Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Creating Models for Electronic Citations

Andrew Harnack and Eugene Kleppinger outline the case for better referencing of electronic sources.

In the fall of 1995 we first encountered the need to help our honors rhetoric students cite Internet sources. We remember well one students first attempt. In her works cited the student created an entry to list something she'd found on the World Wide Web. With elegant simplicity she wrote Internet (1995).

Realizing that something was missing, we then began seriously to investigate just how it is that one cites electronic sources with some degree of grace, efficiency, and style. A thorough search on the Internet revealed numerous helpful (but often confusing) available style sheets. As teachers of rhetoric, we did indeed like the simplicity of Janice Walker's MLA-Style Citations for Electronic Sources [1]. However, a close examination of Walker's models revealed a number of ambiguities that we later described in ' Beyond the MLA Handbook: Documenting Electronic Sources on the Internet [2] ,' published in Kairos: A Journal for Teachers of Writing in Webbed Environments 1.2 (1996).

As a coda to the Kairos essay, we attached our own 'Style Sheet: Citing the Sites. ' Within days, our email boxes were flooded with requests for permission to reprint our work, and we have been gratified by the number of teachers, students, librarians, researchers, journalists, and ordinary folk who have written to say that our style sheet provided exactly what they needed: clear, efficient, and unambiguous MLA-style models for citing Internet sources.

Rumors of our work quickly reached the editors of St. Martin's Press, New York, and by the middle of May 1996, with contract in hand, we began an expansion of our work now published as Online! A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources [3] (1997), featuring a companion website. Containing ten chapters, Online! provides citation models for MLA, APA, Chicago, and CBE styles of documentation. In addition to an extended glossary and directory of academic Internet sites, Online! also discusses the evaluation of Internet sources and the conventions of publishing hypertexts on the Internet.

Writing Online! has truly been an education for us. As Janice Walker points out in her generous response [4] to our Kairos essay, one really must learn how to think differently about Internet sources of information. Here, for example, is an excerpt from our discussion on how one might proceed in MLA-style when using page numbers in parentheses to mark closure of a source is no longer an option:

The MLA Handbook . . . requires that you identify the location of any cited information as precisely as possible within parentheses. Because Internet sources are rarely marked with page numbers, you will not always be able to show exactly where cited material comes from. If a source has internal divisions, use these instead of page numbers in our citation. Be sure to use divisions inherent in our document and not those provided by your browsing software . . . . The MLA practice of parenthetical page-number citation lets you indicate precisely where information from a printed source ends. Many Internet sources, however, appear as single screens, and MLA style does not require parenthetical page citations for one-page works. By analogy, a single-screen document cited n text needs no page citation. To let your readers know where your use of an Internet source with no text divisions ends, use a source-reflective statement.

Source-reflective statements give you an opportunity to assert your authorial voice. Writers use source-reflective statements to provide editorial comment, clarification, qualifications, amplification, dissent, agreement, and so on. In the following example, the absence of a source-reflective statement creates uncertainty as to where use of an Internet source ends.

In the next example, the writer has added a source-reflective statement to show that use of the source has ended.

Here is the Works Cited entry:

Herrington, TyAnna K. 'Being is Believing.' Rev. of Being Digital, by Nicholas
Negroponte. Kairos: A Journal for Teaching Writing in Webbed
1.1 (1996) 1.1 (24 May 1996).


Rethinking how one frames the use of Internet sources in such ways demonstrates not only our need to rethink the nature of electronic sources, but also our responsibility to find new ways to re-present electronic information in printed and electronic formats.

More than anything, however, we now realize that as teachers, scholars, and librarians we will always be behind the technology curve in learning how to document electronically-delivered information. In the midst of writing Online!, for example, HyperNews [5] suddenly became almost universally available as a new Internet medium. To make sure that we understood its delivery mode, we corresponded with Daniel LaLiberte, the creator of HyperNews, asking for his views on accurate citation of its visual format and language of delivery. His comments to us were most helpful as we sought to devise models to document HyperNews postings. Although almost unheard of a year ago, HyperNews is now a common medium for posting and exchanging information. As new technologies emerge, how will writers and researchers cite them for purposes of research and argument? For example, how shall we document video clips, televised telephone conversations, musical performances, and sound bits that we now see and hear by means of computer transmission to our terminals? Knowing that much electronic information is by nature impermanent, must we download and store files (in a way analogous to the photocopying of print sources of information) for future verification and reference? And more importantly, how do we fashion new guidelines to help us determine the nature of information as intellectual property appearing on the Internet?

Such practical and general questions are now being asked with great frequency and urgency. To the degree that writing about the citation of sources has made us aware of the importance of these questions, we are grateful for the experience. To the degree that we do not yet know the answers, we are humbled. We are agreed, however, that as new technologies develop, we must collaboratively devise new styles, forms, and formats that allow us to refer to and retrieve what we have seen and heard. As a printed guide, Online! is linked to a companion Web site [3] that provides opportunity for readers to send comments and queries to us.

We invite the readers of Ariadne to visit this site and request examination copies of Online! We hope they will forward their comments, responses, and suggestions for the next edition to us.


[1] Janice Walker's MLA-Style Citations for Electronic Sources,

[2] Beyond the MLA Handbook: Documenting Electronic Sources on the Internet,

[3] Online! Web site
Link not working as of 27/1/97

[4] Response by Janice Walker to Kairos article,

[5] HyperNews Web site,

Author Details

Andrew Harnack and Eugene Kleppinger are authors of the forthcoming book Online: A Reference Guide for Using Internet sources.
Email: engharnack@acs.eku.edu and actklepp@acs.eku.edu