When writing papers, is there a standard style that should be used for citing ArcGIS, specifically ArcMap?

In particular, how do you reference a specific tool that you used in your analysis. I'm not referring to the citation style being used specifically in the paper.

Esri mention how to cite data produced from them, but I could not find any advice regarding citing the software.

6 Answers 6


There are formats for citing software, see for example this question on tex.SE. Whether you should cite them depends on the publication venue, but particularly where the specific implementation is non-obvious it is a helpful thing to include. In this case, the citation would look something like:

ESRI 2011. ArcGIS Desktop: Release 10. Redlands, CA: Environmental Systems Research Institute.


I might be misunderstanding your question but, I don't think you should cite ArcGIS or any of the tools used in any analysis. Citation is used for authoritative sources. Data citation should be included in the metadata of your data source. The tool you use for analysis is not an authoritative source, the person using the tool is. E. g. you cite the author of an article or book, not the pen it was written with.

  • 11
    Tools used is an important part of the methodology though. A simple raster calculation using Spatial Analyst can produce a slightly different result to the same calculation done using other software. Having said that, I don't know if there is any 'right' way. I usually just say eg 'ESRI Spatial Analyst'. Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 22:06
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    Yes, a mention of the specific tool or description of how it was used, but that's different from a citation.
    – Don Meltz
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 22:20
  • 3
    It's a little different, but the first thing that pops up on my R console is how to cite and their guidelines are as follows: ` R Development Core Team (2010). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. ISBN 3-900051-07-0, URL R-project.org.` I was wondering if there was something similar.
    – djq
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 22:34
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    I completely disagree. I am reviewer for dozens of journals and always expect authors to cite software. You certainly do not need get into the weeds and cite the ESRI extensions but the base software is correct. The citation provided by @scw is correct. If you are using a third-party scripts or extensions you need to cite them separately. For R packages I expect to see both the R software and package citations. Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 19:51
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    Agree. Software needs to be cited when part of an analysis. It is part of the reproducability part of the scientific method. Admittedly I've often omitted Arc but I probably shouldn't.
    – kpierce8
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 22:24

In order for another scientist to replicate your work in an independent manner, you need to specify the algorithm you use at least and preferably provide a link to a publicly inspectable source code repository. Imagine if chemists wrote papers saying you must get your reagents from X Supply House to repeat this.

  • 4
    true but not an answer to the question asked. And, how are standard spatial algorithms to be equated to their programmatic implementation when the majority of the users don't care, and the software publishers make little effort to completely document their offerings--and source code for an ESRI product, really? Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 7:40
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    precisely why using ESRI products in published papers is no help! I know most users don't care but that isn't what we are discussing here.
    – Ian Turton
    Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 15:35
  • point taken. rather than "don't care" I would have been more precise to word it as "have no need of those details"... Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 17:31

Although I am not a researcher using ArcGIS myself, I must disagree with @DonMeltz's answer, based on my experience with editing archaeological research. When researchers use GIS software in an analysis, they always cite the name and version of the software used and describe how it was used. In one recent paper, ArcGIS was used in concert with statistics software to predict where certain clays used in making pots could have been sourced. Because clay is too heavy to be moved long distances, the analysis could indicate where a pot was made. The method is in its infancy, so the researchers were careful to be specific about the software and potential issues in its use.

  • And to answer the initial question, how would you cite the software ? If this is only a comment, you should post it below Don Meltz answer :)
    – gisnside
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 20:22
  • Here is an easy badge to earn, just take the tour :) gis.stackexchange.com/tour
    – gisnside
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 20:30

It will largely depend on the journal. Many will have guidelines for citing software and how to do it, and if they don't you might find older papers in the journal with references to software - then at least you know they've accepted that form in the past.


I believe that there is no reason to cite any software used for the analyses. It is necessary to cite the source of the method/algorithm. Help system of decent programs always includes references that describe the methods. Implementation in a specific program is not important if there is no bug present.

It is however crucial to establish reproducible research practice everywhere, including in spatial analyses. Publishing code and data to reproduce the analyses if more important than information what version of ArcMap/QGIS/... was used.

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