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I am citing a paper with the latest version being 2005. I checked some recent studies that cite this paper and some reference it as a "working paper" while others reference it as an "unpublished paper".

Is there a time limit or rule of thumb after which a working paper should be cited as an unpublished paper?

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    Well, what does "working paper" mean in your field? (The terminology is not familiar to me; I think it is not used in mathematics.) Does it mean something different from "unpublished paper"? In my field we generally use "preprint" to mean either one, and I don't think there is any expiration date. I would recommend putting more effort into making your that your citation is clear and making it as easy as possible on the reader to lay hands on the paper. – Pete L. Clark Mar 10 '17 at 4:24
  • @PeteL.Clark Yes, I too agree with this. Computer Science usually refers the same way. – Coder Mar 12 '17 at 5:42
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In some fields, most papers are referred to as working papers even when they are basically preprints. And often they are explicitly in archives for "working papers," or published in a series of "working papers" (often if they were presented at a university for feedback).

After determining that there is not a newer or published version, I usually cite these papers, regardless of age, as a working paper if it is referred to as such. However, depending on the citation system, there may not be an official way to cite something as a "working paper", and so in that case I often default to citing it as an "unpublished paper." (A similar problem, or individual preferences, may be why different authors choose to cite it in different ways.)

I do not think time should change that classification, because "working paper" is a phrase indicating the general status of the work to those in the field. At the extreme, I might still refer to a "working paper" by someone who retired or died, even though it is certainly not still a work-in-progress. For instance, here is the official BibTex file for the first working paper in the NBER archive, a 1973 work by Finis Welch. The citation has type "Working Paper."

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