Online Sources: Definition & Citations

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  • 0:03 What Are Online Sources?
  • 0:28 Citing Online Sources
  • 2:43 Evaluating Online Sources
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
Find out what online sources are and how to cite them in your research paper or essay. Learn some tips on evaluating online sources. After the lesson, take a quick quiz to test your knowledge.

What Are Online Sources?

An online source is material you find online. It can be an online newspaper, magazine or television website such as NBC or CNN. Peer-reviewed journals, webpages, forums and blogs are also online sources. Some other names for online sources are electronic sources, web sources and Internet sources. Since so many sources are available online, it's important to know which ones are reliable and how to cite them.

Citing Online Sources

Generally speaking, there are two proper and common ways to cite sources. You may opt to follow the citation format provided by either the American Psychological Association (APA) or Modern Language Association (MLA). Always provide an in-text citation. Online sources are cited just like books and other print sources, with some minor differences.


If you're using the APA style, use the author and year as you would for a print source. An in-text citation in APA would look something like this:

Johnson (2014) believes that students will always be sleep deprived.

Online sources frequently lack the author's name and date. When this happens, use the article title in-text in place of the author's name, and 'n.d.' for no date. For example: (Health Matters, n.d.) If you're quoting directly from the article, use the paragraph number where the quote appears if no page number is available. (Health Matters, par. 6)

References page:

Online articles cited in-text should also appear on the References page. Use the same format as print sources, but you must add the main organization's name (the one sponsoring the website) and the full URL.

For online peer-reviewed journal articles and books, include the volume number and pages and use the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) instead of the URL if the DOI available. DOI links are more stable than URLs, which change frequently. An example would look something like this:

  • Johnson, T. (2014). Sleep deprivation and learning. Sleep Science Journal. 29, 500-505. DOI: 10.1006/ssj.2014

For online sources without DOIs, use the full URL instead.


If you're using MLA style, use the author and page number form as you would for a print source. An in-text citation in MLA would look something like this:

Hansen believes there will be many changes made to the original document (24).

Remember, online sources frequently lack author names and page numbers, so use paragraph numbers instead if they're numbered in the original article. For example, (Hansen, par. 6). If there's no author, place the title of the article in quotation marks and parentheses.

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