A student wants to properly reference a source that is not a typical one as far as I know (and to do it using APA 7 style). She is finding a lot of useful information by means of a query in the search engine of a particular site. A number of alternatives come to my mind in order to declare its source:

  1. Reference to the search page.

  2. Reference to the query.

  3. Reference to the underlying database.

I know neither which one is the best option nor how to apply APA 7 in case 2 or case 3. Do you?

Thanks in advance!

Note: We don't want to separately reference each hit of the query.

  • It would be helpful if you were to say exactly what item you wish to reference. Commented Jan 7 at 0:54
  • 1
    I preferred not to, because the context was not a real academic work, but a kind of exercise. However, I see your point in the sense of centering the question, so let's suppose she wanted to discuss Spanish terror films and series in the last two years and found a lot of useful info in the website filmaffinity.com. She used the search form in filmaffinity.com/es/advsearch.php and her query was filmaffinity.com/es/…. Commented Jan 8 at 11:59

1 Answer 1


The correct way to approach the problem is to distinguish the sources that are found from the process that lead to the sources.

In your comment (which I repeat here only to incorporate it more directly into the question), you suggest that a researcher searches the website of Film Affinity for information about Spanish terror films and series in the preceding two years and finds a lot of useful information. In your example, the information that is found represents the source(s) for the purpose of citation, and they should be cited using whatever citation/referencing system is most appropriate. In contrast, the process of searching would normally be considered to be part of the methodology of the research, and it is in the methodology section of an academic paper that the search process would typically be described.

The duality that you describe (method of finding sources vs. sources actually found) arises frequently in review papers, particularly in the medical sciences where systematic reviews of treatment outcomes are wanted. For a systematic review to be considered useful, there needs to be, as you'd expect, some rational and ideally comprehensive system for locating relevant sources. Without it, there can be no confidence that the sources that have been located are in any way representative of the information available about a treatment approach. One method of conducting and (more particularly) documenting a systematic review is described in great detail on the website of the Cochrane Library, specifically on this page. This paper gives a specific example including descriptions of the method.

  • The link with anchor this page is broken. It lacks www.cochranelibrary.com/ before the first about. Commented Jan 9 at 14:12
  • Thanks, @CrimsonDark, for putting my problem into the source/process frame, but I am still unsure about how to make it fit that frame. Are you suggesting that each film page (eg filmaffinity.com/es/film744153.html) should be separately cited, instead of the query page filmaffinity.com/es/… where all of them appear? Commented Jan 9 at 14:24
  • @FedericoPrat Thank you. I have fixed it. Commented Jan 10 at 9:00

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