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Wikipedia footnotes serve two purposes. First, they are used to add material that explains a point in greater detail, particularly if the explanation would be distracting if written out in the main article. Second, they are used to present citations to reliable sources that support assertions in the main article.[1] As explained at Wikipedia:Citing sources, footnoting is one of several alternative ways to present citations.

Wikipedia has several mechanisms for creating footnotes that contain reciprocal hyperlinks, so that clicking on a number or symbol found in the main text brings readers to the corresponding footnote, and vice versa. Thus, as described below, two different types of footnote markup may be used to distinguish explanatory footnotes from citation footnotes.

The prevailing system for adding footnotes to an article is Cite.php, which involves the <ref> tag. This system has several advantages, including automatic sequential numbering of the footnotes and provisions for multiple references to the same footnote. To add such a footnote to an article, the editor includes the text of the footnote between two HTML-style tags, e.g. <ref>Text of footnote goes here.</ref>. Different classes of footnotes can be defined within an article using the "group" parameter inside the "ref" tag, as described below.

Editors may also use the older system of template-based footnotes, such as {{ref label}} and {{note label}}. These have the disadvantage that they are not numbered automatically; the editor has to choose a specific label. It is generally expected that footnotes will be labeled in the order in which they occur in the text. Therefore, if an editor adds such a template-based footnote in the middle of an article, the editor should also renumber/increment all the subsequent footnotes of the same type, by hand.

How to useEdit

A simplified explanation is given at Help:Footnotes
  1. Place a <ref> ... </ref> where you want a footnote reference number to appear in an article—type the text of the note between the ref tags.
  2. Place the <references /> tag or {{reflist}} tag in either a "Notes" or "References" section as explained in the Guide to Layout — the list of notes will be generated in that section.

This page itself uses footnotes, such as the one at the end of this sentence.[2] If you view the Wikicode of this page by clicking "Edit this page", you can see a working example of footnotes.

Listing footnotes at the end of the article: using <references /> or {{reflist}}Edit

See also: Template:reflist

If you are creating a new article or editing an article that does not have footnotes already and you wish to add footnotes to the article, you must create a new section towards the end of the article (usually titled "Notes" or "References", see Layout) and place one of these in it: <references />, {{reflist}} or {{reflist|2}}.

{{Reflist}} displays the footnotes in a smaller font. The choice between {{reflist}} and <references /> is a matter of style; Wikipedia does not have a general rule.

{{reflist|2}} is used to split long listings into columns. Three-column lists (and larger) are inaccessible to users with smaller/laptop monitors and should be avoided unless they are supporting shortened footnotes.

To prevent display problems with multi-column formats on smaller monitors, the "colwidth" parameter can be used with {{Reflist}} to specify a fixed column width. The number of columns displayed will then automatically adjust to match the size of the user's browser window. For example, {{reflist|colwidth=20em}} will display as many columns with a minimum width of 20 ems as will fit in the browser window.

Multi-column lists are not currently supported by Internet Explorer or Safari web browser

Two of the above options are included in the "markup" below the edit box; if you click on this, it will add it to the page. Once you save your edit, footnotes will be automatically generated in the new references section.

Ref tags and punctuationEdit

Material may be referenced mid-sentence or at the end of a sentence or paragraph. When a reference tag coincides with punctuation, the reference tag is normally placed immediately after the punctuation, except for dashes, as recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style and other style guides.[3][4] Some editors prefer the in-house style of journals such as Nature, which place references before punctuation. If an article has evolved using predominantly one style of ref tag placement, the whole article should conform to that style unless there is a consensus to change it.


Naming a ref tag so it can be used more than once Edit

To give a footnote a unique identifier, use <ref name="name"> ... </ref>. You can then refer to the same footnote again by using a ref tag with the same name. The name cannot be a number, or the extension will return an error. The ref name need not be placed within quotes unless it contains a space or some non-ASCII characters (the wiki parser converts single word quoteless attribute values into validly quoted XHTML). Note that any quotation marks placed around the ref name must be straight quotes (") rather than curly quotes ( or ).

Named references are used when there are several cases of repetition of exactly the same reference, including the page number for books; they should not be used to cite different pages in the same book. Named references in wikitext serve a purpose similar to loc. cit. or ibid. in printed media. See also cautions in Style below.

Only the first occurrence of text in a named ref will be used, although that occurrence may be located anywhere in the article. You can either copy the whole footnote, or you can use a terminated empty ref tag that looks like this: <ref name="name" />. Such forward-slash-terminated named tags may precede the definition of the named reference.[5] In subsequent uses of the named tag the use of <ref name="name" /> is encouraged rather than copying the whole footnote again, as whole footnotes tend to reduce the readability of the article's text in edit mode, which makes finding specific parts of the text when editing tedious.

In the following example, the same source is cited three times.

This is an example of multiple references to the same footnote.<ref name="multiple" />

Such references are particularly useful when citing sources, if different statements come from the same source.<ref name="multiple">Remember that when you refer to the same footnote multiple times, the text from the first reference is used.</ref>

A concise way to make multiple references is to use empty ref tags, which have a slash at the end.<ref name="multiple">This text is superfluous, and won't show up anywhere. We may as well just use an empty tag.</ref>

== Notes ==

<references />

The text above gives the following result in the article (see also Notes section below):

This is an example of multiple references to the same footnote.[6]

Such references are particularly useful when citing sources, when different statements come from the same source.[6]

A concise way to make multiple references is to use empty ref tags, which have a slash at the end.[6]

One should be particularly careful when deleting a named reference with text content, because the footnote text will be deleted unless it is copied to another ref tag with the same name.

Citation templatesEdit

Text placed between <ref> and </ref> may be short notes or full bibliographic references, and may be formatted either by hand or with the assistance of templates. Instructions on available templates to help format bibliographic references may be found at Wikipedia:Citation templates. Use of such templates is neither encouraged nor discouraged; see WP:CITE.

Previewing a single section editEdit

Notes and references not normally visible

When you edit a single section on a long page, the Notes or References section will not be visible when you preview your edits unless you use the editor gadget wikEd. Thus you ordinarily cannot see how your footnotes (text you place between <ref> and </ref> tags) will later appear when you save your edits.

Workaround for notes and references

A simple workaround is to temporarily insert a <references /> or {{reflist}} tag at the bottom of the edit box of the section you are editing (wikEd does this automatically). Your footnotes will appear at the bottom of your section so you can preview them. When you are satisfied with your edits to the section, delete your temporary <references /> or {{reflist}} tag, and save your edits. Now your footnotes should appear in the "Notes" or "References" section along with other footnotes on the page.

While you preview the footnotes in a section this way, the first footnote in the section will temporarily have a number of one (1), because the preview will not show footnotes from elsewhere on the page. The footnotes will renumber properly across the entire article after you save your edited section.

Re-use of reference(s) from another section

Another complication is that you will not be able to preview the effect of citing a footnote from another section merely by citing its name (for example: <ref name="multiple" />). If the section you want to edit reuses footnotes from elsewhere on the page, a simple solution is to edit the whole page at once in order to preview the footnotes accurately.

If you want to avoid this, the only workaround would be to copy and temporarily insert the full code of the relevant reference(s) at the top of the edit box of the section you are editing. If you have used the "workaround for notes and references" (above) the footnotes will appear at the bottom of your section so you can preview them. When you are satisfied with your edits to the section, delete the temporary full reference code and save your edits. Now your footnotes should appear in the "Notes" or "References" section along with other footnotes on the page.

Separating reference lists and explanatory notesEdit


It is often desirable for an article to list sources separately from explanatory notes. When this is done the sources may appear in an alphabetized list unlinked to the article (e.g., Starship Troopers) or in a list that is linked to specific text in the article by footnotes (e.g., Jane Austen).[7] A separate section containing references is usually given the title "References", while the explanatory notes section retains the "Notes" title.

One way to generate a linked list of sources involves the group= option of the <ref> tag, which is analogous to the name= option described above. In this approach, narrative references are given their own "group" namespace. The group identifier is specified inside explanatory note <ref> tags and its final <references /> tag. The closing tag </ref> does not change.

For example:
Example text,<ref group="nb">This is an example explanatory note</ref> more example text.<ref group="nb" name="ex02">Explanatory notes can be shown separately from references or citations - giving a neater appearing alternative compared to having mixed "Notes and references" or "Notes and citations" sections. This is an example of such a note. It is generated via use of group extension of the reference tag.</ref> A point made with a supporting reference.<ref>Author, A. (2007). "How to cite references", New York: McGraw-Hill.</ref> A second appearance of a note.<ref group="nb" name="ex02"/> A note containing a supporting reference.{{#tag:ref|Explanatory notes are subject to the same [[WP:V|verification]] criteria as main article text, and thus may need references of their own.<ref>Author, B. (1986). "How to cite a reference in a footnote", Melbourne: Totally Awesome Publishing Company.</ref> Reference tags can't be nested, but there is this workaround using the #tag "[[Help:Magic words|magic word]]" (see also [[#Known bugs|Known bugs]]).|group="nb"}}

== Notes ==
<references group="nb" /> 

== References == 
<references />


Example text,[nb 1] more example text.[nb 2] A point made with a supporting reference.[1] A second appearance of a note.[nb 2] A note containing a supporting reference.[nb 3]


  1. This is an example explanatory note
  2. 2.0 2.1 Explanatory notes can be shown separately from references or citations - giving a neater appearing alternative compared to having mixed "Notes and references" or "Notes and citations" sections. This is an example of such a note. It is generated via use of group extension of the reference tag.
  3. Explanatory notes are subject to the same verification criteria as main article text, and may need references of their own. These references may be provided within the explanatory note, or in an additional footnote.[2] Reference tags can't be nested, but there is this workaround using the #tag "magic word" (see also Known bugs).


  1. ^ Author, A. (2007). "How to cite references", New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. ^ Author, B. (1986). "How to cite a reference in a footnote", Melbourne: Totally Awesome Publishing Company.

In general practice note that footnotes that cite sources are not given a group identifier. This is because they are usually (by far) more numerous and more important to the quality of the article. Nothing special needs to be done for them; the usual methods, described above, will work as always. To maintain a separate list of scholarly footnotes, the group identifier "nb" or "note" is generally adopted.

It is also possible to use the reference templates, e.g., {{ref label}} and {{note label}} to separate a sources list from content notes. As with all citation styles, consensus should be achieved on the talk page before implementing such a change.

Style recommendationsEdit

  • Do not use ibid., op. cit. or similar abbreviations in footnotes. Other editors who add new references to the article may not take the time to correct Ibid references broken by their addition. Furthermore, not all readers are familiar with the meaning of the terms. If a reference is reused in more than one footnote, it is preferable to use the format "Smith, Short Title, 182" rather than "Ibid, 182", so as to avoid these problems, or use named references if appropriate.
  • Consider maintaining a separate bibliography/references section that gives full publication details for frequently cited sources, then you only need to cite the author, short title, and page number in specific notes, following Wikipedia:Citing sources. For examples of this usage, see Johannes Kepler and Rabindranath Tagore. For another solution to this issue, especially when a single source is cited many times in one article, but cites to different pages in that source each time, see Template:Rp.
  • The decision on whether or not to use quotes in footnotes, is primarily a decision of style and may vary from article to article. Citation templates include parameters for quotes, as quoting text can be useful for the verifiability of material in an article. Footnoted quotes are acceptable if they are brief, relevant to the article text that is being footnoted, compliant to copyright (including fair use where applicable), of use or interest to the reader, and not used as an evasion of other guidance (most notably: content policy).[8] Where there is disagreement on the use of quotes in footnotes on a particular article, consensus should be sought on the talk page for that article.

Known bugs Edit

  • Internal links and wiki formatting work as normal within the text of the citation, like this: <ref>''[[Wikipedia]]'', [[18 March]], [[2007]].</ref> However, the "pipe trick" will not expand a link for you in ref text; you must type out [[George Clark (historian)|George Clark]], rather than just typing [[George Clark (historian)|]] and letting the software fill in the text after the pipe. See Help:Pipe_trick#Cite.php_footnotes_and_the_pipe_trick.
  • When citing a website within the ref tags, include a name for the site inside the brackets for the URL. Unnamed URLs appear as numbers, so <ref>[]</ref> results in the footnote being displayed as [1]; the reader clicks to the numbered footnote only to see another number. Thus, use a name in the link to display the website page title in the reference list, as in this example: <ref>[ Google]</ref> .
  • References cannot be nested: <ref name="Ran1912">J. Random, 1912. Cited in <ref name="Foo2005" /></ref> does not render correctly.
    • This bug can be bypassed using the #tag magic word: use {{#tag:ref|J. Random, 1912. Cited in <ref name="Foo2005" />|name=Ran1912}} instead.
  • Avoid use of "subst", or at least verify that it works correctly. A Mediawiki bug prevents the expansion of certain (if not all) "subst"'s within refs.
  • Template parameters do not pass to <ref> tags (for example, <ref>[http://{{{1}}}.htm Source]</ref> within template source code; see also mw:Extension:Cite/Cite.php#Current_problems and User:Pengo/pageusingref). Ref tags can be used in variables when a template is used, though (for example, {{taxobox}}'s status_ref parameter).
    • This bug can be bypassed using the #tag magic word: use <includeonly>{{#tag:ref|content|name=foo}}</includeonly> in the template instead of <ref name="foo">content</ref>.

Resizing referencesEdit

Some editors prefer references to be in a smaller font size than the text in the body of the article. Although smaller text has some disadvantages, it is common when there is a long list of references (as a rule of thumb, at least ten) to replace the basic <references /> tag with {{Reflist}}, which reduces the text size to 90%. (Note: Do not use {{Reflist}} with a "subst:".) The underlying CSS class is "references-small", so an alternative is to use this directly: <div class="references-small"><references /></div>. If this class is used to make other sections at the bottom of the page ("Notes", "See also", "External links", etc.) small for consistency (this is rarely done), the div tags must be opened and closed within each section.

A similar CSS class exists to create small footnotes in two columns, but this displays as a single column in some common browsers (like Internet Explorer). If desired, use <div class="references-2column"><references /></div>

The same effect (with any number of columns) can be accomplished by using {{reflist|number of columns}}.

Compatibility with other MediaWiki sitesEdit

As of late December 2005, the mw:Extension:Cite/Cite.php extension to MediaWiki has been installed on all Wikimedia wikis. Other wikis that use the MediaWiki software may not have this extension installed, and therefore may be unable to display Cite.php footnotes. The Special:Version page on any MediaWiki wiki shows the installed extensions.

Extensions like Cite/Cite.php are installed after installing MediaWiki software; these extension files are placed in the directory wiki/extensions/.

Caution on converting citation stylesEdit

An older system using {{ref}} and {{note}} templates is still common. Converting this older system[9] to the new <ref>...</ref> system can make the references in an article easier to maintain.

Converting citation styles should not be done without first gaining consensus for the change on the article's talk page.

A December 2005 ArbCom case ruled that the following scripts could no longer be used by a certain Wikipedian:

Similarly, individual users may be forbidden to "manually convert citation styles on any articles."

So, tread lightly, and seek consensus first, before converting citation styles. For example, when using (semi-)bot tools as listed below:

  • User:Cyde/Ref converter converts articles that use the {{ref}} and {{note}} system into the more recent mw:Extension:Cite/Cite.php system;
  • Citation Tool diagnoses and fixes sequencing and duplication errors in Cite.php references. In the future, Citation Tool may (optionally) enable user-guided conversion of some or all of the <ref>-numbered citations to named notes using the footnote3 template technology (which includes Harvard references).

CAUTION: do not edit-war with automated tools that convert in opposing directions.

See alsoEdit


  1. Citing sources is important for improving the quality of Wikipedia's articles. A key content policy, Wikipedia:Verifiability, says that any material that is challenged or likely to be challenged, including any contentious material about living people and all quotations, must have a source. Unsourced or poorly sourced material may be removed from any article, and if it is, the burden of proof is on the editor who wishes to restore it.
  2. This footnote is used as an example in the "How to use" section.
  3. The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. 1993, Clause 15.8, p. 494 - "The superior numerals used for note reference numbers in the text should follow any punctuation marks except the dash, which they precede. The numbers should also be placed outside closing parentheses." - See also CMoS Online, Style Q&A, Punctuation.
  4. Other style guides suggesting that superscript note reference numbers should generally be placed after punctuation include: Oxford/Hart's Rules, the MLA Style Manual, APA Style,, IEEE style and Legal Blue Book Style (as well as the general exception for dashes, guides may variously make other exceptions for colons, semicolons and quotation marks).
  5. Wikipedia Signpost. November 13, 2006.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Remember that when you refer to the same footnote multiple times, the text from the first reference is used.
  7. See Wikipedia:Citing sources for more information about alternative ways to present citations.
  8. For example, to work around the proscription placed on editors by Wikipedia:Neutral point of view#Attributing and substantiating biased statements.
  9. The Wikipedia:Footnote3 system created footnotes with the {{ref}}/{{note}} and the {{ref_label}}/{{note_label}} pairs of templates. The system may be encountered on many Wikipedia pages.
  1. Additional references that are not created with <ref> ... </ref> WP:CITE#Footnotes, do not continue the numbering. These are mistakes; they should be corrected by converting them to footnotes using "ref" tags.

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