Academic Writing AdviceAcademic, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2017

How to Cite a Website


A good writer is nothing without good research. Whether you are writing about literary criticisms of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" or you are researching the effects of climate change on the arctic, it is imperative that you are looking at the right sources to give you accurate information. It's only natural that a writer would turn to the Internet to find these sources because it's fast, easy, and you don't have to leave your living room or put on pants.

However, writers and researchers need to be aware of the many (many) sites out there that are not well researched, well written, or have been edited for content or clarity. Because of this, writers need to have a lot of digital literacy—meaning that they must pay attention and be wary when researching online. Once they have found their sources and determined them to be accurate and sufficient to put in their research, they must also know how to cite a website properly. In this new age of research that includes websites and traditional media like books, journals, and newspapers, it's important to make sure that you have everything properly formatted per your style guide that you're using. Here are some tips and tricks to navigating and citing websites for your research.

Make sure the website is citable

There has been a lot of news lately about fake news and fake information. In this digital age, it's very easy to create a website, add some content, some photos, and some keywords that will give your site search engine optimization (meaning that it will go to the top of the Google search). You as the writer have to determine if the website you're reading is not only factually accurate but also whether or not it's written by a credible person who is a subject matter expert. So, how do you go about doing that?

There are several ways to determine whether or not the website in question is worthy of going into your paper as research. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you're determining if it's a good source.

Does the website in question have:

  1. An author? There are some articles with unknown authors that can be credible and source-worthy, but most often if a writer doesn't want to stand by their words and leave their work unsigned then you should tread lightly. Having an author on the website means that the author is willing to place their name next to their work no matter how it's perceived.
  2. A credible suffix? A website suffix is what goes at the end of the url. Credible suffixes include .gov for government websites, .com for corporate websites, .edu for educational websites, and .org for nonprofit organization websites. If the website in question doesn't have one of those suffixes, then it's most likely that it wasn't written by a credible source or institution. Also beware of blogs, which do have .com addresses but they're preceded by the blog host's name (like Wordpress or Tumblr). Though these sites can have accurate information, it's likely that it wasn't edited or verified and is just simply the author's opinion.
  3. A date? If you're looking at an article and it doesn't have a date, be wary of this source. A date will help you give you insight into what time the author or organization was writing the site and how relevant the information might be. Of course, many nonprofits or corporations don't necessarily date their individual pages that have info on them, but they should have a copyright date on their about me page or at the bottom of the home page.
  4. Good design? Though not every single website will have award-winning design, it's certainly something to pay attention to. Does the site look like it was professionally done or does it look like someone used a blog platform's inherit design features? Is the font type something whimsical looking like Comic Sans or is it something more traditional like Times New Roman? These might be small details but they go into the overall credibility of the website. While you're looking at it if something seems… off then it might be.
  5. A completely unbelievable headline? If the title to the website has something shocking or something almost too good to be true, then it just might be. Really take a look at your sources hard and determine if this is information that you can verify elsewhere. If you're just finding this information in one source and the website in question lacks any of the other characteristics that we've noted above, it may not be credible. Try to be as discerning as possible when you are gathering information because you don't want to lead anyone astray with the facts.

How to actually cite a website in your paper

As we all know, different style guides have different rules when it comes to formatting—both within a paper and in the works cited or references. Depending on what style guide you're using will depend on the look and feel of the website citation. Now we'll go over and give examples on how to cite a website both in text and in the references section of the most popular style guides.

MLA

MLA gives a lot of good details on how to reference a website in both the reference section and an in-text citation.

For the reference section you will need to gather all of the following about your source:

  • The author's first and last name
  • The title of the article or page
  • The title of the website
  • The name of the publisher
  • The date the site was published
  • The URL

Here's what that might look like:

MLA sample 1
Here's a sample MLA citation.

As you can see in this example, we didn't have a publisher because the ACLU acts as its own publisher. There's no need to list it twice, in other words. In many cases if you are referencing that has no author because the corporation is the author, simply start out with the title of the article in quotations. Also note that it is not necessary to use http in the URL in the citation.

When it comes to in-text citations, it all depends on what information you have about the website you're citing. If you were using the example above in a parenthetical reference then you would just write it like any other source with two authors.

MLA sample 2
Here's a sample MLA in-text citation.

Notice that there's no need to have a page number as you normally would with a book or a journal reference (because of course there are no page numbers online). If you were citing something that had a corporate or unknown author, then just put the organization name in parenthesis. For example, if you were quoting something by the website Healthline.com, there's no need to put the entire URL of the page. Just simply put Healthline.com in parenthesis.

APA

The American Psychological Association also gives us some good detail about what a website citation should look like both in text and on the references page.

APA actually outlines a lot of very specific examples of how your citation should look like depending on what kind of medium it is. It gives information about online book reviews, Kindle books, data sets, online encyclopedias, YouTube videos, podcasts, and more. For more specific instructions on your source, check out the APA Manual.

Using the same source as we did in our MLA example, here's what it would look like:

APA sample 1
Here's a sample APA citation.

It's important to note that if your website has no known author, then use the organization name first in the citation. If your website or page has no known date then put (n.d.) in place of the date in the citation.

Remember that when you're dealing with a website, just grab as much information about the source as you possibly can. Don't be lazy! Make sure that it's that you really cannot find the author's name and not because you didn't look or make the effort to look in the right places.

When it comes to in-text citations for websites in APA, stick to the conventions of their author date system.

APA sample 2
Here's a sample APA in-text citation.

The in-text citations have similar rules as the reference section. If your website has no known author, put the organization's name in the parenthesis. If the website has no known published date put n.d. for no date.

Chicago Manual of Style

The Chicago Manual of Style details how it wants us to deal with websites as sources in both the bibliography and the in-text citations.

Let's use the same example as we did for MLA and APA to illustrate how to use them in Chicago Manual of Style.

Chicago Manual of Style sample 1
Here's a sample Chicago Manual of Style citation.

Note that if you don't have an author's last name, then just start with the title in quotation marks. If there is no known date then use the date that you accessed the website.

For the in-text citations, Chicago Manual of Style uses footnotes, which are placed at the bottom of the page. The footnotes are called out with superscript numbers after the parenthetical reference and are formatted at the bottom of the page.

Here's what that might look like in accordance with our example we've been using.

Chicago Manual of Style sample 2
Here's a sample Chicago Manual of Style in-text citation.

Note that the footnote is flipped from the format of the bibliography in that the author's first names are first (versus last names first). Again, if you don't have the author's name, start with the title in quotation marks. If you don't have the date, put the access date in its place.

The Chicago Manual of Style does outline some specific online sources, such as how to handle the citation style of blogs, emails, and podcasts. For more information on that be sure to check out the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style.

Use a variety of sources

In this article we've examined how to determine if a website is credible, and how to handle the citation once you figure out that it is. In this new electronic era of research it's important to know how to use websites in our writing in the best possible way. Luckily, learning how to cite websites and other electronic resources are the most difficult to learn. Once you master how to do these, it's easier to write other citations like books or journals.

It's also important to note here that it's good to diversify your research. Don't simply just rely on Internet sources because they're the easiest to find. You never know what could be waiting for you at the library in the periodicals area or in the stacks. It's always best to go through a whole slew of research and writing before you actually sit down to write your findings. If you're unsure of how to locate a resource, be sure to ask your librarian or a teacher to assist you.

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