Lab Reports and Scientific Papers—Lab Report Citation Style
Our editors explain citation style for lab reports and scientific papers
This article is the third and final installment of our series about lab reports and scientific papers. In the first two parts of the article, we discussed how to write a lab report, scientific paper and lab report formatting, and general layout guidelines. Citation style is the topic up for discussion in this part. A brief overview of the popular Council of Science Editors (CSE) style guide is also included.
Keep it coherent—follow these citation style guides
Our scientific editors recommend Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers and the National Library of Medicine Recommended Formats for Bibliographic Citation, Supplement: Internet Formats, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in July 2001 as citation style guides for all lab reports and scientific papers (unless otherwise instructed).
The CSE manual is currently widely recognized as the foremost reference guide for writing medical and scientific papers and is an invaluable resource. The 7th edition now covers all the sciences (not just biology and medical terminology, as in previous editions). Chapters include guides to general writing style and referencing, as well as specific scientific terms, abbreviations, and tips for the preparation of tables, figures, and indexes.
Although the 7th edition of the CSE style manual includes formatting guidelines for electronic journals, the web site of the National Library of Medicine is also worth bookmarking in your browser for further reference. The National Library of Medicine—Citing Medicine (and Recommended Formats) guide, which is published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, features more than 100 pages of concise formatting recommendations. For example, the online manual explains that Internet sites vary in informative detail and do not always adhere to the citation rules of written publications. Furthermore, if you're citing a web site in a scientific paper, never assume the web master is the author of the web page.
Get your web site citation style right
Citing web site sources in a scientific paper or lab report can often be frustrating. To help make things easier, we have briefly outlined some important tips from the National Library of Medicine—Citing Medicine (and Recommended Formats) online guide:
- As is standard practice for printed works, list author/organization, title, place of publication, publisher, date, and extent or "length" of item; however, as some sites may not have complete referencing information, use whatever is available.
- Simply listing a URL address is not enough, as web pages expire and sites frequently disappear without notice. Therefore, always cite the source of an item, as in the case of journals with no print equivalent (for example, the Online Journal of Health and Allied Sciences). The format of the item is less relevant than the source, whether it is a journal, monograph (complete book), or database. As with citing printed works, a serial or journal entry is listed differently than a book entry. Again, draw from the information available to you.
- When citing the date of a web page, list the date the page was placed on the Internet, the update or revision date, and the date of initial access (this is the date you originally viewed the web page). This is important because many sites continue to be updated after the original publication date and because pages expire. Keep a copy (either printed or stored) of the site for future reference.
- Often, a web site is part of a larger site, as is the case with many hospital pages that have their own URL identity. An example of this is the web site for the cardiology unit of a larger facility. When in doubt, cite the most organizationally specific part of the address you have accessed.
- When it comes to citing authors in a lab report, do not assume the person listed as web master or copyright agent is the one to use. If the only personal name listed is a copyright agent, use this name as the publisher. If no other names of persons are given and it seems the organization that developed the site is both author and publisher, it is considered appropriate to use the name of the organization in the publisher's position. Under no circumstances, however, should you list the author as "anonymous" for lack of a better option.
- When speaking of the "extent" of a document, there is a bit more leeway with web sites; unlike printed works, web sites do not always include page numbers. Sometimes this is provided by the publisher (as in the case of a PDF file or for downloading purposes). When citing the length of a web site in your lab report, you may use byte size (417K bytes) or an approximation of how long it is using the term "about" in square brackets before the reference, e.g., [about three screens]. Font, printer, and screen sizes vary, but this information about approximate length at least gives your readers a guideline.