Citation, Documentation of Sources

Q. When citing a lengthy web page without page numbers in a footnote, other than listing the paragraph number or a section title, is there another way to indicate where on the page a quote is being used?

A. One approach would be to add a portion of the quoted text to a note where a page number or other locator would usually go. For example, let’s quote and cite the following sentence from a post on CMOS Shop Talk: “A serif is a small projecting line or wedge on the main stroke of a letter.”1

1. “Key Terms Every Editor Should Know,” CMOS Shop Talk, November 10, 2020, at “A serif is . . . ,” https://​cmosshoptalk​.com​/2020​/11​/10​/key-terms-every-editor-should-know/.

Users who follow the link should be able to use the Find feature in any browser to get to the cited text (i.e., by searching for the words before the ellipsis). For this example, we’ve used the first three words rather than the whole sentence, after testing to make sure those three words are unique on that page.

But in a case like that—where you’re citing the source of a direct quotation presented verbatim in your own text—repeating a snippet of that text in the note as shown above would be overkill. If, on the other hand, your note doesn’t refer to a direct quote, this strategy could work well, particularly when you need to cite a page with lots of text but no paragraph numbers or section titles.

A promising alternative solution to the problem of getting readers to the right place in an unpaginated document is Text Fragments, introduced for Google’s Chrome browser in 2020. This feature allows you to copy a snippet of text from a web page and append it to the end of that page’s URL. This enhanced URL is designed to return the same page but scrolled to the text fragment (highlighted in yellow). For example, if you paste “A serif is a small projecting line or wedge on the main stroke of a letter” to the end of the URL in the example above (after “#:~:text=”), you’ll get the following link:


There are, however, two problems with this approach: (1) it’s not a good option when you need to express a URL as text rather than as an embedded link (mostly because spaces in URLs are automatically replaced with “%20”), and (2) as of March 2021, this feature is supported only in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. Still, it’s a handy tool to keep in mind for uses other than source citation.