Proper Citing of Web Sources in Online Posts

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on February 19, 2013

in blog, Web Publishing

PlagiarismFrom time to time I come across content posted on the Internet which I suspect comes from sources other than the person posting it, but no credit is given. Recently I was reading someone else’s newsletter which contained a link to a download and copy from my website with no reference to my blog as the source. I have seen very educated people highlight, copy, and paste full articles from the Internet into word documents which they save and distribute, without permission or citing the source. These are all variations of “plagiarism.” Just because copy is on a public website, it does not mean that it can be re-published by someone else without proper attribution and in some cases permission. The same is true for images and photos.

The various style books, such as American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago, and Turabian, have rules for citing Web sources in formal research documents. I have not found any style guidelines that specifically address citing web sources when writing blog articles or posting content on websites and other informal web platforms. These sites are not normally research or academic sites and it seems that the style is not as important. However, for our own integrity and credibility, we bloggers, e-newsletter editors, etc. need to give credit to a source that is being quoted or paraphrased.

One of the benefits of writing online articles is that we can provide a direct link to a source within the article itself. I do this quite often. By providing the link, I am resourcing my readers as well as adding to the value of my writing by including good “links.” I am also making sure that my readers can get to the exact reference site very easily.

Here is how I try to handle content from other online sources:

1)      If I am quoting a unique word, phrase of short sentence, I either use quotation marks or italics and include in the sentence or nearby, the name of the author or source with a hyperlink to the actual web source (not a main website which will eventually lead the reader to the actual source, but the direct web link to the page where the quoted material appears.)

2)      If I am quoting a longer sentence or paragraph I use block indent. Either before or after that quote, I include author or source with a hyperlink to the web source.

3)      If I want to embed someone’s entire article in my blog or make a handout using it —I request permission from the author and then I credit the author, provide the link, and add “Used with permission.”

4)      As for images and photos, I use my own or royalty free photos whenever possible and follow whatever attribution directions the owner provides. Most image sites (even free clip art) have stated requirements for use. Some images can be purchased and you are licensed to use it as your own without attribution. Some sites state very clearly that any images posted on them become public domain and may be used by anyone. We just have to read the fine print to know what to do.

I think that this is an important topic for those of us who “publish” online. What do you think?

Here are some sites that share the style book rules for citing from the Web. We bloggers and e-newsletter editors are obviously not expected to be as formal as these books require of researchers or academics, but a reading of these rules brings home the fact that proper citing of sources is important.

Cite Sources from Wikihow

Cite Online Work from eHow

Do you know of any style books or websites that address this issue for less formal works, such as blogs and electronic newsletters? How do you handle quotations from web sources?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Hendey February 19, 2013 at 10:46 am

Thank you for this amazingly helpful article – I’m going to include a link to this post in our writers guidelines for all new contributors to, with a full statement of course on the source of the article! This is becoming increasingly important!

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND February 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Thanks for the endorsement, Lisa. I, too, agree that this is a very important topic and I was surprised not to find more written on it. Perhaps others have found things that they will share with us.

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