How would you cite the content of an archive file?

Inside this zipfile (141MB, if you care to download), there is a notes-file (in the split directory) which contains some useful information. It belongs to several papers, yet this information is a detail I have not found in the papers.

I previously asked at tex.stackexchange, where @Johannes_B recommended to better ask here. Google for citation archive etc. did not yield results. Or should it just be left alone and not cited?

As @earthling said

If you are unsure, cite it to be safe.

This relates to How should I cite presentation slides?, yet unlike that question, this data is publicly available and meant to be accessed.

  • 1
    Would the downvoter explain his/her downvote, or not?
    – serv-inc
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 10:34
  • 5
    You could ask the author of the software suite how s/he would prefer it is cited? That has the advantage that the author might point you to a paper where that detail might be found?
    – user38309
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 10:37
  • @schester: If there is a canonical approach, it would be nice to avoid asking him about such a detail, but it is a good idea. (especially since he gave his email address in the notes and encouraged questions).
    – serv-inc
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 10:44
  • 1
    Indeed, although I'm sure s/he won't mind asking how s/he best prefers to be cited. Also, I'd wager that one typically prefers her/his papers, rather than software suites, to attract the citations (if appropriate).
    – user38309
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 11:06
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    Trying to cite a ZIP file is like trying to cite a shelf in a library. Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 19:32

1 Answer 1


Looks like what you are actually citing is the software (which happens to be zipped), not the zip file itself. Obviously, how to do this this depends on what citation style you are using.

The according to the APA style blog,

  • Use an individual’s name in the reference if he or she has proprietary rights to the program. In all other cases, create a reference as you would for unauthored works.
  • After the title, in brackets, provide a descriptor for the item. This helps the reader immensely.
  • If the software is available online, provide the URL rather than the publisher name and location

While the MLA Style Guide says

To cite software, use the following form:

  1. Epi Info [computer program]. Version 3.2. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2004.
  2. Intercooled STATA (for Windows) [computer program]. Version 7.0. College Station, TX: StataCorp; 2000.

Software need not be cited in the reference list if it is mentioned only in passing or is available without charge via the Internet (eg, shareware or freeware).

Whichever citation style you are using should likewise have guidance posted for how to cite software.

Edited to add:

Similarly, you should be able to find citation information in your chosen citation style for "citing datasets". Some examples are given At the MSU library site as well as other library sites. The APA, for instance (according to the above link) gives

Unpublished raw data from study, untitled work

Basic form: Author, F. N. (Year). [Description of study topic]. Unpublished raw data.

Example: Smith, J.A. (2006). [Personnel survey]. Unpublished raw data.

Further edited for second follow-up question:

The University of Oregon Library website gives some general guidelines for citing any sort of data source:

Citation Elements

To be most effective, a data citation should include at least the following elements. The utility of these elements will depend on the research discipline, source data center/repository, and data format.

  1. Responsible party (i.e., study PI, sample collector, government agency)
  2. Name of table, map, or dataset with any applicable unique IDs
  3. Name of data center, repository, and/or publication
  4. Analysis software, if required
  5. Date accessed
  6. URL and/or DOI/DOI link or other persistent link
  • 1
    Thank you. What if this is supplemental data with some code to make use of it rather than the software itself? (it does not have a name, neither a version)
    – serv-inc
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 12:06
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    @user Updated the answer to add more info :) Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 12:11
  • Is there a common practice for citing the file, not just the whole dataset?
    – serv-inc
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 12:32
  • @user Added some more generic info. Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 16:23
  • @user Citing a file is exactly like citing a page number of a book, or an equation number from an article. It is not something done in isolation, but rather additional information you can choose to append to the citation proper. The physical medium is irrelevant (just as the type of paper a journal is printed on is irrelevant). All you need to do is point to the source, which is either the software ("software" is more than just executables; the term always includes associated documentation and data) or some standalone dataset, such that people know what you're talking about.
    – user4512
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 18:13

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