This question is closely related to How should I cite a website URL? but more concrete.

I'm currently writing my master thesis. In the section "related work" I give an overview which also includes concrete products (normally software). Usually there is no academic paper published about this work and often there is only a product homepage, a git hub repository or a manual available.

How, if at all, should I cite this "products"? I thought about adding the URL just after the name of the product, adding it as a footnote, cite it as usual with a MISC BibTeX entry or not mentioning a URL at all (usually they are easy to find with Google). I'm a bit worried too blow up my bibliography to much.

I give a few examples to stay concrete, my thesis is about a pattern matching algorithm (well, very simplified) so I want to show tools that help programmers with writing regex:

Could you please also please also answer if it's OK to include a lot of citations (around 20) to mention this products although the text is only around one page, respective one sub chapter (in a work that is expected to have something around 100 pages).

  • 1
    Related : academia.stackexchange.com/q/5482/102
    – user102
    Mar 28, 2013 at 16:06
  • I think it's closely related, but not a duplicated. As mentioned in the answer of @eykanal rules are different for standard office software and programming languages then for specialized software. And I do not use this software, I only reference it to give the state of the art.
    – leo
    Mar 28, 2013 at 16:10

4 Answers 4


Just give as much information as you can to uniquely identify and date the product. To quote one of my own recent papers:

  • Nuclear Monkey Software. Narbacular Drop. Video game, 2005.

  • Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Matrix Revolutions. Warner Bros., 2003. Motion picture.


According to the APA:

Do not cite standard office software (e.g. Word, Excel) or programming languages. Provide references only for specialized software.

Ludwig, T. (2002). PsychInquiry [computer software]. New York: Worth.`

Software that is downloaded from a Web site should provide the software’s version and year when available.

Hayes, B., Tesar, B., & Zuraw, K. (2003). OTSoft: Optimality Theory Software (Version 2.1) [Software]. Available from http://www.linguistics.ucla.edu/people/hayes/otsoft/

The IEEE style is almost identical. (I'd reproduce it here, but it's in a stupid flash file which doesn't support copy/paste.)

That being said, I notice that you cited software for parsing and understanding regular expressions. While there is no official rule that I know of for acknowledging software, it is typically only used for software crucial to the development efforts (i.e., an analysis tool). To bring a somewhat extreme example, while everyone uses some form of operating system (Windows, Mac OS, Linux), no one cites their operating system. Recall the purpose of citations; to enable others to understand your frame of reference and replicate your work. You should only cite tools that are specialized to your research that others would need to continue your research.

Additionally, I've seen many neuroscience papers where some software is listed but not cited (e.g., the Matlab reference here). This is typically done for tools developed outside of an academic environment. Here, Matlab is a non-academic commercial, but both SPM and Fieldtrip were developed using grant money, and both specify exactly how they should be cited in publications (e.g., Fieldtrip; I can't find SPM's now).

  • Thanks for the answer. This is what i searched for. @eyekanal may you please add some words about my fear that this blows up my bibliography too much. I might cite around 20 products.
    – leo
    Mar 29, 2013 at 15:37
  • @eyekanal thanks a lot, but it's not what I meant. I think I do understand now when to cite software. But I'm still worried that I get a too big bibliography. Do I have to worry about a "too big bibliography" or is there not too big for it. (I changed the question a bit.)
    – leo
    Mar 30, 2013 at 14:08
  • In larger works such as theses, I generally like to cite software that was crucial to the development efforts. Not only do I think this will help others to replicate my work, I also think it is due attribution to the people who made the effort of creating those tools. Come to think about it, I now realize the "larger works" I do this in typically also extensively report about implementation aspects besides the merely conceptual research itself. Also, I normally restrict such citations to software that was somewhat specific to my work, and did not just provide a basic environment (i.e. no OS). Jan 19, 2017 at 10:24

The software manufacturer may be willing to provide a few more details, like the lead developer's name(s) and so on for academic purposes. Software written for academics may already have a citation ready.

See, for example, the citation for Gaussian 09. Note that they already have a bibtex starting point also.

Gaussian 09, Revision A.1, Frisch, M. J.; Trucks, G. W.; Schlegel, H. B.; Scuseria, G. E.; Robb, M. A.; Cheeseman, J. R.; Scalmani, G.; Barone, V.; Mennucci, B.; Petersson, G. A.; Nakatsuji, H.; Caricato, M.; Li, X.; Hratchian, H. P.; Izmaylov, A. F.; Bloino, J.; Zheng, G.; Sonnenberg, J. L.; Hada, M.; Ehara, M.; Toyota, K.; Fukuda, R.; Hasegawa, J.; Ishida, M.; Nakajima, T.; Honda, Y.; Kitao, O.; Nakai, H.; Vreven, T.; Montgomery, Jr., J. A.; Peralta, J. E.; Ogliaro, F.; Bearpark, M.; Heyd, J. J.; Brothers, E.; Kudin, K. N.; Staroverov, V. N.; Kobayashi, R.; Normand, J.; Raghavachari, K.; Rendell, A.; Burant, J. C.; Iyengar, S. S.; Tomasi, J.; Cossi, M.; Rega, N.; Millam, J. M.; Klene, M.; Knox, J. E.; Cross, J. B.; Bakken, V.; Adamo, C.; Jaramillo, J.; Gomperts, R.; Stratmann, R. E.; Yazyev, O.; Austin, A. J.; Cammi, R.; Pomelli, C.; Ochterski, J. W.; Martin, R. L.; Morokuma, K.; Zakrzewski, V. G.; Voth, G. A.; Salvador, P.; Dannenberg, J. J.; Dapprich, S.; Daniels, A. D.; Farkas, Ö.; Foresman, J. B.; Ortiz, J. V.; Cioslowski, J.; Fox, D. J. Gaussian, Inc., Wallingford CT, 2009.


There isn’t really a ‘set’ method to cite products, but rather a paradigm: Give enough information so a veteran can identify the product – novices do not need to be able to do so.

For example, if I use an enzyme from Sigma Aldrich in a biology experiment, I write something like:

25 ng of amylase (Sigma Aldrich; Missouri, USA; P228) was added to the mix

Notice how I didn’t use a stock concentration. That’s because the information is already there. I simply quote the provider, their origin, and the product code. If a veteran now goes to the website, they can see the exact product I used. I do not write P228-1g or P228-5m, because those are volumes or masses, and that’s all irrelevant. Sometimes I’ll add a date if I think it’s relevant.

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