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RationalMedia Foundation (RMF)

Here at RationalWiki, we like sources.[note 1] Sources are invaluable for backing up your claims and showing that they are not bogus (as opposed to some others who can't). The more sources, the better. Showing your sources is relatively simple. They should be both accurate and accessible.


References are ridiculously easy to do.[1]

Adding a reference[edit]

You assert that: "All polar bears are left-handed." Why? "Because I said so."

To turn this into a reference, type:

All polar bears are left handed.<ref>[ Because I said so.]</ref>

Which becomes:

All polar bears are left handed.[2]

Adding a references section[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Help:Sections

Currently, that reference isn't showing up anywhere. To fix that, create a references section at the end of the page, as such:


To see this code in action, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Adding a note[edit]

Sometimes you need to explain something said in-article, but there's no relevant link to put in the reference. Instead, you can use a note as such:

Article text.<ref group=note>Note text.</ref>



To see an example, click on the note.[note 2]


References are used to guide a reader to your source for a particularly juicy fact or opinion. They are very important if you want to be taken seriously. While some references will be to books or journals, most commonly they will be links to websites so people can easily click onto them rather than having to locate the resource.[3] When making references, the manual of style has some pointers but generally so long as they are consistent throughout the article and easy to understand, it's all good.

Explanatory text versus references[edit]

Sometimes "references" are actually random afterthoughts.[4] These are good for adding slight asides or clarifications that don't work in the main text above. However, these should really be minimised; a good indicator is that if your reference or clarification is longer than the sentence, or even the entire paragraph that you're referencing or clarifying, integrate it into the article text instead. Another good indicator is that if the article contains more than about 5 references but clearly most of them aren't normal external links or citations, it may be time for a bit of a rewrite.

Bare URLs[edit]

It's bad practice to give a URL with no other information as a reference. The reason for this is that websites often move content around and it's useful to be able to find material that has moved. For this reason it's useful to include things like the title, author, and date for a newspaper article. This is usually sufficient to track down an article if it has moved. If citing a personal web page, it is more complex: it's quite common for smaller web pages to disappear entirely, and controversial articles or websites may be deleted, but giving as much information as possible may enable an archived version to be found elsewhere. You can also use an archiving service to back up a source that may disappear or be deleted. For citing academic papers, alternative schemes can be used in addition such as DOIs, but it's still useful to provide basic title/author/date/publication information.

For books, an ISBN number (International Standard Book NumberWikipedia) should be included when available. ISBNs were introduced in 1970 but sometimes occur in older books that have been reprinted. For journal articles, a DOI (Digital object identifierWikipedia) number should be included when available. ISBNs are not required for publication, so self-publishers sometimes do not include one. DOI numbers were introduced in 1970 and are used for a variety of information sources, but are most often found with publications in academic journals.

There are three related, important reasons for not using bare URLs:

  1. Having textual information in a reference allows the reader to quickly evaluate the likely quality of the reference based on authorship and publication information. It will help the reader to decide wither to click on the link and explore further.
  2. When a link becomes non-functional ('dead'), it is much harder to find a replacement reference because one does not have much of a clue as to what the reference was.
  3. If RationalWiki gets sued for libelous content on a page, finding non-functional links could be crucial for a legal defense. Also, finding may help to show that due diligence was performed in backing up claims or that the statements were not made with malice.

An additional reason to have textual references is that it increases the likelihood of someone finding the RationalWiki page via a search engine (because of having additional keywords), rather than finding a crank website that our page is criticizing.

What to do with unsourced statements[edit]

If you think someone put in an untrue fact that is unsourced, or a fact that is true and unsourced but could be sourced, add the template[5] {{fact}}. This will automatically create the following notation, with a link to this page: [citation needed]. It also puts it into the category of articles with unsourced statements. The original author should then "put up or shut up". Otherwise other diligent editors will then ignore the article as being a bunch of made-up lies hopefully look for ways to justify whatever the article claims.

Repeating references[edit]

Another final thing. If you used the same reference repeatedly in an article, you don't have to put the whole source in multiple times.[6][6][6][6] This is accomplished by giving the reference a name. The first citation has the format: <ref name="repeat"> … </ref>. After that point to refer to the same reference again, use the following: <ref name="repeat"/>, with no other tags.

As explained at meta:

Multiple insertion of the same reference

References may be cited more than once using <ref name="id"/>. On the Edit page, this is placed at the first insertion point of citation: <ref name="Perry">Perry's Handbook, Sixth Edition, McGraw-Hill Co., 1984.</ref> This is placed at the second insertion point of citation: <ref name="Perry"/> This is placed at the third insertion point of citation:

<ref name="Perry"/> … and so forth for further insertion points

Grouped references[edit]

According to scientists, the Sun is pretty big. <ref>'''E. Miller, ''The Sun'', (New York: Academic Press, 2005), 23-5.'''</ref>
In fact, it is very big. <ref group="elephant">'''Take their word for it. Don't look directly at the sun!'''</ref>'''


The anonymous (ungrouped) group works as before, while the named group reference will show up as: [elephant 1] and [elephant 2] and the references will look like this:

  1. Test of the group argument
  2. Second test

Nested references[edit]

Nesting one reference within another may in some cases be desirable, especially if, for example, one has a group of explanatory notes, some of which require actual references. Unfortunately, the following code does not work:

<ref group="note" name="goats">Explanatory note<ref name="jerboas">Supporting citation</ref></ref>

Seriously, it just spews ugly red error text onto the bottom of the page. Don't do it. For whatever reason, the Cite extension does not properly recognize ref tags within ref tags, but there is a workaround which uses the #tag magic word. The following text shows its proper usage:

{{#tag:ref|Explanatory note<ref name="jerboas>Supporting citation</ref>|name=goats|group=note}}

The content of the note must come before the name/group parameters, and the name must precede the group if both are used.

A simpler way to achieve this is using the "efn" template, which automatically uses "group=note" but does not have a "name=" option:

{{efn|Explanatory note<ref name="jerboas>Supporting citation</ref>}}

Citing page numbers[edit]

When citing a reference to a book, particularly if there is no free e-text available, it is a good idea to add a page number(s) indicating the place in the book that is relevant to the citation. An easy way to do this with a minimum of clutter is with the {{rp}} template. For example:

…Bob Gillespie of AiG<ref>''Righting America at the Creation Museum'' by Susan L. Trollinger & William Vance Trollinger Jr. (2016) Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 1421419513.</ref>{{rp|204}}


…Bob Gillespie of AiG[7]:204

Any text can be used in place of "204", so you can also use a range of pages or a chapter.

Citing YouTube[edit]

When citing YouTube comments, please remember to link directly to the precise timestamp.

For instance if citing the line "you can go on and bless other people's lives" from the Streampunks Trailer video. Press the share button, then check "Start at (timestamp here)". This following wikitext gives a well-formatted citation for the link "":

<ref>[ Streampunks Trailer] from the [[YouTube]] channel '''YouTube Creators'''</ref>
you can go on and bless other people's lives
—Jenny Doan[8]

Note that the "wBE16Mj0cTY" in the link refers to the whole video on YouTube, and the "t=34s" refers to the time that the quote occurs in the the video, so using both of these gets the video to start at the time of the quote within the video.


Finally, please put references after periods/full stops and commas. This is easy to remember by thinking about how weird it looks to have many references and then a full stop after it[6][6][6][6]. See?

Given below is a helpful chart to show how to use this template properly.

Lorem ipsum[citation needed], Lorem ipsum,[citation needed]
Lorem ipsum[citation needed]. Lorem ipsum.[citation needed]
(Lorem ipsum[citation needed])[citation needed]. (Lorem ipsum).[citation needed]

Ugly links are an eyesore[edit]

This is ugly:

This is pretty: Example (2017). In Merriam-Webster's dictionary, MA: Merriam-Webster.

See the Wikipedia article on Help:URL. for how to link in wikitext markdown.

See also[edit]


  1. "Sources" are authoritative statements by (usually) third parties which corroborate the point made. We also like sauces, but that's just mindless wordplay.
  2. What, you expected something interesting? This is a help page, not a stand-up routine.


  1. If it required smarts, you sure as hell wouldn't see them here.
  2. Because I said so.
  3. see Help:Links
  4. like this
  5. A template is a page transcluded into the present article.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 You could, but it'd look bad.
  7. Righting America at the Creation Museum by Susan L. Trollinger & William Vance Trollinger Jr. (2016) Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 1421419513.
  8. Streampunks Trailer from the YouTube channel YouTube Creators