This is simply a proposal for discussion. The problem I'm trying to solve is the following. Many new users simply post without reading our site first and familiarizing with our rules. The consequence of that is that a lot of the "first posts" are unreferenced.

At the moment, what happens it that someone in the community, user or moderator, will engage the user and try to convince them to add references to reputable resources, and possibly add the "unreferenced" banner or delete the answer in some specific cases.

The problems with this are multiple:

  1. it is tedious - most of the comments/post notices do not have any follow up.
  2. as the site scales, we will possibly miss some answers, so some new users will not be contacted and the quality will decrease.
  3. the current way of contacting is personal. Many users think they are being contacted because the answer is incorrect. This leads to some people feeling personally targeted when they are merely contacted for objective reasons.

This is an alternative proposal:

  1. Users are allowed to post answers without links, but those answers get an "unreferenced" banner. It should be clear that this is done impartially by a tool.

  2. The very large majority of answers without links will be unreferenced, but it's possible that in some cases there can be a reference without a link. The answer is flagged for review by the community or mods that handle the exceptions. Also, the community can add a personal welcome if they feel is necessary.

  3. Optionally, all bannered answers will go through a review queue (on bannering and on edit post-bannering) where users can handle the posts appropriately:

    • remove the banner as a new privilege (10k?)
    • edit to add references
    • vote to delete or flag for the mods to delete as abandoned.

What do you think?

4 Answers 4


Personal contact might be more effective: less alienating, more explanatory - criticism, but constructive criticism.

Personal contact (interaction with peers) is a reason why people post on the site.

Personal contact lets you:

  • Explain why a reference is necessary

  • Hint at what sort of reference, or reference to what sort of fact, you want to see, for this specific answer

Here is an example of a first-time poster who was motivated to improve their initially unreferenced answer, and who was motivated by personal contact.

He's a valued member of another forum. Do you not want to welcome him personally, introduce him to this site?

On the other hand, perhaps you find it "tedious" to interact with new users "as the site scales", and you don't want to do it "personally".

I think that the Help is a mess, the FAQ is a mess (not easy for new users to read, difficult for casual or first-time users to study adequately, especially if they're simply dropping in because of the "Hot Topics" list).

The "rules" of this site, such as they are, exist to please the community. Therefore hopefully there's someone in the community who will read the post, and care about it, and comment personally (for the OP) and/or flag it (for the moderator).

I once read something to the effect of,

"Some organizations put their junior employees into sales or customer service, with senior employees as managers. If you go to a old-fashioned gentleman's clothing store, for example, the most senior staff are on the (sales) floor and the junior staff are in the back office. They would never trust anything so precious/valuable as a customer to the junior staff."

It seems to me that you want new users to be greeted, not by a community member but by a bot.

My exaggerated fantasy is that the user experience would be something like,

  • User posts an answer
  • User sees an automated message which says, "I find your lack of references disturbing!"
  • User's answer is deleted by remote-control (without personal contact)
  • 2
    The "ideal" personal contact is much more effective. In some cases. In practice, when users feel personally contacted, they also take offense "personally". Much less so when the answers are marked by a tool (thus, impartially). Also - the review would add the personal touch, optionally.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 0:12
  • I've slightly adapted the proposal to make it more clear.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 0:15
  • @Sklivvz I added to my answer in case that helps to clarify it.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 18:13
  • Ok, but nobody is suggesting that stuff gets deleted without a personal contact.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 14:05

One of the abilities Stack Exchange has as a platform is to raise informational banners for a given set of criteria, right? Similarly, we could probably do the check for links and pop up the informational banner then of "You have no links indicating references for your answer. We require references for answers here. If you have non-link references present, feel free to ignore this message."

  • I am not sure what you mean by informational banners
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 19:54
  • @Sklivvz If I type in a question on Stack Overflow with text of "What is the best software out there?" (obviously contrived example), I get a little banner to the right of it saying "The question you are asking appears subjective and is likely to be closed." That's what I'm referring to. I'm pretty sure I've seen it in other contexts as well. Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 20:04

The better way to solve this in my opinion would be to enable the community to add and remove post notices themselves instead of relying on us diamond moderators. I have proposed a review queue for post notices already a while ago, and a similar queue for addition of post notices is the way I would solve this issue.

What we could do automatically would be to warn users that try to submit an answer without any link. This would help to educate new users on the different expectation we have here.

The wording of the notice could be improved as well, and a link to a deeper explanation might be useful there, too.

  • Nice, but the queue is mostly for removal -- my proposal is for addition; I see the two points as complementary not as alternatives.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 14:07
  • @Sklivvz The queue should do both, the post notices are frequent enough on this site that the community has to be able to add and remove them, moderators don't scale infinitely.(I didn't remember that I made the feature request only for removal)
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 14:14
  • It's not clear to me how posts without notices would end up in that queue, via flagging?
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 14:21
  • @Sklivvz That seems to be the most straighforward solution. And then let 3k+ users or so decide on whether to add the notice or not
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 14:24
  • 1
    Then what I'm proposing is an auto flag :-D
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 15:05

Um, believe it or not, there are categories of fact that exist outside the internet.

Not every biblical manuscript is digitized, for example. There are questions about Christianity that must be answered by directing to dead-tree sources. That would still answer a skeptic's question.

Likewise, there are categories of information that are general reference. If one wanted to advance the claim that Isaac Newton's genius was directly related to his survival of the Black Death, one can simply point out that Newton lived in the late 1600s, and the famous Black Death was 1347 - 1350. Both of these claims are general reference, and need not be cited. (Indeed, Newton did have to go into hiding during an outbreak of plague - but it was not the Black Death of the 14th Century!)

Thus, the fact that some questions can be answered without requiring a link tells me that the solution is not 100%.

  • I know that, but that is a very uncommon case. We probably have one or two cases like that.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 9:32

You must log in to answer this question.

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