Nonprint and Electronic Sources

The requirement to acknowledge your sources is not limited to printed material such as books or journal articles. You may need to acknowledge information that you’ve found in graphical form, sources that are works of visual or musical art, handwritten notes from a lecture or a laboratory, or even personal conversations. Again, you should find out the disciplinary protocols for citing such nonprint sources by consulting a citation style manual, such as the MLA Handbook or The Chicago Manual of Style.

Instant access to global electronic information through computers and the Internet is having a significant impact on the way we conduct research. Information is now readily available through the web, e-mail, and other electronic media. Information and quotations from any of these sources must be properly acknowledged, including personal e-mail correspondence. The protocols for citing electronic sources are now well-established, and you should consult a citation style manual for particular examples. At a minimum, cite the name and author of the website (if available), the Internet address, and the date you accessed the site.

Although electronic media present powerful new opportunities for research, they also present new and different dangers that deserve some consideration. Unlike most books and journal articles, which undergo strict editorial review before publication, much of the information on the web is self-published. To be sure, there are many websites in which you can have confidence: mainstream newspapers, refereed electronic journals, and university, library, and government collections of data. But for vast amounts of web-based information, no impartial reviewers have evaluated the accuracy or fairness of such material before it’s made instantly available across the globe. As a researcher using the web, you must be extremely careful about the validity of the information that you find. Seldom will the author(s) of a website make explicit their own sources of information; there may be no way to trace the accuracy or authenticity of the information. Websites may provide partial, deceptive, or false information in order to promote explicit or hidden agendas.

Often web-based information appears to have no author at all, or its author is seemingly anonymous, almost disembodied. The unprecedented ease with which text, images, and data can be copied and reused can undermine both the idea and the value of intellectual ownership. The combination of immediate, unlimited access to information, plus the ability to appropriate and alter it with a few keystrokes, is both exhilarating and dangerous. The electronic media are transforming not just the means of communicating and retrieving information, but also our ways of thinking about information: what it is, where it comes from, and to whom it belongs. Some of the implications of this transformation are discussed in the next section.