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Promoting Proper Data Citation Practices

Robert R. DownsA Blog post by Robert R. Downs (Senior Digital Archivist and Senior Staff Associate Officer of Research, Center for International Earth Science Information Network

The recent EOS opinion article, Data Sets Are Foundational to Research. Why Don’t We Cite Them?, reflects the perspectives of a team of data stewards from five Distributed Active Archive Centers of NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System. In that piece, a salient issue that the authors emphasize is the need to properly cite data, since it is apparent that data citation behavior has not been adopted as a norm, yet, across the Earth Sciences. The authors have observed that data citation has increased during the past decade, but they also have higher expectations for community adoption of data citation practices and, in particular, proper data citation practices. A renewed effort to promote data citation practices is necessary to remind the research community about the need to properly cite data that are used during the preparation of a journal article, report, or other publication.

It is gratifying to see that there has been progress in the adoption of data citation practices. However, when considering the slow adoption of data citation practices, we need to improve communication about the importance of data citation and the benefits that proper data citation offers to all stakeholders. For example, at the risk of oversimplifying such benefits, we might say that, as a result of proper data citation practices:

   –  Article authors can inform readers about the data used in their work.
   –  Article readers can access the data used in studies of interest.
   –  Journal editors can model ethical publication practices.
   –  Data producers can be recognized for sharing their data.
   –  Data repositories and their host institutions can measure their effectiveness.
   –  Promotion committees can assess the research contributions of colleagues.
   –  Sponsors can see how their investments have been leveraged for scientific progress.

 Promoting Proper Data Citation Practices Graphic

Some efforts have reinforced the importance of proper data citation along with techniques for how article authors can cite data. Data repositories display recommended data citations on data landing pages and in metadata and documentation. Journal editors have begun to require authors to cite the data that are used in the preparation of publications. But more must be done to inform colleagues about the importance of data citation so that the adoption of proper data citation practices becomes the norm when publishing research reports. Too often, data are not cited, or are cited without the necessary attribution information to enable the data to be accessed. Furthermore, references to data are not always included in the bibliography section of a publication, or the data reference that is included in the bibliography is incorrect or incomplete.

In many ways, citing data is similar to citing articles. Like articles, the bibliographic reference for data citations should include the following six elements to describe the data that have been used for a publication:

   –  Authors (data producers).
   –  Complete title (including version).
   –  Publication date.
   –  Publisher (data distributor).
   –  Persistent identifier.
   –  Date accessed.

For those seeking recommendations on proper data citation, guidance materials are freely available online. The Data Preservation and Stewardship Committee of the Earth Science Information Partners (WDS Partner Member) recently updated its Data Citation Guidelines for Earth Science Data with detailed explanations and examples. The Quick Guide to Data Citation was produced by the International Association of Social Science Information Services and Technology and focusses on the simplicity of a data citation.

Hopefully, the adoption of proper data citation practices will become more prevalent across the Earth science community, as well as within other research communities, as the research culture continues to evolve. Promoting and serving as exemplars for proper data citation practices could help to encourage others to properly cite data in their publications.