This seems like a silly question, but I can't find a clear answer online. If Dr. Brainiac's Big Book of Science was first published in 1974, but I have the second edition, published in 1996, should I cite it as (Brainiac, 1974) or (Brainiac, 1996)?

I realise that this is the sort of thing that might come down to the policy of the journal, but it happens that the journal I'm submitting to doesn't offer any specific guidelines on this particular topic, so I was wondering what the standard practice is, if there is one.

edit: for clarity, of course I would mention in the references section that I was referring to the second edition. I guess it would look something like this:

Brainiac, Q. Big Book of Science. Aperture publishing, 1974. (2nd edition 1996.)


Brainiac, Q. Big Book of Science, 2nd edition. Aperture publishing, 1996. (First published 1974.)

Where in the first case the in-text citation should be (Brainiac, 1974), and in the second it would be (Brainiac, 1996). The question is which of these is considered the best, or at least the most usual, way of doing it. In my particular case I'm citing a specific fact that is almost certainly in both editions, but of course I can't be sure.

4 Answers 4


If the journal uses the American Psychological Association (APA) style, then you cite the year of the edition and you do not mention earlier editions.

For example, if you are using the 4th edition (published in 1994) of the APA publication manual, you would cite it as (American Psychological Association, 1994) and its bibliographic entry would be:

American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

  • 1
    Thanks - it's not an APA style journal (it has its own style guidelines that are not the same as the APA ones and which don't mention this issue) but it's good to know that APA have an official position all the same.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 14:22

In this case I would say Be Honest: only cite the references that you have read. Even if you have read the "rev 1", you might be (wrongly) citing as "rev 2" a sentence from "rev 1" that was removed in "rev 2"...

It might be obvious, but sloppy mistakes like that happen

  • I've edited the question to clarify that I would mention which edition I'm referring to in the references section - the question is mostly about which year should appear in the in-text citations.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 12:43
  • @Nathaniel: online I found various resources pointing at a similar solution -- reference to an edition number but no original date of publication as in here
    – ElCid
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 13:53
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    If you are not actually looking at the edition published in 1974, the date 1974 should not appear in the body of the paper. Equivalently, if you want the date 1974 to appear in the paper (to establish priority of the cited results, for example), go the the library, pull the 1974 edition off the shelf, and verify with your own eyes that the result is there.
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 14:00
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    @ElCid I found a few similar resources - but it's ambiguous - it doesn't actually state that the year given should be the publication date of the 2nd edition rather than the first-published date.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 14:18

It is always best and safest to cite the sources you've actually used.

If there are two (or more editions) of a book, you generally don't have a complete list of changes from one version to the next. The relevant information might not be in the first edition, or might be outdated from the one you've used. So: use the edition you've actually read.

This is also true if you've used an eprint on the arXiv, but you later find out that it is published (or will be published) in a journal: still use the arXiv reference.

This is subtle: the eprint wasn't ever peer reviewed, and thus is a less authoritative source. Your wording should always reflect that. If then the e-print is published in a journal, and you only change the reference it's like saying you don't care about peer review. It occurs all too often, but it's simply bad science, even if the contents of the two is word-for-word the same. If you change the reference, re-write the relevant sections as well.

  • Personally in the last case I would cite the journal version (after checking that of course what you are referring to is still in there), and cite the arxiv version seperately if it differs substantially. The problem is that citations to arXiv preprints are not always accounted for in citation reports, for example. Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 13:45
  • The problem is that citations to arXiv preprints are not always accounted for in citation reports, for example. — So what?
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 13:58
  • @JeffE: unfortunately citation counts seem to be important to some administrators... On a more practical level, in databases such as MathSciNet I sometimes find it convenient to see which papers cite a certain paper, to see what related work has been done. Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 14:17
  • No, I mean why should you care about other people's citation counts?
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 14:24
  • Ah ok, well I suppose that this is how I would like others to cite my papers, so this is how I would do it. But whether to cite the arXiv or journal version is of relatively minor importance imho. Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 14:45

I believe that the best option is citing the edition you actually used for two reasons: 1- It's more honest (since you're not citing something that maybe you didn't really read); and 2- In some cases the original text may have been revised in a way that may contradict your text.

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