Attribution vs. Citation

While attribution and citation are often used interchangeably, they have subtle differences. Attribution is usually more focused on giving credit to the source of images, texts, ideas, etc., while citation is more focused on helping scholars trace back ideas through their development in various scholarly and primary resources. There is no single way to provide attribution, while citations have specific requirements and structure depending on the style guide you are using. Both are acknowledging that someone else contributed content that you are using in your material.

What is Required for an Attribution?

There are best practices for giving attribution for materials you find online. This is different than citing a source in a bibliography or works cited. There is no correct way to attribute, but there are better ways than others. Ideally, in a digital project, if you are using something you found online, such as an image, video, audio, or text, the following elements are crucial: title, author, source, and license, collectively known as TASL.

  • The title of the media, as best as you can determine it. If no title, it’s not required.
  • The author‘s name. Sometimes you will see a screen name or other pseudonym, so use that.
  • The original source. You need to provide a link to where the media lives on the Internet so others can find it as well.
  • The license. If the media includes a Creative Commons or other license, include the specific license as well. If it’s in the public domain, you can simply note that.

It is usually best to include the attribution in the caption for media, if that is available. Some digital tools, such as TimelineJS and StorymapJS, have specific fields for credit. Otherwise, try putting the attribution as close to the media as possible, such as on the same webpage.

Finding Information for Attributions

Sometimes finding information for attributions is easy, other times it can be a bit tricky. It depends on the website where the original media was hosted. Some websites, like Flickr and Wikimedia Commons make it easy. Other times, you just have to use your best judgment. The most important piece of information is the Source part of the attribution, so a user can trace back to where you found it.


Wikimedia Commons

For our first example, we are using a picture of a cat found on Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Mittens, the Cat of Wellington by Diksha Gaur. CC-BY-SA.

TASL Analysis

Finding Attribution Information

This video will show you how to find the TASL attribution information for an image found on Wikimedia Commons.


Our second example is a picture of a penguin found on Flickr.

TASL Analysis

Finding Attribution Information

This video will show you how to find the TASL attribution information for an image found on Flickr.


This is a video by Gettysburg College posted on YouTube. We grabbed the link to the YouTube video and used the embed function in WordPress to add it to our site.

Credit: Fall at Gettysburg College by Gettysburg College.

TASL Analysis

Since there was no license explicitly stated, do not include anything here. Do not use the statement “Courtesy of X” unless you have explicit consent from the copyright holder to use their material.

Public Domain

Images in the public domain don’t need attributions legally, but it’s still the best practice to do so anyway as ethical users of information. This is an image of the earth taken by NASA astronauts; generally all materials created by the United States government are required to be in the public domain.

Credit: May 18, 1969 – Apollo 10 View of the Earth by NASA. Public domain.

TASL Analysis

Image without Title, Author, or License

Credit: Question Mark.

TASL Analysis

  • Title: Unknown, so went with the descriptive “Question Mark.”
  • Author: Unknown, so not used.
  • Source: A link to where you found the image on the Internet (since I made this up on my own, the link just goes to for illustrative purposes).
  • License: No known license, so not used.

How Do I Attribute Something I Created?

Images that you have taken yourself and uploaded directly to a project can be handled as easily as:

Photo by Abraham Lincoln (Own work)

If you put the image on Flickr or another online repository, or added a Creative Commons license, you can treat it like any other image. Adding a title to the image may help identify it.

What If I Need to Cite Something?

If you need to cite something, such as a quote from a book that you are using as part of your scholarly argument, then it is usually ideal to use an inline citation style such as MLA because it is simple. In a digital project, it is usually best to include a separate web page as a bibliography or works cited, instead of trying to use footnotes and endnotes. You can also add a full citation to the bottom of the webpage itself.