Government documents can be confusing to cite. They can take the form of anything from an informational pamphlet to a Congressional debate and everything in between. Unlike standard publications, these documents do not necessarily follow the pattern of author, title, publisher, date. This guide will try to help you get started building your citation, but if you get stuck, contact a librarian of Government Information, Maps, and Microforms Services.
Where available, we have included a link to a digital version of the item we are citing so that you can see where we are pulling our information from. Pretend that these are the actual physical objects because there are special rules for citing electronic sources. (If you are not affiliated with IUB, these objects may be unavailable to you.)
We based this guide largely on Garner and Cheney's The Complete Guide to Citing Government Documents: A Manual for Writers & Librarians (1993), available at the GIMMS reference desk. You should also consult whatever style guide (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) is appropriate for your project.
- Basic Citation Form
- Non-print Considerations
- United States Congressional Documents
- Other Federal Documents
The point of a citation is to help your reader locate the exact document you are using. Government documents may not have some of the more familiar elements of a citation but they may have other elements you aren't used to seeing. Include the following, as best you can, but always ask yourself if you would be able to lay hands on the document again using only the citation. If not, you may need to add more information and alter the form.
Country. Issuing Agency. Title: Subtitle. By Author. Edition. Place of publication: Publisher, Date. (Series elements). (Notes).
Here is an example:
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Varieties of Cheese: Descriptions and Analyses. By C.F. Doane and H.W. Lawson. Revised. Washington: Government Printing Office, February 1932. (United States Department of Agriculture Bulletin no. 608). (A 1.3:608).
You may be used to getting this information from a title page and its verso. But with government documents, you may need to look all over the document: the front and back covers, in introductory materials, on the last page, or -- in worst case scenarios -- in the library catalog record for the item.
Note that the country and issuing agency are listed first, not the author. The only exceptions are when you are citing a technical report or a part of a publication. See Garner and Cheney for more guidance on these exceptions.
In U.S. Federal documents, the "Government Printing Office" is not, strictly speaking, a publisher. It prints what it is told to and the distribution of the materials is the responsibility of whatever agency ordered them printed. For our purposes, however, it will satisfy for "publisher" where it is mentioned. Just remember that not all Federal documents will come out of the GPO and to be on the lookout for other publication data. For example, some military publications come out of Arlington, VA, not Washington D.C.
In the "Notes" section, you can put anything that will help your reader find the document. This could be anything from a Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc) number (as we have done in our example) to a map scale to a Serial Set volume number. For a list of potential note information, see Garner and Cheney.
Increasingly, government documents are available in electronic formats (sometimes, only in electronic formats). Many government documents are still most easily accessed through microforms. Whether it's a database or a microfiche, remember that the maker of the non-print source is not necessarily the publisher of the work. For instance, when citing a document published by the GPO that was later issued on microfiche manufactured by ReadEx, the publisher is still GPO, not ReadEx.
Here are some examples of non-print resources. For more help, consult your style guide (APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.).
This category includes only resources that are original to the Internet; they were never printed in a paper format and so may not have "publisher" or "page" information. The simplest way to cite these resources is to simply add the URL in the place of the publisher information and add the date you accessed the resource. (If you must add a line break to a URL, do it a slash.)
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tenants Rights in Indiana. By Keith Lerch. Available at: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/ states/indiana/renting/tenantrights/klerch. Accessed: 3/19/2013.
Many print documents are available through databases. Some databases, like Congress.gov, are freely accessible while others, like ProQuest Congressional, are available only to subscribers. Some documents can be found in both. Where possible, cite the freely accessible database by adding the URL and access date to the end of the citation. When you cite a subscriber database, you should not include the URL in a citation to one, but you should include the name of the database and enough information to find the resource within that database.
Freely Available Database
Sen. Leahy (Ver.). "Unique Significance of Shelburne Farms," Congressional Record (21 Jun. 2012). Daily ed. S4413-S4414. Available from: http://beta.congress.gov/crec/2012/06/21/CREC-2012-06-21-pt1-PgS4413.pdf; Accessed: 3/19/2013.
U.S. Department of War. Reports Upon the Purchase, Importation, and use of Camels and Dromedaries to be Employed for Military Purposes According to Act of Congress of March 3, 1855 (S.Ex.Doc. 62). Washington: A.O.P. Nicholson, 1857. Available from: ProQuest Congressional; Accessed 3/20/2013.
Information for your citation should come from the document itself whenever possible, not the external sources like header on the microfiche or film box markings. You can use external sources only when the information cannot be found in the document. They are often laden with typos.
Microforms not part of Collections
Simply put the format in parentheses after the title.
U.S. National Security Agency. Essential Matters: A History of the Cryptographic Branch of the People's Army of Viet-Nam, 1945-1975: With a Supplement on Cryptography in the Border Guard (formerly the Armed Public Security Forces), 1959-1989 (microfiche), trans. and ed. by David Gaddy. Fort Meade, Md.: Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 1994. (D 1.2:C 88/5)
Microforms from Collections
If your microfilm has been republished in a larger collection, cite the collection as well as the item and note any information needed to find the document within the collection.
U.S.Navy. Bureau of Aeronautics. Aircraft Storage Batteries (Technical Note no.87, Series of 1930). Washington: GPO, 1930. In U.S. Executive Branch Documents, 1910-1932. Bethesda, Md.: LexisNexis Academic and Library Solutions, 1997. (Microfiche no. N28.6-2.9)
Wherever possible, get your information from the screen, not what's written on the item. Add the format in parentheses after the title.
U.S. Department of Commerce. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Regional Economic Measurement Division. REIS: Regional Economic Information System (CD-ROM). Washington, May 1991.
Next, we will explore the best ways to cite specific kinds of government documents.
If you want to keep your congressional documents together in an alphabetical list, you may use "U.S. Congress. Senate." and "U.S. Congress. House." Otherwise, you may omit "Congress" as we have done below. The only time you must use "Congress" is when your document came from a Joint Committee, as in our second example below.
The issuing agency is always either the House or the Senate.
U.S. [Senate/House]. [nth] Congress, [nth] Session. [Bill number], Bill title, may be shortened. Edition statement. Washington: Government Printing Office, year.
Always use the bill number in the title. The edition statement, if applicable will either be "Act" (if "act" is in the bill's title), or "Star Print" (if there's a little black star in the lower left of the title page).
U.S. House. 75th Congress, 1st Session. H.R. 6786, A Bill to Protect Purchasers of Hats. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1937.
Committee prints are the working papers and reports of committees. The Senate has an official numbering system for them (since 1983), but the House does not.
U.S. Senate. Committee on Rules and Administration. Expenditure Authorizations and Requirements for Senate Committees (S.Prt. 112-2). Washington: Government Printing Office, 2011. (Y4.R86/2:S.PRT.112-2).
U.S. House. Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. National Trails System Act Amendments of 1980. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1980. (Y4.In8/14:T68).
Use the name of the main committee, not the subcommittee. If more than one committee is listed, use the first one. If it is a joint committee of both houses of Congress, then put "U.S. Congress" instead of the individual house and cite the joint committee as in the example below.
U.S. Congress. Committees on Foreign Relations of the U.S. Senate and the International Relations of the U.S. House of Representative. Annual Report on International Religious Freedom: 2000. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2000.
After the title, put "Hearing, [date of hearing]."
U.S. House. Committee of Ways and Means. Child Care and Child Welfare Hearing, 3 February 1995. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1995. (Y4.W36:104-14)
These are official, numbered documents issued by the House or Senate. Use these abbreviations to cite them as shown in the example. Ask a librarian if you come across something else. For numbered documents, it isn't particularly helpful to also include the SuDoc number, so you may leave it off.
U.S. Senate. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Franklin D. Roosevelt Family Lands: Report Together with Minority Views (to accompany S. 134) (S.Rpt.104-32). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1995.
If the version of the document you are using came from the serial set, include the serial set volume in the note.
U.S. Senate. 50th Congress, 2nd Session. Report on Indian Traderships (S.Rpt.2707). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899. (Serial Set 2623).
Debates in Congress are written down and entered into the Congressional Record, often with other materials that congresspeople request be added in as well. It comes in two forms: the daily edition and the bound edition. You should indicate which version you're citing. Note that the speaker's name comes first. Add the state to reduce confusion. For the Congressional Globe, the Register of Debates, and the Annals of Congress, see Smith and Cheney.
[Sen. or Rep.] Last Name (Abbreviated state.). "Title of Section," Congressional Record [volume number], Pt. [part number] (day mon. year) p[p]. [page range].
Rep. Coats (Ind.). "Hats off to IU Hoosiers," Congressional Record 133, Pt. 6 (31 Mar. 1987) p. 7336.
[Sen. or Rep.] Name (Abbreviated state.). "Title of Section," Congressional Record (day mon. year). Daily ed. [page range].
Rep. Coats (Ind.). "Hats off to IU Hoosiers," Congressional Record (31 Mar. 1987) H1626.
Cite exactly which edition of the Constitution you are using. It has been published in many forms and many editions.
The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretations (S.Doc.99-16). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1987. (Serial Set 13611).
Part of the Constitution
U.S. Constitution. Art. 1, Sect. 1.
The loose law as first published. Cite title and number of the law and the date passed.
"Higher Education Amendments of 1992" (PL 102-325, 23 July 1992)
Statutes at Lage
Add the volume and page numbers of the Statues. At the top of the page, you'll see something like, "106 STAT. 448." The first number is the volume, "STAT" means "United States Statutes at Large," and the last number is the page number.
"Higher Education Amendments of 1992" (PL 102-325, 23 July 1992), 106 United States Statutes at Large, pp. 448-842.
"The year of the edition is crucial," say Garner and Cheney. Currently, a new edition of the USC is only published every six years, with a supplement published each year in between. The example below came from the 2009 supplement of the 2006 edition. The Code can be tricky to cite precisely. Therefore, I would recommend citing the version available through GovInfo or print, if possible.
"Dairy Product Price Support Program," Title 7 U.S. Code, Sec. 8771 et seq. 2006 ed. Supp. III, 2009. Available: http://www.govinfo.gov/; Accessed: 10/15/2018.
In the title, after the semicolon, note what kind of action it is. This information is just after the agency information and is labeled.
"Title; Action," [volume number] Federal Register [no.] (date), pp.
"Odorant Fade in Railroad Tank Cars; Notice of Safety Advisory," 77 Federal Register 72 (13 April 2012), pp. 22381-22383.
CFR is issued every year. Be sure to include which year you're citing.
"Part Name," Title [number] Code of Federal Regulations, Pt. [number]. edition.
"Rules and Regulations Governing Smithsonian Institution Buildings and Grounds," Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations, Pt. 504. 2012 ed.
Remember that the years covered in each volume are different from the year published.
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1949, Vol. VIII, Pt.2: The Far East and Australia. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1976.
Document within a volume
"The secretary of State to the Embassy in Greece," pp. 533-534. In Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951, Vol. V: The Near East and North Africa. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1982.
Volume apart from annual volumes
Foreign Relations of the United States: The Confrences at Washington, 1941-42, and Casablanca, 1943. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1968.
Include as much information about the document as you can, including the complete title. The edition statement, where applicable, will note whether the item is a preliminary, advance, or final report. See Garner and Cheney for more information.
Full Title: Subtitle by Personal Name ([Census report number]). Edition Place: Publisher, year.
U.S. Census, 1790: Heads of Families. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1908.
U.S. Census, 1850: Statistical View of the United States . . . Compendium of the Seventh Census by J.D.B. DeBow. Washington: A.O.P. Nicholson, Public Printer, 1854.
U.S. Census of Manufacturers, 1967: Vol. II, Industry Statistics: Pt. I Major Groups 20-24. Final Report. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1971.
U.S. Census of Population, 1970: Subject Reports: American Indians (PC(2)-IF). Final Report. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1973.
Cite the Stats Abstract like any other book. Note that beginning in 2013, the Stats Abstract is published by ProQuest, not GPO.
Table from the Stats Abstract
"Table title," No. [of table], p.[of table]. In Title. Edition. Place: Publisher, year.
"Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts -- Membership and Units: 1970 to 1989," No. 410, p. 241. In Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1991. 111th ed. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1991.
For other kinds of documents, consult Garner and Cheney or the other resources listed below.
For other source information, please try these sites:
DocsCite Arizona State University Library Citation Creator.
Citation Guide: U.S. Congressional Documents Library of Congress.
Internet Citation Guides. University of Wisconsin.
Introduction to Basic Legal Citation by Peter W. Martin (Cornell Law School).
List of Citation Guides for Electronic Documents. International Federation of Library Association.
Citing Government Information Sources Using MLA University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.
Citing Maps Ohio Wesleyan University.
See other United States Government Guides.