How to Cite OpenSees

In the R^{42} space that defines academic performance evaluation, citation-based metrics comprise a small but often over-emphasized subspace.

Based on the developers’ Google Scholar profiles, it is clear that OpenSees generates a lot of citations from various corners of cyberspace. In the citation-stingy field of structural engineering, the numbers are impressive. On the other hand, you’ll struggle to find anything substantial for OpenSees on the Web of Science. The developers have to rely on other scholarly work for recognition.

Regardless of where you count citations, how to cite OpenSees, i.e., what to cite, is a frequent question.

I will briefly summarize the most highly cited OpenSees products, then give my opinion on which one is best to cite. But, like how to eat Reese’s peanut butter cups, there’s no wrong way to cite OpenSees.


McKenna, F. (1997) Object oriented finite element analysis: Frameworks for analysis algorithms and parallel computing. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Before OpenSees, there was G3. And before G3, there was Frank McKenna’s Ph.D. dissertation. I’m pretty sure the software did not have a name in 1997. The high level analysis framework Frank created has changed very little since then–a testament to a flexible, extensible design.


McKenna, F., Fenves, G. L, and Scott, M. H. (2000) Open System for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. University of California, Berkeley, http://opensees.berkeley.edu.

After a brief stint as G3, OpenSees was coined in 2000 and the opensees.berkeley.edu domain was created. Citing a website was not too common in the early 2000s, but it caught on. Researchers cite the website when they use OpenSees for analyses but don’t go in to too much detail, e.g., “… nonlinear response history analyses in OpenSees (McKenna et al 2000).”


Mazzoni, S., McKenna, F., Scott, M. H., and Fenves, G. L. (2006) OpenSees Command Language Manual. University of California, Berkeley, http://opensees.berkeley.edu/manuals/usermanual.

Researchers cite the command language manual when they call out specific element or constitutive models, e.g., “… fiber section response from Steel04 and Concrete23 (Mazzoni et al 2006).” Even though many element and constitutive models have been added to the framework since 2006, the command language manual remains a popular way to cite OpenSees.


McKenna, F., Scott, M. H., and Fenves, G. L. (2010) “Nonlinear finite-element analysis software architecture using object composition.” Journal of Computing in Civil Engineering, 24(1):95-107.

This is the journal article that describes the high level architecture of OpenSees and it stays pretty close to the McKenna (1997) Ph.D. dissertation. A handful of other journal articles describe additions to the OpenSees framework–reliability analysis, optimization, fire analysis, fluid-structure interaction, and hybrid simulation. They all build off the framework described in this article.


In my opinion, the McKenna et al (2010) article is the best product to cite in order to give credit to the developers of OpenSees. Both Google Scholar and Web of Science will recognize the citation because it’s to a peer-reviewed, archival publication.

Even though there’s no wrong way to cite OpenSees, some researchers don’t cite it at all. For example, there’s no OpenSees reference in the article bibliography, but in the text you see “… fragility functions were developed using OpenSees.” That’s OK. At this point, the careers of McKenna, et, and al do not hinge on receiving more citations.

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