Citing Tips: Search Engines, Databases, Images



You will learn:

  • How to differentiate between search engines and sources
  • How to locate the source of digital images

Pay Attention to Detail

Putting together a bibliography or MLA works cited page requires a lot of organization. You need to make sure that all the information you are putting in is correct and accurate.

If someone reads your amazing research paper and wants to locate a source, they will not be able to if you did not cite it properly!

When Should I Cite Sources?

Because there are many serious consequences with plagiarizing, it is important to cite everything you use to put a paper together. If something has helped you analyze, evaluate, or develop your idea, you need to include a citation.

However, there are instances where you may not need to include a citation.

Do Not Cite Search Engines

You do not need to cite search engines in a bibliography. That would be like citing a library when you use one of its books. For example:

Libraries have access to lots of books, but you don’t cite the library, you cite the book you used.

Google provides access to lots of websites but you don’t cite Google, you cite the individual website or online article, image, video, etc., that you used.

Relatedly, on the Open Web, you use individual websites, videos, images, etc., but you do not cite the open web

When creating a citation, cite the source of the information you found, not the way you found it.

Citing Databases

Generally speaking, style formats do not require you to cite the database URL in the citation.

So, unless you are writing about a search engine specifically for your paper (such as an analysis of Google’s user interface), you should not be citing them as sources. Instead, cite the source type you are using, for example, a book, journal article, newspaper article, image, etc. You can find more information on this linked here.

When you find images through Google Images, you need to cite the source of the image, not the search engine that found it.

Using Images

Let’s say you are writing a paper about the iconic paintings of the American artist Norman Rockwell. In addition to researching his background, education and career, you choose to include a few of the actual images as a complement to your report.

Searching for Images

Google Images is an easy way to find images, including digital photographs. A quick search of Norman Rockwell brings back the photo that we are looking for.

So, you grab one of the digital photographs from Google Images and use it in your paper. That means you would put Google Images in your bibliography… right?

Locate the Source URL

Wrong! You need to cite the source, which is not the search engine.

To find the source in Google Images, click on the image to expand its information. Click “Visit Page” to view the website source. This will take you to the appropriate URL.

In this case, our source URL is:

Notice that the website also has a citation for the image (see the image caption). In MLA 8, this means it has two containers. We will use information from both the website and the image caption for our own citation.

Image Citation: Example

This is what the citation would look like in MLA 8:

Rockwell, Norman. Freedom of Speech.  20 Feb. 1943, The Saturday Evening Post., Jeremy Clowe, 3 Feb. 2015,

Some teachers may also require you to include parenthetical citations in your papers. For more information on this, read our guide on creating an MLA in-text citation. If needed, there is also a guide on what is an MLA annotated bibliography.


You learned:

  • The difference between a search engines and sources
  • Do not cite search engines or databases unless you are specifically doing research on or examining these tools
  • How to properly cite a digital image

Need to make APA citations? Looking for a handy grammar check? If yes, check out EasyBib Plus and it’s many benefits. There are also free grammar guides to help you brush up on writing basics.

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