I am a PhD student in mathematics. It happens to me that many times I see some very good mathematical ideas on the Internet and my research is influenced by these ideas. In general, the Internet sources are not considered as reliable and therefore not widely accepted in the academic circles. However, mathematics is self-verifiable and one can verify the feasibility of the ideas and the veracity of the claims.

I could try to find other references to the published articles and documents to reference them instead in my research. But why should I do that? Is that not a form of lying and a suppression of the credit where it should be due? My ideas were really influenced by the sources on the Internet not by the related references and I would like to give the credit there. How should I do this in an acceptable way?

  • 1
    I don't know what kind of idea you're talking about citing. But if the idea is in the literature, and you just happened to first learn of it via the Internet, then credit is "due" to the person who first contributed it, not the person who happened to make you aware of the idea. Kind of like the way the credit for a scientific study is due to the scientist who carried it out and published it, not the journalist who wrote the newspaper article about the study that I read on the subway, or the blogger who posted about it, etc.
    – ff524
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 7:29
  • I agree, @ff524. What if one cannot locate the original source?
    – Ébe Isaac
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 8:28
  • @ff524 Yes, I agree. Still sometimes the presentation of the ideas can be even more important than the ideas themselves. If the original presentation of the ideas is just so inapproachable that it is of a very limited use, then the significant credit (and perhaps even greater in my opinion) is due to the one who presented the original ideas in a clearer way. Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 13:21
  • The Mathematics Stack Exchange has a "cite" button under each answer that tells you how to cite it. There have been published papers that site MSE and MO before. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 16:40

1 Answer 1


How should you cite?

There is a format for citing web references for nearly any citation style.

In the MLA format

Last, First M. “Article Title.”Website Title. Website Publisher, Date Month Year Published. Web. Date Month Year Accessed.

In APA style

Author, A. (date). Title of document [Format description]. Retrieved from Website

You may leave out the author field when it is not possible to retrace the original author (as described here)

When should you cite?

If you were to refer a material that has sufficient information to be given credit for your work, then by all means you ought to cite it. But first, try to find the roots of the idea, if such idea has been published elsewhere before this web-page was published. On-line content is highly susceptible to contain plagiarized content. See if you could locate the original source. If found, cite the original source instead.

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