I see many question with "my book says that ..." expression, and no reference is provided, which makes it harder to pinpoint the problem.

Probably an idea of proper quotation and citing should be delivered to a user prior to the posting of question, maybe in a right vertical toolbar next to the markdown editor or something.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ We use ACS style $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jul 15 '17 at 17:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @orthocresol My bad, I failed to find this post. Should I delete my question? $\endgroup$ – andselisk Jul 15 '17 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ There's still the second part, which I suspect has been discussed somewhere on meta before, but a little busy now $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jul 15 '17 at 17:13
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ And with 'we use ACS style' we mean that most of us prefer it. As long as the source is attributed correctly, citations are fine in any way. On the second part I'm not sure it has been discussed before, but it's certainly worth while having it now. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Jul 15 '17 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ @andselisk No, don't delete it. It can be used as a signpost. $\endgroup$ – Pritt Balagopal Jul 16 '17 at 10:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for more thoroughly insisting on citations. It helps find content (the amount of crap nonsense from Klein Organic Chemistry...) and generally people deserve to be attributed for the content they create. Other sites on the network are far more on the ball with this, and a few even have close reasons for work that isn't sufficiently backed up by evidence. $\endgroup$ – NotEvans. Jul 16 '17 at 20:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NotEvans. Not backing up your answer with evidence and not properly attributing sources are two, equally as awful, different shoes. The first one warrants a down-vote (at the very least), the latter should probably by flagged to moderator attention. (It is also no secret, that I want to close homework that does not attribute the source of the exercise, but we never got that far to even suggest that.) $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Jul 18 '17 at 3:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Well the idea of citing sources properly has been thrown around, many times, but I guess it has never been seriously discussed and it has never really led to anything. So my initial hasty assessment that "it has been discussed before" is not entirely correct. I suppose it is not possible to have a popup telling the user to cite their sources, but it is possible to (1) make it policy that people cite stuff; (2) edit the help centre so as to provide guidance to this end. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jul 18 '17 at 13:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ But for what it's worth, you might want to edit out the first part of this question, since (1) it's been answered before and (2) probably good idea to focus on one issue at a time. Then we can discuss the citation issue more thoroughly (it probably deserves it). $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jul 18 '17 at 13:59

Proposal: Make it a requirement to cite sources/material, with uncited questions put [on-hold] until such a time as content is attributed to the correct source (possible addition of a custom close reason?)

The need for correct attribution of material is well established in the academic community:

whether quoting, paraphrasing, or using others' ideas to advance their own arguments, authors should give explicit credit to the source of those words or ideas. This credit often takes the form of a formal citation

Source: The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.)

Whilst not an academic site, there would be benefits to Chem.SE adopting a more rigorous approach to the attribution of material.

I actually suspect that theres a lot of consensus (in principle) for the idea of higher standards here (at least amongst regular users), which would make the question: what is an appropriate level of citation?


Many questions here ask about problems encountered in a specific textbook/online resource. These questions should include citation to the original source, especially where sections of text/figures are inserted verbatim. The addition of citations would:

  1. Allow easier searching of Chem.SE for issues/questions relating to a particular resource. To give a concrete example, I often see many questions relating to a particular crap organic chemistry textbook that is popular in the USA. Screenshots of material form this book are often inserted into questions without citation. If the material was attributed correctly, it would be possible to run a search for [organic-chemistry] is:question Klein and find all of these questions in one hit. This would benefit people studying from that book (an informal errata/study guide), but could also help find duplicates

  2. Provide context to allow other users to go back to the original source and read what else had been said relating to a given topic. Often, the answer to the question posed was given a couple of pages previously and the person asking the question simply hasn’t bothered to read enough of their book

  3. Helps with cleanup. One of the big pains with these photo style questions is that the photos are of a terrible quality. If the material was appropriately cited it would make it far easier to edit questions with better reproductions (or even if someone wanted to edit to type out the question for accessibility purposes. I think Melanie has been keen on doing this).

Overall, the proposal for questions is that we start putting questions on hold that simply don’t make any effort to attribute where the material has came from. In all likelihood, this will fall on deaf ears (as it does when you ask people to edit questions to include their attempt), but it could help raise the bar of questions generally.


As Martin pointed out in the comments above, answers are possibly a bit different. Whilst I maintain (as previously) that screenshots/passages of text must be attributed (and actually, I propose we also get tougher on this, flagging answers that blatantly plagiarise books/journals without citation), the question of when to cite general concepts becomes more of a grey area.

Overall, I don’t think we necessarily need to enforce citations for answers (other than for the material discussed above) unless the concept is particularly unusual/controversial. It makes no point to start quoting random textbooks for comments like the SN2 reaction is stereospecific, this is common knowledge, and any one of 100000 places could be cited.

(That said, an old post was recently bumped in which an answer stated was probably studied in a gas phase, but I haven't seen papers supporting this. All the forms are probably present in the gas phase, but I don't know the exact distribution, this is truly awful, and if nothing else is just a pointless, pointless, answer)


The tl’dr version of the above is that I think it would massively benefit the community to toughen up on attribution of material. For questions, its barely an extra effort, and for answers, if people are forced to think about what they’re typing, the general bar of questions would be raised.

  • $\begingroup$ I really can't find where I might have implied that answers are different. I just said that unsubstantiated claims are different from missing or wrong attribution. Both are terrible, but only one of them needs more attention than a down-vote (the latter, in case you were wondering). $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Jul 20 '17 at 8:30

To be perfectly candid here, there should not even be a discussion about making it a requirement to cite your sources, that should be common sense. However, I think it is a good idea to actually enforce this, by putting questions on hold, and consequently deleting offending content.

As moderators we have always acted when we found plagiarism, most of the times by removing it and sometimes issuing suspensions. In this course I have often said that


is not an appropriate way of referencing. And whenever I can, I'll insert those real citations for the lazy. But there's only so much we can do, and if you don't flag we might not learn about repeat offenders.

While I grudgingly must agree with NotEvans. that we are not an academic site, - which is hard, because there are plenty of academics (and soon to be) around here, - the common standards of attributing what is not your own still apply (and check that you are allowed to use it).

As for homework exercises, the above should probably be incorporated into the policy, but I really do not want to touch that ever again.


You must log in to answer this question.

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