Citing the on-line dictionary

A citation of any on-line dictionary should include the following information:

  • the headword of the entry cited (in quotes)
  • the title of the source (in italics)
  • the date the dictionary was published, posted, or revised (Use the copyright date noted at the bottom of this and every Student Dictionary page.)
  • the full URL of the site (up to and including the file name)
  • the date you accessed the dictionary (in parentheses)

Here's how you would cite the entry for hacker in Merriam-Webster's Student's Electronic Dictionary, if you accessed it on October 8, 1998.

"hacker." Word Central: Merriam-Webster's Student's Electronic Dictionary. 2001. http:// (8 Oct. 2001).

Citing other On-line Sources

There is no universally accepted standard for citing on-line sources, but since most such sources can now be accessed by using a Web browser, it is generally adequate to indicate the document's URL (uniform resource locator)--for materials available on the Web, Gopher, FTP or Telnet servers--somewhere in the citation, usually following the date on which the electronic document was published, posted, or last revised (if known).

Thus a typical citation of an on-line source would show the author's name, the title of the document, the title of the complete work (such as the name of a periodical) in italics, the date, and the full URL. A URL is composed of the protocol used (http, gopher, ftp, or telnet), the server's identification, the directory path, and the file's name.

Here are a five sample citations of on-line sources:

Agmon, Eytan. "Beethoven's Op. 81a and the Psychology of Loss." Music Theory Online 2, 4 (1996).
CERT. "The CERT Coordination Center FAQ." (Aug. 1997). (3 Oct. 1997).
Dalhousie, Duncan. "Scottish Clans On-Line." (19 May 1996). gopher:// 70/11/Scotts/Clan.txt (3 Oct. 1997).
Davies, Al. 1997. Mitral Valvular Prolapse Syndrome. Medical Reporter 2, 11 (Feb.). http:/
Thursby, Ray. "Hopping into hybrids." Aug. 2000.

In many cases it is necessary or desirable to include the date of access as well. The widely followed MLA guidelines for styling electronic citations place the date of access in parentheses at the end of the citation. Note that the date of access will often be the only date shown, since many on-line documents do not include dates.

Walker, John. "Resources for Learning French." (12 Aug. 1997).

When a document is accessible only through a proprietary on-line service, the name of that service should be included in the citation.

McGrath, Peter. "U.S.Open History." Newsweek Interactive. 15 Sept. 1997. America Online.

Periodicals published on paper that happen to be accessed on-line may be cited just like normal periodicals, with no acknowledgment of their on-line status, if it is clear that the text has not been altered for the on-line version.

References to mailing lists or newsgroup postings should begin with the author's name, include the subject line (or a made-up descriptive subject line), and provide the name and electronic address of the mailing-list server or newsgroup and the date posted. A personal e-mail message can be called "Personal communication" with no mention of its electronic medium.

Marchand, Jim. "L'humour de Berceo." (1 Oct. 1997). Medieval Texts Discussion List.
Massey, Neil. "Year 2000 and Sendmail 8.86." (1 Oct. 1997). comp.mail.sendmail

Many mailing-list discussions are archived after messages are posted. Archives are usually maintained on the mailing list's server and may also be available through a Web page. An archived message is cited in its original form unless the message was accessed through a Web server rather than the list server or newsgroup.

McCarty, Willard. "The Fate of Universities." 13 June 1997. Humanist Discussion Group.

NOTE: Since many on-line sources are highly subject to change or deletion, any on-line text likely to be cited--including personal e-mail massages--should always be either downloaded onto a disk or printed out and stored on paper (with a notation of the date accessed) as a permanent record.