Citation Conventions

Proper citation of sources, in whatever form, is a universal expectation; part of the ethics side of scholarship. Here are the mechanics.


A private E-mail message is like a private message which is sent (or conveyed) by any other means. It is easily covered by the accepted convention for private messages, which is:

Anita Lloyd, personal communication, 23 Sept 2001

An E-mail message distributed to several persons by an electronic listserver is not properly "personal." It exists in more than one place, and may be retrievable from an Internet archive. It suffices to add the name of the list through which the message was distributed, and to specify the electronic medium, thus

Wolfgang Behr, WSW E-mail communication, 20 Apr 2000

If WSW is separately identified as a source, this may be reduced to

Wolfgang Behr, WSW 20 Apr 2000

The time of receipt, and sometimes also the date of receipt, will differ for E-mail recipients in different parts of the globe. If there is an archive, the archive date is definitive; otherwise, use the date of individual receipt. The hour and minute, except in hairbreadth priority disputes, are superfluous.

Internet Pages

This is the section that applies with particular force to those citing pages of this web site. The basic rule is to give the URL (minus the understood "http://"). The complications are three:

(1) Web page addresses (URL's) may change if, for instance, the site proprietor moves to a different university, or the commercial host of an archive merges with another company. Web pages may also vanish altogether (the half-life of an Internet page has been found to be 18 months). The URL to cite is the one from which the individual got the specified information. There is no guarantee that the page, or the site, will still be functional at any later date.

(2) Web pages tend to have titles. If the page as viewed has no clear title, its author may have given it a title which displays at the top of a browser. This "display title" is the default designation. Sometimes the display title is mere gibberish. In that case, omit title altogether, or put "[untitled]."

(3) Web page content is not fixed, but fluid. It is therefore also desirable to give the date at which one accessed (and printed out, or took notes on) the source in question. That date says to a reader, "As seen on this date, the page here referenced contained the statement here cited." Some web pages (including many at this site), typically at the bottom of the page, contain a posting date, a date at which the content was last revised. Those dates are often not themselves updated along with page content, and are thus of uncertain value. What counts is the date seen. We thus recommend that the viewing date be given (it will also be the date of any printout saved by the careful researcher). Thus, for this page at the moment of originally writing this paragraph (but note that the page now carries a later revision date at the bottom):

Warring States Project. Citation Conventions
(, 29 May 04)

[And in fact, if this page were being accessed from the site as extensively revised in 2013, the URL would be www/].

Online Publications

These will have to be dealt with according to circumstances. Often a book or journal has identical and parallel paper and electronic forms. In those cases, the paper form is the preferable citation, in part because of tradition, and in part because the paper form is not in danger of being electronically extinguished. When a book, or certain supplementary parts of it, are available only online, then the above form applies, except that the formal date of publication rather than the date of personal access should be given. Thus:

Author. Title
(, date)

Online books are here to stay, though scholarship has not so far accepted them on a par with printed ones. Their conventions are certain to evolve before reaching an equilibrium point. The above suggestions are thus in their nature tentative.

Print Material in Bibliographies

For modern books, a workable full citation (as in a Bibliography listing) will consist of the basic finding information: author, title, publisher, date. Thus:

David Whitehead. Aineias the Tactician. Oxford 1990

Note that place of publication is omitted as rarely useful (it was a fetish of the Renaissance bibliographers, and quite reasonably so, since it affected market value, and Renaissance bibliographers were working for collectors, but we are working for ourselves). For concision without loss of information, the publisher name (Oxford University Press) is elided to its most contrastive feature ("Oxford"). Place of publication can be supplied when, exceptionally, it is required to distinguish publishers (as, Shangwu vs Taiwan Shangwu). It is rarely useful to include subtitles or series titles. If for some reason they are desired, the recommended format is:

David Whitehead. Aineias the Tactician: How To Survive Under Siege. Oxford [Clarendon Ancient History Series] 1990

The sole relevant test of information in a book citation is whether that information is needed in a library or Interlibrary search. Some ILL request forms ask for the ISBN number, the difficulty for ILL being that this limits the request to one particular edition of a book, and to either HB or PB format. If an ISBN is included in a bibliography entry (which we do not recommend), an acceptable form (for a paperback edition) is:

David Whitehead. Aineias the Tactician. Oxford 1990 (PB 0198147449)

For journal articles, our recommended form is:

Frederick W Mote. The Case for the Integrity of Sinology. JAS v34 #4 (Aug 1964) 531-534

It is merely pejorative to enclose titles of articles (or book chapters) in quotation marks, and will interfere with any quotation marks in the title itself, thus:

David S Nivison. The Problem of Chinese 'Existentialism.' PEW v23 (Jan/Apr 1973) 121-137
David S Nivison. "Virtue" in Bone and Bronze, in Nivison Ways 17-30

The journal reference, or the short reference to a book, sufficiently identifies the work as an article or a chapter. Inclusive page numbers facilitate Interlibrary requests for copies of that article or chapter.

Order entries in a bibliography by surname, but do not reverse surname and given name, in any language. This is not the Library of Congress, with its millions of volumes to be distinguished. For finite bibliographies, simply interfile by surname, giving the whole name in its original order:

Raymond Dawson. Confucius: The Analects. Oxford 1993
Nicola Di Cosmo. Ancient China and Its Enemies. Cambridge 2002
Ding Shvng-shu. Gu/Jin Dz-yin Dwei-jau Shou-tsv. Taiping 1966
J J L Duyvendak. The Book of Lord Shang. Probsthain 1928; repr Chicago 1963

If you use a reprint with different pagination than the original, give (within reason) necessary particulars in your citation, not in the bibliography, so that readers can find the passage without undue trouble. To indicate that a reprint has identical pagination, use an equals sign between the two. It may also help to indicate that pagination differs in the most available current reprint, thus:

Arthur Waley. Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China. Allen & Unwin 1939 ¹ Stanford 1982

The Convenience of the Reader

The essence of the matter is to be clear and convenient, and not to interrupt narrative flow more than necessary. It thus helps to give text references in the most compact form that is still intelligible to the reader, and to incorporate them in text rather than in footnotes (endnotes, an abomination against the reader, are not even considered here).

It is thoughtful to use intrinsic divisions such as chapters, which will be the same for all readers, rather than only the volume and page of the edition you happen to be using. The page reference may follow the chapter number. An example is SJ 4 1/134, referring to a particular part of SJ 4 which falls on v1 p134 of the Junghwa HB punctuated text of 1950). Similarly, a chapter title may follow, but should not replace, the chapter number (as, SJ 4 Jou Bvn-ji). It is here assumed that the abbreviation SJ for Shr Ji has been earlier established in your text, or is otherwise understood between you and your reader.

The most hated abbreviations in scholarship are ibid (ibidem, "the same work") or op cit (opus citatum, "the work previously cited) and loc cit (loco citato, "in the place previously cited"). They are better replaced by a parenthesized short reference, either author surname, title keyword, and page, as

(Whitehead Aineias 72)

If previously mentioned, (Whitehead 72), or if unambiguous in context, (p72). It is not necessary to give the full reference on first occurrence if, as we recommend, there is a final bibliography of Works Cited to which the reader may refer at need. Note that the short reference given above will be sufficient by itself to locate the volume in an online library catalogue, and to identify the precise place in that volume. It is only if the library catalogue does not contain the volume that recourse to Interlibrary Loan (and to the fuller entry in Works Cited) will normally be necessary.

Information beyond this is mere bibliographic piety. It burdens the writer, and exasperates the reader, without in any way advancing "the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men."

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