While the principal citation reference works still treat the citation of electronically accessed sources as though they were exceptional cases, increasingly online sources, disc, and e-book publications constitute not only print alternatives, but preferred distribution channels. This is true for judicial opinions, statutes, regulations, journal articles, and government reports of many kinds. Not only are many legal materials now available in paired print and electronic editions put out by a single publisher, but sources have proliferated. Today, it is far less likely than it was only a few years ago that the person writing a legal document and that document's readers will be working from exactly the same sources in the same format.
This shift makes it important that, wherever possible, a citation furnish sufficient information about the cited material to enable a reader to pursue the reference without regard to format or immediate source. With the most frequently cited materials cases, constitutions, statutes, regulations, and recent journal articles this is typically not a challenge since most legal information distributors, whether commercial, public, or nonprofit, endeavor to furnish all the data necessary for source- and medium-independent citation.
So long as you are able to furnish all the citation information called for by § 2-200, there is no need to indicate whether you relied on any one of numerous online sources, an e-book or a disc instead of one of the several print editions for the text of a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Similarly, your citations to provisions of the U.S. Code or a comparable compilation of state statutes need not indicate whether you accessed them in print or from an electronic source, nor need you indicate that you accessed an article in a widely distributed law journal on LexisNexis, Westlaw or some other Internet site.
Citations making specific reference to an electronic source are necessary only when the cited material is not widely available from multiple sources and when identifying the electronic source is likely significantly to aid readers' access to it.
The relevant citation principles follow; section 3-100 provides basic examples.
2-110(1) Examples Window (restore)
Principle 1: Cite to material as it is denominated and organized in "print" unless much better access is available electronically. Even where an electronic source is used, if the material is reasonably available in print, cite in relation to the print version, but follow that reference with a parallel citation to the electronic source if it is likely to aid retrieval. "Reasonably available" and "likely to aid retrieval" should, of course, be considered from the standpoint of those likely to read the work in which the citation will appear. The following signals can be used to indicate whether:
¡But see § 2-115(1)!
2-110(2) Examples Window (restore)
Principle 2: The citation should consist of all the elements required for the basic document type (e.g., case, constitution, statute, regulation), followed by the appropriate signal, and as complete an ID or address for the online electronic source as is available.
Examples of appropriate address information include:
¡But see § 2-115(2)!
Where no unique address is available indicate the source and database identification information in a parenthetical, e.g.
Similarly, if a complete URL is either unavailable or unwieldy, provide a base URL and provide the steps that will retrieve the document in parenthesis, e.g.
2-110(3) Examples Window (restore)
Principle 3: A date should be furnished for an electronic source when the document citation does not itself carry that information unambiguously. That date should be the stated "current through" date or release date for a disc, the "through" date for online sources if available or a "last modified" or "last updated" date if one is furnished for the cited material or, failing all else, a "last visited" or "accessed" date. Where such a date is required, it should be placed at the end of the citation in a parenthetical «e.g.». If there is already a parenthetical including source and database information (see above), the two should be combined, separated by a comma «e.g.» .
¡But see § 2-115(3)!
2-115 Examples Window (restore)
Point 1: The ALWD Citation Manual treats these situations somewhat differently than the principle set out in § 2-110(1). It provides specifically for electronic journals, placing the URL, without signal, at the end of the citation, «e.g.» and for cases, where it places the URL or commercial database cite directly following the parties' names (see § 2-225). As to other material, whether available from both print and electronic sources or only electronic ones, it places the electronic address (URL, Westlaw or LexisNexis cite, database identifier) in a parenthetical preceded by "available in" or "available at" «e.g.».
Point 2: The first edition of the ALWD Citation Manual placed URLs in angle brackets; but now, like The Bluebook, it leaves them off.
Point 3: The ALWD Citation Manual favors the use of "last updated" over "last modified" and "accessed" over "last visited" «e.g.».
2-120 Examples Window (restore)
Scholarly articles frequently appear online prior to their appearance in print, if, indeed, that ever occurs. Often, they are issued in an institution's working paper series. Where that is the case, the working paper designation and number should be included in the citation in the parenthesis containing the date «e.g.».