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Documenting Digital Sources -- 2010
See also: Guidance on Documentation--2010
Craig W. Allin


Warning: The Internet is an equal opportunity provider of diamonds and excrement. Before you worry about how to cite an Internet source, you should ask yourself whether it is worth reading at all. Useful check lists for evaluating Internet sources are available on line at the Cornell University Library. If in doubt, consult your instructor or Cole Library's Consulting Librarian for the Social Sciences.

On-line information has proliferated at an unprecedented rate, but the newest editions of each of the major manuals of style do provide guidance for citing on-line and other forms of electronic information.

Whatever style manual you use, make sure you apply the principles of good documentation. It is your job to provide the reader with the information required to evaluate the reliability of your source and to retrieve the exact information you used. Most on-line documents have some sort of author, some sort of title, and some sort of publisher. Many are dated. Author, publisher, and date are all important clues to the reliability and potential biases of the information cited. A lot of on-line information is published by interest or advocacy groups. It may be accurate, but don't expect it to be balanced. If you find an article on gun control written by John Doe, it's important to know whether the publisher--the owner of the web site where the material is published--is Hand Gun Control, Inc. or the National Rifle Association. Most on-line documents have an on-line address called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) that provides the kind of specificity of location that a page citation provides in a traditional reference to a paper text.

Note on EBSCO Host® Databases: The search-results page will provide basic bibliographic information and link to HTML or PDF texts, if they are available. Click on the article title to go to the Citation Page. The Citation Page will provide the information you need for a bibliographic entry, including -- importantly -- a persistent URL, which will look something like this: http://search.epnet.com/direct.asp?an=12475283&db=aph. This is the only URL that will return a user to your source page. This is the URL that must appear in your bibliography. If full text is provided in HTML format, you will find it below the bibliographic material on the Citation Page. If full text is provided in PDF format, you will find a link. When you have a choice of formats always select PDF for your citations. PDF are exact reproductions of the original pages, equivalent to photocopies. PDF texts can be cited just like the hard-copy originals, adding the persistent URL and other information required when the source is digital. Exact formats will vary depending on your style sheet.

Note on LEXIS-NEXIS® Academic Universe Databases: Sample citations in MLA and APA styles for newspaper/magazine articles, Supreme Court cases, and U.S. Code posted under Help/Citing References. Typically, the search-results page and the full-text page each contain the information you need for a complete reference, e.g., "The Washington Post, April 30, 2004 Friday, Final Edition, Editorial; A28, 563 words, Citizens and Enemies." For newspapers, you need not worry about internal pagination. For legal opinions and law reviews, you need to be able to cite specific pages. LEXIS-NEXIS® provides the information, but you need to understand the "star pagination" code. The complete MLA reference to the paper version of a law review article would look like this:

Tribe, Laurence H. "Lawrence v. Texas: The 'Fundamental Right' that Dare Not Speak Its Name." Harvard Law Review 117.3 (April 2004): 1893-1919. Print.

The complete MLA reference the same article retrieved through Lexis-Nexis would look like this:

Tribe, Laurence H. "Lawrence v. Texas: The 'Fundamental Right' that Dare Not Speak Its Name." Harvard Law Review 117.3 (April 2004): 1893-1919. Lexis-Nexis Academic. Web. 4 Nov. 2008.

LEXIS-NEXIS® provides the more abbreviated Bluebook style legal citation: 117 Harv. L. Rev. 1893. So you know that the article is in volume 117 and starts on page 1893. As you proceed through the text, you will encounter [*1894] and then [*1895], [*1896], etc. These markers denote page numbers and appear at the BEGINNING of each page. For legal cases, there are often multiple official sources (reporters). The content is identical, but the page breaks fall differently. The number of asterisks identify the reporter, while the number of following the asterisks indicates the page number. Click here for the LEXIS-NEXIS® help page that discusses footnotes and star pagination. For instance, the Supreme Court's decision in STATE OF NEW JERSEY v. STATE OF NEW YORK (1998), is reprinted at these location in these law reporters: 523 U.S. 767; 118 S. Ct. 1726; 140 L. Ed. 2d 993; 1998 U.S. LEXIS 3405; 66 U.S.L.W. 4389; 98 Daily Journal DAR 5406; 1998 Colo. J. C.A.R. 2596; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 563. One asterisk means the first source on the list. Two askterisks means the second source and three, the third.

Note on LEXIS-NEXIS® Congressional Universe Databases: LEXIS-NEXIS® provides sample references for most kinds of documents. Look for a "How to cite the information found through this form" link (exact language varies) under the heading "Tips" on most of the search pages. So, for example, if you are searching the full text of bills, that search page will include a link to a page with sample references for bills. you will find every kind of document sample citations and other information at Help/Citation of Results. Lexis-Nexis provides access to a great many newspapers. The search-results page and the full-text page each contain the information you need for a complete citation, e.g., "The Washington Post, April 30, 2004 Friday, Final Edition, Editorial; A28, 563 words, Citizens and Enemies."

Your reference to a World Wide Web site should include author, date, title, and publisher in the fashion prescribed by your style manual. To this should be added the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), Digital Object Identifier (DOI), or on-line database (see notes below) and the date of your access or download (when required).

Notes:

  1. Author: If there is no individual author, use the name of the organization that produced the document. If there is neither an individual nor an institutional author, begin the reference with the title.
  2. Date: The location of the date varies with the style sheet, but it is never the first element of an bibliographic listing.
  3. Publisher: place, name, and date (when available).
  4. URL: If there is a persisent or permanent URL it should be included. Sometimes these URLs are identified on the source page (e.g., FindLaw.com) and sometimes on the search summary page (e.g., EbscoHost). Unfortunately, some URLs expire (e.g., Lexis-Nexis). Don't put such tansitory URLs in your reference list. It's a waste of your time and your readers' time. See On-Line Database below.
  5. Digital Object Identifier (DOI): These are becoming available for some on-line scholarly sources and serve the same purposes as a permanent URL. Example DOI: doi:10.1108/03090560710821161
  6. On-Line Database: If your source comes from a subscription database that is not freely available to everybody on the Internet, include the database name (e.g., Academic Search Premier). If there is a permanent URL, include that as well.
  7. Include all informtion required by your preferred style manual.
  8. In your manuscript, use hanging indents for all three styles.
  9. Modern word processors automatically underline URLs and create active links as long as the text is in electronic form. This is a very desirable development because one of the primary purposes of documentation is to help the reader retrieve the exact information you used.
  10. The examples used below demonstrate another feature of web publication: impermanence. The documents referenced were once available at the URLs listed, but no longer.
  11. The examples below are printed in colors only to emphasize the relationship of the various elements. They are printed in bold type only to highlight the colors.

[Chicago/APSA/Turabian]

Shade, Leslie R. 1993. Gender issues in computer networking. Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Education. http://www.mit.edu:800a/people/sorokin/women/lrs.html (accessed May 28, 1996).

[APA]

Shade, L. R. (1993). Gender issues in computer networking. Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www.mit.edu:800a/people/sorokin/women/lrs.html. [note: APA no longer requires a retrieval date]

[MLA]

Shade, Leslie R. "Gender Issues in Computer Networking." Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Education, 1993. Web. 28 May 1996 <http://www.mit.edu:800a/people/sorokin/women/lrs.html>.

This level of specificity is important. Avoid vague references like "on-line" or "Internet," which are equivalent to citing "books" as your source. Avoid general citations to information providers like "ABC News" or "America on Line," which are equivalent to citing "Cole Library" as your source. Avoid citations to search engines like "Google" which are equivalent to citing the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature as your source. Note that in the on-line research you do, the author will often be an organization or government agency. Indeed, the author and the publisher may be identical. Where that is the case, follow the examples below, listing the agency or organization as author. Following the place of publication, enter the word "author" to indicate that the author is also the publisher.

[Chicago/APSA/Turabian]

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Education. 1993. Gender issues in computer networking. Boston: author. http://www.mit.edu:800a/people/sorokin/women/lrs.html (accessed May 28, 1996).

[APA]

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Education. (1993). Gender issues in computer networking." Boston: author. Retrieved from http://www.mit.edu:800a/people/sorokin/women/lrs.html. [note: APA no longer requires a retrieval date]

[MLA]

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Education. "Gender Issues in Computer Networking." Boston: author, 1993. Web. 28 May 1996<http://www.mit.edu:800a/people/sorokin/women/lrs.html>.

 

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