Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Data & Statistics: Citing Data

Methods of obtaining data, analyzing and summarizing it, and drawing inferences from data samples by the use of probability theory.


Data requires citations for the same reasons journal articles and other types of publications require citations: to acknowledge the original author/producer and to help other researchers find the resource.

A dataset citation includes all of the same components as any other citation:

  • author,
  • title,
  • year of publication,
  • publisher (for data this is often the archive where it is housed),
  • edition or version, and
  • access information (a URL or other persistent identifier).
Unfortunately, standards for the citation of data are not uniformly agreed upon and have yet to be codified by the National Information Standards Organization (an organization that sets technical standards for other bibliographic materials).  However, many data providers and distributors and some style manuals do provide guidelines.  Some of these instructions are listed on this guide.

Be sure to follow the general citation format for the style manual your professor has asked you to use.  It is always better to provide more information about a resource rather than less!


Some style manuals do provide instructions for the citation of data. Usually there are basic rules for the order of citation elements, regardless of the type of work. This is what you will need to pay close attention to in order to format your citation correctly. If you can’t find a generic list of rules, then look at how the citation for a book is formatted. 

If the style manual you are using does not address data citations, you can follow these general rules.

Who is the creator of the data set? e.g., individual, a group of individuals, or an organization

What name is the data set called, or what is the name of the study? 

Edition or Version
Is there a version or edition number associated with the data set?

What year was the data set published?  When was the data set posted online?

Is there a person or team responsible for compiling or editing the data set?

Publisher and Publisher Location
What entity is responsible for producing and/or distributing the data set?  Also, is there a physical location associated with the publisher? 

  • In some cases, the publisher of a data set is different than how we think of the publisher of a book.  A data set can have both a producer and a distributor.
  • The producer is the organization that sponsored the author’s research and/or the organization that made the creation of the data set possible, such as codifying and digitizing the data.
  • The distributor is the organization that makes the data set available for downloading and use. 
  • You may need to distinguish the producer and the distributor in a citation by adding explanatory brackets, e.g., [producer] and [distributor].
  • Some citation styles (e.g., APA) do not require listing the publisher if an electronic retrieval location is available. However, you may consider including the most complete citation information possible and retaining publisher information even in the case of electronic resources.

Material Designator
What type of file is the data set?  Is it on CD-ROM or online? 

This may or may not be a required field depending on the style manual.  Often this information is added in explanatory brackets, e.g. [computer file].

Electronic Retrieval Location
What web address is the data set available at?  Is there a persistent identifier available?  If a DOI or other persistent identifier is associated with the data set it should be used in place of the URL.


Colby College on Twitter Colby College on Facebook Colby College on YouTube Colby College on Vimeo Colby College RSS Feed Search Previous Next