This question is only concerning references to non-permanent (and even semi-permanent) information, for example, Web pages (but not limited to web pages).

I understand that some researches post the normal author, year, time, etc... and the URL of a referenced non-permanent Web Page.

I've heard that some readers or reviewers may object to reference any non-permanent source. To eliminate these complaints, am I allowed to simply include the original web page, saved as a PDF file, as as an attachment, with the research paper? (to, for example, IEEE)?

Can I include the PDF referenced web pages, via arXiv? (as part of the published research paper).

Can I reference the PDF referenced web pages, via PDF files I host on Google drive (or something similar)?

I'm aware that in certain situations, you should not reference a Web page. However, that is not my question (and in certain situations, it is OK to reference web pages; for example, if your study is showing how the web page changes over time :-) ).

  • Are you wanting to reference the unpublished material as a primary source, or citing it as a previous intellectual work?
    – jakebeal
    Dec 14, 2014 at 20:54
  • @jakebeal, thanks!!! I am interested in both referencing 1) "unpublished material as a primary source" and interesting in 2) "citing is as a previous intellectual work".
    – Todd Booth
    Dec 14, 2014 at 21:07
  • Generally speaking, many web pages are protected by copyright (including any web pages that do not explicitly specify a more permissive license) so redistribution of a page in PDF form may not be legally permitted.
    – ff524
    Dec 14, 2014 at 22:00
  • @ff524, good point. I'm also interested in including or referencing my own created Web Page PDFs, for sites that allow it, such as WikiPedia.Org (ex: see wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Terms_of_Use).
    – Todd Booth
    Dec 14, 2014 at 23:21

2 Answers 2


I think that there are three main cases to consider here:

  1. The web pages are aggregated data, e.g., in your example of a study that quantifies change over time. Collecting web pages as data is routinely done in scientific studies, such as complexity studies that track a lot of pages. In this case, the pages are not generally cited (and any data from them is likely to be at least partially abstracted and de-identified, to deal with a variety of legal issues).

  2. An individual web page is a subject of study, e.g., for literary or intellectual criticism. In this case, the standard references to the URL with time accessed is appropriate, along with block quoting of critical passages as part of your analysis. You should save full copies yourself, and share them upon request, but likely cannot publish them unless you obtain permission or unless the source has explicitly adopted a copyright that allows republication (e.g., Wikipedia).

  3. The web page is being cited as a scientific work (some overlap with the last case). In this case also, the standard reference of URL with time accessed is appropriate. This is unusual, since most scientific works go into archival papers of some form, but does happen---I've certainly done so, when that is actually the right document to cite. This should still be a document with some expectation of longevity, e.g., a blog post on a scientist's established site, the archives of a mailing list or discussion group, a manual from a piece of software's distribution site.


First of all, there are two common usage cases of referring to web pages. There is use like any other reference - in which case you refer to mainly the written content on a particular web page (hopefully, and in many cases, this is dated). The other case is when you refer to a website such as academia.stackexchange.com.

Websites are inherently dynamic and their use is not as a reference (a footnote may be more appropriate here).

The primary factor in deciding how to use the materials is by looking at their role within the paper. In your case you are looking at specific parts of dynamic web pages. These pages would in effect be illustrations, not unlike pictures of observations or experiments (say a set of photo's from microscope observations in the case of a biology paper). The papers/pdfs should be treated as such and either included in-line, as appendices, or made available as separate download (preferably through the publisher).

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