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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.

Reference reliability[edit]

"Reliability" can have many meanings as demonstrated by wikipedia but there are things we allow that would not be allowed over there

  • Wikipedia: unreliable with caveat — "Wikipedia is not a reliable sourceWikipedia for citations elsewhere on Wikipedia. Because, as a user-generated source, it can be edited by anyone at any time, any information it contains at a particular time could be vandalism, a work in progress, or just plain wrong." Using sources referenced by Wikipedia (if they meet its Reliable/Verifiability criteria) are perfectly fine.
  • Wikipedia:Reliable sourcesWikipedia and Wikipedia:VerifiabilityWikipedia: Since one of Rationalwiki's criteria is "Documenting the full range of crank ideas;" sources that would never be allowed there can be used here. That said, even Wikipedia allows Self-published expert sources "when produced by an established subject-matter expert, whose work in the relevant field has previously been published by reliable, independent publications" (sic). The caveat there is such sources can never be used about living people even if the author meets the other criteria. Obviously, statements by a living person about themself and their activities are reliable unless proven otherwise.
  • Wikipedia:InaccuracyWikipedia — even sources that meet wikipedia 's more stringent criteria can make mistakes and that is doubly true of sources we allow. Internet sources may be easier to access, but as documented by Hoeg Law in the first 5 minutes of Epic v Apple: Judgment Day - Who Won? Who Lost? ...and Why? (VL538), their quality can be seriously lacking; not only using clickbait headlines but getting the information in the main body text wrong. Of the seven samples Hoeg gave, only one (IGN) had a factually accurate headline and body text.


References are ridiculously easy to do.[note 2]

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.[1]

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.

To make things look nicer when there are several references (and add lots of references), it is common to use 2 columns and reduce the size slightly:


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 3]

Incidentally, while ref notes can be useful for including supplementary information that might be a bit too long-winded or obscure for the main paragraphs they're attached to (namely by splitting said supplementary information off into separate text-boxes that readers can view at their own discretion), they should still follow similar standards to the pagespace they're included in. For mainspace in particular, that means that huge, rambling walls of text, unsubstantiated allegations, off-topic digressions, and half-assed attempts at humor are bad. We may be jocular and rather informal (particularly in comparison to Wikipedia), but we do have standards and we expect our editors to abide by them.

Cite format[edit]

Like Wikipedia, RationalWiki uses a variant of the APA format when {{cite book}}, {{cite journal}}, {{cite web}}, or {{cite news}} are used.

See Template:Cite book, Template:Cite journal, Template:Cite web, and Template:Cite news for more on the formatting of cite.


{{cite journal|url=|author=Guiart, Jean|date=March 1952|title=John Frum Movement in Tanna|journal=Oceania|volume=22|issue=3|pages=165–177|doi=10.1002/j.1834-4461.1952.tb00558.x|access-date=2020-03-07}} results in

Guiart, Jean (March 1952). "John Frum Movement in Tanna". Oceania 22 (3): 165–177. doiWikipedia:10.1002/j.1834-4461.1952.tb00558.x. Retrieved 2020-03-07. 

{{Cite book |title=Textbook Of Statistics, Psychology and Education |year=2014 |page=225 |isbn=978-81-261-1411-5 |author=Verma, Romesh}} results in

Verma, Romesh (2014). Textbook Of Statistics, Psychology and Education. p. 225. ISBN 978-81-261-1411-5. 


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.[2] 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.[note 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 whether 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[note 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.[note 6][note 6][note 6][note 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">{{cite book |last=Perry |first=Robert H |date=1984 |title=Perry's Handbook, Sixth Edition |publisher=McGraw-Hill Co}} 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>{{cite book |last=Miller |first=E. |date=2005 |title=The Sun |location=New York|publisher=Academic Press|page=23-5}}
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>Trollinger, Susan L. & William Vance Trollinger Jr. (2016) ''Righting America at the Creation Museum'' Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 1421419513.</ref>{{rp|204}}


…Bob Gillespie of AiG[3]:204

Any text can be used in place of "204", so you can also use a range of pages or a chapter. Note the effort to retain a cite like format.

Citing YouTube[edit]

See the main article on this topic: YouTube

When citing YouTube comments, 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[4]

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.

Citing Twitter[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Twitter

Do not cite Twitter directly, instead cite an archived copy of the Twitter page: Internet Archive ( and are reliable archiving sites. Twitter pages are inherently ephemeral (the owner can delete the page or their whole account), and particularly for the less well-known accounts are not archived automatically. Additionally as of 2023, Twitter has been unstable, and Twitter has announced that it will be purging inactive accounts.


Finally, 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[note 6][note 6][note 6][note 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. If it required smarts, you sure as hell wouldn't see them here.
  3. What, you expected something interesting? This is a help page, not a stand-up routine.
  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.


  1. Because I said so.
  2. See Help:Links.
  3. Trollinger, Susan L. & William Vance Trollinger Jr. (2016) Righting America at the Creation Museum Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 1421419513
  4. Streampunks Trailer from the YouTube channel YouTube Creators