I am writing my undergrad Bachelor's thesis in computational physics where I do C++ programming. In some C++ books, I read some things that were quite useful during programming, but they do not have a direct connection to the physics.

Since I was proficient with LaTeX before I started the thesis, I do not see a point in adding anything about that in the references. That is rather a skill than specific facts, and I did not really read about it during my research.

Another thing are resources that I consult for an introduction into a topic when I do not understand something in a paper. After reading that introduction material, I often understand the paper to a sufficient extent. When I then write the text, I think I could get by by only referencing the paper since it contains virtually everything needed. But it also seems wrong to omit that I read introduction material.

  • Should I cite sources like the C++ book?
  • Should I cite introduction material like Wikipedia, websites or easy books?
  • 2
    Well, my BS thesis included thanks to Gygax for giving me something to kill when I needed to, and to the states of Alaska and Confusion for no reason whatsoever....
    – keshlam
    Apr 20, 2014 at 3:04
  • 5
    To quote a source is to copy material from it with acknowledgment. You probably mean "Should I cite". Apr 20, 2014 at 8:55
  • Do not quote Wikipedia.
    – geoff
    Apr 21, 2014 at 1:07
  • @jakebeal likewise, this also isn't really about Wikipedia
    – ff524
    Dec 24, 2014 at 15:50

3 Answers 3


You don't typically cite material that helps you understand a topic. You cite material that you explicitly use in a paper. So source books like a C++ book don't need to be cited unless you're using an unusual and explicit construction mentioned in one of those books. For example, there's a technique to draw a geometric object using GPUs that was first mentioned in an graphics programming textbook: people using the technique will cite that textbook.

Wikipedia is not supposed to be a repository of original material, so if you found something on wikipedia then there's likely to be an original source that Wikipedia should cite and that you should as well (once you verify it).

For a website it's a similar principle. If the website contains code that you're using, then cite it (or better yet, cite the associated material that the code authors might suggest you cite instead). But if the website merely contains expository material that helps understanding, then you don't cite it.

  • 11
    I think that is the essence: “You cite material that you explicitly use in a paper.”. So when I would take some algorithm out of the “Numerical Recipes” book, I'd cite that, if I brushed up on object-oriented programming, I did not really quote anything from that book. Apr 19, 2014 at 18:19
  • 8
    The caveat to this is: you do not need to cite general knowledge within your field. However, you would need to cite material from other disciplines that might be considered "standard knowledge" in their field, but is otherwise foreign to your own.
    – aeismail
    Apr 19, 2014 at 21:56
  • I agree with Suresh, There could possible be multiple material/sources which has indirectly inspired you while writing your paper but unless explicitly mentioned, you need not cite all of those sources. But good supplementary reads can always be mentioned. Apr 20, 2014 at 8:29
  • As Suresh says, you cite the material directly used. If you also cited everything that helped you understand it, you'd be on an endless trail. You wouldn't have been able to understand the introductory C++ book if you didn't already understand X, Y and Z and their introductory books and, eventually, you'll be citing your parents and primary school teachers for teaching you how to read, and the sources they used to learn how to teach people how to read and... :-) Apr 20, 2014 at 8:58
  • 4
    "You don't typically cite material that helps you understand a topic." I would add that it's often good to cite material that helps a reader understand a topic, particularly if that topic is not part of the core "wisdom" of the target audience.
    – badroit
    Apr 21, 2014 at 19:02

To add to Suresh's answer, I agree that it is not necessary to cite books, etc, that gave you background information but weren't directly used in your work. There's no general rule that "you must cite everything you read". However, if you found a source particularly helpful, it might be nice to give a citation to share it with the reader. This is often phrased like "A useful introduction to this topic can be found in [3]."

  • So to sum up, you cannot cite less than the minimum resources required to reconstruct your work, but you are invited to cite more on what you want to share to the readers
    – Ooker
    Dec 15, 2017 at 14:37

My university gives students a document of guidelines for planning, organising and formatting their dissertation. It addresses this question, and I think their answer is pretty good. This is basically what it says:

Your references and citations should contain anything you've quoted directly, anything you've used a figure or diagram from, and anything you've referred in the text to for a fact, assertion, statistic, etc. Any time you state something that's not blindingly obvious from first principles or the product of your own work, cite where you got it from. (I had a lecturer tell us to imagine we're being followed around by one of those Wikipedia users who goes around sticking [citation needed] on everything.)

If there are other sources that you haven't used directly but still feel would be valuable to anyone attempting to understand or replicate your work, anything you made significant use of while doing the work that didn't make it into your citations for some reason, or anything you read to help your understanding of the topic in order to carry out the work, you can add a separate bibliography section, which lists those works.

As far as I'm aware, the distinction between "references" and "bibliography" is well-understood in the academic community, but you could always drop in a line or two at the top of each to explain if you feel it would help your audience.

  • 4
    The section you call "bibliography" might also be titled "Further reading", which I think should avoid all confusion. Apr 21, 2014 at 12:48
  • 1
    "A reference list, generally, contains only sources you have cited in-text in your assignment. A bibliography, generally, is a list of all the sources you have used. This means, in addition to listing the sources you cited in-text, you also list resources that you read or referred to generate your ideas about the topic." studenthelp.secure.griffith.edu.au/app/answers/detail/a_id/1676/…
    – Ooker
    Dec 15, 2017 at 14:32

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