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If you're doing any kind of research, whether for an article, blog post or research paper, the chances are you're doing it online. That's why it's important to know how to properly cite a website. People spend double the amount of time online as they did 10 years ago, and the latest Pew Research data shows that in the teen bracket, people are online "almost constantly." So how do you give credit where it's due for the information you find online? Citing work properly is one thing that separates researchers and curators from plagiarists. It's also a way to let the people who are reading your content know that you have done your research and that the information you're sharing is trustworthy. With the content overload we see today, coming from nearly a billion websites, this is ever more important. Many of us know how to use citation for books and journal articles, because it's something we learned in school. Since most sites don't fit that criteria, citing websites can seem challenging, but it doesn't need to be.
An overview of different citation methods
There are many different citation methods, but three of them are particularly popular in the US: Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago), Modern language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA). There are slight differences among all of them, as the Purdue Online Writing Lab shows:
  • Chicago has different citation methods depending on your field. If you're in the historical field, you'll likely have a bibliography section to indicate the provenance of particular information. Otherwise, Chicago uses an author-date citation method.
  • MLA is used mainly in the humanities and emphasizes the author of a particular work.
  • APA is used in the social sciences and focuses on the creation date of the work.
Here's a screenshot of how this looks when citing books.
How to cite a website in an offline publication
So how does this help you with citing a website? Before you begin, make sure that you really need a website citation. If you are compiling references and your list includes a ebook or online journal article then you can use the APA format for that particular resource (Reminder: APA style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences). The common elements of an APA citation are the author, date, title and publisher. This is handy if you need to create your own reference. Here's how these elements are adapted for citing a website using APA style . . . To cite a website article where you know the author, follow this format: Last name of author, author initials. (Year, Month, Date of publication). Article title. Retrieved from [URL] If you are citing a website generally and not a particular article you can simply give the web address. If you want to cite a website article and don't know the author, then the article title moves into first place: Article title. (Year, Month, Date of publication). Retrieved from [URL] If you are citing a website and don't know the date of publication, then use this format: Last name of author, author initials. (n.d.). Article title. Retrieved from [URL] Some articles don't have fixed URLs. This is common with some news publications. In this case, you can use the home page URL instead of the article URL in the appropriate place. The APA's guidelines on handling missing pieces of information is also helpful.
How to cite a website online
The above guidelines are useful when citing websites in offline publications, but when citing websites online, most publications usually just hyperlink to the source, though some will spell out the full link. This may look very different depending on the publication. Here are some examples: Some avoid linking within the body of the document, and places a list of websites at the end, followed by links to the actual sources of statistics and information, like this:
Vanderbilt University also has a different approach. In its online research magazine, Exploration, it links to resources within the article like most publications do.
But it also provides a story map for each story, which includes links to the story, related content and external links.
Image from Exploration
And the Smithsonian cites its sources inline, as in this article:
Image from
There are many ways to cite websites, so choose the example that works best for your site.
Resources for citing online sources
Sharon Hurley Hall Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional freelance writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 20 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with her on Twitter @SHurleyHall.
If you want to be sure that you’ve correctly cited your online sources, there are several online resources you can use. Three of them are Citation Machine, EasyBib, and Cite This For Me. Here's how they work. Citing a website with Citation Machine To use Citation Machine, type a URL into the search box, then select the appropriate article.
Check for missing information, then fill in the blanks:
Once you're done, confirm that the information is correct and see your citation, properly formatted in APA style.
Citing a website with EasyBig EasyBib works in a very similar way. Type your URL into the box and the website will automatically retrieve the information it finds, highlighting any missing information.
Next, check the entry and fill in any blanks, taking note of any warnings.
Finally, click "create citation" and your properly formatted APA website citation will appear.
Citing a website with Cite This For Me Cite This For Me allows you to choose the type of resource you want to cite (for example, website, journal article or book). To use it, type the URL into the box and press the "autocite” button.
Check the information that it retrieves and make amendments if necessary.
Finalize your reference.
If you want to use online information as part of your research, it's essential to learn how to cite a website properly. The tips and tools listed above will help you. What issues have you found when trying to cite a website in your content marketing?
How To Cite A Website: Showing Your Sources
By Sharon Hurley Hall
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