Making Software Citable

Making software citable has multiple benefits for research software authors and engineers:

  • Users of your software can cite it in their research, giving others trust in your work
  • You can receive credit for your valuable work
  • Your employer, funder or community can better understand the value and impact of your work. 

Read our simple ARDC software citation guide to make your software citable.  You can also join the Visible Research Software interest group to discuss how to influence change to boost visibility of research software, and consider joining the RSE-AUNZ association to campaign for the recognition and wider adoption of the research software engineer role within the research ecosystem.

How to Make Software Citable

Making software citable involves:

  • depositing software – ensuring a stable record of the software exists (if publicly accessible)
  • describing software – capturing recommended metadata about the software – read more about citing software for what metadata is needed for citation 
  • identifying software – ensuring an appropriate identifier points to that metadata.

Many authors of research software publish an article describing the existence, features and availability of new software or a new release of existing software. In order to capture acknowledgement and credit, these authors often request that this paper is cited by users of the software. This is different to direct software citation. 

We’re driving a culture change to increase the uptake of direct software citation in Australia.

As a first step to achieving this, we suggest requesting both, or providing a citable reference to the software in the paper about the software. We hope that, over time, direct software citation increases and citation is measured towards career progression and promotion. 

Depositing Software

Software can and does change. Depositing a copy of a specific version/release of your software in a digital repository ensures that the citation remains stable.

You may be able to deposit your software in your domain-specific or institutional data repository. We suggest you talk to your local data librarian or data steward to find out if that’s possible.

The digital repositories Zenodo and Figshare accept software deposits. There are even specific communities – regional and domain specific.

Integrations between GitHub and Zenodo or Figshare exist, if you are developing your software on these repository hosting services. Software Heritage is a UNESCO-supported archive of open-source software that accepts software deposits developed on a number of source-code repositories. 

In many communities it is common practice to register your software in a software registry. There are many kinds – some also provide enduring storage for your software. 

Explore the Netherlands eScience Center’s list of software registries.

Describing Software

Describing your software with detailed metadata is important for discovery, access and reuse. Talk to your local data librarian, data steward or copyright officer to discuss other important steps like licensing your software and providing rich metadata.

Providing a metadata file like a “citation file format” CFF or CodeMeta JSON file in your code development repository facilitates supplying metadata when you deposit them using an integrated service.

Read about citing software to learn the required fields of metadata needed to enable citation.

Identifying Software

Providing an identifier is perhaps the most important element to making software citable. 

We recommend providing an identifier such as a DOI, SWHID or similar persistent identifier, rather than just pointing to a URL where the code is being actively developed. The systems described under Depositing software provide these for you. 

Pointing to actively developed code, or a personal or project website, is not considered best practice for citation because the record can be changed or removed after citation. We recommend using persistent identifiers that point to metadata describing (where possible) a deposited version of the software.

In many communities it is common practice to register your software in a software registry. There are many kinds and most are good for increasing the discoverability of your software. A good example to explore is the Netherlands eScience Center’s list of software registries.

Further Resources

Released by the Research Data Alliance, FORCE11 and Research Software Alliance in 2022, the FAIR Principles for Research Software is useful to keep in mind when thinking about making your software citable. You can use this self-assessment tool, developed by the ARDC and the Netherlands eScience Center, to check and demonstrate your software’s FAIRness.

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Last updated

14 May 2022




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