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Citations & Style Guide

Information and resources on how to cite references correctly.

Citing Government Publications

Citing government documents can be difficult. Because government documents are usually not intended for commercial publication, they don't necessarily follow the well-established practices of commercial publishing houses. The information needed for a good citation may be confusingly presented, or may not be present at all. Also, government documents vary widely in purpose, style and content, and none of the standard style manuals gives examples for citing all of these materials in a consistent fashion.

Occasionally a government document will offer a suggested citation, usually on the front or back of the title page. 

Some quick citation guides, such as IU's Citing U.S. Government Publications, offer sample citations you can use as models. 

Citation generators and research management tools can help you format citations or maintain references for a research project, but tend to be unreliable when creating citations for government resources. The results almost always need to be adapted to meet the standards described  below.

Also, you can often very easily find all of the information needed for your citation by consulting one of the standard catalogs, such as GPO’s Catalog of U.S. Government Publications or the UNT Library Catalog.

Keep in mind, however, that there is no universally accepted format for citing government documents, anymore than there is for any other source of information. The general guidelines given below should always be used in conjunction with one of the standard style manuals

Remember, if you are writing for a class or for publication, your instructor or publisher is always the final authority to consult for determining which style to use as well as for determining the proper format for a specific citation.

An archived webinarCite It with Style! How to Cite Government Information Resources Like a Pro, is available on the FDLP Academy Web site. It includes a video, PowerPoint slides, a transcript, and a list of resources.

The general guidelines outlined below are based on The Complete Guide to Citing Government Information Resources, 3rd Edition. The arrangement of elements, as well as the punctuation and capitalization, may need to be altered slightly to conform to the specifications of other style manuals.

Author Statement

Most government publications don't have personal authors, and even when they do, the official author is almost always considered to be the governmental agency or organization that has issued the publication, since government documents typically represent the issuing agency's views and policies. 

Political Entity and Issuing Agency

For any national, local, state, or territorial document, begin with the name—this can be abbreviated—of the geographic/political entity (country, state, city, etc.) issuing the report, followed by the name(s) of the agency in hierarchical order, from highest level to lowest:

U.S. Department of State. Foreign Service Institute. Center for the Study of Foreign Affairs.
Denton, TX. Public Schools.
U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.

For intergovernmental (regional, international, etc.) documents, begin with the name of the issuing agency, adding a state abbreviation if the agency is within a single state):

Rio Grande Compact Commission.
Centre Regional Planning Commission (PA).

If the agency is composed of several bureaucratic levels, you usually only need to include the umbrella department and the lowest level agency given on the document:

U.S. Department of Labor. Employment Standards Administration.

 A sub-agency that is well-known in its own right  doesn't even need to be preceded by the umbrella department's name:

U.S. Bureau of the Census.
U.S. Forest Service.

If you're  not  sure whether or not to include something, go ahead and put it in. 

Personal Author

If the document has a personal author or editor, or has been prepared by a private company contracted by the agency, include an appropriate by-line after the title:

United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA's First 50 Years: Historical Perspectives. Edited by Sephen J. Dick.
United States. Smithsonian Institution. Freer Gallery of Art. Islamic Metalwork in the Freer Gallery of Art. By Esin Atil, W.T. Chase, and Paul Jett.
United States. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Homebuilders' Guide to Earthquake-Resistant Design and Construction. Prepared by the Building Seismic Safety Council.

A few documents, such as technical reports, do represent the personal research and viewpoint  of a single person or small group. In such cases you can put the personal author's name in the author statement and mention the issuing agency somewhere else, usually as the publisher:

Gorman, Robert A. Copyright Law. 2nd ed. Washington: Federal Judicial Center, 2006. (Distributed by U.S. Government Printing Office.)

The title of a government document is not always obvious. For example:

  • There may be more than one title.
  • The graphic design or layout may make it difficult to tell where the title begins and ends.
  • The document may not have a title at all. 

Often the easiest way to determine the title of a document is to consult an index, such as GPO’s Catalog of U.S. Government Publications or the UNT Library Catalog. This will also increase the likelihood that your readers can find the document by the title you have listed.

If you must decide on your own what the title is, first look at the title page and choose whatever title seems most prominent. If there is no title page, look for a title on the cover. (If the title page and cover give different titles, use the title on the title page.) If the document is in microfiche, use the title on the image of the title page or cover, not what is on the microfiche header.

If you can’t find a title on the title page or the cover, cite the document as untitled or devise a descriptive title, perhaps taken from the subject matter or a phrase in the document, and enclose the made-up title in brackets (no italics):

[Campgrounds of Yosemite.]

If the document is an individually titled volume within a finite set, give the set title as the main title, then follow that up with the volume  title; be sure to include any pertinent author by-lines after each title:

United States. Smithsonian Institution. Handbook of North American Indians. Edited by William C. Sturtevant. Vol. 2, Indians in Contemporary Society. Volume edited by Garrick A. Bailey. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2008.

If it is part of an ongoing series, the series title can go in a note at the end of the citation:

U.S. Dept. of the Army. Pakistan: A Country Study. (DA Pam 550-48). 6th ed. Edited by Peter R. Blood. Prepared by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1995. (Area Handbook Series). 

Some documents, especially if they have been mentioned in the news a lot, have a popular name that might be more well-known than the official title. That also can be included in a note at the end of the citation:

U.S. Dept. of Justice. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography. Final Report. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1986. (Known as the Meese Report).
Date in Title

A date that appears in a title is not the same as the date of publication, and they do not necessarily match. Likewise, the date of information inside the document—in a data table, for example—may be different from from the title and the publication date. If the document includes a date as part of the title, include the date in the title even if it is the same as the date of publication:

U.S. Census Bureau. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012. 131st ed. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2011.
Unique Identifiers

Sometimes elements are added after the title to help identify the document, tell us what sort of document it is, and distinguish it from other documents.

 Medium or Format

It is important that the reader know whether the document is in a special medium, since such documents are often stored in separate locations in libraries, may require special equipment for use, and may be indexed only in special resources.

If the document is in a medium other than the traditional print on paper (i.e., audio or video tape, audio-visual material, computer tape, motion picture, film strip, microform, slide, holograph), or if the document is a map or poster, indicate the medium in parentheses immediately following the title:

National Urban Recreation Study: Dallas/Fort Worth (Microfiche). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1977.

Many government documents come in publication types not typically associated with the academic world, such as brochrues, coloring books, comic books, and games. Be sure to include information about the type of publication if it is anything other than a standard paper book or journal:

United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Space Travel Hazards (Game). (NP-2009-2-075-GSFC). [Washington, DC?]: NASA, 2009.
U.S. Dept. of the Treasury. Internal Revenue Service. Deskercise (Pamphlet). (IRS Document 6888(9-83)). [Washington, DC?]: IRS, 1983.

If you are citing a government document obtained through a commercially produced microform collection, cite the original paper version of the document in the main part  of the citation (without the format statement, if the format is clear from the note) and include a reference to the microform collection in a note at the end of the citation:

U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare. The Measure of Poverty. Washington: DHEW, 1976. (1976 ASI microfiche 4006-3).


Publication Number or Report Number

Some agencies assign an alphanumeric publication or report number to each document they issue. This number usually contains an agency acronym, and frequently appears in the upper right- or left-hand corner of a title page. If the document includes a Bibliographic Data Sheet or Technical Report Documentation Page, the report number will appear in a box labeled “report/accession number.”

Be sure not to confuse a report number with the call number added to a document by a library. Also, be sure not to confuse it with a contract number or grant number, which is not unique to a document, but is applied to every document resulting from that particular contract or grant. Grant and contract numbers are usually clearly indicated as such on the document.

The report number should be placed in parentheses, immediately after the title and medium, and should be transcribed exactly as it appears on the document:

(S.Hrg. 98-113).
(DHHS Pub. No. PHS 82-1675).
(IRS Document 6888(9-83)).

Sometimes a document may be reissued with the same content, or may be revised and reissued with differing content. Since the content may differ, the reader should be informed of which edition you have used.

Include the edition statement after the title data. If the edition is mentioned in the title proper or in a report number, you need not repeat it after the title data.

Texas State Library. The CREW Method: Expanded Guidelines for Collection Evaluation and Weeding for Small and Medium-Sized Public Libraries. Revised and updated by Belinda Boon from the 1976 CREW Manual by Joseph P. Segal. Austin, TX: TSL, 1995.

Often a map is reissued with changes superimposed upon the original design and is therefore referred to as photorevised. This should also be indicated after the title statement. Note that the photorevision date will always be later than the publication date:

U.S. Geological Survey. Julian, Pa. (map). Photorevised 1971. Washington, USGS, 1961. (1:2500).
Imprint Statement

Often, the easiest way to determine the publication information for a document is to consult an index such as GPO’s Catalog of U.S. Government Publications or the UNT Library Catalog

Place of Publication

The place of publication can usually be found on the front or back of the title page. Sometimes it appears on the bottom of the last page of the text.

If the item is available from the Government Publishing Office (GPO), assume that the place of publication is Washington, DC.

If no place of publication is indicated, and the document is not distributed by the GPO, look for a mailing address on the back of the document, in a preface, or in a letter of transmittal.

For local documents you can omit the place of publication unless it is different from the community in which the document was issued.

Denton, TX. Comprehensive Plan for Human Services. Prepared by Jim Jones, Director of Community Development, et al. 1977.

If you’re not sure of the place of publication, but you can make a reasonable guess, enclose your guess in brackets and add a question mark. If you can’t even make a reasonable guess, use the abbreviation “n.p.” (no place):

U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Federal Insurance Administration. In the Event of a Flood. n.p., 1983.
If the Government Publishing Office (GPO), National Technical Information Service (NTIS), or Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) is mentioned anywhere on the document as printer, publisher, or distributor, assume that that agency is the publisher.

If the document names a specific publishing office of the organization, give that as the publisher.

If the document is published for the organization by a commercial or university press, or if it mentions a specific private printing or distribution firm, give that as the publisher. (If the work comes from UNESCO in Paris and looks like a commercial book, it is probably from UNESCO Press. To distinguish it from other UNESCO publications which are not from UNESCO Press, use the Press as the publisher.)

Sometimes the agency itself may be the source of the document and can therefore be assumed to be the publisher. This may be indicated on a mailing label, in a letter of transmittal, or on a bibliographic data sheet. In such cases, you may abbreviate the name of the agency (or refer to it as “The Agency,” “The Department,” etc.) if it has already been named as the author in an earlier part of your citation:

Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security. The Canadian Navy: Options for the Future.By Robert H. Thomas. Ottawa: The Institute, 1992.

If you cannot determine the publisher, just give the place and date of publication:

Colorado. Bureau of Investigation. Crime in Colorado: Uniform Crime Report. Denver, 1990.
Date of Publication

The date of publication might be found in a number of places:

  • On the front or back of the title page
  • In a preface or letter of transmittal
  • At the bottom of the last page
  • Embedded in a report number

The date may be in the form of a year, a month, or a specific date, or it may consist of an issue date and year (e.g., May 1989 or Fall 1992). Use whichever format appears on the document and will make it easiest to find.

If no date can be found, but the receipt date of the item was stamped on the document, use that date, in brackets, with a “by”:

[by 1979]

If you can't find any date, use “n.d.” (no date).

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Sprocket Man (Comic book). Washington: CPSC, n.d. (Developed by the Urban Bikeway Design Collaborative, a  project of Urban Scientific and Educational Research, Inc.).
Series Title

A series is a group of publications that has one group title as well as distinct titles for the individual publications. Individual titles may or may not be numbered. Be sure to include a series title in your citation if applicable, since it is often a shortcut to locating the document, and if an index does not distinguish individual titles in a series, the series name may be the only way to find the document.

The full series name and the number of the document should come in parentheses after the imprint information and before any notes. If the series number has already been given in the report number, you don't need to repeat it in the series statement.

U.S. Department of the Navy. Bureau of Naval Personnel. Harmony. (NAVPERS 10007-A). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1962. (Navy Training Course).
Alpha, Tau Rho and Leslie C. Gordon. Make Your Own Paper Model of a Volcano (Microfiche). Menlo Park, CA: U.S. Geological Survey, 1991. (USGS Open-File Report 91-115A). 

If citing a series within a series, give both series names:

(Current Population Reports; P-20 Population Characteristics No. 383).
Microform Collections

If the document is contained in a large set of microform such as the ERIC microfiche or Readex microcard sets, include a microform set statement in the notes field with the document’s set number:

Iowa State Library. Books 'n' Stones 'n' Dinosaur Bones: The 1992 Iowa Summer Reading Program. Des Moines: The Library, 1992. (ERIC microfiche ED 354 894).
Mnatsakonov, Edward. "The World Today" (full text). Moscow Domestic Television Service in Russian (1445 GMT, Aug. 4, 1982). Translation by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service. FBIS Daily Report—Soviet Union Vol. III: 150; Aug. 4, 1982. (GPO microfiche; FBIS-SOV-82-150; p. H14).

Sometimes you may want to include significant information that doesn’t fit in other segments of the citation. This information may be included in parenthesis at the end of the citation.

Some notes may indicate aspects of the document that would affect the reader’s ability to find or use the information source (i.e., FOIA-obtained documents, unpublished papers, mimeographed or photocopied items, distribution data, loose-leaf materials):

Hamilton, Donald R. U.S. Embassy, El Salvador. [Subject: Roatan Island]. Letter to Stephen Dachi, U.S. Information Agency; Mar. 2, 1983. 2 pp. (Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from U.S. Information Agency; requested as “Materials on Radio Marti” May 1983; received June 1983).
John A. Garfield. Correspondence to Lucretia Garfield. Sept. 14, 1868. (John A. Garfield Papers, Box 3; Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Washington, DC).
Gorman, Robert A. Copyright Law. 2nd ed. Washington: Federal Judicial Center, 2006. (Distributed by U.S. Government Printing Office).

Other notes might clarify the nature of the document (e.g., a poster or brochure) or give information about the language or the size of non-print media (e.g., language, map scale, or frame size):

U.S. Office of War Information. ...Because Somebody Talked! (Poster). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1944. (71 x 51 cm.; color).
U.N. Centre for Human Settlements (HABITAT). Housing in Africa (Film). Nairobi, 1976. (16 mm., 15 minutes, color).
U.S. Dept. of the Treasury. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. “Piense primero en su hijo que está por nacer…” dice el Dr. Rex Morgan (Comic book). Rockville, MD: National Clearinghouse for Alcohol Information (NCALI), 1980. (Spanish text).
Citing a Part within a Larger Document

When citing a part of a publication (e.g., an article from a periodical; a chapter from a book; a statistical table from a periodical, book, or database), include both the title of the part and the title of the whole, so that a reader will be able to locate your source as well as the specific item within that source.

Chapter within a Book

A citation to a part of any non-periodical publication (e.g., a chapter in a book, or a single essay in an anthology) is the same as a citation to the whole publication, except that it is preceded by the part’s personal author (if given), title (usually in quotes), and page numbers, followed by the word “in” to show that the part is in the larger work.

Sendak, Maurice with Virginia Haviland, “Questions to an Artist Who Is also an Author,” pp. 25-45. In U.S. Library of Congress. The Openhearted Audience: Ten Authors Talk About Writing for Children. Edited by Virginia Haviland. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1980. (Article reprinted from Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, Vol. 28, No. 4 (October 1971), pp. 262-280).
Article within a Periodical

A typical citation to an article in a periodical includes the personal author(s) of the article, the article’s title (usually in quotes), the title of the periodical (usually underlined or in italics), volume and issue numbers, date, and page numbers. Consult a style manual for the specific format.

O’Neal, Charles W. “Surreptitious Audio Surveillance: The Unknown Danger to Law Enforcement,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 67:6 (June 1998) pp. 1-13.
Dynamically-Generated Data

To cite a dynamically-generated dataset display, such as a table, map, or graph, include the following information:

  • A descriptive title for the dataset
  • The name of the person who generated the dataset
  • The name of the software package used to generate the data
  • The issuing agency responsible for the database
  • The URL of the main page of the database
  • The date the data was accessed

You may wish to explain in your text what steps were taken to create the dataset, but these steps do not need to be included in the citation:

“Table GCT0101: 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.” Generated by Jane Jones; Using American FactFinder (Census Bureau),; Accessed: 1/7/2012.  ​


Government Document Citation Resources

There is no universally accepted format for citing government documents, anymore than there is for any other source of information. The manuals listed below give examples of citations in various commonly used styles.

Citing Government Documents: American Psychological Association 

Online samples of citations for selected types of government publications in APA style.

Citing Government Documents: Turabian

Provides general guidelines and specific examples for citing government information in Turabian style.

U.S. Government Information: Citing Government Information

Available from the University of Delaware Web Library site, provides examples taken directly from an earlier edition of The Complete Guide.


Style Manuals of Specific Agencies

Many government agencies have prepared guides to citing their own publications, or in-house style manuals for formatting documents that they publish.

GPOU.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual

By act of Congress the Public Printer is authorized to determine the form and style of federal government printing. Essentially, this is a standardization device designed to achieve uniform word and type treatment, and aiming for economy of word use.

NARACiting Records in the National Archives of the United States

Guidelines for citing unpublished records held by the National Archives and Records Administration in the Washington, DC area and in the Regional Records Services facilities, the Presidential Libraries system, and Affiliated Archives.

NCHSCitations for NCHS Publications and Electronic Media

Suggested sample citations for some of the most popular publications of the National Center for Health Statistics. Also includes information on Citing Electronic Media.

NLMCiting Medicine: TheNLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers

Instructions and examples for formatting citations to different types of both published and unpublished material, ranging from traditional journal articles and books to newer electronic formats such as Internet journals, Web pages, and blog posts. If all you need are a few examples of citations, the NLM has a page with sample references you may find easier to use: the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Sample References.

NLRBNLRB STYLE MANUAL: A Guide for Legal Writing in Plain English (National Labor Relations Board)

Guidelines for citing National Labor Relations Board rules and decisions, as well as decisions of Supreme Court and lower courts. Includes general recommendations on legal writing.

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