Given the well documented growth in academic World Wide Web publication a bibliographic methodology is needed to be able to adequately refer to Web pages in published work. What follows is a general proposal for what bibliographic elements should be required to adequately cite a Web page. The particular order of the elements, as in all bibliographies, depends on the style required or adopted for the particular publication, and the terms provided here ought to make this relatively obvious.
The general model for World Wide Web citation should not substantially differ from existing conventions. The elements used here are a combination of how a journal article and a work within an anthology would be cited, and simply helps point out what aspects of a Web address are important to identifying it appropriately.
It should be noted that to date most proposals for the citation of Web pages have been inadequate, generally on the basis of an insufficient amount of bibliographic information being provided. The general model that has been adopted or proposed has relied very substantially on print based bibliographic conventions, but the dynamic and sometimes volatile nature of Web publication needs to be accomodated - many Sites routinely re-edit or update information without retaining copies of the original.
The purpose of a bibliography is two fold; to clearly document sources relied upon and used in one's own work, and to enable others to be able to find this material if they wish. With this in mind World Wide Web citation should consist of the following structural units:
- As in a journal article citation the author is the person or persons responsible for the content of the page - this should not be confused with whoever has marked the page up in HTML (HyperText Markup Language, the metalanguage of the Web). Where an author is not attributed then n.a. should be inserted and where there is an institutional author then this is the attribution according to the adopted style guide's requirements. The rules for the presentation of the author's name should be the same as the adopted style guide's requirments.
- Publication Date
- This is the standard publication date, often found in the copyright notice on a Web page. If the individual page being cited does not contain a publication date, but the Web Site does, then this may be used as the publication date. (A Web Site is equivalent to a journal and an individual Web page is a part of this larger element.) It is very important to not confuse a Web Site with a Web server. A server can host many Sites, and the appropriate date for bibliographic citation is not the date provided on the server's homepage (a homepage is a combination frontispiece, table of contents, and title page), but the date on the particular Site's homepage.
- Page Title
- Most Web pages have a title, which is the main heading found at the top of the page. This is not necessarily the same as the title which appears within the actual window frame of your Web browser software, though it often is. Where a title is not provided n.t. should be inserted. A Web page's title is to be regarded as equivalent to the title of a journal article, though in practice there is often a substantial difference - for example a Web article may consist of several Web pages, each seperately titled.
- Site Title
- Web pages are collected within a Web Site, and this should be included within the citation. This can be particularly important as many pages, if only referenced on the basis of their page title, can appear ambiguous in their status or content without naming the Web Site that they are a part of. A Web Site should not be confused with a Web server (which is simply the computer that delivers Web pages) for servers can easily host many Sites. In some instances a Site Title may be a document title, in other cases it might refer to an entire Web Site. The Site title is equivalent to a journal title.
- URL's (Uniform or Universal Resource Locater's) are the addresses, or location, of cited Web pages on the Internet. The URL that should be included in the bibliographic reference should be to the cited page, and not the Site. However, if it is the Site in general that is being referenced then the URL should be to the Site's homepage. Where several pages are referenced from a single Site then the bibliographic convention used will be determined by the style adopted according to its guidelines for multiple sections or articles from a single document. In general this would be to each of the pages cited and to the Site in general. The URL is treated as equivalent to the page number in other forms of referring, and where a paragraph number is also provided (see below) then this should follow the URL.
- Date Accessed
- The date at which the page was 'read' should be included as a matter of course in all Web citations. While this is not ordinarily the case with other forms of citation the fluid and dynamic nature of the World Wide Web makes this necessary. Pages and Sites shift location, are removed, disappear, or oftentimes are updated and so may not contain the information as originally cited. Including the date of reading provides some context for later bibliographic searches if the information is found to be missing or altered in any way. The date at which the document is considered separately from the date of publication, and it is suggested this should follow the URL as it is related to finding or retrieving the information, and in some ways can be regarded as related to issues of page numbering as an act of specific identification.
- Paragraph Number
- Where a specific passage is cited then in addition to the above information the paragraph number of the material should be included, but only where this is a part of the particular publication's style guide (for instance the WWW publication practice of PostModern Culture). However if this is not a part of the publication details of the particular Web page or Site being quoted from then it is not required.
In general the purpose of these guidelines is to suggest what information needs to be referred to in a bibliography when citing World Wide Web documents. The particular format of the bibliographic citation is, of course, dependent on the style guide being adopted, but it is suggested that the above requirements are the minimum required to adequately locate and document such pages. The examples following are how this particular page would be referenced according to the MLA and the Australian Government Publishing Service guides.