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I am involved in standardization in my field and have thus insight and information about the contents of upcoming standards that are not yet published. I am co-chair of one standardization group that is working on a particular standard that is projected to be published sometime (rather towards the end of) next year. A lot of the content exists already.

There are not a lot of standards in my field as it is quite a new subfield and the contents of the standard are thus quite novel. I am currently writing a paper and would like to cite the standard even though it is not published yet (and very likely will not be by the time the paper will be published). But as a paper will "last/be relevant" for many years, for most of the papers' lifetime the standard will be published. And I think the reference to the standard enhances the quality of the paper.

I wonder if this is an acceptable practice (citing unpublished standards that kind of constitute not yet publicly available "insider knowledge") and if so, how to cite it.

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    @Roland You should make that comment an answer. Sounds like a great answer to me! Dec 5, 2022 at 12:58
  • Would some sort of combo-cite be acceptable? Current standard says XYZ, upcoming standard says XYZ but sometimes W. Something like that?
    – Boba Fit
    Dec 5, 2022 at 13:54

2 Answers 2

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I have been involved in a number of standardization processes, and in every case there have been identifiable documents that can be cited long before the final official ratification and adoption.

The specific details depend on the standards process, but examples that I have seen include:

  • Numbered working documents, drafts, and ballots
  • Published RFCs
  • Public repositories containing a working draft
  • Documents on preprint servers
  • Journal articles (including perspectives, proposals, progress reports, etc.)

Not all of these will come with a DOI or will be public. This is especially likely to be the case for industrial standards (e.g., ISO, ANSI) that are paywalled even after they are published.

All, however, are perfectly citable: remember that a citation doesn't promise that a reader can actually obtain the source in question, it only clearly identifies what that source is.

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    Is there any value in a citation that is not obtainable? As a reader, I go to look at citations when i'm looking for more information on a specific statement, but if i can't obtain the source it's impossible for me to get that information. It also reduces the ability to verify the truth of a statement, making it more difficult to discuss the content of the paper further.
    – bracco23
    Dec 5, 2022 at 17:41
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    @bracco23: There's certainless less value in unobtainable citations, but not no value. At a bare minimum, citing your sources gives proper credit to others for their work (i.e., plagiarism is bad).
    – Brian
    Dec 5, 2022 at 20:44
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    @bracco23 Personal communication is the prime example of unobtainable citations. In theory, you could sometimes go ask that person. In some cases, it could be of value for the history of science way down the line, registering who influenced whom and when, enabling to study the evolution of theories and ideas and so on. Most other examples listed are obtainable - one could opt for paying $40 or what have you or traveling across the world to see the source in question, it is just impractical and most readers would not bother.
    – Lodinn
    Dec 5, 2022 at 21:29
  • Standards for programming languages usually require payment, while the last draft is available for free. The last draft (or earlier drafts) are surely documents that you can cite, and it’s nice if I can read a source without having to pay.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 6, 2022 at 8:03
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    @Lodinn: “Private communication” as source means I don’t claim I came up with an idea myself (plagiarism). You won’t be able to verify the source, who may not even remember the communication. You might like more information but sometimes there is none. Worst case: A discussion between half a dozen people. An hour later I realise that someone (I don’t know who) said something that lets me solve a problem in my research.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 6, 2022 at 8:06
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I am not familiar with the practice of standardization, so the following may be off the mark, but a lot may depend on whether you have any non-disclosure obligations with respect to the existing "lot of the content".

Anyway, I don't quite understand the purpose of citing the unpublished standard. Unpublished standard is not a standard, so I don't see how citing it adds value to your article. Your article will have a date of submission and the date of publication, so it will always be tied to some point in time.

The situation may be different if you use some ideas from the standard, then you may have to cite it, maybe with a note (unpublished).

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