Citation, Documentation of Sources
Q. I have a number of federal government publications to cite in endnotes, and it seems I have more information about the publication than I know where to put. For example, is it better to cite the authors listed or the publishing government agency as the author? If I list the specific individuals, should I list the agency in the publication information, i.e., “(Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, 1985)”? And if the agency is best listed under publication information, which level of the agency is best to cite? For example, one document was published by the Department of HHS, Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Division of Vital Statistics. (These are the hierarchy levels.) Finally, if publication numbers are available for these documents, should I include them? If so, where? After the title, and before publication information? Thanks in advance for your help.
A. Even as our taxpaying hearts swell with pride, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information presented by a single source like this. The most important guideline in deciding what to include is that you want a reader to be able to understand the reference well enough to find the source for herself. If an author’s name is given, start the citation with that. If not, let the department title stand in for the author. (Use the one at the top of the hierarchy. Sometimes this will mean repeating the department name in the publication information.) Publication numbers are extremely helpful; sometimes they can take a reader directly to the complete online text when typed into a search engine. Put the number where it makes sense, usually right before the publication information.
If there are many such references in your document and they all must be cited in full, consider using a list of abbreviations in order to shorten them. In the example above, DVS could be used to stand for the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Division of Vital Statistics.
Finally, there are many university websites that give guidelines for citing government publications (type “citing government publications” into your search engine). You might also look at The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, published by the Harvard Law Review Association.