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How to reference a website or web page

   

Uncertainties and mistakes in referencing a web page or website

Undated web pages

I am frequently emailed to ask the date of a page on one of my websites so that a student can reference it. My answer is always the same: Although the date of publication of a book or journal article remains the same, websites,  by their very nature, can and usually do get updated frequently. Then the date of publication of a particular version is unknown to anyone but the author or webmaster, who may not have kept a record anyway.

The accepted way to reference the date of a web page is to give the date that you personally accessed it for use in your own work. This is not something that anyone can check and it may not be helpful for a reader if the web page changes, but there it is.

The date accessed should be placed in square brackets at the end of a web reference. Follow the norms of your discipline for punctuation, capitalisation, italics and underlining etc. As explained in the page on citing literature, even different academic journals use different housestyles within the standard framework. However, see below for examples.

Web pages and websites with no stated author

It is very common indeed for web pages and websites to have no apparent author, and students can be concerned about how they should be referenced.

Where no author seems to be stated on a web page or website, look for it in copyright statements or contact information and bear in mind that the 'author' may be an organisation of some sort. If you really can't find an author, start the reference with the title.

The general rule is not just to leave part of a reference out but to state clearly in some way that it can't be found. See the examples below.

Examples of referencing web pages and websites

Referencing in a list of references / bibliography**

Bearing in mind that your housestyle for punctuation, capitalisation, italics and underlining etc. would probably need to be different, the reference of an undated web page would need to be in the form:

Author, undated, Title of page, web address, i.e. URL [date accessed]

So suppose for example that you wanted to reference this page and that you looked at it on January 23rd 2015. The reference would be:

Cryer, P., undated, How to reference a website or web page, www.postgradresources.info/student-resources12b-lit-rev-use.htm [accessed 23/01/2015]

If this page did not appear to have an author, which of course it does, and that you accessed it on January 23rd 2015, its reference in a list of references should be as follows - within of course the constraints of your housestyle for punctuation, capitalisation, italics and underlining etc.:

How to reference a website or web page, undated, www.postgradresources.info/student-resources12b-lit-rev-use.htm [accessed 23/01/2015]

Referencing within text

If your housestyle for references within text uses footnotes or endnotes, a web page will simply be referenced in the main text with a number and then in a list as shown above. Otherwise write in the form:

... (Author, undated) ...

Taking this web page as an example, assuming that there are more than one reference to it:

... (Cryer, P. undated a) ...

And:

... (Cryer, P. undated b) ...

Etc.

More information

Again, if your housestyle for references uses footnotes or endnotes, a web page will simply be references within the text with a number. Otherwise write in the form:

... (Title of web page, undated) ...

Reference just the website if you are writing in general terms rather than referencing a specific point. So, for example, you might write in the main text:

... Free advice and suggestions for research students are available on the internet (e.g. Cryer, P., undated). These provide ....

Or, if no author were mentioned:

... Free advice and suggestions for research students are available on the internet (e.g. Educational Resources for Postgraduate Research, undated). These provide ...

© Pat Cryer


* 'Supervisor' is a shorthand for 'research degree supervisor', 'advisor' or 'tutor', and applies to varying extents for all research degrees: PhD, DPhil. MPhil, Prof Doc and even undergraduate and masters' projects. In some countries, notably the USA, a 'supervisor' is known as an 'advisor'.

** The terms 'references' and 'bibliography' are used interchangeably in some subject areas. In other subject areas 'references' are what are referred to in the writing, whereas a 'bibliography' lists what was consulted to aid thinking although not referred to directly in the writing. You must follow the norms of your discipline.