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  • Jennifer Rubio

How to work with URLs in your copy

One of the things I do when I'm copy editing bibliographies or reference lists is clean up the URLs. (In case you're not sure, the URL is the Web address - for example, the URL of this blog is http://www.magicwandediting.com/blog.) It's very easy to make errors or add extraneous information when you're copying and pasting URLs from your Web browser to your document. Today I'm going to mention a few tips that will help you when you're working with URLs.

1) There are times when you don't have to paste in the entire URL.

Most of the time, the way you grab a URL for your reference list is to click in the top bar and copy the address that appears. But not all of that address is necessary for readers to follow the link to your document. If your URL looks too long to handle, here are some ways you can cut it down.

Look out for #, the "anchor" symbol.

If your URL has a # character in it, that means it's linking not just to a web page, but to a specific point on that webpage. It generally means that while you were browsing, you clicked on a link that jumped you down the page to a later section. You should decide whether you want the reader to link to the top of the page or to that specific section. If they just need to see the page in general, delete the "#" and everything that comes after it.

Delete extraneous tracking information. If your URL ends in a .htm or .html, there generally should be nothing after that. But you'll often see URLs that end in something like ?source=blahblah or ?delivery-type=email. That part of the URL isn't helping you get to the page—it's collecting info for the page owner on how you got there (whether you clicked on an email link, a Facebook link, or a Google search, for example). You can generally delete the ? and everything that comes after it. Exception: if you're linking to the results of a webpage search, you'll need that ? and what comes after. Suppose you're searching BestCopyEditors.com for Magic Wand Editing. You might get a URL that looks like http://bestcopyeditors.com?search=magic%20wand%20editing. Keep that info in, and you'll link directly to the search result. Take it out, and you'll go to the BestCopyEditors.com homepage.

2) Don't paste a URL directly from Google.

One of the easiest ways to find a URL is to find a page that links to it, then right-click on the link and select "Copy Link Address." In fact, this is usually a great way to proceed, because many simple URLs get changed to something much more complex once you've actually clicked on the link.

But where Google is concerned, this is a big nope. Say you google "Magic Wand Editing." I'm there on the first page (though not at the top yet, damn it!) And when you hover over the link, you'll see my URL, www.magicwandediting.com. But when you right-click and copy the link, you'll get https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwikkMP9-eHXAhVS42MKHQ0KCpgQFghgMAM&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.magicwandediting.com%2F&usg=AOvVaw3zWuidTh8ct9yQVGy1lHv8. Gesundheit!

This is how Google tracks how many people click on a link, but that's not necessary for your readers. So your better bet when using something from a Google search is to click on the link, then copy what's in the address bar. Don't forget to follow Tip #1 above!

3) It's totally okay to put a period after your URL or email address.

It used to be that people would be scared to put a period after a URL or email address. That's because word processors back in the day were just learning how to automatically convert URLs and emails to hyperlinks, and sometimes they'd make a mistake by including that ending period in the web address, breaking the link. But good news—computers have gotten a lot smarter, and they don't make that mistake anymore. So go ahead and put a period anywhere you'd normally put it—the end of a sentence, the end of a citation—even if what comes immediately before is a URL or an email address. In fact, sentences and citations NEED to end with periods - them's the rules!

Do you have any other questions about working with URLs? Feel free to hit me up in the comments.

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