Citing URLs

The citation of online sources faces two challenges: the instability of URLs (pages and entire websites change), which renders a cited URL of little use, and the ridiculous length of some URLs, which only the most determined readers are willing to type into a browser bar. Because citation of an online source is not optional (see SBLHS §6.4.15), SBL Press recommends a two-step process for offering readers a URL that is both stable and relatively short.

  1. Archive the page being cited.

James Spinti of Eisenbrauns pointed us to a helpful recommendation found on the Claremont School of Theology library website (see here) for ensuring that a webpage cited remains accessible to readers for the foreseeable future.

1.1. Go to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine at https://archive.org/web/.

1.2. Paste the URL you wish to archive in the Save Page Now field in the lower right of the page.

1.3. Click Save Page, then copy the new URL produced by the Wayback Machine.

Wayback Machine

This process prompts the Internet Archive to archive the page at the URL being referenced, so that that exact page will be remain accessible at the new URL for as long as the Internet exists.

For example, to reference the Audio and Video page for the Gospel of Mark on Mark Goodacre’s NT Gateway website, you would go to the Wayback Machine and paste in the Save Page Now field the current URL of that page: http://www.ntgateway.com/gospel-and-acts/gospel-of-mark/audio-and-video/. After clicking Save Page, you would end up with a URL that references the archived page:

https://web.archive.org/web/20160317235518/http://www.ntgateway.com/gospel-and-acts/gospel-of-mark/audio-and-video/

That long URL will always lead readers to the page as you saw it; it will never result in an Error 404 Page Not Found message. Of course, the URL is so long that few readers will take the time or make the effort to type it into a browser bar. That is where the second step comes into play.

  1. Shorten the URL.

The website tinyurl.com will reduce a URL of any length to a much shorter URL that will be simple to include within text or a footnote and easy for readers to enter into a browser bar.

2.1. Go to the TinyURL website at http://tinyurl.com/.

2.2. Paste the original URL into the field named Enter a long URL to make tiny, then click Make TinyURL!

2.3. Copy the TinyURL produced and paste it into the document you are writing.

tinyurl.com

So, for example, the 115-character URL that the Wayback Machine produced is reduced to the much shorter http://tinyurl.com/h2ozs4g. Most important, the TinyURL still points (and always will) to the archived NT Gateway page. Go ahead and click it to see.

One caveat: the Wayback Machine will not archive pages that are accessed via subscription (e.g., a journal article) or that require prior login (e.g., a Facebook page).

This simple process of first archiving the page to be cited and then shortening the URL to a length that readers can easily use addresses both challenges that citation of online sources generally poses. A future post will take this process a step further and explain how scholars or publishers can brand their TinyURLs with something other than the random alphanumeric characters generally produced.

2 thoughts on “Citing URLs

  1. Re: shortening of URLs. The MLA Handbook 8th ed, has topic 2.5.2 which states that using the shortened URLs is not a good idea, as that company may go out of business and the results will be the 404 error.
    The solutions are DOI, permalink (if provided), or whole URL and pray it stays the same.

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    • Thank you for your comment. DOIs are a great solution, one that we also recommend (see SBLHS 2 § 6.2.25, 6.3.10). Many webpages, however, do not have DOIs or permalinks. In such cases, we recommend archiving the page and using a tinyurl as described in the blog post. Whether one uses DOIs or uses the process described here, one should include the full facts of publication (see CMS 14.5). That way, should the reader not be able to locate the resource via DOI or tinyurl, he or she can still determine the source of the reference.

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