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A Guide to Citing Material Found on the Internet

When it comes to citing material found on websites there are a few questions that always come up. We hope to clear up any ambiguities with this helpful guide.

By properly citing the sources used to gather material for an essay, you accomplish several important purposes:

  • You give credit to the originators of the ideas you propose in your essay. This is not only a matter of academic courtesy, but it has the added value of avoiding plagiarism.
  • You show your readers the specific research that went into the writing of your essay. Your instructor will get a picture of the amount of effort you expended as you prepared to write your essay, which can't hurt when it comes to giving a grade.
  • You give your readers a chance verify the ideas expressed in your essay by showing where they came from, who wrote them, and when. Ideas gathered from multiple, reputable sources give your work credibility.
  • You are able to distance yourself from the ideas presented in the essay. This gives you the flexibility to agree, disagree, compare and contrast the material without chaining yourself to others ideas.

Evaluation Before Citation
Before you rely on an article published on a website a a source for the subject you are researching, take the time to evaluate the author of the article and the website itself for suitability as a source.

  • Does the author have the educational background, expertise or experience with the subject to be considered a trustworthy source?
  • Is the information presented in the article backed up by references to other reliable sources?
  • Is the web page containing the article part of a site produced by an educational institution, governmental body or organization that is recognized as an authority in the subject?

If you can answer yes to one of the above questions then proceed. If not, it is time to find a more appropriate source to cite.

The Difficulty With the Web
The problem with citing material found on websites, is that there are no rules for publishing on the web. Information we expect to be included in print media like the author's name, date of publication, title of the document and even the document can be found are not always, or even generally available. At some point a set of rules may develop to address these issues. For now our best advice is to at the very least:

  • Give the name of the author. This might not be available. If not skip.
  • Give the title of the article.
  • Give the name of the website. This may not be easy to find as some sites have different "names" for different areas of the site, and others don't appear to have a coherent name at all.
  • Give the URL of the exact page on which the cited material appears.
  • Give the date of publication, if known.
  • Give the exact date you consulted the article.

Examples - one with all information available and one more limited citing this article.

Mihm, Stephen. "Pet Theory: Do Cats Cause Schizophrenia?" Lingua Franca, December 2000/January 2001. Online. Available: http://www.linguafranca.com/print/0012/cover_pet.html. November 30, 2000.

"A Guide to Citing Material From the Internet." Fat Campus, Online. Available: http://www.fatcampus.com/citefromweb.htm, January 27, 2005.

Helpful Free Tools

Freeze Page allows you to:

  • Take copies of Web pages and keep them for your own records.
  • Easily and safely share Web Pages with friends or colleagues.
  • Prove exactly what was at a Web address at a specific date.

MLA Auto-Generator is an incredible piece of free software that allows you to quickly and effortlessly format your documents' works cited lists in complete accordance with the latest MLA or APA style guidelines. MLA Auto-Generator will automatically churn out a perfect bibliography entry, every time.

Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources. It lives right where you do your work in the web browser itself.


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