What is the the/a proper citation style when I'm citing something online? The reason I ask is because some styles use underlining, but underlining online should only be used for links.

To be clear - the source I'm citing can be a book or a magazine or an article. The place I'm putting the citation for people to see is on a website.

  • 5
    This is better asked on Writing (this site, EL&U, is more about the mechanics of the language, such as syntax, morphology, etymology, orthography...). That said, the answer is "whatever convention the style guide you adhere to instructs you to follow". There are competing conventions, and no single "right" answer (as there is, for example, on how to spell "cat"). For a quick answer, do it however Wikipedia does it.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 18:28
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    Pickle. No need to go elsewhere if I have answered your question. In which case consider marking it answered.
    – David
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 13:27
  • @NVZ and others — As my expanded answer shows, there are objective considerations for references online, as well as subjective ones. If all opinion based questions were thrown out, there would be no questions allowed on punctuation. I would suggest you to consider your decision to place this on hold.
    – David
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


There is no ‘proper’ citation style online or offline. There are various different styles for print publications, and generally one is obliged to use the one preferred by a particular publication (its house style). Online — if it's your own website — you have the luxury of making your own decision.

One caveat: the superscript numeral style, e.g.

“It was shown that the moon is made of green cheese14.”

is less well suited online because of the lower resolution of computer displays compared with print (and the inconvenience of setting HTML in superscript).

Hyperlinks and online citation (addendum)

It now strikes me the your remark “some styles use underlining but underlining online should only be used for links” may be a misunderstanding. Are you sure that these references are not, in fact, linked?

Although it is possible to present a piece of text with references on a web page, it is also possible to provide the reader with the convenience of linking directly to the referenced document, if it is online.

Alternatively, references online will be endnotes, which, if the text is long, may not be visible on the area of the page displayed. It is convenient to provide a link from the text to the full reference in the endnote.

In fact StackExchange and Wikipedia both provide facilities for doing this, which I shall illustrate below.


This may be useful if all the links are online. In this case I would use the AuthorName/Year style so it is clear what is being linked to. e.g.

The double helical structure of DNA was proposed by Crick and Watson (1953).

The disadvantages of this is that it doesn’t provide the reader with the full reference and it takes him away from the page he is reading. (The latter can be fixed technically by making the reference open in a new window, but that is beyond the scope of this StackExchange.)


This may be more appropriate if not all your references are available online. At the moment I am not able to demonstrate it in StackExchange, so here is a screenshot from the text of a Wikipedia article:

References in text in Wikipedia

…and the endnotes that the in-text numerals link to :

Endnotes in Wikipedia

There are a few points to note about this:

  1. The links here are not underlined (as apparently in pages refered to in the question), but appear in a different colour. This is achieved in the HTML/CSS, and makes the page look better and avoids ambiguity where the link includes an underscore.
  2. The in-text reference style goes against my recommendation, above. This shows it is a matter of taste. My taste differs from Wikipedia’s.
  3. The endnotes also provide links out, where the references are available online. This is optional, of course.
  4. Wikipedia endnotes include the symbol, ^ . I have no idea why, nor do I want to know. If I can’t understand why it is there I don’t expect my reader to. I would recommend avoiding it (and also the link-out symbol, linkout symbol , that many will also not recognize.)
  • I have added a section on including hyperlinks in online references, which I think is relevant to the mention of underlining in the question.
    – David
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 13:20

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