Citing data : why you should, and how

Wikipedia "Citation needed" stickers

Research data producers need to be rewarded and acknowledged for their work. The readers of your research also need to be able to track the sources you used, including the data. This is why data must be cited properly, just like books or papers. Our resident citations expert Catherine Brendow explains how.

Why should you cite data?

“Data should be considered legitimate, citable products of research. Data citations should be accorded the same importance in the scholarly record as citations of other research objects, such as publications”.
(Data Citation Synthesis Group: Joint Declaration of Data Citation Principles. Martone M. (ed.) San Diego CA: FORCE11; 2014

Two information science specialists, Hyoungjoo Park and Dietmar Wolfram, have studied characteristics of data citation, and found that when data are cited, they are often cited in an informal way, such as hidden in the representation of data (tables, graphs, figures…), or in the supplementary information. They “appear in the references section of an article less frequently than in the main text, making it difficult to identify the reward and credit for data authors”.

It is essential to cite data in the same way as other references, with the same level of formalization, in order to encourage authors to make their data reusable by other researchers.

So how should it be done?

Most citation styles, including the Chicago Style, do not really deal with the question of data set citation yet. But you can find many good resources on the Web, including models and examples, such as on the Harvard Dataverse repository.

When citing data, you should provide the following information:

  • Name of the author(s)
  • Title of the data set
  • Year
  • Data repository or archive
  • Persistent access information, such as a DOI

That is to say, the usual information you need to provide for citing other types of sources…

How to prepare Zotero for data citations

A “data set” item type should be introduced in the 5.1. version. Until then, you can use the Journal Article item type, add itemtype:dataset to the Extra field, and when the dataset type is added, these items should be automatically migrated.

Illustration (cropped and colour-enhanced): “Citation needed” stickers, by Tomasz Finc, published under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 3.0

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