According to the current rules:

  • Links to external resources are encouraged, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.

I often see answers that do not contain any reference and even though the content is correct, I think that the use of referenced material is of great value especially for NNLs.

My points are:

  • NNLs and users in general don't actually know whom they are receiving an answer from, so the presence of accredited reference may help in supporting the content of an answer.

  • references can help NNLs become acquainted with dictionaries or other accredited sources they may be not familiar with or which they simply don't know how reliable they are.

  • I agree that the reputation points and the voting system can compensate for the "anonymity" of answers, but many are given by low rep users and, though perfectly correct, they may attract few if any upvotes at times, so I think that the presence of accredited reference would play an important role in giving credibility to answers.

Should, in that respect, the use of referenced material be "always" used when posting an answer?

  • 2
    Related discussion: meta.ell.stackexchange.com/q/1117
    – ColleenV
    Sep 27, 2016 at 11:17
  • We shouldn't be obligating references in answers unless we're sure that'd be a very great improvement to answer quality, like Skeptics did. And I'm pretty sure that references are useful, but whether learners can use them is questionable.
    – M.A.R.
    Sep 28, 2016 at 17:24
  • 1
    I'm wondering why you call this one of the "current rules." I think there is a difference between something that is a rule, and something that is encouraged. ELL needs encouraging members to encourage with encouraging comments, not self-appointed barrack-room lawyers committed to enforcing some set of perceived "rules".
    – J.R. Mod
    Sep 28, 2016 at 21:00
  • 1
    Of related interest at Meta.ELU.
    – choster
    Sep 29, 2016 at 14:21
  • @Mari-LouA - now I see them. thanks. Anyway I am really surprised, I expected that ELL to be more strict than ELU on the use of references in answers, but it appears it is not.
    – user5267
    Sep 30, 2016 at 8:16
  • I wouldn't have said ELL would be stricter than EL&U, it takes it to extremes sometimes, but definitely more encouraging in spirit.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 30, 2016 at 14:18

2 Answers 2


I think that you're right that citations are very helpful and should be included in most answers. However, we're a teaching site and that sometimes an explanation that is easy for a learner to understand is far more helpful than dictionary link.

Our top scored answer on the site is to the question How does the "Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop..." joke work?. What reference can you cite when explaining that? The second top rated answer is to the question Why "grand theft auto", not "grand auto theft"?. There isn't an English reference that supports the answers to that question, as far as I can tell. The third highest rated answer is to the question Is "I was had" standard English? and doesn't contain any citations, while a different answer does. The difference in the score is almost an order of magnitude, so citations alone aren't what make an answer useful. (not to disparage the other answer, which I think is also quite good after the revision).

I'm no expert in the mechanics of the language, but I've been around EL&U and ELL long enough to realize that there are credible references that contradict each other when it comes to certain "rules" and what some terms mean. Sometimes a reference just isn't as helpful as a person understanding why you're confused and explaining something to you.

All that said, I think answers to questions with my favorite tag should almost always have a reference and an example sentence. It really depends on the type of answer whether a reference is needed.

  • 1
    The examples you are showing are very interesting and the huge number of upvoted compensate for the lack of reference, (whichever the reason). But most answers don't get that many upvotes , generally very few if any. I am not suggesting 100% of answers should provide reference but I do think its use should be sort of "standard", not yust a useful option.
    – user5267
    Sep 27, 2016 at 12:16
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    @xxxxxx But what accredited reference would you cite in the examples I gave? The point of my examples wasn't so much that they have a lot of up-votes, just that they were deemed very useful by the community and it's difficult to find a reference to support them other than the expertise of the person answering the question.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 27, 2016 at 12:19
  • Take this recent example: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/104832/… - Two answers with same content. Only one has reference. If the no reference answer were the only one, would it be a good reliable standard answer for the site? or is the reference provided really "important" for a NNLs ?
    – user5267
    Sep 27, 2016 at 13:13
  • @xxxxxx I don't think we disagree that references are a good thing in an answer. If I'm understanding you correctly, you don't feel that answers that are well-supported are being appropriately rewarded by votes when compared to answers that aren't, is that right?
    – ColleenV
    Sep 27, 2016 at 13:22
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    No, it has nothinng to do with up or down votes, it has to do with recommended standard of behaviours as far as answers are conerned. If the no reference answer were the only one, would you, as a mod, recommmend the user to add reference to support their answer? or is the answer fine as it is?
    – user5267
    Sep 27, 2016 at 13:28
  • 3
    @xxxxxx Sure, I would encourage adding a reference as a community member. I would also encourage you to do more than copy and paste content from other places in your answer. As a moderator however, my role has changed a little bit and I'm not supposed to go around and police the quality of the content unless there's an issue that the community can't handle itself. If the community feels that citations are important, they can vote and comment accordingly.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 27, 2016 at 13:40

Should, in that respect, the use of referenced material be "always" used when posting an answer?

Absolutely not. One of the worst ideas I've seen proposed in some time. Not all good answers fit in a box.

References have their place. And you are correct to point out that they can make an answer more authoritative.

That said, I don't think there's a problem, and I don't think a step toward inflexibility is a step in the right direction.

  • 1
    Josh: If you don't want dissenting opinions, don't ask your question on meta. Cheers.
    – J.R. Mod
    Sep 28, 2016 at 21:25

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