How to Cite a Database Source in Chicago
In Chicago style, database information is only included if an accessible URL or DOI is not available. If an accessible URL or DOI cannot be found, then you can cite the database in the note and bibliography as part of the source’s location information.
Note that in Chicago, you do NOT cite a whole database; you should instead cite the item/source contained within the database.
This guide will provide information about why entire databases should not be cited and will show you how to cite a source within a database in notes-bibliography style using the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style.
- Why can’t I cite an entire database?
- What should I cite?
- When is a database mentioned?
- Cite a source published in a proprietary/private database
- Cite a thesis or dissertation from a database
- Cite a regular journal article from a database
Why Can’t I Cite an Entire Database?
Most citation styles, including Chicago style, indicate that you should cite the specific source you used from a database (e.g., article, book, thesis, image, etc.) and you should NOT cite the whole database. The reason for this guidance is that one of the main purposes of citing your sources is to help your reader find your source. Citing the database as a whole doesn’t provide them with enough information to locate the resources you used. Other reasons for this include:
- Many databases have restricted access that requires affiliation to a particular institution or a paid subscription in order to access their materials. Since your reader may not have access to the particular database you used, they will need information about the specific source so that they can access it through other means (i.e., a different database or through their library).
- Databases typically contain large numbers of sources, all by different authors. If you cite only the database and not the source itself, it would be impossible for your reader to be able to identify which source you actually used.
- Databases often include sources in a variety of formats (e.g., pdf, image, video, e-book), and citing only the database does not provide sufficient information to your reader about the format of the source you are citing.
What Should I Cite?
Instead of citing the whole database, you should cite the specific source that you used from that database. In Chicago style, these include but are not limited to:
If you are citing any type of source found in a database, your citation should follow the typical format for that type of source. Database information should only be included if the source meets the criteria outlined in the section below.
When is a Database Mentioned?
With most mainstream databases, it is not necessary to include the name of the database in your citation, since the URL or DOI and other information provided in your citation should be sufficient for your reader to be able to locate your source. However, if the source you used can only be found in a database that your reader would not be able to access, the name of the database should be included in the citation. (In this case, you would still be citing the individual source while also including the name of the whole database within that citation.) These types of sources usually include the following:
- Sources that have limited circulation and/or can only be found in one particular database
- Sources from a governmental department’s archive, sources from a university or other institution’s private database, or other private databases such as the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
- Proprietary sources that are published by the database itself
- Dissertations, theses, and other academic papers housed in private university databases
For more information, see section 14.11 in the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition.
Cite a Source Published in a Proprietary/Private Database
In the example below, the source accessed was a book, thus the structure provided is for a book from a proprietary/private database. For other types of sources, you should follow the format for that particular source, replacing the URL or DOI with the name of the database.
1. First name Last name, Book Title (City: Publisher, year published), page number, Database Name.
Last name, First name. Book Title. City: Publisher, year published. Database Name.
1. Terence Irwin, Ethics Through History: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 24, Catalog USMAI.
Irwin, Terence. Ethics Through History: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. Catalog USMAI.
Cite a Thesis or Dissertation from a Database
Many theses and dissertations are housed in private databases for the affiliated institution. For these types of sources, the name of the database should be included instead of the URL.
1. First name Last name, “Dissertation or Thesis Title” (master’s thesis or PhD diss., University Name, year published), page number, Database (Identification number if available).
Last name, First name. “Dissertation or Thesis Title.” Master’s thesis or PhD diss., University Name, year published. Database (Identification number if available).
1. Burel Goodin, “A Biopsychosocial Explanation of an Experimental Pain Outcome” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 2009), 3, UMBC Digital Collections (10195).
Goodin, Burel. “A Biopsychosocial Explanation of an Experimental Pain Outcome.” PhD diss., University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 2009. UMBC Digital Collections (10195).
Cite a Regular Journal Article from a Database
For most regular journal articles, you do not need to include the name of the database since your reader should be able to locate the source using the DOI or URL.
1. First name Last name, “Article Title,” Journal Title volume number, issue number (Month year of publication): page number, DOI or URL.
Last name, First name. “Article Title.” Journal Title volume number, issue number (Month year of publication): page-page. DOI or URL.
Note: If no DOI is available, use a stable URL.
1. Michael Accinno, “John Sullivan Dwight, Blindness, and Music Education,” American Music 39, no. 1 (Spring 2021): 102, https://doi.org/10.5406/americanmusic.39.1.0089.
Accinno, Michael. “John Sullivan Dwight, Blindness, and Music Education.” American Music 39, no. 1 (Spring 2021): 89–118. https://doi.org/10.5406/americanmusic.39.1.0089.
Note: If the article fits any of the criteria listed previously (i.e., you accessed it through a private or subscription-only database), you should replace the URL or DOI with the name of the database.
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