Should answers, which allegedly lack references be "decorated" with following header?

citation needed This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this answer by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be down-voted or removed.

8 Answers 8


No, that's what comments are for.

  • "Decorating" fails it's basic purpose of notifying answer's author, as edits are not included in the notification systems;
  • "Decorating" is very intrusive, and with current wording last sentence sounds as a threat. Some authors will find it offensive;
  • "Decorating" diverges from standard SE practices, where comments are used to notify authors;
  • Comments are designed for these cases, comments on authors' posts are included in their notification system.
  • 1
    there is one place we do this, sort of, which is by inserting duplicate links into the body of a Q when it is closed as a duplicate. But generally I agree with you: I don't like the "solution" proposed in your question. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 10:16
  • @Jeff: btw. it's not proposed, it's the current practice here. See for example: skeptics.stackexchange.com/revisions/4944/2
    – vartec
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 10:39
  • must be pretty new then because when I searched.. skeptics.stackexchange.com/… Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 10:53
  • @Jeff: 3-4 days I think. Won't get many in the search, as these answer also are downvoted into oblivion, and eventually get deleted. Oldest one I could find is 2 days old. skeptics.stackexchange.com/revisions/4866/4
    – vartec
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 11:03
  • per sklivvz response, if the policy is "try comments first", then it's less of a problem IMHO. So long as the policy is honored.. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 11:05
  • 1
    For the record, while I became moderator yesterday, I didn't bring this idea with me. The first case I saw of this mark was an edit by a StackExchange community co-ordinator yesterday, in a case where repeated comments feedback had not helped. The Skeptics.SE moderators saw that approach and have been experimenting with it.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 12:07
  • 1
    “‘Decorating’ is very intrusive” – this is precisely why I like it: the comment is for notifying the author of the answer; the banner is for the benefit of the rest of the world, notably “newbies” who read the answer and upvote without realising that it’s unsubstantiated. Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 15:18

I STRONGLY dislike this practice. Seeing this canker sore on a post ...

this is seriously lame

... honestly makes me ashamed to be associated with this site.

I understand what the concern is, and I am sympathetic, but

  • comments should be sufficient for now to explain why the answer needs updating. This is quite literally WHAT COMMENTS ARE FOR.

  • this is abusive of editing privileges, because it does not IMPROVE the post, which is the entire POINT of editing. Even more so since it's being paired with an inexplicable conversion to community wiki and even worse, performed by moderators, which blesses such activities in the eyes of users.

  • if the answer needs work, use editing to whip it into shape as an answer -- not by adding crazy, passive-aggressive little notes at the top.

  • if it's really bad, just have the guts to delete it entirely! I support this!

This is absolutely not the way forward. These "messages" are an abuse of editing privileges, and are causing material harm to the experience of this site.

edit: these messages have been removed. Again, I UNDERSTAND WHAT THE PROBLEM IS, but this technique is absolutely not the way to accomplish that goal. It sets a terrible example for the community in that it demonstrates using editing to insert moderator editorial metadata about the post.

If you'd like to open a to request the ability to add moderator metadata on a post, including some kind of announcement, that is absolutely fine.

edit: this is now complete!

  • The network-wide policy as I understand it is that bad answers should not be deleted by mods, only non-answers should be deleted. Can I interpret your post that uncited answers on this site can be considered non-answers and, if not improved after a certain time (on a scale of days), can (and should) be deleted by high-rep users and mods?
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 12:39
  • 1
    possibly, if you feel their very existence is actively counter to the charter of the site. I know there are some embarrassingly bad answers out there, so I would limit deletion to, say, the worst and most unsalvageable 25% of these "needs improvement" answsers. For the rest, the voting and comments should explain the situation for now. Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 12:42
  • 1
    The feature-request was written a long time ago: meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/594/…
    – Borror0
    Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 15:21
  • fine, I migrated that to meta.so -- it's an engine level change that would affect multiple sites. I can support such a feature, but we're in the middle of a few things at the moment, so 6-8 weeks. @bor in the meantime, use the tools available to you: downvotes and comments. Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 21:17
  • 1
    Answers that are wrong on Skeptics may be dangerously misleading. Most of the times, downvotes take care of this. Some of the time, for whatever reason, they don’t. The “canker sore” is there to warn unsuspecting users against a highly voted, potentially very wrong answer that may carry dangerous advice. While the banner feature request is still pending, this is the next best solution. Why? Because new users don’t read the comments. So comments really are insufficient. That said, I understand your qualms about the current practice (to an extent). This is a complicated trade-off. Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 11:35

Moderators now have the ability to add "notices" on posts, like the post above ...

You can see a list of posts that have notices at the annotated posts route

If you want a notice added flag it for mod attention.

If we need any new notice types please raise it on the main meta site.

  • I would have much preferred the notice above the actual answer/question. At the moment it’s much to easy to overlook. In fact, I loaded this page three times before seeing the notice, even though I was explicitly looking for it (since I’d read your answer saying that it had the notice added). Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 20:25
  • Ugh, I need to go further. This is badly implemented. Sorry. Due to the squiggly line and the fact that the notice is below the comments there is no visual connection between the notice and the answer. The visual should make it immediately clear what the notice belongs to. At the moment, it doesn’t. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 10:27
  • @KonradRudolph can you raise a main meta topic on this, I am open to tweaking stuff if there is enough support for it, would you argue that "this post was closed" should be on top ? "this post is locked" should be on top? "this post is protected" should be on top? "this post has a bounty" should be on top? Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 11:03
  • I’ll raise it there as soon as I find time. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 12:59


If citation is needed, the need shall be explained at the concrete example. A citation-smilie will be too simple to add without further thinking, and looks authoritative.

For more arguments see @vartecs good answer, mainly 'notification'.

Adding a 'citation needed'-decoration violates the edit-rules, which are:

How to Edit

► fix grammatical or spelling errors
► clarify meaning without changing it
► correct minor mistakes
► add related resources or links
► always respect the original author

The so-called decoration does none of these.

  • Sklivvz's answer proposes they be used well after (and not instead of) notifying the author.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 15:18
  • I agree with the first sentence though: a reply/example that's tailored to the situation would help the errant user learn to participate. This could (should) be as well later boilerplate if the fault remains uncorrected.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 16:36
  • I fear, after a period of self discipline, the mark would get more and more common, and less and less care would be taken, to stick to the guidelines. Citation is already threatened as a kind of fetish. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 16:57
  • @use WRT to your comment: Moderators don't go around deleting stuff and banning users, even if there are no safegurads. You are arguing against a non-existent problem. The fact that we monitor quality on the site and try to steer the site in a particular, community-endorsed, direction should be an example on how we strive to serve the community, not how we sit back in a lounge, drunken with power... ;-)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 22:08
  • @Skl: Since when? Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 0:13
  • @use Since when, what? :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 7:42
  • Since when stopped the moderators going around to delete stuff? ;) Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 9:35


  • Comments can lead to endless (and pointless) discussions. As a moderator I don't want to rehash the same arguments over and over (and mostly with the same few people).

  • What realistic alternative do we have for answers which don't abide by our standard: would it be preferable to simply delete unreferenced answers? I don't think so.

  • We always like to say we are similar to Wikipedia. Wikipedia has a [citation needed] banner and links. Why should we not?

  • Regarding the policies on the other SE sites, I wouldn't really compare: because the other SE sites don't have a 'references' policy and therefore don't have our problem in this respect.

  • It's not "current policy". We resort to that in the worst cases: we use it to call on the community for help when it seems that the OP is not going to fix their own broken window.

In other words I propose:

  • When there is a hope that the OP will add references, use a comment
  • If there is any extended discussion in the comments about the necessity of references or about our policies, escalate to a banner
  • If there is any refusal by the author to fix the question, escalate to a banner
  • If it is self-evident that the author is not interested in fixing his answer (e.g. no fix or comment in 2 days, the answer itself says "I can't be bothered" in the body, pointless repeated asking for more and more details on what should be referenced, trolling behaviours...), use a banner straight away

Related questions and answers:

  • 3
    as long as comments are used FIRST -- and I feel very strongly about that -- then I don't have issue with this. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 11:05
  • @vartec there is the pro forma comments script which makes this easier stackapps.com/questions/2116/pro-forma-comments Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 11:11
  • @JeffAtwood, can you please elaborate why you feel strongly about that?
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 11:32
  • 3
    @odd pretty much for all the reasons listed in vartec's answer. Just read that. (although I don't agree with point #2, it doesn't sound like a threat, the rest are all quite valid) Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 11:39
  • Another way to cut short any 'discussion' could be to link to Every answer must have one or more references; and to say that if they want any further discussion or explanations then to do that on meta and/or on chat.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 14:01
  • 1
    @Jeff: some will not perceive that as threat, some will. I really feel that positive feedback is always more likely to achieve it's goal, than negative one. So I'd replace part "Unsourced material may be down-voted or removed." with a link to meta-faq question explaining why it's important.
    – vartec
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 14:57
  • 1
    Honestly I think the banner is fine. It's easier for new users to see rather than a comment, so they will be able to see what is a good answer or not before they start answering themselves. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 16:18
  • @ChrisW: believe me, most users don't come to chat... we've tried it.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 22:13
  • That's part of why I suggested it: when you personally wouldn't mind ending the conversation, your telling people to 'take it outside' may be a polite way of persuading some users to stop.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 3:30
  • After now seeing it take root, I am opposed to this practice. meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/958/… Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 10:07

Aesthetically, I really dislike the nasty image. The [citation needed] bit is a cute in-joke, but it doesn't actually add anything useful here. If you really want it, just use:

[citation needed] This post does not cite any references or sources.

<sup>[citation needed]</sup> **This post does not cite any references or sources.**

As for its actual use, if we go so far as to edit a banner into an answer and essentially write it off as a bad answer, why not just delete the entire answer? Furthermore, I strongly suggest that only moderators have the authority to add these banners in.

  • 1
    better still, request a facility for adding proper metadata to a post without editing it in this bizarre and counterproductive way. See my answer here for the rationale. Commented Aug 14, 2011 at 12:16

The banner's boilerplate text should or must include a hyperlink to a relevant/helpful/informative FAQ page.

  • This might help to mitigate @vartec's concern that "Decorating is very intrusive, and with current wording last sentence sounds as a threat. Some authors will find it offensive"
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 15:05

Considering the discussions here and here my own preference would be that it be used, not as a header to decorate the entire answer, but more specifically within the message: at/flagging the sentence which best represents the specific claim or assertion for which you demand a reference (and if there is no such sentence then it's not an answer at all).

With that proviso, and given that it's been established (Link and Link) by a moderator (who is, by being a moderator with a definite viewpoint, therefore authoritative) that references are always required, therefore I agree with Sklivvz's answer which calls for the use of some decorative banners in some circumstances to avoid (and/or to advertise) the 'broken windows'.

IMO, using the banner would help to advertise the forum's (unique within StackExchange) policy/requirement, not only to the person who posted the 'broken' question but also to all other users (including to new users).

  • I like this idea, although I think it would be practically difficult to do. Another thing that banners are useful for, is for quickly getting a list of the tagged questions via a search for review.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 22:10
  • surprisingly, tags are better for tagging.
    – vartec
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 23:13
  • @vartec There's no apparent UI for tagging answers.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 2:36
  • @Chris: true, but than again, search results are questions, not answers.
    – vartec
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 7:50
  • We discussed this partially here and especially here. The community does not support the use of tags in this manner because they would be meta-tags (hence to be avoided).
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 17:59

You must log in to answer this question.

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