I am currently writing my master thesis and I am extremely insecure where and when to give the sources. I tried to google for any recommendations but could not find anything that helps me.

How often do I need to give the source for information when it belongs to the same topic and I introduced the one and only document to this topic already?

For example I am referring to a technical standard and when introducing this standard I give reference to its standard document. Now I will give more information later on on this standard as I compare it to other standards. Do I repeat to mention the standard document? Since this document is quite long: Do I have to exactly say where in that document I found the information?

EDIT: Also while we at it: I also give information about a the Java programming language. Can I assume that everyone knows this? Especially since it's the teaching language, the most widely spread language used in industry, most probably all my readers know it and it is very easy find out about this language if not. Do I still need to give the source for my information?

  • 2
    It seems to me you should have asked these questions to your advisor, haven't you?
    – Nobody
    Apr 15, 2015 at 10:36
  • My advisor is on holidays.
    – jsf
    Apr 15, 2015 at 10:42
  • I want to hand in the thesis soon. Getting the references correct is one of my last remaining tasks.
    – jsf
    Apr 15, 2015 at 10:47
  • 1
    In general every factual statement should be referenced. Obviously things which are common knowledge are not included. Java is borderline ... I'd just give a footnote to www.java.com the first time it's mentioned. Apr 15, 2015 at 12:22

2 Answers 2


When you first introduce the technical standard in your thesis, you should provide citations to any and all relevant documents. By "any and all", I mean the set that you are making use of directly, but not previous versions, commentary, or ancillary documents. Each reference should appear separately in your Bibliography.

After that, you do not need to provide additional citations even when you refer to that technical standard later in the same chapter, or in later chapters. However, if you are quoting text from the standard, or otherwise you are analyzing/critiquing the standard in detail, then it would be helpful to your readers to provide citations to the specific reference and page numbers. Sometimes, depending upon the standard, it is more appropriate to cite chapter, section, and subsection numbers. You say that you are comparing different technical standards. If so, then it would be very appropriate to provide chapter, section, and subsection numbers for the respective standard sections. Somewhere on the page (e.g. footnotes) you could provide citation to the technical standard document(s) themselves.


The rule for citations generally differs depending on what citation style you are using and there is usually a handbook for citation formatting rules for each style. I would guess that Computer Science would be most likely to use IEEE. Ideally you would speak to your advisor about which style is expected, but at the very least make sure that you are consistent to one style. For example, in IEEE you would reference the first time and then use the same number throughout. Search for in-text citations and the name of the style you will use. You should be able to find an online guide detailing the rule.

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