Should we come up with a site-wide standard for reference formatting? I'm talking about primary literature citations. The current situation is highly variable (I notice even within my own answers).


  • Inline links with no full citations: Smith and Jones (2011)
  • Manual numbered references: [1], [2-3]
  • Superscripts: (I'm not sure how this is accomplished)
  • Just a link to pubmed: Smith and Jones (pubmedlink here)
  • Others that I haven't thought of


  • Unified look
  • References easy to find


  • Significant editing time
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ The best way to achieve that would be if references were natively supported by SE. I made a feature request for that a while ago on meta.SO, but it's probably a lot of work to implement something like this so I doubt it will be implemented any time soon. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 30, 2011 at 15:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Superscripts are done with the <sup> html tag :) $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Commented Dec 30, 2011 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ My referencing is also highly variable here I must confess. I would go for numbered refs. with inline link. If you are going to answer a question you can spend a few minutes including your sources.... $\endgroup$
    – Poshpaws
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 20:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I highly prefer adding the title of the paper, not just the author, as it helps someone who does not know that specific bit of literature to know what the paper is about without having to click the link. I would avoid "bare" links to Pubmed or journals (but that should be true for most links). $\endgroup$
    – nico
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 17:27

2 Answers 2


I would support using links with the author names and years (e.g. Smith and Jones, 2011, a la Cell Press). I believe this is more consistent with the citation style of most biological and biomedical journals. The URL, I think, should be a link to the PubMed entry using the PMID or directly to the article using a DOI because these are stable links. When there is no DOI, a link to PubMed would be preferred over a direct link to the journal's URL.

This style also has the benefit that it does not require the answer to have formatted citations at the bottom, which is an unnecessary burden when a stable link will do.

The numbered citation style, I think, is only used by a few high-profile journals in biology.

  • $\begingroup$ My preference is to use a broad Harvard style, i.e. (Author, date) in the text, then a reference list at the bottom with links. This is easy to generate if you use a good reference manager like Zotero - just select the references and choose 'copy bibliography to clipboard'. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 12:13

Until it’s made easier, any edict will be ignored and the Mods have better things to do than police something like this. I generally go for in-text links because I find the syntax simpler to remember, it is clear what they relate to and they do not disturb the text flow:

[linked text](link)

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