User oerkelens edited one of my answers, with the comment "Saved good answer from potential deletion on sight under the new attribution rules".

I had not heard of any new attribution rules, and went looking. But insofar as I found them, I don't see how they apply. I wasn't quoting from a source: the answer was in my own words, but I helpfully (?) linked a couple of terms to a site with more information about them.

Was my answer really at risk of deletion because I didn't add the name of a site I was linking to?


Having spent a bit of time on this, I'm going to post it anyway, although KitFox just beat me to it!

No; the "new attribution rules" apply specifically to quoted material. A simple link to further reading does not require attribution, but where there is material reproduced from elsewhere it is not sufficient merely to provide a link.

A comment has reminded me that "quoted material" need not always be textual. The rules apply to text and images.

Even if quoted material is licensed in such a way that attribution is not required, it's still better to say where it came from, as those who check these things won't necessarily know the licence terms and SE rules require attribution regardless.

The test for acceptability

Only direct quotations need a citation. A poster's own words do not.

If just the visible content of the post can be reproduced without losing the source of a direct quotation, then the citation is acceptable.

If losing any links means that all reference to the source is also lost, then an explicit reference needs to be added.

Worked examples


The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (1993) confirms that surveil is a late addition to English:

Surveil is a fairly recent back-formation, a verb describing what a surveillant ("watcher," an even more recent coinage) does. All these terms are Standard, although some might consider surveil and surveillant primarily police and spy argot.

This is acceptable because the source of the quote is cited in plain text. SE rules say that it should also be a link, and indeed it is in Steven Yarg's answer where I grabbed this from. [Did you see what I did there?] Some material is not available online and therefore cannot be linked to.

Also acceptable:

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (1993) confirms that surveil is a late addition to English.

This is acceptable because there is no quotation. The sentence is entirely the poster's original words. In this particular example, some corroboration such as a quote or a link would be very useful, but there is no quotation here to cite.

Also acceptable:

This is what the ESL people call the second conditional. The first conditional is used for something which we expect will happen, though it might not.

Again, this is acceptable because there is no direct quotation. The link is simply a link to further reading on the matter. The two sentences I've quoted here come from the original answer which OP Colin Fine is asking about.

Not acceptable:

reference : The action of mentioning or alluding to something.

This is not acceptable because the source of the quote is not cited in plain text. It doesn't matter if the headword here is a link; the source — which is ODO in this case — must appear in plain text.

Also not acceptable:

reference : The action of mentioning or alluding to something.


Again the source of the quote is not cited in plain text. If the link is removed, all that is left is the word "Source". In this case, the text [Source] in the link could usefully be replaced with [ODO] to identify the source and provide a tidy link.

Meta: if it's obvious where material has been quoted from, perhaps because there is a link to it, then by all means edit the post to include the source in plain text. But there's no need to do that if there is no actual quotation; and if it's not obvious then all it is possible to do is comment. When editing a post or including a citation, try to make it look pretty: a tidied title which forms the text for a link is far better than a bald URL.

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    AndrewLeach wrote the "new attribution rules" apply specifically to quoted passages. Don't the rules apply to images? – Frank Sep 3 '14 at 17:59
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    @Frank Yes, thanks for the reminder. Updated. – Andrew Leach Sep 3 '14 at 19:15
  • A simple link to further reading doesn't need attribution because it IS an attribution, in and of itself. – Marthaª Sep 3 '14 at 21:24
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    @Marthaª No, that's not the reason. An attribution identifies the source of something brought into SE. A simple link is a link out of SE. – Andrew Leach Sep 3 '14 at 21:43
  • Thank you for the clarification. I still agree with @Marthaª though. It's the internet, not a printed text. How about material that is not brought into SE? Does it matter whether it is external, or is "as this answer says: I would therefore keep the 'i' in omiliophobia." acceptable since it is from SE? I would actuaaly assume that it should be ""as this answer on ELU says: I would therefore keep the 'i' in omiliophobia." – oerkelens Sep 4 '14 at 7:37
  • I think I would prefer that to say "as aronistav's answer says:..." in order that you identify who originally crafted that quote. – Andrew Leach Sep 4 '14 at 10:27
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    @AndrewLeach when referencing posts on SE by author name I've been bitten a few times because people changed their names ("Bob's answer? There's no Bob on this page, just Fred, Jane, and NinjaCoder -- did Bob delete his answer or change his name?"). Just something to think about when crafting links -- SE is not static. – Monica Cellio Sep 7 '14 at 16:25
  • @MonicaCellio That's fine. You can only do what you can do at the time. You're not responsible for the user changing their display name at some later juncture. – Andrew Leach Sep 7 '14 at 17:31
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    This is why I always link and name, @Monica. If someone changes their name but the link still takes me to the correct answer, it's not a problem. If someone changes their name and I forgot to link... Now this becomes confusing. – Shog9 Sep 9 '14 at 16:28
  • I can't hardly believe it, but I think I have come fully around. – bib Sep 19 '14 at 15:59
  • Does this also apply to commercial books: if someone in their book has written about that archaic English should be written this way: XYZ, 1. can I copy and paste that with attribution (like only 5-6 lines)? or 2. can I rewrite what the author has said + attribution or 3. just write on my own and say nothing? (I'm not asking a legal question, only asking about SE rules) – Honey Mar 14 '17 at 15:34
  • @Honey The Columbia Guide to Standard American English is a commercial book. Or, if it isn't, substitute a different title for that one. The rules are universal. – Andrew Leach Mar 14 '17 at 15:36
  • Thanks. What's the extent so that you wouldn't be overshadowing the book? Can I copy/paste 100 pages? Or I should just apply common sense and not quote too much? – Honey Mar 14 '17 at 15:42
  • Make your point in your own words and quote enough to substantiate it. Normally, that's a couple of paragraphs at most. The Stack Exchange engine flags and eventually prohibits long answers. – Andrew Leach Mar 14 '17 at 15:44

Kind of, but not really. They aren't new rules for attribution, but they were recently reviewed. We decided that according to the rules, embedded links didn't pass muster. All linked sources should be named somewhere in the post so a user doesn't have to click or hover to have an idea of how credible the source is.

Andrew has given specific guidelines for attributions.

It is true in your case that because you are not citing the source, you don't need an attribution, but you should still put the source in somewhere to mitigate the effects of link rot. This is generally good practice.

This isn't intended to be cumbersome. A simple statement to the effect of "Dictionary.com gives the definition as..." or "According to Wikipedia..." is sufficient.

In any case, it would be unusual to delete a post without giving the author a chance to comply with the change in policy. Unless your entire answer were a copy-paste from an unidentified source, it would not have been deleted without notice.

If I had handled a flag on your post, I would have done what oerkelens did, which was to insert the name of the linked source. Remedies for other types of missing attributions include leaving a comment about attribution if one is not given, editing in a source (if the source is easily discoverable), or deleting unattributed content from a post.

  • But you seem to be giving me the opposite answer to Andrew Leach. He says that since I'm not quoting but just giving a helpful link, I don't need to mention the source. You imply otherwise. – Colin Fine Sep 3 '14 at 18:44
  • @Colin You are right. I'm discussing it with Andrew. I think the difference is between what should be done for citation purposes and what should be done for linking purposes. I have edited my answer, and may edit it further after I have concluded my discussions with Andrew. – Kit Z. Fox Sep 3 '14 at 19:04
  • The text in the help centre has changed. A third criterion for references was added, and the Hemingway quote, which was attributed with a bare link before, now mentions the source in plain text. The help centre is the main source for any SE rules as far as users are concerned, so I think it is fair to say that there are new rules for attribution. – oerkelens Sep 4 '14 at 8:24
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    We decided Who, when and why? – MrLore Sep 5 '14 at 3:47

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