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Going to the Source:

A resource provided by collaboration between the College Libraries, the Writing Center, and the Faculty


Citing electronic sources

Electronic sources make it more challenging to assess authors and arguments. In print, the difference between a copy of People magazine and a peer-reviewed scholarly book is fairly easy to tell, but online the difference may be more difficult to figure out. For example, a digital reproduction of Leonard Bernstein's annotated copy of Romeo and Juliet is available as part of the Library of Congress online exhibit “West Side Story: Birth of a Classic.”16 This is a wonderful source to use and cite. If, on the contrary, you read and borrow ideas from reviews on a site such as, your professor is unlikely to be impressed (unless you are writing about public responses to a lm and the instructor agrees that you can use this type of source). Therefore, when using Internet resources, pay particular attention to these questions: Who wrote this? What is their agenda or goal? Has any institution or body reviewed or vetted the information?

The Internet provides immense bodies of reference material that are anonymously or collectively authored. Wikipedia, for example, contains a long entry on the “Communist Party of China.”17 You may cite such a work (we just did), and you should absolutely cite it if you're using it as a source of information. But it's better to treat such entries as an informal starting point for more scholarly research on the topic. As with any encyclopedia, print or digital, Wikipedia is a place to begin your inquiry; it provides an orientation to a topic so you can investigate further using more substantive sources. (Wikipedia entries often include a bibliography with additional sources to consult, though the quality of the references varies.)

You can't cut and paste from Wikipedia or a similar source and present it as your own work, even if no author is listed. The same is true for a graph, figure, or batch of computer code. The ideas you are taking aren't yours. You also can't use an online program such as Google Translate to translate a passage from another language and submit it as your own work. It isn't.

Most disciplinary style guides (see Part V above) provide instructions of how to cite Internet resources.


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16 William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. George Kittredge (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1940), Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division Library of Congress, “West Side Story: Birth of a Classic,” online exhibition, Library of Congress,, accessed 22 Nov. 2015.

17 “Communist Party of China,”, accessed 21 November 2015.