C. Munzenmaier Hamilton College Urbandale, IA

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What Can You Learn from a URL?

Where does this link take you?


If you guessed the Federal Bureau of Investigation Web site, you're right. The site name gives you two clues:

fbi—host name

.gov—top-level domain: a government site

Knowing how to read URLs helps you evaluate the credibility of a site. For example, domains like Tripod and Angelfire belong to free hosting sites. Sites are put up by individual users; some are excellent, while others are full of misleading information.

You might assume that an org is a nonprofit site that provides objective information. However, consider www.stemcellresearch.org. Actually, it's a group that opposes embryonic stem cell research.

Sometimes you have to dig to find out the sponsor of a site. Take anti-smoking programs as an example. SHIP is funded by the National Cancer Institute, as explained on its home page. What about Right Decisions, Right Now? If you follow the link to About the Program and read carefully, you'll discover that the program is sponsored by a big tobacco company.

So the URL won't tell you everything you need to know. How can you find out who sponsors a site?

  • Check out links like Site Sponsor, About Us, or Contact Us
  • Visit the home page. If there's no link, chop off everything after the first /
    e.g., shorten http://word-crafter.net/CompII to http:word-crafter.net
  • For more tips, see Jerz's URL-Hacking.

How to Read a URL

The abbreviation URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator.

An URL looks like this:

protocol://host name/path to document/file name

http: = protocol (HyperText Transfer protocol)
word-crafter = host name (my business site)
.net = domain
Comp II = folder for course support site
.html, .doc, .ppt, .pdf = files you can access

How to read an APA citation for a Web site

An entire Web site

If you want to refer to an entire Web site, all you need to do is mention it in parentheses right after you talk about it.

Big tobacco companies have sponsored several campaigns to stop teens from smoking. For example, R. J. Reynolds has an anti-smoking Web site (www.rightdecisionsrightnow.com).

When you mention an entire Web site, do not include the site in your reference list.

A document from a Web site

If you want to refer to a document on a Web site, you should provide enough information so that a reader can go directly to the document.

The first part of your reference citation is just like that for a print article: give the author (if known), the date of publication, and the title of the article. Then give information about how you retrieved the article.

Tobacco industry "prevention" programs. (1999, May). Retrieved July 1, 2005, from the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights Web site: http://www.no-smoke.org/document.php?id=276

Notice the site name: Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. Including the site name in the citation helps readers identify the site's bias, or point of view.


How to find what you need to cite a Web site

Designers are free to create Web sites any way they want. That means that an author's name may appear at the beginning of a page, at the end, under "About Us," or nowhere at all.

Sites may also have many headings that are intended to help people know where they are on a site. For example, CNN organizes articles about legal issues on a page called Law Center. However, you would cite the headline for the article (such as Millionaire guilty of murder) in your reference list. Some sites, such as TherapistFinder.net, provide advice on how to cite an article if you scroll down far enough.


Web Resources

How to Evaluate Information (USCS)













   Copyright in these materials belongs to C. Munzenmaier © 2007.
Teachers are free to reproduce or modify them for educational use. 

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