Over the past months, I asked several questions mainly regarding graphics and plotting. Here are some sample questions

Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, Q5, Q6, Q7

All the provided answers helped me significantly to construct the illustration of a paper. Now the paper is completed and I am wondering what is the best and most appropriate way to acknowledge in my paper all the help I received from here?

  • 3
    I believe this question may be more appropriate at the meta site. Dec 26, 2013 at 8:34
  • 2
    Might be worth looking/asking at the academia SE
    – cormullion
    Dec 26, 2013 at 9:29
  • 1
    Closely related, but concerning a PhD thesis instead of paper is this. If you are planning on having an acknowledgements section in your paper, I feel like that would be the perfect place to mention SE, SE/SO or MMA.SE. I have little experience with this though, so other comments may overrule this :P. Dec 26, 2013 at 11:10
  • 2
    You do not need to acknowledge it at all if you are only using the visualizations. If you share the code soneone has written and it is not trivial you should attribute it according to the license. There is a link to information about the license of user conibutions at the bottom of each page.
    – C. E.
    Dec 26, 2013 at 13:08
  • 4
    I think a six-pack is enough. Dec 28, 2013 at 0:07
  • 1
    A similar question has an answer and several useful comments: meta.mathematica.stackexchange.com/q/968/1783
    – bill s
    Dec 28, 2013 at 4:29

3 Answers 3


If Mathematica.StackExchange can be considered as a community, whose members contribute according to their needs and abilities, you could consider acknowledging the community as a whole, rather than the individuals involved. After all, there's a lot of code-borrowing and recycling going on...

So why not just acknowledge the Mathematica.StackExchange community as a whole?

Disclaimer: I know nothing about academe, and these views might well be heretical...

  • This is @Jacob Akkerboom's comment inflated into an answer.
    – cormullion
    Dec 29, 2013 at 14:02
  • cormullion, I like your answer and I hope somebody will reply and tell us if this is "done"/"not done". By the way I did not get your @ message in my inbox. Strange Dec 29, 2013 at 16:00
  • 2
    Agree. This should be sufficient for an acknowledgement, but I think we should still be sure to distinguish between an acknowledgement and a reference as far as their purposes are concerned. Dec 30, 2013 at 18:25

I ran the following simple query on the Stack Exchange Data Explorer in order to find out the users you should acknowledge for helping you in that questions:

SELECT  distinct  u.DisplayName
    Posts p
    Users u ON p.OwnerUserId = u.Id
ParentId in (37970, 37025, 36944, 36724, 33429, 30623, 29403)

The results are rather interesting. I've split the list in two groups, according to the facial expression I can imagine in an eventual referee (or dept. director, coworker, gf, wife, etc.) while reading their names on your paper :

Group A
    Michael E2
    Pinguin Dirk

Group B
    Rahul Narain
    Romke Bontekoe
    Timothy Wofford

As you know, referees tend to be quite fussy in analyzing references (mostly because they want their friends' names there, but that is another story), so perhaps the "Group A" names shouldn't be mentioned as "references".

That still leaves open the possibility of mentioning them in the "acknowledgements" section (if you have one). In a book that's where the names of your family, financial and emotional supporters, etc. are going to be, but in a paper the usual practice is just a quick recognition for those institutions which (usually inadvertently) diverted funds for your amusement.

So, as I said in a comment above, perhaps the promise of a six-pack is enough.

  • 1
    Why is "Nasser" in group A? o_O It's a perfectly fine (actual) name!
    – rm -rf Mod
    Dec 28, 2013 at 21:34
  • @rm-rf Yep. So are Robert, Michael, John and Muhammad. But establishing a bijection with an actual life form is very difficult Dec 29, 2013 at 5:38
  • I don't agree with this approach. If the content of a particular answer had significantly influenced the argument presented in the paper, as a reader I would expect it to be referenced explicitly enough that I could definitely identify it, no matter the source or name of the author. Surely the purpose of a reference is to elucidate some aspect of your reasoning, rather than to placate an editor or to inflate your friends' H-indices. If there was no academic contribution, an acknowledgement is IMO good enough, and it can even refer to the whole community rather than individuals. Dec 30, 2013 at 18:21
  • @OleksandrR. IMHO, as Web content is ephemeral (deletions, sites taken down, etc), without the authors' names being clearly identified (and perhaps not even thus) you've no way to ensure availability of the referenced material. So it could be considered something like a "personal communication". But ... "a personal communication" from whom? Dec 30, 2013 at 19:22
  • Well, this is another reason why I find the "accessed on date" annotation required by some journals to be completely irrelevant and useless information. If a particular idea is important to a line of argument, knowing who had that idea and when is very little help in divining what the substance of the idea was. Although StackExchange has made a commitment to making the content available regardless of their company's ultimate fate (and, let's face it, any publisher could go bust tomorrow as well), I think it wouldn't do any harm also to mirror the content elsewhere if it really is critical. Dec 30, 2013 at 20:19
  • Also, I think citing personal communications is worthless from an identifiability point of view. The only reason to do it seems to be when one wishes to state unambiguously that some part of the argument was not one's own idea, but came from someone else (rather than that there was an exchange of ideas, as one might conclude from an unqualified acknowledgement). Of course the substance of the idea should (must) be fully detailed in the publication. Dec 30, 2013 at 20:23

I know that the American Chemical Society publishes the ACS style Guide which includes a chapter on references. Their general rule for reference citing is:

For material other than books and journals, sufficient information must be provided so that the source can be identified and located.

They identify several electronic sources outside of electronic versions of books and journals that include: online encyclopedias; web sites; and electronic lists/newsgroups.

If we consider Stack Exchange Network a "General Webs Site" then the author would likely not be the users who answered the question, but rather the authors of the service provider, most likely Joel Spolsky.

If we consider Stack Exchange Network an electronic list or newsgroup, then no author is provided, for example:

Computational Chemistry List, solvent discussion in archived messages of September 2003, [email protected] (accessed Nov 10, 2004).

In skimming through the document, those are the only two formats I could find that would meet the standards of a suitable reference while avoiding the tricky issue of using avatar names.

While we're at it, the use of pseudonyms suggests some level of anonymity, which may place StackExchange Q&A into a separate category:

Whether the message was personal and set only to you or whether it was posted in a newsgroup, it is not published. E-mail messages should be cited the same as any other personal communication.

So if there is a case where we need to consider StackExchange Q&A as personal communications, there are ethical considerations for citing such information:

Information obtained privately, as in conversation, correspondence, or discussion with third parties, should not be used or reported in the author’s work without explicit permission from the investigator with whom the information originated.

I suspect this last point is not an issue, since all users of the Stack Exchange Network have agreed that material posted here falls under Creative Commons.

In your case, it might be appropriate to insert a reference to the Stack Exchange Network in the same section you use to cite the software used for data acquisition and manipulation. Then, in the acknowledgements section a general thank you to the "active users" of M.SE. It may be nice to provide an opportunity for those who have helped to provide their real names, as you never know if @belisarius is actually a 12 year old savant looking for early admission into Harvard and needs some more name recognition.

  • I (also) like this answer. However, I feel there is emphasis on referencing/citing rather than acknowledging. Isn't referencing used more to get some authority behind statements your paper relies on? Sorry for not being precise, but it would of course be silly to say something like "I have it on good authority that the code used to generate my plots works" Dec 29, 2013 at 16:30
  • @JacobAkkerboom You are absolutely right, and I decided to answer in this fashion because it seemed to be an appropriate place to comment on aspects of publishing. That said, the information gleaned from this website wouldn't be considered "common knowledge" and therefore, I think the source needs to be cited somehow in addition to acknowledging the contributions of the SE users. Dec 29, 2013 at 16:59
  • Based on their stated purpose as well as the convention for websites in general, I would consider StackExchange sites to constitute a published resource rather than a personal communication. As such, for referencing purposes it seems that identifiability (e.g. via a link) should probably be considered more important than the identity of the particular author. If there are conflicts of interest, those have to be declared per the StackExchange T&Cs, making the attributability of authorship less of an issue, IMO. Dec 30, 2013 at 18:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .