Manuscript Collections


If you’re doing archival research, citing sources can be a bit tricky. There is great variation between documents, which is why the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.) allows some leeway in how you cite your sources.

Common elements include a description of the document or collection, as well as some indication of where the source can be located (often a library).

In footnotes the specific item (letter, report, etc.) is usually cited first. In the bibliography your entry can start with any number of things (the collection, the author, etc.).

Note that libraries often provide their own instructions for how to cite their holdings. For expert guidance, check out the resources section below.

General Guidelines

Here are a few tips for citing archival sources:

  • Use quotation marks only for specific titles. Generic descriptions (e.g., Letter, Memorandum) don’t need quotation marks.
  • If the generic description of the source is not actually found in the manuscript, you don’t always have to capitalize it.
  • You can use the abbreviations MS and MSS for manuscript and manuscripts (though the first usage is typically written out).
  • In your footnotes you can often omit the word letter (e.g., 2. Colonel Tom to NASA)


Here are some examples of how you might cite an item in a collection:

1. Prince Albert to Queen Victoria, 17 June 1859, Victoria Papers, Royal Pane Archives, London.

2. Ian Tipperary, memorandum, “How to Stop Canadians from Burning Down the White House,” 6 December, 1813, Dolley Madison Papers, MS 322, Princeton University Library.

Victoria Papers. Royal Pane Archives, London.

Tipperary, Ian. Correspondence. Dolley Madison Papers. Princeton University Library.

Note that these are but a couple of variations, and you will have to be flexible in adapting them to your own needs.


Often libraries provide their own citation guidelines. Examples include the National Archives of the United States and Library Archives Canada. For more information, see also sections 14.221-14.231 of the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.).