Why we cite

The importance of references

There are good reasons to develop the habit of including clear, complete references in your document or bibliography. These are summed up as follows by Walker and Todd in The Columbia Guide to Online Style:1

  1. Access: Readers can easily find the author's original source documents.2
  2. Intellectual honesty: Authors receive credit for their ideas and efforts.
  3. Economy: Readerscan quickly find the information they need.
  4. Standardization: Punctuation, capitalization, ordering of elements, formatting and other conventions are consistent and understood by both author and reader.
  5. Transparency: The citations are clear and intuitive so that virtually all readers can find, understand and use them.

    We can add one more:

  6. Credibility: Readers can see that the author has done research on the topic and is not presenting just his or her own opinions.

A general rule is to cite what you see: that is, cite the data table or publication you use, or the dataset you download. Direct the user to the specific version of a table or a data file you have used; it may not necessarily be the most recent version.


  1. Walker, Janice and Taylor Todd. 1998. "The logic of citation." The Columbia Guide to Online Style. New York, New York. Columbia University Press. p. 9–19.
  2. When you cite a data source, be aware of differences between editions or versions of the source. The Internet's capacity to store and offer access to multiple versions of the same dataset, table or software, for example, increases the complexity of choosing which version to cite. The version you find and use may be different from those provided by another data service or website.
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