A Guide to Internet Resources in the Humanities, Community College of Philadelphia

Citing Internet Resources: A Guide for Students

Searching the Internet / Evaluating Internet Sites / Citing Internet Resources / MLA Style / APA Style / CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) / COS(Columbia Online Style) /Home

I. Citation Basics for Beginning Researchers

Who is responsible for citing sources?

As a researcher, you are responsible for documenting every source you use in your research paper. Failure to do so is considered plagiarism and may lead to a failing grade!

What is a source citation?

A source citation is a carefully formatted list of bibliographical information about a source: it should provide your readers with everything they need to know to locate your source and check it out for themselves. Here is an example of a source citation for a book, using MLA (Modern Language Association) format:

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

When do I cite a source?

Cite a source whenever the information you are including is not common knowledge and is not your own original idea.

Where do I cite sources?

Most citation styles put information about a source in two places:

First, in-text citations are placed right in the text of your research paper, directly following the information you have taken from the source. Depending on which format you use, in-text citations may include the author's surname, the page numbers where you found the material, and/or the year of publication.

Second, a Works Cited Page at the end of your paper includes complete bibliographical information about each source, usually in alphabetical order by author's surname.

Why Cite Sources?

Researchers cite sources to give their work credibility. Source citations tell your readers that you have consulted the best authorities in your field to lay the groundwork for your own original work. Your readers need to be able to check out your sources for themselves in order to check your credibility.

How Do I Cite Sources?

Professional researchers in various academic discipines have developed several standard formats or styles for citing sources. The format you choose mainly depends on which academic discipline your research is in. Writers in the humanities disciplines ordinarily use MLA (Modern Language Association) style, although writers in Philosophy may use CMS (Chicago Manual of Style). Writers in the Social Sciences usually employ APA style created by the American Psychological Association. Always consult your teacher about which format to use if you are not sure. Click on the links below for more information on the major citation styles:

MLA (Modern Language Association) Style

APA (American Psychological Association)Style

CMS (Chicago Manual of Style)

COS (Columbia On-Line Style)

II. Special Challenges Posed by Internet Resources


If you are a beginning researcher, be sure to take the time to get familiar with the who, what, when, where, why and how of citing sources (See Citation Basics above).

New Rules:

Once you have finished searching the internet and evaluating internet sites on your topic, you may decide to include information from internet sites in your paper. Remember that the old rules still apply, but there are new rules to learn as well. You must carefully document each source with a complete and accurate source citation. But be aware that citing Internet resources pose special challenges for the researcher:


Internet resources are electronic and do not exist physically unless you take the time to print out a hard copy. The technology allows an author or editor to make changes very easily, so that the exact same site at the exact same internet address can have radically different content the next time you visit. It also means that a site can literally disappear without a trace due to technical problems or because the priorities of the individual or institution sponsoring the site have changed.

Play It Safe and Print:

Whether you plan to quote, paraphrase, or summarize, play it safe and print out a hard copy of the webpage where you found any information you will use in your paper.

Missing Information:

Traditional print resources like books, periodicals, and professional journals follow established ground rules for bibliographical information which have been established over many generations. Because the internet is such a new and different form of publishing, the ground rules are unclear, and you will find many websites which lack basic information.


Investigate each site thoroughly and write down every bit of publication information you find to help yourself and your readers identify and evaluate the legitimacy and authority of your site. Look at headers and footers, beginnings and endings. Be sure to check out the site's home page and, if necessary, use your browser to view the document source.

Evolving Citation Styles:

The main systems for citing sources (MLA, APA,and CMS) are currently being revised and expanded to accommodate newly available online information resources. Frequent revisions and updates in response to new online information situations have caused confusion for researchers. Note that different kinds of information, formatted differently, are required within each style. Make sure to follow the format for citing print sources within the citation style required by your teacher unless the format for electronic sources specifically demands a different approach.

Be Consistent:

In consultation with your teacher, choose one citation style and one handbook, either print or online, and stick with it. The point is to be consistent!

Searching the Internet

Evaluating Internet Sites