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Documenting Sources from the World Wide Web

Because the World Wide Web is still evolving, the conventions for citing sources on the Web are also evolving. Nonetheless, the following guidelines reflect recent developments. The goal of documentation is to provide interested readers with sufficient information to consult the sources that you have cited. Documenting sources on the Web requires providing much of the same information as documenting printed sources; however, some additional details are also needed.

Information Unique to Web Sources

URL: Place the URL (electronic address) of the source in angle brackets ("<>"). If the source is a subscription service, use the URL of the service's main page or the keyword assigned by the service.

Access Date: Specify the date when you accessed the source.

Sponsoring Organization: Specify the name of the institution or organization that sponsored (or is associated with) the Web site. Don't underline the organization's name, and don't enclose the organization's name in quotation marks.

Subscription Service: If the source is part of a subscription service, specify the name of the service (without underlining or quotation marks).

If a library is the subscriber, specify the name of the library and the city and state in which it is located.

Version: If your source has a version number that is not already specified in the source's title, provide that number.

Information Common to Both Printed and Web Sources

Names: As you would for printed sources, specify the names of authors, editors, compilers, or translators when they are available and relevant. Use abbreviations such as "Ed." or "Trans." for the names of editors or translators.

  • For sources on the Web, specify the name of the editor of a scholarly project or database (if available).

Titles in Quotation Marks: As you would for printed sources, present the titles of poems, short stories, articles, or other short works enclosed in quotation marks.

  • Additionally, the titles of postings to a discussion list or forum should appear in quotation marks, followed by the descriptive phrase "Online Posting." The title of a posting can be found in the subject line.

Underlined Titles: As you would for printed sources, present the titles of published books (underlined).

  • The titles of professional or personal sites, scholarly projects, databases, or periodicals should appear underlined. If a professional or personal site does not have a title, use a descriptive phrase such as "Home Page," but don't underline that descriptive phrase.

Titles without Quotation Marks or Underlining: If you are citing a posting to a discussion list or forum, include the name of the list or forum (without quotation marks or underlining).

Date: In addition to the access date (see above), specify the date of electronic publication, of the latest update, or of the posting.

Numbers: Many Web documents do not have fixed page or section numbers. Of course, if your source lacks such numbering, you cannot include those numbers in your list of Works Cited.

  • If the pages, paragraphs, or sections of your source are numbered, include the number range in your list of Works Cited. If you need to clarify what those numbers refer to, use the appropriate abbreviations before the numbers. Use "par." or "pars." for paragraph(s), "sec." or "secs." for section(s), and "p." or "pp." for page(s) (if necessary for clarity); for screens, simply use "screen" unabbreviated.
  • When Web documents are printed out, the page numbers often vary from one printout to another. Consequently, you should not cite the page numbers of a printout.

Additionally, provide the publication information for any print version of your source.

Examples: Below are a few, illustrative examples from the Modern Language Association's public Web site. For a more comprehensive list of examples, consult the following Web sites:

Researcher Beware!!!

Not all Web sources are equally reliable, and some are extremely unreliable. Consequently, you will need to make informed decisions about which sources to trust and cite. In particular, determine the source's author and sponsoring organization. You can learn what sort of organization sponsors your source by looking for the following suffixes in the source's URL (electronic address):

  • "com" (commercial)
  • "org" (nonprofit organization)
  • "edu" (educational institution)
  • "gov" (government agency)
  • "mil" (military group)
  • "net" (network)

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