How to Cite Archival Sources

Citing archival material in an academic paper for school or for publication can be a challenge. A complete set of references must contain all the details about each source used in your research so that each one can be relocated and examined in its descriptive context. That’s not always as straightforward as it sounds, especially with respect to archival material.

The style guide that your professor, editor, or publisher recommends is a good starting place. A number of style guides offer useful information on how to cite archival or manuscript material. Most of the questions we receive about citation styles relate to those followed by the American Psychological Association or APA and the Chicago Manual of Style.

If those guides aren’t helpful, seek advice from a reference librarian at a university library or browse its website for a condensed style guide, available on most university library sites. Local public libraries may also have hard copies or online versions of various style guides, so it’s worth checking their catalogues or speaking to their reference team.

If you still have questions about citing materials from Library and Archives Canada’s collection, consult the web page How to Cite Archival Sources, which has examples of footnotes and citations for several different types of archival material.

Always keep in mind, too, that the main point of a citation is to leave a trail that will lead future researchers back to the source you used in your research. And if you’re unsure about what information to include in your citation, remember that more is better than too little. It’s much easier to sift through too much information than it is to fill in the blanks!

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