What is a Citation?
Frequently Asked Questions
Citing Electronic Documents
Quiz yourself on this module
MODULE 7 - Managing references
Citing Electronic 'Documents'
No universal, standard method for citing electronic sources of information has yet been agreed upon. The recommendations in this section follow the practices most likely to be adopted, and are intended as guidelines for those who need to cite electronic sources of information now. Those intending to use such citations in papers submitted to scholarly journals should check whether an alternative method is used by that journal.
Citation formats suggested here are based on the book by Xia Li & Nancy B. Crane: Electronic style: a guide to citing electronic information, 2nd ed., Mecklermedia, 1995; and the draft of ISO standard 690-2: Information and documentation: Bibliographic references: Electronic documents or parts thereof.
The basic rules below may be customised for any standard citation style; these examples use the Harvard style. Refer to an appropriate style manual for a guide to citing printed sources, and an explanation of the Harvard style. This section also explains how to refer to the cited document within the body of the text using the author-date method. The recommended method for citing Internet sources is to make use of the document's URL (Internet address).
In the citation, the URL should be split at the end of a line only after the forward slashes in the address. No further punctuation, such as hyphens, should be added, nor should the case of any characters in the address be altered.
This section mainly deals with citing information found on the Internet.
• Author/editor, Year. Title [online]. (Edition).
• Place of publication: Publisher (if ascertainable).
• Available from: URL [Accessed Date].
Holland, M., 1996. Harvard system [online]. Poole:
Bournemouth University. Available from: http://www.bournemouth.ac.uk/
service-depts/lis/LIS_Pub/harvardsyst.html [Accessed 15 Apr 1996].
Write "No date" when the electronic publication date is not available.
The term "online" in brackets indicates the "type of medium" and is used for all Internet sources.
The "Accessed Date" is the date on which you viewed or downloaded the document. This allows for any subsequent modifications to the document common with this medium of communication.
The term publisher is used here to cover both the traditional idea of a publisher of printed sources, as well as organisations responsible for maintaining sites on the Internet, such as Bournemouth University.
Much information is put up on the Internet by organisations without citing a specific author. In such cases, ascribe authorship to the smallest identifiable organisational unit (this is similar to the standard method for citing works produced by a corporate body).
Library Services, 1995. Internet user glossary [online].
North Carolina: North Carolina State University. Available from:
Internet-user-glossary [Accessed 15 Apr 1996].
• Author, Year. Title. Journal Title [online], volume (issue), location within host. Available from: URL [Accessed Date].
Korb, K.B., 1995. Persons and things: book review of Bringsjord on Robot-Consciousness. Psycoloquy [online], 6 (15). Available from:
[Accessed17 Jun 1996].
The "location within host" is the equivalent of pagination used with printed sources. It should be given if the format of the document includes pagination or an equivalent internal referencing system. The specification of location should be chosen according to the following order of preference:
1) page, screen, paragraph, or line number when these features are fixed features of the online source (e.g. "pp. 5-21" or "5-21"; "lines 100-150)";
2) labelled part, section, table, etc.;
3) any host-specific designation.
If the document does not include pagination or an equivalent internal referencing system, the extent of the item may be indicated in terms such as the total number of lines, screens, etc., e.g. "[35 lines]" or "[approx. 12 screens]".
With the Psycoloquy example above, volume numbers are retained whilst the part number is equivalent to an article number.
Note that the Psycoloquy archive is available on more than one server, as well as in ftp, gopher and http formats. Hence the URL for this article could have been:
• ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/Psycoloquy/ 1995.volume.6/psyc.95.6.15.
All these refer to the same article and all are correct. Give the URL you used to view the document.
Mailbase/Listserv Email Lists
These discussion lists generate email messages which are sent directly to the subscriber. Many lists will archive the messages sent.
References to these messages should be treated in a similar fashion to journal references; using the list name in place of the journal title and the subject line of the message in place of the article title.
For "Available from:", use the email address of the list administrator.
These details, together with the author, will appear in the message header.
Author, Day Month Year. Subject of message. Discussion List [online]. Available from: list e-mail address [Accessed Date].
Brack, E.V., 2 May 1995. Re: Computing short courses. Lis-link
[online]. Available from: firstname.lastname@example.org [Accessed 17 Apr 1996].
Jensen, L.R., 12 Dec 1995. Recommendation of student radio/tv in
English. IASTAR [online]. Available from: LISTSERV@FTP.NRG.DTU.DK
[Accessed 29 Apr 1996].
It should be noted that items may only be kept on discussion group servers for a short time and hence may not be suitable for referencing. A local copy could be kept by the author who is giving the citation, with a note to this effect.
Personal electronic communications (E-mail)
If you wish to make reference to personal e-mail messages, the following format is recommended.
• The "subject line" of the message is given as a title and the full date is given instead of just the year.
• In place of an "availability" statement, use E-mail to Recipient and include both the sender's and recipient's e-mail addresses in the reference.
• Sender (Sender's E-mail address), Day Month Year.
• Subject of Message.
• E-mail to Recipient (Recipient's E-mail address).
Lowman, D. (email@example.com), 4 Apr 1996.
RE: ProCite and Internet Refere. E-mail to P. Cross
1. The Chicago manual of style. The University of Chicago Press, 1993.14th ed.
2. Li, X. and Crane, N.B. Electronic Style: a guide to citing electronic information Mecklermedia, 1993.
3. MHRA style book: notes for authors, editors, and writers of theses. Modern Humanities Research Association, 1991. 4th ed.
4. LI & Crane: Electronic Styles: An Expanded Guide for Citing Electronic Information.