Does the page number of scientific publication mean something? For example, are papers of an issue highlighted by placing them in the first pages?

Or they are the page number just randomly assigned?

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    I'd speculate that the page number corresponds to the camera-ready date of the article, i.e., lower page numbering of an article means it reached camera-ready status before articles with higher page numberings. You could check whether this holds for a particular issue of a journal that publishes acceptance dates. (Noting that there's some difference between acceptance date and camera-ready date.) – user2768 Dec 13 '17 at 15:06
  • Of course, when you refer to something in a paper or book, give the exact page number of it. Do not merely refer to the whole paper or book. IMPORTANT – GEdgar Dec 13 '17 at 16:10
  • @GEdgar I favour referring to sections (and to a lesser extent chapters) since page numbers may vary in different versions of a document (e.g., a published manuscript and the corresponding technical report, or different editions of a book), whereas sections (and chapters) are less likely to change. – user2768 Dec 13 '17 at 16:22
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    @GEdgar: "give the exact page number of it" Especially if it the reference to something like Zygmund's Trigonometric Series treatise and the word or phrase involved is not in the index, something I've encountered many times. Recently, I was looking at many papers on lineability properties, and one of the things I saw over and over again was that Lebesgue in his 1904 book supposedly gave the first example of an everywhere surjective function, but NO ONE gave any indication as to where, and I suspect most of the authors never even looked it up. (It's on p. 90 of that 138 page book.) – Dave L Renfro Dec 13 '17 at 19:23
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    @GEdgar: Surprisingly, I happened to remember my 13 December 2017 comment AND was able to find it by googling. I thought I'd update my comment with a specific example that I just came across. At the beginning of the 1991 paper Removable singularities for analytic functions of Zygmund class by Lord/O'Farrell, reference is made to Zygmund's 2-volume treatise (a total of roughly 750 pages of densely packed text) for "Zygmund class" functions. Of course, Zygmund doesn't use this term and Zygmund's index doesn't help in trying to locate it. (continued) – Dave L Renfro Oct 28 '18 at 17:25

tl;dr- Page numbers are a hold-over from when journals used to be magazines. The exact number chosen probably doesn't have much practical significance, but it may relate to when an article was ready for publication (camera-ready date) or however the editor might choose to lay out the issue (e.g., with related articles closer to each other).

Once-upon-a-time, scientific journals were basically magazines that collected articles interesting to a specific scholarly community. Today, libraries still retain some in reference sections and I think that some publishers still actually print them out, but they're mostly funny novelties or historical artifacts.

Anyway, these old-fashion journal volumes would have a table-of-contents that'd refer to page numbers. Then when the internet came around, they basically stayed the same, except they put copies of articles online, too. And so, the online copies retain page numbers as a vestigial artifact: they're not really useful to most folks today, but they're still there anyway for historical reasons.

Speculation on what page numbers may've implied

Since page numbers basically reflected order within a printed edition, it'd seem that they likely correlated with how the editors chose to lay out the printed editions. This may've varied from journal-to-journal.


  1. Article content. Articles may've been laid out such that closely related articles would be consecutive. In such cases, page numbers would correlate with an article's topic.

  2. Camera-ready date. @user2768 suggested that articles may've been laid out in the order that their content was ready to be amended to the current edition's proof, i.e. the articles' camera-ready date.

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    "Once-upon-a-time" is still true today: Journals are printed and archived in libraries. Albeit, this is becoming less common. Regarding speculation on editors putting articles on related topics together, this can be witnessed in journals that group related articles under common headings. I'd speculate that the ordering of those headings doesn't serve any purpose. – user2768 Dec 13 '17 at 15:02
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    Kinda curious; do kids today necessarily know about magazines? It's weird to think that stuff like watching TV for news/weather, or reading a newspaper, were so ubiquitous but rapidly becoming unknown in some demographics. – Nat Dec 13 '17 at 15:52
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    About "article content", some journals have explicit parts devoted to specific topics. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 13 '17 at 16:09
  • So, you people are saying that the difference between magazine and journal is whether it is printed or not? – Philosopher of science Oct 3 '19 at 17:04
  • @Philosopherofscience In the above, I was referring to a "journal" as an academic journal, which'd be a body of articles. A "magazine" would be a particular form-factor, like a book. These terms can mean different things in other contexts; for example, a "book" can just as readily be an e-book. – Nat Oct 3 '19 at 17:09

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