« August 2009 | Main | October 2009 »

7 posts from September 2009

September 24, 2009

What to Use—The Full Document URL or Home Page URL?

Paige-for-web-site 75x75

by Paige Jackson

Following on from Annie’s post yesterday on URLs, today I wanted to share some tips that might help in deciding what to use when. With the increasing predominance of electronic publishing, it’s a challenge to know how best to cite documents you find online. The DOI is the gold standard, and eventually all documents will have their own DOIs. In the meantime, it’s not always easy to know what to do. If you find a document on the Internet (but not from a database) that you want to cite for which there is no DOI, is it better to cite the full document URL or the publisher home page URL?

The question to ask before deciding which to include is, Which will be most helpful to the reader in locating the document? The following are some instances when the homepage URL would be most helpful (all examples refer to Chapter 7 in the Publication Manual):

  • Subscription wall—If the document is available online only by subscription, the document URL would not be accessible by nonsubscribers. The homepage URL, however, lets the reader know who the publisher is and therefore what databases the reader might look to to access the document.
  • Unstable document URL—If the publisher is one for which document URLs are subject to change, the home page URL is more likely to be helpful (see Examples 11 and 19a).

In the following cases, the full document URL is likely to take the reader to the source more reliably:

  • Publisher website that’s difficult to search—Some publisher homepages—such as those of government agencies or nongovernmental organizations—can be difficult to search, so citing the full URL for a document that takes the reader directly to the document may save time (see Examples 9, 31, and 33).
  • Message posted to a blog or other online forum—Similarly, it can be difficult to locate a particular message on a blog website, so providing the URL that will lead the reader to the message would be the best choice (see Examples 74–77).

This list is not exhaustive—we hope it will give a sense of factors that should guide your decision. A URL is imperfect in pointing the reader to an electronic source, but for many sources, it’s the best we can do. So don’t belabor the issue—make an informed guess as to whether the publisher home page URL or the full document URL is more likely to lead the reader to the document in question, and move on!

September 23, 2009

Will URLs Be Lost in the Arcades?

Annie Hill

by Annie Hill

APA now recommends including homepage URLs for journal or publisher websites but complete URLs for material that may be harder to locate. This can be confusing to readers who want to know when, exactly, to resort to homepage URLs and when to plunk the whole string into a reference. I was trying to think of a way to clarify this guidance for users when I realized that there is more to the story.

We know that long URLs take up space and can contain irrelevant strings of session identifiers that may be clickable but are of no use to the reader. We know that a shortened or homepage URL is sometimes intuitive; there’s no need to direct readers to a specific link at the New York Times, for example, when they can use a search box (and your source may well be behind a subscription wall by the time a URL is entered).

So when is a full URL necessary? Surely it should be included in its entirety when it will help the reader locate the source. A direct link to archived material may be easier to use than a link to a homepage when a site’s organization is complex or when an article has been posted ahead of print publication and may not yet be indexed.

But URLs are ephemeral in nature; they may be broken or lead nowhere once a reader attempts to use them. That’s another reason to cite home page URLs when a site can be searched; home page URLs are more stable.

Furthermore, sites themselves may be updated frequently, making URLs useless as archival referents—and some types of citations may be as ephemeral as their URLs. A tweet, for example, may not qualify as a lasting retrievable source, but despite my conviction that she’s a kindred spirit, I know that Tina Fey is not personally corresponding with me when she updates her Twitter account.

The question might really be: Why do we include URLs at all?

As Anne noted in her post last week, the Modern Language Association, whose style guide is used most often for work in the humanities, recently made a controversial decision to omit URLs from references, and another prominent style guide, Chicago, reminds us that a URL points only to a possible location of a source rather than to its identity. Authors, dates, titles, and publisher information like DOIs are still the real identifiers of a source.

It occurs to me, though, that URLs do serve a purpose. Citations themselves constitute an archive—they are evidence of how we categorize and search for material in the early twenty-first century. This may be a matter not just of history but of historiography.

It’s true that I may do better to paste author, date, and title information into a search box than I would to rely on the information in a URL. What a URL does tell me is where someone found the source at a particular period in time, and that may be reason enough to include it.

September 22, 2009

A DOI and URL Flowchart

Chelsea blog

by Chelsea Lee

Yesterday I talked about the basics of DOIs. Today I'll be unveiling a flowchart about using DOIs and URLs in your references.

The most common questions we have gotten at APA since the introduction of the 6th edition of the Publication Manual have to do with using DOIs, URLs, and database information in reference citations. We on the blog team have done our best to analyze what the manual has to say about this matter, and the flowchart below illustrates the principles at work.

Click on the image below to see a larger version of the flowchart, or you can download a PDF of the flowchart (with hyperlinks to CrossRef) here: Download DOI and URL Flowchart

DOI and URL Flowchart_revised 922

We hope that the flowchart will be helpful to you. Stay tuned for tomorrow, when Annie will be sharing a blog on the nebulous nature of URLs.

September 21, 2009

A DOI Primer

Chelsea blog

by Chelsea Lee

As Anne noted last Thursday, this week we'll be featuring a series of posts on DOIs and URLs. Today's post is an introduction to DOIs.

What is a DOI?

A DOI, or digital object identifier, is like a social security number for a document online. It’s a unique and permanent identifier that will take you straight to a document no matter where it’s located on the Internet. You can read more about DOIs on pp. 188–192 of the 6th edition of the Publication Manual as well as in our FAQ on DOIs. They figure prominently in the 6th edition reference citation style.

How do I get from a DOI to an article?

You can Google a DOI to find an article, although you may still have to sift through search results. To go straight to the source, you can also consult a DOI resolver, such as the one supplied by CrossRef.org. Copy and paste the alphanumeric DOI string (e.g., 10.1037/a0015859) into the DOI resolver and click submit. Or, you can append the DOI string to http://dx.doi.org/ (as in http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0015859) and copy that straight into your browser’s address bar.

When do I include DOIs in my references?

If your reference has a DOI, include that DOI.

How do I find DOIs?

In best publishing practices, the DOI should be listed prominently on the first page of an article, whether in print or online. If you’re working online, copy and paste it into your reference list, to avoid transcription errors. Do not alter the alphanumeric DOI string in any way.

To search for DOIs, use CrossRef. The free DOI lookup searches for DOIs using information such as article title, authors, and publisher information. Or cut and paste your entire reference list into the Simple Text Query form and CrossRef will return all available DOIs at once.

What do I do about DOIs if I read something in print?

If you do not find DOIs for the printed materials that you read, then you do not have to include anything further. You’re done! (Note that many books that exist only in print form are not likely to have DOIs at this time.) When you’ve read something in print form and no DOI exists, simply follow the reference format for print materials.

What's next?

Check back to the blog tomorrow, when I will be sharing a flowchart I have created that explains when to include DOIs or URLs in references, including references retrieved from a subscription database.

September 17, 2009

DOIs and URLs: Special Focus Next Week

AnneG The sixth edition of the Publication Manual and its ancillary books have now been off press for several months. One of our goals in the revision of the manual was to simplify reference style; for example, retrieval dates are no longer required for most sources, and digital object identifiers (DOIs), when available, replace uniform resource locators (URLs) as persistent and reliable links to locate sources. However, the latter recommendation has led readers to pose several complex and challenging questions about the use of DOIs and URLs in electronic references that warrant further discussion and clarification.

We are at a crossroads in the publishing industry. Evolving web-based technological innovations have led to varying recommendations from publishers on which elements to include in an online reference citation. For example, according to the 15th edition of the  Chicago Manual of Style, an online reference with a DOI includes both DOI and URL:

James W. Friedman and Claudio Mezzetti, “Learning in Games by Random 
Sampling," Journal of Economic Theory 98, no. 1 (May 2001),
doi:10.1006/jeth.2000.2694, http://www.idealibrary.com/links/doi

The citation to a web document according to the seventh edition of the  MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers should include a URL only “when the reader probably cannot locate the source without it or when your instructor requires it.” The reference with a URL looks like this:

Eaves, Morris, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, eds. The William 
Blake Archive
. Lib. of Cong., 28 Sept. 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2007.

Another variation can be found in the second edition of the Columbia Guide to Online Publishing, which requires information on CrossRef as the source for the DOI, another format for the DOI, and an exact retrieval date:

International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium. “Initial 
Sequencing and Analysis of the Human Genome.” Nature:
International Weekly Journal of Science
409 (2001): 860–921.
Crossref.org. http://crossref.org (Links: For Researchers
/DOI Resolver/). DOI:10.1038/35057062 (25 Aug 2006).

With retrievability the shared goal, these three manuals demonstrate three different methods for citing online resources. So, when and how do we include DOIs and URLs in APA Style references? Next week, we will have several blog posts that focus on these important and evolving topics in an effort to clarify the rules. Please join us!

September 15, 2009

How Do I Cite a Kindle?

Chelsea blogby Chelsea Lee

E-book readers, like the popular Kindle from Amazon.com, are revolutionizing the way we interact with the printed page. Although most e-book content has leaned toward the nonscholarly, major textbook manufacturers are now partnering with Amazon to produce e-textbooks, with a pilot program to be run at six universities in Fall 2009. They have recently debuted the Kindle DX ($489 retail), which in comparison to the original Kindle boasts a bigger screen (9.7” vs. 6” diagonally) and native support for PDFs, both key to good textbook reproduction.

For the students and scholars who use Kindles (or other e-book readers) when writing papers, the next question becomes, how do I cite material I read on a Kindle?

For the reference list entry, you’ll need to include the type of e-book version you read (two examples are the Kindle DX version and the Adobe Digital Editions version). In lieu of publisher information, include the book’s DOI or where you downloaded the e-book from (if there is no DOI). For example:

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success [Kindle DX version]. 
 Retrieved from Amazon.com

Brill, P. (2004). The winner’s way [Adobe Digital Editions version]. 

Consult Chapter 7 of the 6th ed. of the Publication Manual (examples 19, 20, and 21) for some more help. If the full URL is very long (the one for Gladwell's book was), you may give instead the homepage URL with a description of where to go from there, or the store name—your preference (e.g., Amazon Kindle store or http://www.amazon.com).

In the text, however, citation can get confusing because e-books often lack page numbers (though PDF versions may have them). Kindle books have “location numbers,” which are static, but those are useless to anyone who doesn’t have a Kindle too. To cite in text, either (a) paraphrase, thus avoiding the problem (e.g., "Gladwell, 2008"), or (b) utilize APA’s guidelines for direct quotations of online material without pagination (see Section 6.05 of the manual). Name the major sections (chapter, section, and paragraph number; abbreviate if titles are long), like you would do if you were citing the Bible or Shakespeare.

Gladwell’s book has numbered chapters, and he’s numbered the sections in the chapters. An example direct quotation might be this: 

One of the author’s main points is that “people don’t rise from nothing” 
(Gladwell, 2008, Chapter 1, Section 2, para. 5).

And that’s how you cite material from a Kindle or e-book reader. Have you tried this out yet?

September 10, 2009

Use of First Person in APA Style

Timothy.mcadoo by Timothy McAdoo

I am often asked why APA Style prohibits the use of I or we. I love this question, because the answer is always a pleasant surprise: I or we is perfectly acceptable in APA Style! In fact, the Publication Manual actually recommends using first person, when appropriate, to avoid ambiguity.


What types of ambiguity result when an author goes to great lengths to avoid using I or we? On pages 69–70, the Manual gives three possibilities:

  1. Authors sometimes use the third person simply because it sounds more objective. Authors will often use the authors as a stand-in for I or we, but using this phrase can lead to confusion. Consider this sentence:

    As Smith and Jones (1999) and Drew (2007) noted, there is no correlation between television viewing time and calorie intake. The authors replicated this finding with three experiments.

    Does “the authors” refer to both Smith and Jones (1999) and Drew (2007)? Or does it refer to the authors of the current paper? You would likely guess it’s the latter, but the meaning would be more clear with we:

    As Smith and Jones (1999) and Drew (2007) noted, there is no correlation between television viewing time and calorie intake. We replicated this finding with three experiments.
  2. Attempts to avoid first person can also lead to anthropomorphism. As the Manual notes (p. 69), an experiment cannot “attempt to demonstrate,” but I or we can.

  3. Finally, the use of the editorial we can sometimes be confusing. For example, “we categorize anxiety disorders …” may leave the reader wondering whether we refers to the authors of the current paper, to the research community, or to some other group. But this doesn't mean we must be completely avoided. As the Manual states (p. 70), “we is an appropriate and useful referent.” You could simply rewrite this sentence, “As psychologists, we categorize anxiety disorders …”

It’s not always right, or always wrong, to use the first person. We all have different writing styles, and the use of first person may come more naturally to some than to others. The most important thing to consider, whether using APA Style or another style, is the clarity and accuracy of each sentence in your text. To quote the Manual one more time, “Make certain that every word means exactly what you intend it to mean” (p. 68).

Just one caveat: As always, if you are writing a paper, thesis, or dissertation, your institution may have its own guidelines for the use of first person. The acceptability of first person is sometimes a hot topic, and guidelines vary from one institution to another. Dissertation committees sometimes advise students to follow APA Style with a list of school-specific exceptions, and the acceptability of first person may be one of these. Likewise, if you are submitting a manuscript for publication, you should always check the publisher’s guidelines.


For seventh edition guidelines, visit the seventh edition APA Style blog.

This search includes only sixth edition blog archive results:


My Photo

About Us

Blog Guidelines

APA Style FAQs


Follow us on Instagram Follow us on Twitterrss

American Psychological Association APA Style Blog

Twitter Updates