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Finding an Article or Book from a Citation: What is this a reference to?

How to decipher references you find to other items that are mentioned in footnotes, bibliographies, endnotes, etc. - AND how to track those items down.

What is this a reference to?

Know what you're looking for before you start looking. This will help you during the search process as well as in formulating the proper style of citation for your own references. The citation could refer to:

a journal article, look for

  • volume and issue numbers
  • dates sometimes including a month and year;
  • ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) - 8 digits sometimes ending in X, usually separated with a hyphen, e.g. 1234-567X.


  • Attributing Agency to Automated Systems: Reflections on Human-Robot Collaborations and Responsibility-Loci. By: Nyholm, Sven, Science & Engineering Ethics, 13533452, Aug2018, Vol. 24, Issue 4.
  • Walsh James Igoe. 2015a. " Precision Weapons, Civilian Casualties, and Support for the Use of Force: Precision Weapons." Political Psychology 36 (5): 507 – 23.
  • ——. 2015b. " Political Accountability and Autonomous Weapons." Research and Politics 2 (4): 1 – 6.

a book, look for

  • date including only a year
  • words or abbreviations indicating an edition or editor ("ed.")
  • ISBN (International Standard Book Number) - 10 or 13 digits, sometimes ending in X, sometimes separated with hyphens.
  • the publisher name and place of publication


  • Angeles,J.,Fundamentals of Robotic Mechanical Systems: Theory, Methods, and Algorithms, 3rd Edition, Springer-Verlag,
    New York, 2006.
  • Wallach Wendell, Allen Colin. 2010. Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

a chapter or essay in a book, look for

  • same clues as for a book, with the word "in" before the book title, or before the page numbers and book title.


  • Asimov Isaac. 1953. "Social Sci-fi." In Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Future, edited by Bretnor Reginald. New York : Coward-McMann.
  • Rowley Christina, Weldes Jutta. 2012. "Identities and U.S. Foreign Policy." In U.S. Foreign Policy, 2nd ed, edited by Cox Michael, Stokes Doug, 178 – 94. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

a paper presented at a conference, look for

  • city and country where the event was held
  • dates sometimes including a year, month and day
  • phrase such as "2nd annual conference on..."
  • the name of an institutional sponsor.


  • Hegde, M., Kim, J., Hong, S. H., Wood, T. K., & Jayaraman, A. (2011)., Designer biofilms: Controlling biofilm formation and dispersal using a synthetic quorum sensing circuit in microfluidic devices. In, Paper presented at the 15th International Conference on Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences, Seattle.
  • Gifford DK, Sang AK, Kreger ST, et al. (2010) Strain measurements of a fiber loop rosette using high spatial resolution Rayleigh scatter distributed sensing. In: Proceedings of SPIE—4th European workshop on optical fibre sensors,vol. 7653, Porto, 8–10 September. Bellingham, WA: Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.

What NOT to pay attention to

The following are not reliable indicators of the elements of a citation. They can vary greatly depending on the citation style used, whether you are looking at a computer screen or printed page or someone's handwriting, and the fact that authors can be sloppy or inconsistent when writing citations.

  • formatting such as bold, italics, or underlining.
  • punctuatiion such as quotation marks.
  • Case (upper or lower).
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