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I have seen the other questions regarding which publication date to use, and it seems clear to use what the publisher uses. But what if the publisher provides several dates such as the following?

  • Issue online: 25 January 2016
  • Version of record online: 25 October 2015
  • Accepted manuscript online: 7 October 2015

I find these definitions confusing. Which data should be used as the official publication year? What does version of record online even mean; is it important?

  • You have to define "use". Different purposes lead to different dates. For example, determining who published an idea first, you use the earliest date. For legal purposes, you may need to use the first version of record date. – user71659 Dec 14 '17 at 18:11
  • I guess this depends on the journal. Most journals in math that I'm aware of tell you the year and month for the volume and issue number (or bi-month period, or season, or some other subcategory of the year, if such a subcategory exists for that journal), and that's what you use. See here for example, where any of the papers in this issue would be dated November 2013 (or maybe just 2013, as people often just give the year). – Dave L Renfro Dec 14 '17 at 20:05
  • Incidentally, Version of record online is mostly meaningless for a lot of math papers, since in math one often cites papers from well before the 1990s. Knowing that a certain paper first appeared online on 12 May 2002 is pretty meaningless if the paper was received by the editors on 15 January 1963, revised on 28 June 1963, accepted for publication on 17 July 1963, published in an issue dated May 1964 (and of course the library's "received date" that is stamped on the front of that issue is probably something like 12 September 1963). – Dave L Renfro Dec 14 '17 at 20:20
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A journal citation looks like

Last, F. M., & Last, F. M. (Year Published). Article title. Journal Name, Volume(Issue), pp. Pages.

Since it refers to a specific volume and issue, you should use the date that issue was published. (For your example, that is 25 January 2016.)

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