May 29th, 2008

Confused about Citing Electronic Resources in APA?

If you are, you’re not alone. Electronic resources change every day, and it’s very difficult for a citation style to keep up. There are library databases, online journals, PDFs, HTML pages, power points, blogs, websites, newsgroups, books, podcasts, etc. That means that there may not be an “official” example of what you want to cite. Plus, there’s not only the Electronic Media section of the APA Manual, 5th edition, but also a supplemental APA Style Guide to Electronic Resources linked from the Capella Library’s Guides and Tutorials page.

Does your head hurt yet?

So, where do you start? First of all, remember that your citation is like a treasure map. The information included in it helps the next researcher find that specific source. The more information you can give, the more likely the next person will find it. That’s why it’s so important to include things like the author (even if the author is an organization, not a particular person), date, name of the journal, title of the article or book, and retrieval information. Retrieval information is only used for electronic resources, and will be a document number, or a date along with a database name, or a web address. Here’s an example of a government report from the web:


Most of the electronic resources you will be using are actually library databases. For articles from databases, there are actually three different ways you might cite them. Which one do you use?

  • Is there a DOI (digital object identifier)? If yes, use the example on page 7 of the Supplemental Guide. The guide also has information about the DOI on pages 2-4. Not all databases have the DOI yet. Look on the article’s information page in the database to see if one is there.
  • Is it a PDF that looks exactly like the original, paper version of the article? If yes, you may simply have an “electronic version.” Look at the example on page 271 of the APA manual for a citation of an electronic version.
  • No DOI? Not an “electronic version?” Then you’ll want to look at page 279 of the APA manual for an example from a library database.

If what you have is NOT from a library database, but is still an electronic resource, then things get really exciting. You may have to look through the examples between pages 271 and 281 in the manual and the examples in the supplement.

Pick the examples closest to what you have, and build your citation from there. There are an almost infinite number (okay, maybe not, but it seems that way) of possible citations, so there may not be an example of exactly what your citation should look like. You’ll have to put on your thinking cap and make sure you get as close as possible.

However much APA citations may fell like a punishment, they’re there for a reason. Because other people do their citations correctly, you can benefit by using those citations as part of your own research. See our Bibliography and Cited Reference Searching guide for help with this.

Remeber, APA isn’t your enemy. It’s just a very exacting and persnickety friend!


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