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Citation Guide: Reference Works

Reference Works

In general, reference works, particularly lexical dictionaries and reference works compiled by a large number of editors (such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary or Encyclopædia Britannicashould not be listed in a bibliography.  If you must cite a dictionary or encyclopedia entry, you can just do so in a footnote.  Page numbers are not necessary.  Instead, note the entry word(s) being defined, and precede the entry word(s) with s.v. for sub verbo (“under the word”) or s.v.v. if citing multiple words.  For well known dictionaries, it is not necessary to include publication information or the names of any editors.  However, you must always note the edition of the dictionary (if other than first), the URL (if obtained online), and the publication year; if there is no noted publication year, note the date you accessed it.


#. Reference Work, s.v. “Entry,” publication or access date, URL.  

#.Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “Unitarianism,” accessed October 4, 2023,

Some works of reference—in particular, encyclopedia articles or biographical dictionary entries with a given author and published by an academic institution—are more like secondary sources than tertiary sources.  In your citation, you should note the author of such works and even include them in your bibliographies.  Such citations should be formatted more like online articles:


#. Author firstname lastname, “Entry Title,” Reference Work Title, date of article or access date, URL.

#. Juan Cole, “Bahāʾ-Allāh,” Encyclopædia Iranica, December 15, 1988, updated August 23, 2022,

#. Joan Goodwin, “Barton, Clara,” Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, November 5, 2003,

Shortened footnote

          #. Author lastname, “Entry Title.”

          #. Cole, “Bahāʾ-Allāh.”

          #. Goodwin, “Barton, Clara.”


Author lastname, firstname. “Entry Title.” Reference Work Title, date of article or access date. URL.

Cole, Juan.  “Bahāʾ-Allāh.” Encyclopædia Iranica, December 15, 1988, updated August 23, 2022.

Goodwin, Joan.  “Barton, Clara.” Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, November 5, 2003.

Using Stable URLs

A bibliographic citation is meant to give the reader all of the information she needs to find and access the source being cited.  When citing web pages, that means including the web address, otherwise known as the URL or Uniform Resource Locator.  Citing websites can be tricky.  While many works on the internet are freely open to anyone, many others are only available to verified users with a login or users who pay to get access to something behind a paywall.  If you are citing a source that requires a login or is behind a paywall, you MUST use what is variously called a stable URL or permalink. While a stable URL/permalink will not necessarily give every reader access to the article or content, they will at least be directed to a page that shows that the article is indeed there.  If you instead put a non-stable URL, like the URL from the top browser bar, then a reader who types in or click on that link will not be directed to that article.

One specific type of stable URL is a DOI (Digital Object Identifier), a URL which is permanently linked to that object.  Anyone making online content can register their content with the DOI organization.  DOIs all begin or

Many article databases note a stable URL or include a tool for finding one.  On JSTOR, a stable URL and DOI can be found on the left side of the page when you click on an article.  On EBSCO Academic Search Complete, there is an option for obtaining a permalink at the bottom of the right-hand column; look for the chain-link icon.   Click on it and the permalink will appear above the article title.

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