Academia Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for academics and those enrolled in higher education. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In a normal magazines, page numbers restart counting from 1 at every issue.

Most academic journals, however, count continuously, perhaps per year or per quarter, leading to articles covering pages 13199–13255 or similar folly.

Why is this so? When citing year and issue, there is no ambiguity when starting to count at 1 at every issue. So why not paginate by issue like everybody else?

share|improve this question
Because big numbers are cool! (Real answer: I have no idea.) – user37208 Jan 18 at 18:48
If a journal restarts with page 1 in every issue, it is said to be "paginated by issue". Some citation styles, e.g., APA style and (formerly) MLA require including the issue number only if the journal is paginated by issue - if it is paginated continuously, you are supposed not to include the issue number. Welcome to the wonderful worlds of citation styles. – Stephan Kolassa Jan 18 at 20:20
up vote 63 down vote accepted

One of the reasons, if not the only one, is that each year journal issues are typically collected by libraries in bound volumes, which, in this way, have a continuous numbering. At the end of the year, journals would also publish indexes for relatively quick reference.

Or, at least, that is what is used to be.

Below, there is an example of bound volumes (picture source).

Bound volumes

share|improve this answer
I used to be involved with at a student-run science fiction library and can confirm this approach to binding of periodicals. It's also worth noting that the choices of which issues are bound to make volumes may vary significantly from library to library, e.g., based on which of several binding methods is used. – jakebeal Jan 18 at 19:18
Nowadays, in the epoch of why go to the library when you can get the paper on your phone, some journals (such as Physical Review and friends) have switched to per-article page numbering, with e.g. this paper denoted as p. 011001 but internally being paginated 011001-1, 011001-2, etc. – E.P. Jan 19 at 1:10
Amazing. Only in the future can someone under 40 still feel really old when they realize that kids today have no idea about things like books and paper. The thought that an academic could be at a stage in their career where they know what a journal article is and yet never have needed to review, let alone even have seen, a bound volume journal is just amazing to me. At last check, and this is less than a decade ago, plenty of articles were simply not available in pdf format - especially older articles. A trip to the library was the natural thing to do. – J... Jan 19 at 11:35
@J... Not to mention that papers to be peer-reviewed would arrive by snail-mail in double-space format, or that conference papers would have been sent "camera-ready": who uses cameras anymore to produce proceedings? – Massimo Ortolano Jan 19 at 12:52
On the other hand, there exist textbooks that do the exact opposite, and have page numbers [chapter]-[number], restarting page numbering at every chapter… – gerrit Jan 19 at 13:46

Many reasons. It makes the page and volume together a unique identifier for a paper, without having to track the issue. This is very convenient. For example, many journals (used to) publish a master table of contents at the end of the volume, and the unique page numbering made these efforts less confusing.

Sometimes, the issue can just be left out of the reference in a paper. It's less likely to happen these days, but before readily accessible databases and DOI numbers, such things were not uncommon. Unique page numbering made the papers easy to find when you were down in the deep, dark, stacks, making a pile of journals for your trip to the photocopier.

Also, what with similar journal names, special issues, supplements, etc., there was something to be said for the ability to notice that the book you were holding, the one that you were willing to put money on that it held the paper you were interested in, did not include the page number that the paper was supposed to be in. Can't tell you why, but this was a problem that came up with some regularity. I think this saved me plenty of time.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.