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How to Cite Online Sources
As a student, professional writer, or even blogger, you probably know all about citing publications and books, but how much do you know about citing online sources?
In today’s world, where most of us turn to the Internet to find information, it’s not unusual to find an online source that has a quote or other text relevant to the paper you’re working on.
Even if you’re writing a blog post on a personal site, referencing another website can save you a lot of legal hassle down the road.
To help you out, we’ve put together this post that will show you how to properly cite online sources in APA and MLA Style.
Citing Online Resources Using APA Style
The APA (American Psychology Association) Style is mostly used to cite sources within the social sciences.
1. If you are referencing an idea from a publication, include the author’s last name and the publication year.
Example: “Smith (1938) believed formula X would change the world of chemistry.”
2. If you are directly quoting or paraphrasing a work, also include the page number.
Example: According to Smith (1938) he was the first to discover formula X (p.238).
Example: Smith (1938) wrote “I am the first to discover formula X” (p.238).
(Note: Inclusion of the page number for paraphrases is not mandatory under APA guidelines but it is encouraged.)
3. If the author name is not included in the relevant passage, then use the (author last name, publication year, page number) formulation at the end.
Example: The first known instance of formula X appeared in a book published during the Great Depression (Jones, 1938, p.238).
If no author name is available, use the title of the article followed by the year. Almost all online sources follow the above rules for in-text citations.
APA Style requires that references include the following information (example: see image below):
- Author name
- The publication date in parentheses which includes the year, month, and day
- Title of the document
- Title of the publication
- Volume number
- The URL where the source was retrieved from.
In some cases, such as blog posts, lecture notes, ebook formats, or social media updates, you are required to include the format description as well.
For sources that are freely available, include the words “Retrieved from” in front of the URL. If the source you’re citing has to be purchased or subscribed to, include the words “Available from” before the complete URL.
If a source includes a DOI (Digital Object Identifier), you need to include it at the end of your reference. Certain formats such as forum posts require adding the post or the message number as well.
The basic template for online sources is as follows:
Author, A. (date). Title of document [Format]. Retrieved from http://www.website.com
Here are a few examples of APA Style citations for some of the most common online formats.
To cite an entire website, include the full URL in text:
Google is one the most popular search engines nowadays. (http://www.google.com).
To cite a page or a particular document on a website, use the following example:
Gotter, A. (2017, April 20). How to Conduct a Social Media Audit [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/how-to-conduct-social-media-audit/
Online reference without an author and date:
Make sure your site’s ready for mobile-friendly Google search results. (2010, October 13). Retrieved from https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/6196932?hl=en
Citing press releases is very simple in APA:
American Psychological Association. (2017). Prospect High School Teacher Earns APA Award For Excellence[Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/04/prospect-high.aspx
Keep in mind that for press releases found on press release websites such as PRNewswire, the author can be found at the bottom of the release and credit should go to the author rather than the PR website:
Mazda North American Operations. (2017). Mazda Announces Appointment of Dino Bernacchi as Chief Marketing Officer for US Operations [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/mazda-announces-appointment-of-dino-bernacchi-as-chief-marketing-officer-for-us-operations-300442441.html
To cite a whole ebook:
Fabiano Bruno and Pasman Hans. (2014). Trends, Problems and Outlook in Process Industry Risk Assessment and Aspects of Personal and Process Safety Management. Retrieved from https://www.free-ebooks.net/ebook/Trends-Problems-and-Outlook-in-Process-Industry-Risk-Assessment-and-Aspects-of-Personal-and-Process-Safety-Management
To cite a chapter in an ebook:
Lynch Patrick J and Horton Sara. (1997). Site Structure. In E. Editor (3.), Web Style Guide 3rd Edition. Retrieved from http://webstyleguide.com/wsg3/5-site-structure/2-semantic-markup.html
Online journals follow the same rules as their printed counterparts and have to include either the URL or the DOI:
Baker, K. (2016). Peer review as a strategy for improving students’ writing process. Active Learning in Higher Education, 17, 179-192. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787416654794
For blogs, include the title of the blog post and its URL along with the blogger’s name and the date of the publication.
S Bernazzani. (2016, September 16). 18 of the Best Personal Websites We’ve Ever Seen [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/best-personal-websites#sm.00009azkeizmxdw111ejwezcrsmq2
Online Video and Audio
YouTube videos and videos found elsewhere on the web should include the screen name of the person who published the video along with their real name (or indicate if their real name cannot be determined).
Timmer E. (2014, November 14). iMovie for Beginners [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGG5kbMKmLo
To cite the video in the text, include the author or screen name and the date outside the brackets.
Audio podcast files should also include any other information such as the names of the producers, directors, and similar:
Armitage S. (2016, April 8). The Parable of the Solicitor and the Poet. Poetry with Simon Armitage. Podcast retrieved from https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/poetry-simon-armitage
Forum posts should include the title of the message as well as the URL of the forum or discussion board. Use either the screen name or the author’s name (preferably both) and include identifiers such as post or message number in the brackets.
Cuthber J. (2017, April 17). Mercury stream in space [Msg 6]. Message posted to http://www.scienceforums.net/topic/104781-mercury-stream-in-space/
Email and Social Media
E-mail can be omitted from references but you can cite them in your main text in parenthesis:
(M. Jones, personal communication, January 14, 2015)
Social Media can be referenced in three ways:
With a general URL similarly to the way you would cite an entire website:
The New York Times is one of the leading online publications keeping you up to date through their website and their Twitter account (https://twitter.com/nytimes)
As personal communication when readers will not be able to access the source (exchanged in a private message or a group on social media):
Sarah Jones (personal communication 2013, April 17) stated that online shopping is the most convenient for her family.
As a typical APA Style in-text citation and reference list entry:
Linus Torvalds [Linus__Torvalds]. (2013, March 30) Linux Foundation Training Prepares the International Space Station for Linux Migration https://t.co/rCNB5CbTI0 via @linuxfoundation [Tweet] Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Linus__Torvalds/status/318095850079399937
Given the fact that wikis are often collaborative projects, it can be hard to establish the credibility of the wiki entry. As such, APA warns against using them in your papers. However, should the need arise, you can reference them in the following manner:
How to create a comic book text effect. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2017 from the Scribus Wiki: https://wiki.scribus.net/canvas/How_to_create_a_comic_book_text_effect
How to Cite Online Sources Using MLA Style
The MLA (Modern Language Association) style is usually used to cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities.
Traditionally, in-text citations included the author’s last name and the page number. Obviously, this will not work for most online sources. For these, you should list the author’s name or whatever is at the beginning of the full citation. You may need to add other information to make the in-text citation clear. Website names should be avoided, but if you must use them, do not include the protocol information. So use “Blogging.com.com” and not “http://www.Blogging.com.com.”
Full citations in MLA require you to include the following information:
- Author and/or editor names (if available)
- Article name in quotation marks.
- Title of the website, project, or book in italics.
- Any version numbers available, including edition (ed), revisions, posting dates, volumes (vol), or issue numbers (no).
- Publisher information, including the publisher name and publishing date.
- Page numbers (p or pp) or paragraph numbers (par or pars).
- URL (without the https://), DOI, or permalink.
- Date you accessed the material (Date Accessed).
The MLA also requires citing containers after your regular citation which can include TV series, collection of stories, or even an online article series.
The basic structure for MLA style citation is:
Author. Title. Title of container (self contained if book), other contributors (translators or editors), version (edition), number (vol and/or no), publisher, publication date, location (pages, paragraphs and/or URL, DOI, or permalink). Second container’s title, other contributors, version, number, publisher, publication date, location, date of access (if applicable).
And here’s how to cite the most common online sources with MLA.
Citing websites requires including the date of access, since the information can change at any point in time, as well as the complete address for the site except for the “https://” part. If you’re citing a course or a department website, include that information as well.
Steve Faulkner, Arron Eicholz, Travis Leithead, Alex Danilo. HTML 5.1 W3C Recommendation, 1 November 2016 W3C, 1 Nov. 2016, www.w3.org/TR/html51/. Accessed 19 April 2017
A Page or Article on a Website or a Magazine:
For an individual page on a website, list the author or alias if known, followed by the information covered above for the entire web site.
Meyer Eric. “Practical CSS Grid: Adding Grid to an Existing Design.” A List Apart, 23 Mar. 2017, alistapart.com/article/practical-grid. Accessed 21 April 2017.
Citing Comments on Websites:
Include the username and the phrase “Comment on” before the title, followed by information applicable for citing websites:
Ryan Hicks. Comment on “The Current State Of Authentication: We Have A Password Problem.” Smashing Magazine, 7 Jun 2016, 6:47 p.m. www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/06/the-current-state-of-authentication-we-have-a-password-problem/#comment-1289807
An Article in an Online Scholarly Journal
Aside from the information referenced above, online scholarly journals have to include page range or page numbers if the online journal has a print version. Otherwise, you need to list the URL, DOI, or a permalink.
O’Regan John P. “English as a Lingua Franca: An Immanent Critique.” Applied Linguistics, vol. 35, issue 5, 2014, academic.oup.com/applij/article-abstract/35/5/533/175252/English-as-a-Lingua-Franca-An-Immanent-Critique?redirectedFrom=fulltext. Accessed 20 Apr. 2017
E-mail (including E-mail Interviews)
Email messages need to include the author of the message as well as the subject line as the title in quotation marks and the recipient’s name preceded by the phrase “Received by”.
Jones, Mary. “Re: Shakespeare’s Sonnets.” Received by Julie Simmons, 13 Mar. 2014.
Discussion Groups or Blog Posts
Discussion groups, listservs, forum postings, or blog posts need to follow the same format as a standard web entry and include screen names if actual names are unknown. When both the screen and the real name are known, the real name is placed in brackets:
JeffUMN. “Re: Could Alexander Have Expanded Further if He Lived?” Historum – History Forums. 8 July. 2015, historum.com/ancient-history/92657-could-alexander-have-expanded-further-if-he-lived.html. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.
Tweets or Other Social Media Updates
Citing tweets requires using the Twitter handle as the author’s name and the tweet in its entirety. The time of the tweet needs to include the timestamp of the reader’s timezone.
Indicating the access date is optional.
@BillGates. “Not surprisingly, I agree: Thinking like a programmer helps you tackle all kinds of problems in life: http://b-gat.es/2nNhwMB.” Twitter, 17 Apr. 2017, 4:24 pm, twitter.com/BillGates/status/853962277531385862.
Similarly to APA format, online videos and audio posts in MLA need to include as much information as possible. If the author and the uploader are the same person, you only need to include their name once. Otherwise, include the author’s name first.
MakeUseOf. “Get Started with Scratch: Drag and Drop Visual Programming.” YouTube, 18 Apr 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxXeziGQnK8.
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
Just because the source you’re citing is available online for all to see, that doesn’t mean you can omit giving attribution or do it sloppily. Use the examples above to give credit where credit is due and to avoid any potential legal problems.