. However, as I said above I think most people would be happy with the implementation of this feature in any shape or form.
    – Marijn
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 11:49

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