Am I correct in thinking that it is considered inappropriate to use the markdown blockquote syntax without the source of the quote being clearly indicated?

The help center page How to reference material written by others says:

Plagiarism - posting the work of others with no indication that it is not your own - is frowned on by our community, ...

But using the quote syntax is some indication that the content comes from elsewhere, so it does not fit that definition of "plagiarism". Without an indicated source, however, a user cannot verify the quote or look for additional context. This seems undesirable to me.

How can one nicely and politely (but firmly) indicate to a user that quotes should be sourced? Should a more specific rule on this be added to the above page or somewhere else in the help documents?

Also, if a user uses the quote syntax for examples, but in a way which could be read as quoting someone else (when in fact the posting user wrote the whole content) should there be an indication of this? Otherwise there will be what looks like an unsourced quote.

6 Answers 6


Should a more specific rule on this be added to the above page or somewhere else in the help documents?

No. Contributors are encouraged to apply common sense and ensure that their posts are reliable, but making it a "rule" resembles micro-management and will prompt habitual downvoters to become nitpickier.

Without an indicated source, however, a user cannot verify the quote or look for additional context.

I just quoted something, using the blockquote syntax, and without indicating the source of the quoted statement. Nobody will be misled by that omission because there is no need for further context. In instances where the source is relevant and less obvious, users can always ask for sources (as they often do) or simply move on with or without voting the post.


Quotation is not plagiarism

  1. Idiomatic quotes: There are some quotations that are so ubiquitous that identifying the author is not necessary. For example, "In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth", "Four score and seven years ago", "We shall fight them on the beaches" etc. The use of such quotes should be considered rhetorical flourish, not plagiarism.

  2. Syntax misuse: Some people use the blockquote markdown and sometimes "" or '' for emphasis rather than to indicate a quotation (as your last paragraph mentions). This isn't right and the correct response should be to replace it with italics or bolding. If you have the edit privilege feel free to do it yourself.

  3. The source is obvious: A quote from earlier in the post, or from the question or from an article linked in the question does not need separate attribution. Context is enough.

  4. Plagiarism without quotation: Plagiarism is the passing off of somebody else's work as your own. You don't need to directly quote to be guilty of plagiarism. Overly focusing on only quotations may miss a bigger problem.

What to do?

This. What to do when plagiarism is discovered

And refer the OP to this. Users are calling me a plagiarist. What do I do?

  1. In Germany, publicly quoting an excerpt from a foreign work, § 51 UrhG, requires unambiguously citing the source, § 63 Ⅰ 1 UrhG. Failing to attribute the source makes the quote ineligible for the quotation privilege § 51 grants. Other jurisdictions have similar rules in one way or another. Thus, quote the source if you don’t wanna risk a DMCA take down.
  2. Concerning posts made here: Contributions are released under a Creative Commons “By” license, i. e. the license requires attribution “in any reasonable manner”. I would argue attribution requirements are automatically met by virtue of being posted on the same site. The whole website Law.SE could be considered one (collaboratively created) work. Obviously you do not need to cite “yourself” in “your” “own” work.
  3. “Abusing” the quote syntax for non-quotation purposes is not illegal. 😏 If the text contained a quote, it has to meet certain conditions, otherwise don’t care. Law.SE veterans could always edit the text though so it becomes more appropriate.
  • 1
    Point 1 is interesting. US law oes not have such an explicit attribution requirement in 17 USC 107. 2. The posteris automatically attributed by the system. Sources the poster quotes are not. 3. Misuse of the quote markup is in no way illegal, but it is IMO inappropriate, and should be edited, or the poster asked to edit it. BlockQuote syntax should not be used for emphasis, nor code syntax for quotes.Blockquote should only be used for quotes, actual or hypothetical examples. Mar 17, 2022 at 15:42

It is my view thqt the bkockquote markup should be used solely for quotes, and that if it is used for mere emphasis, it can and should be edited to use soem other form of emphasis (such as italic or boldface) instead.

It is my opinion that quotes should, in general and as a best practice, be sourced. A quote in an answer from the question may seem obvious, but particularly if the question is long or there are several answers it may not be so obvious to a reader; a simple statement such as 'The question reads" or "as the OP says" is enough to clearly attribute it. As to well-known quotes such as Dale M mentions, if truly obvious attributioin may be superfluous. But SE is an international and multi-cultural site, and what seems obvious to on poster may not be clear to all readers. Even in the case of the kind of well-known quotes mentions, a brief hint such as "as Shakespeare says" or "As the Gettysburg Address states" would in my view be better practice.

Calling this a "rule" might well be an overstatement. But I think a mention in one of the help topics something like, for example:

It is best practice here to attribute quotes, so that a reader can find them, and see any larger context When when quotes are examples, not anyone else's writing, this can be indicated with a phrase like "for example".

Such a statement would give guidance without imposing micromanagement, I think.


Let's take two examples:

Congress shall make no law

Most people will realize that this is the start of the 1st Amendment to the US constitution. But is it really the text I am quoting? I could just as much quote the first words of a Popehat blog article that started the very same or this one. Or it could be the Frank Zappa album of that name. And in case I refer to any of those, I should make clear which I am referring to.

Am I correct in thinking that it is considered inappropriate to use the markdown blockquote syntax without the source of the quote being clearly indicated?

Well, in this case, I quote OP. That is sufficiently clear from the context.

So I suggest: When you quote something that is not OP: Indicate your sources!


The standard understanding of "plagiarism" is "passing off someone else's work as your own", and "failure to give attribution in proper form" is a supplementary rule used in academic contexts to concretely prevent plagiarism. You are referring to a false implied claim of authority, i.e. "someone else said this" (could be deliberately implied or negligently implied). Both are cases of academic dishonesty, but I haven't encountered a specific name for "falsely implying an authority". See this summary on plagiarism.

Regardless of the label that you assign to the act, if the source is not recoverable from context, a comment asking for a source is appropriate. It might be ineffective, though, because comments are overused and ignore comment chit-chat is a reasonable response. It is possible that an individual misuses block quotes and does not actually know what they mean, but as they say in law, this is a matter of "knew or should have known". Still, one can give a person the benefit of the doubt and, on the other hand, there is the ubiquitous down-vote with comment.

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