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I'm curious about the "properness" of using shortened links (a la bit.ly or tinyurl) in research papers. I haven't been able to find any sort of definitive reference about whether or not this is accepted or frowned upon.

I found a blot post by a professor at Texas A&M who stated he was going to use shortened links in an upcoming paper.

I'm working on a paper that won't be published or anything, but it's got a lot of online references that make footnotes horridly ugly, and so I'm taking the opportunity to ask about this.

If it varies based on publishing area/type (scientific, editorial, etc.), that would be great to know as well.


Edit: Since it's coming up in answers... this is a hobby project in which I'm trying to mathematically describe a multi-level marketing scheme. It seems some think it would be frustrating to see a shortened link, perhaps because the actual link would reveal some helpful information when reading a paper.

But what if it's simply a pdf that I was able to find, it's official, but it's not hosted an an "official site" anymore? For example, consider the following:

Lindeen, Monica J., Commissioner of Securities and Insurance and Montana State Auditor (2010). Case No.: SEC-2010-12. Retrieved 30 July 2011 from http://www.starnewsonline.com/assets/pdf/WM21622123.pdf.

Lindeen, Monica J., Commissioner of Securities and Insurance and Montana State Auditor (2010). Case No.: SEC-2010-12. Retrieved 30 July 2011 from http://bit.ly/pBrheo.

Is there a huge difference here? I originally found the link from the actual Montana government site, but it's no longer there, perhaps since the cease and desist order was resolved... now it happens to be downloadable from a "star news online" site. It's the same official document, and downloading the pdf would make that clear.

What would seeing "starnewsonline" in the url reveal that's important for the paper?


Lastly, that edit was an aside. It's helpful to know opinions, but the actual question is still more about official acceptance or practice in the real world.

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It's really unpractical when long url takes whole footnote area like it's a paragraph or something. It would be nice to have shorten urls so it doesn't consume half the page. –  user5156 May 10 '13 at 11:35
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Since the document is not meant to be publish, and will be avaiable online, why not use full URLs with a title or something shorter to hide it? Every text editor will allow such resources and as soon as the reader clicks the link it will be taken to the right page. –  Psicofrenia May 10 '13 at 12:24
    
@jenjen on the other hand, the reader wants some hint about where the reference is (peer-reviewed journal vs cheezburger.com). –  Monica Cellio Oct 30 '13 at 13:20
    
I've just reviewed a work which cited urls in full, followed by a tiny version - much easier to type if using a print source, and gets round the problem of being able to assess credibility. –  Leon Conrad Mar 12 at 15:14
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5 Answers 5

URLs which span several lines and contain special symbols simply require a short link. In such a case, do not worry and use a (well-known/reliable) link shortener. Tinyurl.com has the advantage, that http://preview.tinyurl.com/ ... leads to a preview site where the user can see the url the link is leading to and then decide whether to proceed to that location or whether not to visit it.

When you are using a DOI which is too long, you can use a http://shortdoi.org/. While its target is not obvious (is a doi obvious at all?), it is still a doi, thus some respectability can be assumed by the reader.

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Note that in this example, the URL: http://www.onepetro.org/mslib/servlet/onepetropreview?id=SPWLA-1974-J would be sufficient - a lot of the provided URL is extraneous, providing metadata about the origin of the request. Usually, URLs needn't be anywhere near as long as that (particularly URLs you can count on as stable enough to be mentioned in publication). –  Standback Oct 30 '13 at 10:28
    
And in response to your flag: I didn't manage to find a formatting that worked either; I think it forces a line-break somehow. I'll see what I can drum up in this regard. (But in any case, the URL here is just an example, and doesn't actually need to be clickable...) –  Standback Oct 30 '13 at 10:38
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Your example confuses the issue just a bit. There is a difference between print documents that are available online, and online articles. In the former case you don't need to give a link at all, and when you do, you are doing it simply to make the document more accessible. In this case you can use any link shortener that you like. The url is irrelevant to the publication and is just a host.

In the latter case you need to give the exact url. This applies to blogs, online newspaper articles, online only journals, and so on. It makes a difference insofar as you obscure the "publisher" by removing the original url. Yes, your reader can still get there by clicking the link, but this is not usually the point of foot-/end-notes. I, as you reader, don't want to click through every single note; but if I see a citation from a website that I know I don't trust, I can now check out that information more thoroughly.

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The issue here is that you are referencing a written piece of work, and the URL is likely to be integral to that reference.

While the shortened URL does direct you to the location of the work you are citing, the shortened URL is (with few exceptions) not the source of that reference. At best, the shortened URL points you in the direction of the work in question, much like an index card in a library points you to a particular book.

I would therefore say using a link shortener should be avoided as part of a list of citations or references, unless you provide both the shortened URL, and the original URL (but providing the original makes the shortened URL redundant). I understand the "neatness" you are referring to, but neatness is, in my opinion, secondary to the goal of clarity of information.

One exception I could think of would be URL shortners that are used by the actual website you're referencing. For example, the New York Times uses its own, as does You Tube, and many others. In that case, you could probably argue that it's a legitimate link to the source.

One small point to make about URL shortners: their longevity is probably even less than actual URLs and can lead to "linkrot". Imagine you used bit.ly or another service for all your references in all your work, and then one day they close down as a company. I certainly would not rely on them except for things like Twitter, where immediacy of information and brevity is a necessity, and you generally don't worry about how long that link will work.

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Thanks for the answer. A few questions: 1) can you expand on "the URL is likely to be integral to that reference?" If the shortener gets you there, or expands to the full URL when put in a browser, what's "integral" about the full one? 2) Can you cite anything to back the claim that the shortened URL has a lower longevity than the long one? Check tinyurl or bit.ly's policies (example-- they claim to be working to make sure rot doesn't occur. Good point re. appearance, though -- my motivations may, indeed, be silly. –  Hendy Aug 1 '11 at 1:42
    
@Hendy - "integral to the reference" is probably badly worded on my part, but what I meant was that the specific URL where the content resides is as important as, say, the page number, book title, or author. While the shortened version gets you there, the shortened version contains no important information itself, whereas the actual URL does. For example, you can infer authority from the real URL (e.g. a New York Times article that is on the New York Times website), plus you can see the actual destination you will go to. –  Craig Sefton Aug 1 '11 at 7:17
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@Hendy - with regards to linkrot, there is a well documented case where an entire service went down, namely tr.im. And while it's nice that bit.ly and tinyurl have policies in place claiming to make sure linkrot won't take place, the fact is they are businesses, and businesses need to make money. If they need to reduce costs, those policies can quickly change. It is far from certain whether these are sustainable business models, as the tr.im experience showed. Wikipedia has a brief summary of what happened. –  Craig Sefton Aug 1 '11 at 7:25
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+10 (if I could) for the only correct answer. A reference list lists references, not links. If you cite an online source you must give the URL of the source itself. The URL in the reference list does not have the purpose of clicking on it to browse to that document, but to identify it. Also, in case the document gets deleted, the original URL contains valuable information. You can paste it into archive.org and maybe still see the source. And you can deduce who published it, sometimes when it was published, etc., important information that is often missing from the document itself. –  what Mar 11 at 20:43
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We should note that the question only pertains to sources that are not peer-reviewed, quotable academic publications, because academic online publications already have a short link of the type dx.doi.org/identifier. So the only sources that need "Available online at ..." are potentially short-lived which makes giving the original URL even more important (while you never give it for a peer-reviewed publication but provide the DOI instead). –  what Mar 11 at 20:50
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I am not in academia, but I would actually be annoyed to see a shortened URL as a footnote. You aren't writing it by hand; as far as I know there aren't maximum printed page requirements; if it's being posted online there are no physical maximum lengths; you aren't paying for anything by the character — why would you go out of your way to hide a source?

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I would guess it's to make it easy for people who want to read the reference to type in the URL, which may be rather long. But I agree, that seems annoying. –  Standback Jul 31 '11 at 14:06
    
I'm anal and hate how longer-ish links look as footnotes; that's all. Why assume I'm trying to "hide" a source? Also, it's not like the link is the only thing there. Typical internet citations include an author, title, publication date, and date retrieved, so I guess I don't see the link as a huge deal. Other than checking for .gov, .org or some other extension... what information do you imagine gleaning from a link? Many times it's just to a pdf anyway, so where it's hosted won't tell you a darn thing. The author and title are the nuggets to convey; the link just gets them the doc. –  Hendy Jul 31 '11 at 15:45
    
See edit for clarification on my thoughts and an example. –  Hendy Jul 31 '11 at 15:53
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Even if it's a PDF and the source has no other information to offer, the very fact that you're using a link shortener would make me wonder what the longer link is: is it from a politically questionable source? A woo metaphysics organization? What red flag is the alias hiding? For me, personally, it would be distracting. Why would you want to distract your reader? If you're concerned about how it looks, put all the footnotes at the end of the piece instead of at the bottom of the page, and your reader can look at them or not. –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 31 '11 at 20:07
    
@Lauren: The distracting point is fair enough, though I don't know if you embody the average reader. Maybe many would think nothing of it. Also, take a look at my example in the original question; I provide more than just a dead link. In the example above, what does it matter what the URL is as long as entering it gets you to the original PDF of a cease and desist order used as a source? –  Hendy Aug 1 '11 at 12:04
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You can do both. Use the tiny URL as footnote and provide an appendix/bibliography with the long URLs. Also an accompanying website could list all URLs used in the paper.

Tiny URLs have the problem that they disguise usable information for the reader. They do not see immediately if you cite Wikipedia or MIT. This is of course not the case if you mention the source in your text each time.

The Canadian site Slaw has a discussion about this topic. But no solution as far as I see.

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Agreed. The first thing I'd want to see in a URL citation is what site it's from, and shortened URLs just don't do that. –  Standback Jul 30 '11 at 18:13
    
I don't see any significant disadvantage in using the full URL. I agree that hiding the details of the URL is frustrating. I guess a shortened URL allows easier typing of the link, but even that seems a trivial reason. –  Richard A Jul 31 '11 at 12:15
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It makes it not only easier to not only type the link, but it also makes it possible to do analytics on who is using your citations. While URL shortening has become very popular with the raise of social media, Microsoft and other trade magazines have been doing similar things in their print and online publications for years. –  Joel Shea Jul 31 '11 at 13:54
    
@Standback: for you and others, see my edit on why I don't think this applies in all cases. –  Hendy Jul 31 '11 at 15:54
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