Community Wishlist Survey 2021/Citations/Allow editors to identify the specific text that is supported by a citation

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Random proposal◄ Citations  The survey has concluded. Here are the results!

Allow editors to identify the specific text that is supported by a citation

  • Problem: Citations are normally added at the end of a block of text, such as a paragraph. The text may be supported by the cite when initially written, but later editors commonly add new unsourced material within the paragraph without any concern as to whether the modified text still matches the source. Similarly, an initially-unsourced paragraph may later have a sourced sentence added to the end. In either case, there's no way for a reader looking at text with a terminal citation to know which parts are supported. All of it? Maybe just the last sentence? Or perhaps just some unspecified parts of the text?
  • Who would benefit: Editors and readers who value precise citations.
  • Proposed solution: Provide an easy-to-use mechanism for VE editors to indicate the exact text that a citation supports. This could be done by allowing the editor to select a range of text before adding the cite. The selected text should always remain linked to the cite, even if broken up into text fragments by a later edit, or separated from the reference by a later interpolation. Also needed is some way of displaying to a reader the text that the citation supports, for example by hovering over the reference.
  • More comments : There is a template called Ref supports2 that allows supported text to be identified in the source editor, but it's very rarely-seen - probably due to the fact that it's difficult to use and makes the source text almost unreadable.
One issue to be considered is how any such VE edit should be handled when viewed in the source editor. If all the necessary markup is made visible by default, as with Ref supports2, the source view would become very complicated. Options might include not showing or allowing use of the new feature there at all (essentially making it VE only), or hiding the additional markup by default and having a toggle button to make it visible when required. A nice implemention would allow VE editors to indicate exactly what is supported every time they add a new citation with just a single swipe of the mouse or a few keystrokes; and without impacting in any way on uninterested VE or source editors who can continue to edit exactly as before. But we have to leave implementation details to the programmers.


  • Is it en:Template:Ref supports2 that you're thinking of? That never really caught on; the problem was that although it made it easier to illustrate exactly what statement was supported by which citation, it made the source editor edit window utterly incomprehensible. (See reference 5 on en:British Polio Fellowship—hovering over the reference does indeed make it clear that the reference is supporting the statement "as a self-help and mutual aid society for those affected by polio", but at the cost of doubling the length of the reference.) Iridescent (talk) 15:56, 19 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Thank you, yes that was what I'd seen. But I agree that that solution is not at all user-friendly in the source editor. I've amended the proposal to discuss the existing template. MichaelMaggs (talk) 14:40, 20 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Another big problem is that once you wrap a whole sentence in a template it becomes much harder to edit in the visual editor. ESanders (WMF) (talk) 12:33, 30 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Indeed. Another reason why the existing situation is not good. MichaelMaggs (talk) 09:27, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • There is an issue here, but it is wrong to assume that all additions after the reference is added aren't using the same reference. Frankly, VE editors don't add many refs in the first place. What if multiple refs support the same text? Johnbod (talk) 19:27, 20 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The same text supported by several references would be selected several times. Don't see any problem with that. MichaelMaggs (talk) 21:51, 20 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Another approach to this problem (looking at it from a different angle) is to use the |quote= parameter (and friends like |script-quote=, |trans-quote=, and |quote-page(s)=) of the CS1/CS2 citation templates (in the English Wikipedia), and provide an excerpt of the relevant section of the cited source supporting the statement in the article. That is, not duplicate the (ever changing) article prose in a template parameter but cite the original prose from the source. Depending on the circumstances, this may be more or less suitable than the other way around. --Matthiaspaul (talk) 12:04, 11 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I do this fairly frequently, also because the cited source could be changed or break in the future. — Alexis Jazz (talk or ping me) 12:24, 11 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
In some cases, specifying verbally might work better: own essay, but en:WP:Contort the citations on how to describe the info you are citing in a citation if needed. Admittedly this won't help those editors who carelessly insert uncited text before a cite without a cn tag. HLHJ (talk) 23:27, 19 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • This is basically a type of annotation. Annotation support would be super useful. Unfortunately, also super hard. --Tgr (talk) 07:03, 14 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    I would love to see a generalised Annotation service as a separate Wikimedia project. But, yes, very hard especially if you want to annotate third-party pages that you don't control and which could change unpredictably. Core content like references needs to be stored with the page revision, though. Pelagic (talk) 03:10, 16 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Markup could be doable by building on named references. Let's say you introduced an extension element <refd> or <refby> for "referenced by". Then you could have <refby name=one><refby name=two>The sky is blue.</refby> <refby name=three>And the sun is hot.</refby></refby> Hooking up the plumbing for reference popups, etc. would be another matter. Pelagic (talk) 03:28, 16 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    Of course, someone would lay a template on top of that so that you could write it more succincly as {{refby|two|The sky is blue.}}...etc., avoiding the "name=" and "/refby". But templated markup would behave differently under VE than tagged markup. Pelagic (talk) 03:37, 16 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    A span tag for references, similar to, say en:Template:Failed verification span. That's more readably structured than Template:Ref supports2, but still not optimal. Making a new ref template would be easy to do; design proposals? HLHJ (talk) 23:27, 19 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • I agree in principle that clearly indicating the semantic link between citation and supported text is good. I'm not sure how best to do this. HLHJ (talk) 23:27, 19 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • [Added after the survey was closed] While the survey is long closed, I think it might be worth noting that a "context section" feature has been recently added by me to the r citation template in the English Wikipedia. Among many other things it allows to define a (possible non-continuous) section in the same way as with ref supports2 and will display this as a tooltip when hovering with the mouse over the superscript link where the citation was invoked. The name of the context section can be given as a parameter value, but by default the template will derive a (practically) unique name itself from the name=, group= and various in-source-location parameters. Using CSS, it might be possible to further improve this in the future so that the marked text in the article gets highlighted when hovering over the reference link.
Since it was mentioned elsewhere inhere as well that annotations would be a desirable feature to have, I'd like to mention that r also implements some kind of annotation system now to define various kinds of annotations (page numbers, quotations, other commentary, sub-references or even other citations) as part of the citation template's invocation, and the template will display parts of this information in form of a tooltip when hovering over the reference link and optionally also combine it into the full citation defined elsewhere where it will be appended at the end of the original definition.
While both features aren't exactly what was asked for in this thread, they still might be useful for some. --Matthiaspaul (talk) 15:06, 24 September 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]


  • Support Support Owleksandra (talk) 18:42, 8 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support YFdyh000 (talk) 23:29, 8 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support SpiderMum (talk) 23:51, 8 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support UncleMartin (talk) 01:33, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support PianistHere (talk) 02:04, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support TrudiJ (talk) 04:41, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support as a long-term goal, but regrettably Oppose Oppose for now, as I don't think we're ready yet. Most editors still use source editor, so something that makes source text more complex isn't desirable. Someday, once VisualEditor is good enough that everyone uses it by default, this will be a wonderful thing to have to enhance verifiability. Even then, though, there will some potentially thorny issues to hammer out—for instance, I'm not sure how much a "this text is currently supported by X reference" indicator is going to deter someone who wasn't going to cite anyways from modifying it. {{u|Sdkb}}talk 05:12, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Thanks for the long-term support :) Making the source text more complex is currently the only editing option. The proposal explicitly aims to get away from that. MichaelMaggs (talk) 09:23, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Thomas Kinz (talk) 09:58, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support I strongly support this as a huge game changer to tacke fact-checking and also to target better the citation needed in some paragraphs. It would be ideal for the contents in recent update (breaking news) or in articles keen to be biased or with different points of view. Xavi Dengra (MESSAGES) 11:05, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support 1Mmarek (talk) 11:44, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support it sounds although technically complex but another option would be in VE that each time you hit a full stop it pops up with a question 'new citation: yes /no' but no idea if that is a technically feasible solution. Kaybeesquared (talk) 13:20, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support I have noticed this problem in the etymology section of Wiktionary pages. For example, in wiktionary:εύκολος, it is not clear if the citation also supports the etymology itself, or only the fact that the etymology of the second component is unknown. Hb2007 (talk) 13:56, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Em-mustapha User | talk 16:00, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support dwf² (talk) 22:50, 9 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support - Darwin Ahoy! 01:09, 10 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Oppose Oppose Citations are already provided after the material they support. If you have continuous text with part of it missing a citation, put that in a citation needed span template. The CN span template is the proper and already extant solution, this would be the inverted and hardly useful solution. CaptainEek Edits Ho Cap'n! 03:45, 10 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support JPxG (talk) 05:47, 10 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Libcub (talk) 18:37, 10 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Oppose Oppose I just don't see this catching on, particularly if it's not feasible to easily implement in source mode. — Bilorv (talk) 08:33, 11 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Oppose Oppose This doesn't consider that this makes the "regular" editor worse nor that text and citations don't work neatly like that. I support the idea in principle, but it is not feasible at this time nor does the proposal demonstrate solutions to even the simplest problems with this one can think of. —  HELLKNOWZ   ▎TALK   ▎enWiki 15:20, 11 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support StringRay (talk) 16:21, 11 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Szalax (talk) 16:42, 11 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  •  Weak support - I like the idea of tying refs to the text they support. I dislike the idea of requiring the use of visual editor to do so, and I dislike the idea of making the source text more complex than it needs to be. There needs to be a way to do this that works in both VE and source editor, without making source more confusing. ONUnicorn (talk) 18:38, 11 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Helder 09:53, 12 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support for use in source editor. Francois-Pier (talk) 10:29, 12 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Trizek from FR 19:11, 12 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Wostr (talk) 20:55, 12 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Rdyornot (talk) 22:23, 12 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support in theory, though in practice people would still add unreferenced text in the middle of a span marked as referenced, and you'd still need to go back to the sources to see which claims are supported and unsupported by the cited references. Pelagic (talk) 03:43, 16 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Stephan Hense (talk) 22:52, 16 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Sphilbrick (talk) 22:49, 17 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Joejose1 (talk) 16:40, 19 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Will be great if the software could natively handle annotations like that, though I understand this would be hard to do. (And no, cn-tagging or adding quotes don't help outside of some very narrow circumstances). Uanfala (talk) 22:51, 19 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support EddieHugh (talk) 23:17, 19 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Even when editing completely by myself, I'd like to be able to specify exactly what text is supported by which reference. PopePompus (talk) 23:48, 19 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Support Support Nachtbold (talk) 12:13, 21 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]