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While writing my thesis (computer science), I was wondering how detailed citations have to be.

Let's assume I want to cite an article of a conference and have full information on author, editor, title, year, booktitle, subtitle, eventtitle, volume, location, DOI, ISBN, arXiv ID, ... you get the point.

Do I actually provide every piece of information in the citation or are some left out? Does any style guide (like IEEE, APA, MLA) address this topic?

Similar questions [1] cover only URLs, but my question is more general.

[1] Should I include a DOI/website URL for a publication in dissertation bibliography?

  • For my thesis, I plan on using the style guide from one of the popular journals in my field. I am a meteorologist, so will probably use the American Meteorological Society style guide (I used this in my undergrad dissertation). I may use the American Geophysical Union style guide instead (I am writing a paper for one of their journals at the moment). – emmalgale Sep 17 '14 at 15:27
  • Be aware that some supervisors have fixed opinions on how they want citations to look like. Thus forming an opinion on this without having asked your supervisor may be a waste of time. – Wrzlprmft Sep 17 '14 at 15:30
  • @Wrzlprmft I've spoken to my supervisor and he does not care at all. – ResterHall Sep 17 '14 at 15:39
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    Follow the stylesheet your university has for theses. If no such stylesheet exists, follow what seems to be the norm in your field. – Sverre Sep 17 '14 at 17:25
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Generally the citation styles for your field, and thus for your thesis, will dictate this. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) website is a nice and popular resource to refer to what the most possible information would be desired for APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian - but you ultimately should refer to the exact, up-to-date published version of the style guide itself.

As an example, for APA when citing a Journal or Conference paper/article, you would at most provide (formatting stripped):

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article. Title of Periodical, volume number(issue number), pages. http://dx.doi.org/xx.xxx/yyyyy

If something doesn't have a DOI, the style guides say how to cite each type of resource. A book might be cited by ISBN, and if there is no DOI you might cite the arXiv in place of the DOI website - but you are never citing all of these things!

Cite only that which the style guide says you should, in keeping with the common tradition of papers in your field - no more, and no less.

When using reference management tools they often help do this for you, but they do not absolve the author of responsibility for ensuring that the citation matches the appropriate style of their field and that the data and style is followed accurately.

When You Don't Know Your Style

If you are unsure of what style applies to your field, a search for "{field name} style" can be helpful, but the Purdue OWL site linked above also provides further guidance on their Complete Discipline Listing. If you are unsure an adviser or your department office can provide further verification, and checking in with the department (whether that be the department office, chair, or secretary) is often a helpful technique.

Special Case: IEEE

I would note that the IEEE is somewhat of a special case (and is very common in computer, engineering, and various technology fields) in that there is a IEEE Citation Reference and IEEE Editorial Style Manual. However, they both specify that when the guides don't provide a specific answer to your question that you should consult the Chicago style guides. Thus the IEEE style may be considered a specialized version of Chicago style.

So in the case of this style you should first consult the IEEE guides, and if and only if they do not provide sufficient guidance you can consult the far more comprehensive Chicago guides.

Summation

So in conclusion: if you have 100 fields of information available, you don't include them all in the citation - just the ones that your field's style says you should. Any good style guide (all the ones I've had to read) gives rules of precedence and fall-back plans when certain information is unobtainable, with the information requested varying by the source being cited itself.

  • Thanks for the purdue link. So my field is computer science, which citation style would you recommend (ieee)? As said before, my supervisor does not care at all. – ResterHall Sep 17 '14 at 15:53
  • @ResterHall since you are using biblatex just put everything into your bib file and then let the bibliography style deal with the formatting. – StrongBad Sep 17 '14 at 15:58
  • @StrongBad the question was which bibliography style to use (e.g. style=ieee) – ResterHall Sep 17 '14 at 16:05
  • @ResterHall According to the the Utah State University, your field is likely to primarily use IEEE. cs.usu.edu/htm/thesis-style-guides-for-computer-science They also link to the IEEE style: ieee.org/documents/ieeecitationref.pdf and the author toolkit: ieee.org/documents/info_authors_kit.pdf So that seems to be your best bet, as far as I can tell (I personally have to learn IEEE style some time this year myself, having only written in MLA and APA before this). – BrianH Sep 17 '14 at 16:05
  • @BrianDHall Thanks! I will read those links. I would upvote your post, but need 15 reputations ;) – ResterHall Sep 17 '14 at 16:10
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The goal of the citation text (as opposed to citing in general) is to make it as easy as possible for your readers to find the works you cite. It cannot hurt to include as much information as you have. You are using a bibliography/citation management system like Zotero or BibTeX, right? So, once you've put this into your database, the formatting and typing out of all the relevant information should be automated. If there are constraints or unwanted information, the formatting package should eliminate them from the text it produces making your document compliant with the standards of your publishing venue.

  • Yes, I'm using BibLaTeX as a management system. I have not noticed that information are automatically deleted, I will try that out, thanks! Well the downside of using detailed citations is a long bibliography - especially on an article which is limited to a certain number of pages. Hence, I thought a style guide regarding this topic would exist (e.g. author is important, isbn is not) – ResterHall Sep 17 '14 at 15:30
  • The style for each venue will depend on that venue, so you need to include whatever they want. If that makes your bibliography long, that's the breaks. – Bill Barth Sep 17 '14 at 15:38
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    I disagree, most citation styles explicitly limit the information in the citation. For example in APA style if you read a print version of something without a doi, but with a url, you do not list anything even though having the url would potentially make finding the article much easier. – StrongBad Sep 17 '14 at 15:56
  • @StrongBad what if the book (e.g. inproceedings) containing the article has a doi, but is not freely available, but the article was also published on e.g. arXiv / institute website – ResterHall Sep 17 '14 at 16:08
  • @StrongBad, right, but BibTeX is usually smart enough to only print the things that APA or IEEE or whoever wants even if there's more information in the BibTeX database entry. Am I wrong about that? – Bill Barth Sep 17 '14 at 16:15
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There are style guides for IEEE, APA, and MLS (also known as MLA), although IEEE style is slightly different from the others in that it is based on the Chicago style guide. Many publishers provide information in their online citation downloads that are not required for the citation. In these cases you do not include the extra information. This seems a bit strange given that this extra information could be helpful, put most journals stick rigidly to their style guidelines and do not want extra information.

I think the most obvious example of excluding useful information is related to issue numbers and APA sytle:

Per APA Style, when formatting periodical references (which include journals, magazines, and newsletters), include the issue number (immediately following the volume number in parentheses) when the periodical is paginated by issue (i.e., begins each issue with page 1). Otherwise, include only the volume number

It is often easier to find an article on a publisher's website if you have the issue number, even if the journal is paginated continuously. That said, journals that stick to APA style will remove issue numbers if you include them.

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