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.

As I am from a Psychology background I tend to use APA (American Psychological Association) style referencing as that is the preferred style in Psychology.SE (although any clear citation is acceptable). Strangely I was once, while training, required to use the Harvard style, so I am not unfamiliar with changing referencing style to suit requirements.

I am aware that some here may prefer the AMA (American Medical Association) style and some may be more familiar with MLA (Modern Language Association).

As a bolt on to Quality of References, while any clear referencing style may be satisfactory, is there a preferred referencing style to be used here?

  • 4
    Honestly, I'm happy when anyone provides a reference in any format. I think setting a preferred format isn't feasible for this site.
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Dec 31, 2021 at 4:40

1 Answer 1


I think citations based on government databases are a reasonable balance between access to the cited paper and potentially time-consuming requests for a fully formatted bibliography.

Publications Indexed in PubMed

One approach I find well received in my communications with colleagues is the following:

Clustal W is one such alignment algorithm (Thompson et al 1994. PMID 7984417).

Alternatively, if an open access copy of the manuscript is available from a government website, that may be preferred:

Clustal W is one such alignment algorithm (Thompson et al 1994. PMCID 308517).

The hyperlink on the identifier can link directly to the record at NCBI. While somewhat US-centric, PubMed is the de facto standard for biomedical literature. I am hopeful that PubMed will outlast Stack Exchange (although, really, nothing is certain). I have not heard of government firewalls blocking access to PubMed, but if this turns out to be a problem, I might rethink my position.

This style has a number of possible benefits:

  1. It is short and easy to put together.
  2. Providing the year directly in the citation provides useful context on how the citation fits into history.
  3. In comparison to a DOI which will resolve to a journal publisher's website, the PubMed page provides the abstract and any open access links which may be generated in the future.
  4. The author and year, along with the context of the citation, is sometimes enough to find the reference even if the ID were to somehow become invalid.
  5. The ID number is short enough to be reasonably transcribed from paper into a search engine and will nearly always find the paper as the first result.

Publications Not Indexed in PubMed

Admittedly, not all useful sources are indexed in PubMed. Given the increasing importance of pre-print servers, the repository along with the DOI might be reasonable.

Booster doses of the Moderna vaccine were found to increase neutralizing antibody levels (Doria-Rose et al 2021. MedRxiv 10.1101/2021.12.15.21267805).

For other types of sources, the poster will unfortunately need to rely on more free-form citation styles.

No Bibliography Required

In my opinion, a bibliography at the end of the post is not necessary. It clutters up the post and provides minimal information beyond the information conveyed above. The additional authors are of very minimal value on a general interest site like this; it's not like you are going to know these people. One might argue the journal provides some information, but we are all aware of problems associated with big name journals.

  • I like that compromised approach. At least the information is still available when printed Mar 1, 2022 at 7:11
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    One part I will definitely disagree with here is where you said "The author and year, along with the context of the citation, is usually enough to find the reference even if the ID were to somehow become invalid." While PubMed IDs and DOI links very rarely become invalid, just providing an author et al and year is not sufficient to find a specific source. I have lost count on the times I have tried doing that after seeing a quoted section of text and no full source references to find I need to read many search hits to find the relevant source. Mar 1, 2022 at 7:20
  • That is a fair point, I've edited to soften the language.
    – Ian Campbell Mod
    Mar 1, 2022 at 15:10

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