I want to cite an idea found in a journal accessed via the web and uploaded as a PDF file (or whatever mean). When I want to reference it at the end of my paper, should I cite it as if I've read the actual HARD copy of the journal article or just treat it as an electronic source and therefore, additionally insert the usual "Available from: url, viewed on..." stuff?

2 Answers 2


If you read and refer to the final version of the paper, cite it as if you had read the hard copy:

  • I'd suspect the vast majority of journal articles only ever gets read in their digital form by people who cite them.
  • A journal isn't less of a journal just because it appears as a digital edition.
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    I see. However, isn't the idea behind all of the citation thing is to facilitate for the reader to track and access the original articles to verify my words? In other words, isn't it better to just include URLs for the readers?
    – R. AS.
    Feb 11, 2016 at 3:14
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    The URL can change at any time, even the one at the publisher's site. Title, authors, and venue are much more durable identifiers. When available, you should also provide the DOI of the paper in addition to the other data. Some typesetting software can automatically build a link based upon the DOI, which is somewhat more permanent again. Lastly, though, those links aren't as readable to human readers as the explicit information on title and authors, so the links should always be accompanied by this information. Feb 11, 2016 at 6:41
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    Yeah of course. What I meant by my comment is that, there's no harm in adding the URL in addition to the basic required information, right?
    – R. AS.
    Feb 11, 2016 at 7:23
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    @R.AS. people get quite adept at finding electronic copies (official, preprint, earlier technical reports, ...) given the (more or less complete) citation quite fast. I wouldn't worry. Besides, URLs are hard to typeset nicely, and take up space (often at a premium in publications).
    – vonbrand
    Feb 11, 2016 at 16:39

Journals usually put their articles on-line (sometimes after some embargo period, or accessible only to subscribers/via subscribed institutions). What you get this way is the exact same document that was published, so online access or reading an actual paper copy is the same.

Often you find some sort of preprint at author's sites, or sites like arXiv, or even stashed away under "extra material" for some class elsewhere. I.e., typically the originally submitted version before the review process, or some other form of preliminary version. Some journals allow posting final versions. And how extensive any later reviews are is anybody's guess, some people write stuff that just goes through the process in one go, others will take several rounds of rewriting. So the "preprint" could be essentially the same as the final version, or totally different.

In my experience it is worthwhile to search for technical reports (specially if cited in the paper). With no hard page limit, you will often find detailed discussion, supporting data, and sometimes exploration of side venues, in them. This can be vital in really understanding the work.

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