I came to a web page where it says beneath:

Updated 3 September 2011 (first published August 2002)

When I cite this should the year be 2002 or 2011?

3 Answers 3


I searched for your question and found these content which may help you. I found that, in citation of web pages or online resources, it is better (not a must) to cite with the updated date and the date when the reader has accessed the online content.

In this web pages about APA, Chigago and CSE styles, under the update date it is written:

This date is when the page was last changed. The last update date of a web page is usually given at the bottom or top of a page. A posting date may also be given on the page one level higher (such as a page that is an index of articles).

Also, as a recommendation I read the following content on this webpage:

Date of publication or date of last revision

  • The date a Web document was created or last updated is frequently listed at the bottom.
  • If a document includes both a date of creation and a date it was last updated, use only the latter.

It seems that as there is no general rule about the date included in online resources, the writer preferred the revised date.

However, I also checked the following book

The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition; essential guide for writers, editors and publishers; ebook, The University of Chicago press, 2010.

and in this section on the 1700th page of the PDF file,

    Source Citations: An Overview >>  Considerations for Electronic Sources

the following guide is presented; as we see in the index of the document, this guide applies to websites and web pages:


Some electronic documents will include a date on each page or screen indicating the last time the document was modified or revised. There are no accepted standards for this practice, and for formally published material the date of publication is generally more important. A revision date should be included, however, if it is presented as the de facto date of publication or is otherwise the only available date. Such dates may be particularly useful for citing wikis and other continuously updated works.

On the contrary it seems that in the APA style, the preferred date is the update date rather than the publication date in the previous quoted text. In the apastyle website under a blog content about The Generic Reference: When? we read:

Online Documents

Online material can be tricky to date properly. If the date is not apparent at the beginning of the document you’re citing, look at the end (e.g., APA Guidelines for Providers of Psychological Services to Ethnic, Linguistic, and Culturally Diverse Populations was finalized in 1990, so that’s the date to use).

But look out for a footer that says, “This page was last modified on [date].” This is not the date to use! It could be the date that the document was published, but it’s more likely to be the date it was put online or the date when the webmaster added code for a dancing Freud to the page.

Some sites place a copyright date for the website at the bottom of every page. Check a few pages on the site; if the identical statement appears on every page, it’s a site-wide footer, so that’s not the date you’re looking for either. (See "Zip, Zero, Zilch," below, for the best solution.)

As a conclusion; I found that if you want to cite an online content, pay attention into two dates; the date when you visited the online content and the date the content is created. If you have the date when the content is edited and updated, use this newer date. However, I recommend you to read the instructions of the style which you are using, they may have specific recommendations and guides on this issue. Also, be aware, it happens sometimes that the online content is written on an older date when the website update date is globally mentioned in the footer of the website's pages, you should use the date the page you are referring to is created or edited, not the date all the website is updated.


In the sensible future where updating and correcting on-line documents is not surprising, much as editions and re-printings of books has been understood for a long time, surely one should give all this information, much as what you quote. I think that the fact that many "standard" citation formats do not incorporate this is insufficient reason to ignore the reality.

Conceivably one could hope that the original version as well as all revisions are archived, but this currently seems not quite the case, although Google and other engines do a certain sort of archiving. If the archiving were "perfect", perhaps all versions of a document would have their own "doi" or other universal identifier, but at the moment this is simply not the case.

In particular, for an essential reference, one should probably create a local mirror, with due acknowledgements and disclaimers. I seriously think this is the new/future reality of "reference".

Edit: in response to the question "so which year, 2002 or 2011?", my point is both, with explanation. If there is a format constraint, try "2002/2011" or "2002/11". If the format constraints insist on four decimal digits, then you are in a minor circle of heck, and have other difficulties as well, ... :) ... On one hand, I'd suggest not allowing oneself to be constrained by such dysfunctional stylistic requirements, but I understand that one may have already chosen some software system that is shortsighted.

In the worst-case scenario, give the year of the version you used/saw. Pity if that cannot reflect the real story, simply for random formatting reasons. Reminiscent of the "y2k crisis", entirely that the Cobol programmers c. 1970 did not imagine that they'd be writing code that would still be in use by 2000.

  • 1
    So, which year should I use? 2002 or 2011?
    – sali
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 23:58
  • 2
    What about 2002/2011? Commented Sep 21, 2013 at 0:07
  • I strongly disagree. We don't (and I believe we shouldn't) cite the year the first edition of a book was published if we used a later edition. We only want to cite what we looked at since we have no idea what the previous versions said.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Sep 22, 2013 at 14:57
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    @DanielE.Shub Sure, I'd agree that one should be forthright about what one literally looked at/used. At the same time, it adds information to note that the source might have existed (in an earlier form) for much longer than the most recent edition. I myself am especially interested in the scenario that someone's collected works, published very recently, are cited, while the original paper appeared perhaps hundreds of years ago. Even with standard monographs, the date of appearance of the first version is of interest, adds perspective. More information is better, up to a point? Commented Sep 22, 2013 at 15:07
  • 1
    ... that is, acknowledging the existence of a source is useful, even if one hasn't seen it oneself. E.g., this can help explain the chronology, and sometimes causality. Commented Sep 22, 2013 at 15:10

Many citation styles will tell you what to do. For APA 5 the format was:

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of document. Retrieved month day, year, from http://Web address

In APA 6 the format changed slightly to be

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of document. Retrieved from http://Web address

with a clause that you should include the retrieval date if the source material may change over time. The page you are describe clearly falls into the may change over time category so you would essentially use the APA 5 style.

For your particular example the date of publication is 3 September 2011 and the date of retrieval is whatever date you visited the website. The August 2002 date is irrelevant. Think of it like citing a book with a 1st edition published in 2002 and a 2nd edition published in 2011. If you use the 2nd edition, you cite the 2nd edition.

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