Referencing websites

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The world-wide web (www) has caused problems to writers trying to give good academic references in their work - particularly for students in Higher Education. This may be largely because the web is too new for many academics, who instinctively feel that printed matter is more authoritative and to be trusted than electronic data. Certainly many printed guides to referencing systems (see Systems of academic referencing) do not deal satisfactorily with this area. (More than one says something like "For websites, try to follow the Harvard system as much as possible", which is not as helpful as a learner might hope.)

In brief, AWE would say that you should follow the four Principles of Referencing, especially the second: "Make it possible for your reader to find and check any source you have mentioned.". This requires, for a source found on the web, the URL, and, because the web is liable to change at any time, the date on which you accessed (visited) the site. These two are essential items. Further details for which you may be asked are in the following list. (If you can't find any further detail, it is worth using your judgement to ask whether the source is reliable.) They are listed in one order, but be aware of any different order in which your department might prefer you to list them.

  • The name, as fully as possible, of the author. This should be given, in the case of individuals; but many web pages are the product of a corporate author which can be cited.
  • The date on which the material was produced. This can be hard to find, but is sometimes given in such pages as 'About...'. If you can find no date given, you may say (n. d.) (= no date), or rely on the date of access.
  • A title for the page. This is sometimes not clear, but most academically reliable sources have a title at the beginning.
  • The 'publisher', or source, of the material. This may be an on-line database, like this one; it may be the publisher of the original paper version; and it may not be clear. In the latter case, omit it.
  • The URL - of the precise page you mean, NOT the homepage of the website. (Use COPY and PASTE to move the whole long URL from the search pane of your browser to the List of References in your work.) Some departments want this to be enclosed in <angle brackets>.
  • The date on which you accessed the source. Sometimes this should be enclosed in [square brackets], sometimes in (brackets) and sometimes not enclosed at all: but it is nearly always prefixed by the word accessed.