Software Citation Principles

In September, the final version of the FORCE11 Software Citations Principles were published in PeerJ Computer Science, having been available as a preprint since July.

Software is a critical part of modern research and yet there is little support across the scholarly ecosystem for its acknowledgement and citation. Inspired by the activities of the FORCE11 working group focused on data citation, this document summarises the recommendations of the FORCE11 Software Citation Working Group — of which I have been a member — and our activities between June 2015 and April 2016. Based on a review of existing community practices, the goal of the working group was to produce a consolidated set of citation principles that may encourage broad adoption of a consistent policy for software citation across disciplines and venues. The output of this working group has now been published as a set of software citation principles, along with a discussion of the motivations for developing the principles, reviews of existing community practice, and a discussion of the requirements these principles would place upon different stakeholders. Working examples and possible technical solutions for how these principles can be implemented will be discussed in a separate paper.

The main contribution of this paper are the following software citation principles:

  1. Importance: Software should be considered a legitimate and citable product of research. Software citations should be accorded the same importance in the scholarly record as citations of other research products, such as publications and data; they should be included in the metadata of the citing work, for example in the reference list of a journal article, and should not be omitted or separated. Software should be cited on the same basis as any other research product such as a paper or a book, that is, authors should cite the appropriate set of software products just as they cite the appropriate set of papers.
  2. Credit and attribution: Software citations should facilitate giving scholarly credit and normative, legal attribution to all contributors to the software, recognizing that a single style or mechanism of attribution may not be applicable to all software.
  3. Unique identification: A software citation should include a method for identification that is machine actionable, globally unique, interoperable, and recognized by at least a community of the corresponding domain experts, and preferably by general public researchers.
  4. Persistence: Unique identifiers and metadata describing the software and its disposition should persist — even beyond the lifespan of the software they describe.
  5. Accessibility: Software citations should facilitate access to the software itself and to its associated metadata, documentation, data, and other materials necessary for both humans and machines to make informed use of the referenced software.
  6. Specificity: Software citations should facilitate identification of, and access to, the specific version of software that was used. Software identification should be as specific as necessary, such as using version numbers, revision numbers, or variants such as platforms.

Software citation principles without clear worked-through examples are of limited value to potential implementers, and so in addition to this principles document, the final deliverable of this working group will be an implementation paper outlining working examples for each of the use cases listed in §4 of the paper.

Following these efforts, we also expect that FORCE11 will start a new working group with the goals of supporting potential implementers of the software citation principles and concurrently developing potential metadata standards, loosely following the model of the FORCE11 Data Citation Working Group. Beyond the efforts of this new working group, additional effort should be focused on updating the overall academic credit/citation system.

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