In my thesis, I am using other people's open data, and I cut and paste the description of it and reference its source and its copyright (if it is identifiable in the source).

My question is if that's the correct way to handle open data. Is cutting and pasting the description of the data (from its source) OK as long as I reference it, or should I interpret it myself?

  • Look at the licensing of the data you're using, and it will explain what you need to do. Usually open-source things require attribution, and may restrict its use for profit, but it's based entirely on what license it's on. For example, fred.saitlouisfed.org has instructions for citing its data series in the FAQ.
    – Jeff
    Oct 24, 2016 at 16:20
  • @JeffL.Thank you for your answer, moreover, as I am not experienced in the Academia about my second question, is it tolerable to copy paste the description (I am not lazy is just I have many sources and it does not make sense to me alternating each description). Many thanks, you could provide perhaps an answer below.
    – user61104
    Oct 24, 2016 at 16:27

1 Answer 1


The citations should come directly from the source, and the details will depend on how they've licensed it. There's a lot more to open-source licensing, but when you're just doing the citing proper attribution is the main thing you need to concern yourself with.

Here's one example from the St. Louis Fed database, on their data series for GDP:

Suggested Citation:

US. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Real Gross Domestic Product [A191RL1Q225SBEA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/A191RL1Q225SBEA, October 24, 2016.

Here's another from ICPSR (https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/ICPSR/studies/32241?classification=ICPSR.I.A.3.):


United States Department of Commerce. Bureau of the Census, United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Current Population Survey, December 2010: Food Security Supplement. ICPSR32241-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2011-12-16. http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR32241.v1

In my experience most data series have a citation right on the page now days. If it doesn't, try looking in the site's FAQ, or elsewhere on their site for how they wish to be cited.

  • 1
    If you have a DOI for the dataset, citation.crosscite.org will format the citation for you.
    – Jez
    Nov 1, 2016 at 12:37

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