Designing Charts: Citing Data Sources

Citing your sources is essential because it helps your audience understand where your data comes from, giving them confidence in your work’s validity and reliability.

Here are some guidelines for including citations in data visuals.

  • Directly on the chart: One common approach is to place the citation directly within the chart by mentioning the data source’s name or organization.  
  • In a footnote: If you have limited space within your chart, you may include the citation more compactly with a footnote. In this case, you would insert a small superscript number within the chart (close to the related data) and then use the corresponding number to provide a footnote with more details. 
  • In the caption: If you’re presenting your chart within an article or a report, one option is to include the citation in the figure caption. This keeps the citation connected to the chart but doesn’t take up any space within the chart itself. 
  • In a dedicated “Data Sources” section: If you have multiple charts within a single document or presentation, creating a dedicated section may be useful to list all the data sources in one place.

Here are some key elements to include in your citation:

  • Author/Creator: Include the name of the individual or organization responsible for producing the data. If the data source is an organization, you may include the organization’s name instead of an individual’s name.
  • Title: Provide the title or brief description of the data source. This could be the title of a report, dataset, survey, or publication.
  • Year of Publication: Include the year the data was published or made available. If the data is continuously updated, you can mention the latest year or provide a range of years.
  • Source/Website: Provide the name of the website or database where the data can be accessed. If the data is from a published source, include the name of the publication or journal.
  • URL: Include the data source’s direct URL (web address) if it is available online. This allows readers to easily access the data for further investigation.
  • Date Accessed: If the data is accessed from an online source, include the date when you retrieved the data. This is especially important if the data is subject to change or updates over time.

Here’s an example citation for a data source:

Last name, First initial. (year). Annual Report on Global Energy Consumption. Energy Statistics Organization. Retrieved from Accessed on May 15, 2023.

Remember to follow the citation style recommended by your institution or publication guidelines, such as American Psychological Association (APA) or Modern Language Association (MLA), for consistent and proper formatting.