May-June 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 5

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Beyond Endnote:
Citing Web Sources in ASA Style

by Jill Campbell, ASA Publications Department

If you regularly rely on Endnote, Procite, or a similar citation software program to format your references in ASA style, you may have found yourself frustrated when you have online sources in your reference list. Citation software programs do a good job of automatically pulling and formatting reference information for printed publications from databases such as Sociological Abstracts. However, they can fall short when you need to format online sources whose citation information may not be easily retrievable from databases.

As a researcher, sociology is not your sole area of expertise; part of your domain as a scholar includes writing about research. Understanding the principles of citation and formatting reference lists will allow you to create your reference lists more quickly and will ensure all necessary source information is included.

Lacking an automated option, you will need to format the reference yourself. Your first step is to determine the type of source you are trying to cite, which is not always a simple task. Is the document available only online? Or, is it a document that first appeared in print but you accessed online? Is it a blog entry? Is it an organization’s website or an individual’s homepage? The possible types of electronic and online sources are myriad and growing. This article addresses just one type of online source that often causes citation confusion: documents retrieved on organizations’ websites.

Helping Readers Find Your Sources

The purpose of providing a reference list is to enable your readers to find the sources you cite in your report or article. Traditionally, references include authorship, date of publication, title of publication, publisher location, as well as volume number and page numbers, if applicable. In ASA style, they look like this:

Reference (book):

Hagan, John and Ruth D. Peterson, eds. 1995. Crime and Inequality. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. In-text citation: (Hagan and Peterson 1995) Reference (journal):Gans, Herbert J. 2005. "Race as Class." Contexts 4(4):17–21. In-text citation: (Gans 2005)

However, with webpages, this information is not always known, not easily identifiable, or not applicable. Below are three types of online sources as presented in the third edition of the ASA Style Guide. Use these as guides to assist you as you format your references list.

(1) When the document is retrieved from an institution with a known location, use this format:


American Sociological Association. 2006. "Status Committees." Washington, DC: American Sociological Association. Retrieved December 12, 2006 ( In-text citation: (ASA 2006)

The ASA executive office has one known location—Washington, DC—and so it was included in the above example.

(2) When the document is retrieved from an organization with an unknown location:


IBM. 2007. "Education: Solutions and Open Technologies for K–12 Schools, Higher Education and Lifelong Learning." Retrieved January 30, 2007 ( In-text citation: (IBM 2007)

Because IBM has multiple offices and it is unknown which office published this document, a location is not included. However, enough information is provided that a reader could find the document online.

(3) When the citation references a report published by an institution and then accessed online:


Johns Hopkins University. 2003. Economic Impact of the Johns Hopkins Institutions in Maryland. Silver Spring, MD: Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved January 26, 2007 ( ). In-text citation: (Johns Hopkins University 2003)

Unlike the previous two examples, the third reference example includes publisher location because the document was originally published as a printed document and then simply uploaded to a website. It is important to include the retrieval date and web URL so as not to mislead readers into thinking you accessed the printed document when you did not.

Also in the example above, note the year in the in-text citation. The year the document was published, not the year it was retrieved, should be included in the citation.

Mastering Your Domain

To master your domain, note the similarities among online sources: Each of the three examples above includes the organization name, year, title of document, retrieval date, and URL address. All you need to format your reference properly are those pieces of information, which are very similar to the information needed for traditional, non-web references.

But what about blogs or e-books or any of the many other online sources, you ask? Other electronic citation issues—such as how to cite material from CDs or DVDs, online-only periodicals, e-books, and e-mail messages—abound and are addressed in the in the third edition of the ASA Style Guide, available through the ASA bookstore green_small.gif


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