How to Cite ISO Standards

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Standards set by the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, play a large role in international business, and you may find yourself citing them regularly in planning and reporting documents, proposals or other business communications. ISO itself has no set format for citing its standards, so you can choose from a number of options.

Citing ISO Standards

The rules for citing sources are clear and well-established for journals, magazines and books, and even for online references and social media. Standards set by ISO are a special case, in part because ISO revises its standards regularly to meet the changing needs of businesses worldwide.

For example, as of mid-2019, the most recent version of the flagship ISO 9001 standard for quality management was released in 2015. Previous releases were issued in 2008, 2000, 1994 and 1987, with the requirements for certification and even the focus of the standard itself evolving over that time. It takes time for an enterprise or a certification body to catch up to a new version of the standard after it's released, so it's important to be specific about which standard you're citing.

As for citing it correctly, the format will change depending on which style guide you follow. In a business school setting, the school will tell you which style to use. In your own business, you can choose a style that makes sense in the context of your document or its readership.

Web pages that quote or explain a given ISO standard will often have a button on the page to generate a citation for you. Unfortunately, a website reference generator won't always use the same style you've chosen for the rest of your document and won't necessarily follow it correctly.

In-Text and Reference Citations

There are two places where you'll cite ISO standards in your assignments or business documents. The first is in-text citations, where you make reference to a given ISO standard as part of your narrative. The second is in your main references list, which is typically at the end of a short document or at the end of each section in a longer document. The major style guides differ slightly in how they're handled.

References in American Psychological Association (APA) Style

The APA style guide is often used in both academia and business writing. For the first instance in-text, APA citation calls for the ISO's full name and the year of the standard you're referencing. After the first mention, you'd use the ISO acronym for convenience.

For the 2015 release of the ISO 9001, for example, your first mention would be formatted either as (International Organization for Standardization [ISO], 2015) or (International Organization for Standardization (ISO, 2015). Each subsequent mention would then be either (ISO, 2015) or ISO (2015).

In your reference list, you'd name the organization, then add the year in parentheses, the title of the standard in italics and then the number of the standard. You'd finish by stating that your source had been "retrieved from" a specific site, ideally ISO itself, and give the appropriate link. In practice, for the same standard, it might look like this:

International Organization for Standardization. (2015) Quality Management Systems - Requirements (ISO standard no. 9001:2015) Retrieved from https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/#iso:std:iso:9001:ed-5:v1:en

References in CMOS Style

The American National Standards Institute, or ANSI, recommends using the Chicago Manual of Style when citing its standards. If you're going to be citing standards from both bodies, you may want to use this style for both in the interest of consistency. The Chicago style uses a notes-bibliography format for longer works or an author-date format for shorter works. The latter works better for most business documentation.

In-text citations follow the same pattern as the APA style and may or may not use parentheses. Citations in your references section are less detailed than in the APA style and might look like this:

International Organization for Standardization, Quality Management Systems - Requirements ISO 9001:2015

References in Other Styles

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, administers and publishes a number of widely used standards. The IEEE has its own reference format for standards, so – again – if you'll be citing both IEEE and ISO standards you might opt to follow IEEE guidance for the sake of consistency. It's a simple format and would look like this:

ISO Standard Quality Management Systems - Requirements, ISO 9001:2015

The American Society for Testing and Materials, or ASTM, is another source of multiple standards you might cite in a document. For your ISO citation to be consistent with the ASTM's preferred style, it would take the following format:

ISO 9001:2015, "Quality Management Systems - Requirements," International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015, (DOI of the specific document, if applicable), www.iso.org

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About the Author

Fred Decker learned business fundamentals at second hand as an insurance and mutual funds broker, and at firsthand as a retail store manager and the chef/proprietor of his own restaurants. He has written hundreds of business-related articles for sites including Zacks.com, Chron.com, Vitamix.com, Bizfluent and GoBankingRates and many others. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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