In a field like Health, references are obviously critical. That's not to say they should be necessary in every question (see here for that debate), but the hyperlink 'click here' format in the last sentence is overly obtrusive and isn't consistent with the commonly used medical format.

References should be there when you want them but not distract from the content of the material, and there are ways of achieving this.1 Should this format or a similar one be added to the Health SE standard, with an easy markup method and button in the bar which appears above the question input:

enter image description here

  • 1
    I don't think this sort of thing would be implemented on a beta site without being network-wide. See also Markdown footnotes? (status-declined) on meta.SE.
    – Susan
    Apr 6, 2015 at 2:05
  • Would you say health.stackexchange.com/questions/312/… is bad? I think just linking to the site is enough, and an official, harvard reference is just going to far.
    – Tim
    Apr 6, 2015 at 10:04
  • 1
    My own related feature request on Meta SE: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/116397/…
    – user10
    Apr 16, 2015 at 10:40
  • 1
    @MadScientist thanks for confirming that this is something people want network-wide; that feature request has 95 upvotes. Apr 16, 2015 at 17:43
  • @MadScientist Now it has 105! This problem has been one of the two main reasons why I haven't contributed here. Now that I'm more comfortable with what good sources are, I need to learn how to format citations. I think this problem affects a lot of people, and high-quality participation will increase as an outcome of this discussion! May 25, 2015 at 0:36

6 Answers 6


It is possible to use the following format :

Lorem ipsum reference [1]

by typing:

Reference [[1]]

[1]: http://www.test.com

We should help users find the "how to cite papers", but I do not think a specific UI button is needed for this.

  • Thanks for the suggestion. How to put the number in superscript? (show it smaller and higher than normal text)
    – Attilio
    Apr 1, 2015 at 13:36
  • 1
    I think it uses a <sup> tag, but I don't think we should encourage it. It makes it difficult to target the links in my opinion.
    – M'vy
    Apr 1, 2015 at 13:39
  • In the example above, the references were written in the form [<sup>1</sup>][1] with [1]: http://www.example.com at the bottom, but this is a rather awkward way of writing it out, one of the big reasons for the proposal. I like how it looks in the final post, but the process of getting there is likely too awkward to be encouraged. Ideally, this format would be added to the markup natively, like ^[1] with [1]: http://www.example.com at the bottom. Also, the references at the bottom shouldn't be hidden from the final answer Apr 1, 2015 at 18:33
  • I disagree. I don't like the [] around the number, and I think you should show the text of what you are linking to. There are 2 ways of doing hyperlinks in markdown, and SE has no control over another way (as far as I know). I think the link should be [Name of Page][1] and then [1]: link.
    – Tim
    Apr 6, 2015 at 10:06
  • 1
    @Tim other SE sites have introduced "additions" beyond standard markdown. For example, spoilers, marked as >! Soylent Green is people. This is used in Puzzling SE as a way of answering the solutions to riddles, without giving them away on first glance. Beyond simple hyperlinks, a 'references' addition would be extremely useful both to Health SE and to SE in general, as references would be useful in just about any answer. Apr 16, 2015 at 4:24
  • @TheEnvironmentalist I think all sites have spoilers...
    – Tim
    Apr 16, 2015 at 10:10
  • @TheEnvironmentalist See: health.stackexchange.com/editing-help#spoilers
    – Tim
    Apr 16, 2015 at 10:28
  • As someone who often access the site solely through mobile/proxy devices, I find myself struggling to use more than [text I want to link](site.com). Pubmed as an example. Are we saying we want more than this here? I know I can site more completely, but that's is going to make me more hesitant to answer.
    – Atl LED
    Jun 1, 2015 at 3:01
  • @TheEnvironmentalist Here by the way is a creative use of spoiler tags that was proposed in Bio. In essence, use them to cover medical photos that some might find disturbing. It's probably more relevant here.
    – Atl LED
    Jun 1, 2015 at 3:07

I have mixed feelings about this proposal. Sometimes talking about the reference can provide context for why it's trustworthy, such as in this answer I wrote on Pets.SE.

This context isn't really necessary in a conversation among medical professionals (who all know what a trustworthy source in their field is), but for a mixed site like this, context can help differentiate an answer written from scientific sources from one that just repeats old medical folklore.

  • 1
    +1 for "context can help differentiate an answer written from scientific sources from one that just repeats old medical folklore". Apr 4, 2015 at 13:19
  • +1 for good example of reference link and textual citation Apr 5, 2015 at 1:38
  • 1
    If this was standard behavior, with an easy way to add proper references, I think it would encourage people to include more references, for better differentiation of science from folklore as you put it. Using pure hyperlinks requires users to change their sentences around to include link text, and often shows less context. For example, instead of saying Higher body temperatures aid in fighting infections with a neat superscript number afterward, most users would say something like Higher body temperatures aid in fighting infections, according to this source. Apr 16, 2015 at 4:31

I think that any way of doing links is fine as long as you have them in there, but I thought it'd be okay to show how I do it, in case anyone is struggling with another format.

What I do is put <sup>[1]</sup> in my answer where it is relevant, so it will show up like this1. Then under my answer, I will use footnotes and tell the number of the reference and the name of its page, like this <sup>[1: Example][1]</sup>. Which will show up like this: 1: Example. If I am citing a reference that I didn't directly cite in my answer, I will just use the second half of my referencing style: <sup>[Example][1]</sup>, which will show up like this: Example.

I have now created a userscript to do this. Check it out.

  • It says "apps extensions cannot be added from this website".
    – Pacerier
    Jun 4, 2015 at 5:59
  • @Pacerier: The script should begin to download anyway
    – michaelpri
    Jun 4, 2015 at 11:15

What if the link dies? On Stack Overflow, 10% of the links posted here are dead.

I think it is better have the 1 points to a full reference at the bottom of the answer like:

Byers, Tim, et al. "American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity." CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 52.2 (2002): 92-119

  • Absolutely, but this isn't native behavior at the moment. It requires technical markdown manipulation, which isn't an option for most users. I'd like to see references in the superscript format be a reference to the resource online, or if not available online (or only available through paid sources) a reference in, say, MLA or APA, with the MLA/APA reference showing up at the bottom of the answer natively, rather than being hidden as in current Health SE behavior Apr 1, 2015 at 18:37
  • I think this is getting ott, especially as most links are going to be to sites, not articles like this.
    – Tim
    Apr 6, 2015 at 10:07
  • @Franck, The link won't die. Backup the link with web.archive.org and archive.is.
    – Pacerier
    Jun 4, 2015 at 5:30
  • @Pacerier Not all the web is saved there. Jun 4, 2015 at 5:36
  • @FranckDernoncourt, I mean we can manually put it up at any time. There's the option to do so in both web.archive.org and archive.is.
    – Pacerier
    Jun 4, 2015 at 5:58
  • @Pacerier Got it, good point. Jun 4, 2015 at 6:23
  • This is an argument to use the DOI link when ever possible as well...
    – Atl LED
    Aug 24, 2015 at 3:11
  • @AtlLED or doai.io Apr 27, 2016 at 16:36

@Michaelpri has made a userscript specific for this:

Stack Exchange References

enter image description here

  • This involves downloading and installing something to enable this doesn't it? I prefer to use what is made available through SE without anything having to be downloaded and installed. Mar 27, 2018 at 13:50
  • @Chris yes, but why do you not prefer it?
    – Ooker
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:15

This question was posed in Psychology.SE Meta and I followed the accepted answer with another question about referencing formats (APA as opposed to others).

Referencing styles (using superscript numbers or other inline citations) are down to personal preference in my view. The main point to me is that the reference list needs to be clear.

I think that as long as the reference contains the Author (or movie director) and the year of publication at the front, any referencing format is suitable as long as it contains all the information needed to find the article, book etc. This way, the reference will be easier to pick out, especially when there are multiple references containing the same leading author.

With the fact that formats such as MLA, Chicago, Vancouver and IEEE are very different, MLA, Chicago and Vancouver formats can be very hard to pick out when looking for specific references in comparison to Harvard and APA.

If following a similar format to IEEE, for example

[1] J. U. Duncombe, "Infrared navigation - Part I: An assessment of feasability," IEEE Trans. Electron. Devices, vol. ED-11, pp. 34-39, Jan. 1959.

even though the [1] will be within the main body of the posting with or without a <sup>), the author and year of publication should still be at the front changing the IEEE reference above to

[1] J. U. Duncombe (1959) "Infrared navigation - Part I: An assessment of feasability," IEEE Trans. Electron. Devices, vol. ED-11, pp. 34-39

This way, because author and year is together, the reference will be more easily picked out in the list.

Be careful with this formatting though

As you will see if you was to click edit at the bottom of this answer, you will have to "escape" the square bracket at the beginning if you have links within the posting which are not inline links i.e. you would need to type \[1] instead of [1]

I would suggest that if using this format, you should always escape the first square bracket to prevent issues.

********Providing Links********

As pointed out by @FranckDernoncourt within the answers here, there is an inherent problem with answers on the site having links which go dead because either the page was moved or it was deleted by the website owner.

Where a link is provided, where possible, rather than a direct link to the article, it is preferable to provide one or more of the following:

for example

Lewis M. J. & Phillips J. E. (2012). Older people's cardiac responses as indicators of stress in familiar and unfamiliar environments. Psychophysiology, 49(4): pp. 478-483
DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2011.01321.x PMID: 22176515

with the link for DOI number 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2011.01321.x becoming https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8986.2011.01321.x

PMCIDs, PMIDs and DOIs are generally updated if the website owner moves the document within their website.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .