Data Attribution and Citation


What’s the difference between attribution and citation?

Both are designed to provide credit to the originator of an idea or source of information. The difference comes down to the terms of use or license. There is no difference in how each are presented.

  • Attribution is often a legal condition of use required by copyright or licence. Some of the licenses (e.g. Creative Commons Attribution, or CC BY)  include attribution requirements. The Data Center requires publishers to specify a license for each database. It’s good practice to view the data license (found in the metadata) before using data from the data repository.
  • Citation  is not a legal requirement but considered a good practice. Even if a data license does not require attribution, the Regional Data Center encourages the use of citations.

How do I create a proper citation or attribution for data?

Proper attribution or citation:

  1. credits the publisher
  2. uniquely identifies data and its provenance
  3. promotes discoverability by others
  4. honors any licenses associated with the data
  5. adheres to a specific citation format

In general, the following content should suffice when referencing data from an open data portal:

  • database title
  • author and/or publisher
  • publication date
  • provenance information (e.g. access date, and URL)
  • data license

Consider the following example, formatted in APA Style:

  • Allegheny County Office of Property Assessments, Department of Administrative Services .  Property assessment parcel data (as of July, 14, 2015) [Data set]. Licensed under CC BYRetrieved from the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center on August 12, 2015  http://data.wprdc.org/dataset/property-assessments.

In this example, the specific data set is cited, the publisher is named, publication year is listed, license is provided, and its provenance is clear from the date of access and a direct link to the source.

If incorporating open data into an app, it’s also good practice to provide a link to the original source data. Some people have even designed open-source icons that can be used to direct users of a digital tool to the original source of the data.

Creative Commons has provided a series of attribution examples for different types of media on their Website.