Proposal:Turning off inline citations

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  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
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  5. Encourage Innovation


The ability to turn off inline citations when you're reading an article.


Create a new toggle (in the toolbox to the left of the page) called something like Turn Superscripts Off / Turn Superscripts On. When off, the inline citations (and possibly all other superscripts) would disappear from view.

In my mind, the suppression of superscripts should work like this:

  • Inline superscripts should be turned OFF by default, including all "anonymous" readers/users.
  • The reference list at the bottom will still have the same backward links (the up-arrows), directing you to the exact same text. It's just that the inline citation superscript will be invisible.
  • An off-on switch called Turn Superscripts On should be present in the toolbox. This would be "sticky" until you turned superscripts off again. I suggest the word "superscripts" rather than "inline" and/or "citations" be used because new readers of Wikipedia won't know what an inline citation is.
  • Of course, when you're editing an article, all inline citations must be turned ON, regardless of how your switches are set.
  • After you create an account, you should have the preference of turning superscripts on through a checkbox labeled View Inline Superscripts. This would be your default: you could turn it off again via the toolbox. Each time you log on, it would reset itself to the default.
  • When creating a new account after this feature is implemented, the default should be not viewing inline superscripts; that is, View Inline Superscripts will be unchecked.
  • I don't know whether viewing inline superscripts should be turned on or off for all the current accounts when you roll out the feature for a particular wiki-project or language. My guess is that either:
    • All existing accounts should have their View Inline Superscripts checked. Possibly there should be a temporary note up on top of the page (with the other account information) saying that inline citations may be turned off via an option in your preferences or
    • All accounts should have View Inline Superscripts unchecked but then there must be a note saying that inline citations may be turned ON via that option.
  • Maybe all of the following should be suppressed when superscripts are turned off:
    • Examples (taken from the English Wikipedia): [citation needed] [page needed] [clarification needed] [season & episode needed] [volume & issue needed] [dead link] [not in citation given] [Need quotation on talk to verify] [self-citation] [unreliable source?] [verification needed] [dubious – discuss] [original research?] [neutrality disputed] [weasel words] [who?] [by whom?]. These are just examples; there are almost certainly many more.
    • We may also want to suppress some of the article message boxes, such as: {{Unreferenced}}, {{Original Research}}, {{Refimprove}} and {{Citecheck}}, among many others.
    • The counter-argument to suppressing all of these warnings is that the vast majority of readers won't notice that someone is objecting to a word or sentence or even a whole section. On the other hand, this may be a good thing: not to introduce the squabbles of the editors on people who are just reading and couldn't care less.
  • In determinating what other superscripts (and subscripts) should be suppressed, we would first have to have a list of those other types of superscripts. See motivation 1 below for a reason to suppress all superscripts and subscripts. "Inline" in this sense means every example of out-of-line text that can occur in the middle of a paragragh.

All of these are just suggestions. Anything that allows you to make the citations invisible would be of help.


  1. When I was first starting to read Wikipedia, I found the style hard to read. The problem was that, each time you had an inline citation, Wikipedia would insert half a blank line. (Example: because of this superscript [1], this line follows the half-line skip that I'm talking about.) At this time, I had no idea what the "little numbers in square brackets" meant, I only knew that I found them very distracting. Until I got used to it, every time Wikipedia skipped half a line, my mind would get set for a new paragraph. Since the paragraph I was already in usually didn't end with that line, I found this most confusing.
  2. Many people do not care about citations (or indeed, references in general). Even editors do not care, if they're simply reading Wikipedia for information. In general, there are only two types of Wikipedian who usually cares about citations:
    1. People doing an external cite-check. This type wants to check the citations but may not want to edit, even if a particular citation proves wrong. This includes anyone who is not an editor.
    2. Wikipedia editors who wish to (a) add citations for their own contributions and (b) make sure that they don't foul up somebody else's citation.
  3. I've heard people say that an insistence on thorough citations (beyond what is needed for verifying contentious claims) is bad for Wikipedia because too many inline citation makes the text difficult to read, even after you're used to the half-line skip. This feature would eliminate almost all of that objection.

Key Questions

  1. What would it take to implement this feature in time, money and inconvenience?
  2. Should this feature be implemented for all Wikimedia projects (English Wikipedia, German Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wiki-Commons, etc.)? Or is there a good reason why certain wiki-sites shouldn't or can't get it? Of course, the roll out of this feature should be left to the WikiProjects themselves.
  3. Can the "stickiness" of the Turn Superscript On/Off toggle be maintained across Wiki-sites? Even if it's easy, should we?
  4. Settle the question about whether viewing inline superscripts should be turned on or off for all current accounts when you roll out this feature.
  5. Settle the question about what superscripts and subscripts other than inline citations should be suppressed.

Potential Costs


Community Discussion

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