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“I found it online”: Citing online works in APA Style

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American Psychological Association. (2021, March 8). “I found it online”: Citing online works in APA Style. APA Style.

“I Found It Online”: Citing Online Works in APA Style

One of the most common APA Style questions is “How do I cite a work I found online?”

This blog post explains that there is actually a better question to ask that will help you easily create correct APA Style references.

Retrieval method versus reference type

The question of “How do I cite a work I found online?” focuses on the method of retrieval. It is akin to asking, “How do I cite a work I found at the library?” or “How do I cite a work I borrowed from my friend?”

However, to know how to cite a work in APA Style, you must first know what kind of work it is. What did you find online? What did you find at the library? What did you borrow from your friend?

Reference formats in APA Style depend on the reference type, not the method of retrieval. Thus, the better question is “What kind of work is this?” By identifying the type of work, you will know what reference format to follow in the Publication Manual or Concise Guide to APA Style.

For example, if the work is a report, follow the report format. If the work is an ebook, follow the book format. If the work is a journal article, follow the journal article format.

(Note that APA will not be updating the APA Style Guide to Electronic References, Sixth Edition for seventh edition style because a separate electronic references guide is no longer necessary.)

Online and print references are largely the same

Reference formats for online and print works are largely the same in seventh edition style. The style manual provides templates for each reference category, and one template covers the creation of references for both online and print works.

Each template breaks a reference down into its four components: author, date, title, and source. There are no differences in the presentation of the author, date, and title of a work for any of the reference categories.

For the source element, there are minor differences between print and online works. Both print and online works will include source information, such as the publisher name for a book or report. Then, in general, online works additionally include electronic retrieval information that may not be present for print works, such as DOIs and URLs and database information.

Using the webpages and websites reference category

The term “website” can cause confusion because people use it to refer to both a reference category (see Section 10.16 in the Publication Manual and Section 10.14 in the Concise Guide) and a method of retrieval (i.e., online).

When you are citing something on a website, ensure you are thinking about its reference type and not its method of retrieval. Many kinds of works can appear on websites (e.g., reports, ebooks, journal articles), but only those not better accounted for by some other reference category use the webpages and websites reference category.

For more information on when to use the webpages and websites reference category to cite works in seventh edition style, see Section 9.2 of the Publication Manual or Concise Guide.

Further information on citing online works

For more information about how reference categories work in APA Style, see Sections 9.1 to 9.3 of the Publication Manual or Concise Guide as well as the reference examples in Chapter 10. Also check out the free webinar Creating References Using Seventh Edition APA Style, which covers the topic of seventh edition references in detail.