I am writing a computer science paper in which I cite several lengthy sources (text books and standard specifications). Whenever I cite such a source, I add the page numbers of the subsection to which I refer, e.g.:

Bla bla is considered very important [52, pp. 210-214].

One of the reviewers of the paper remarks the following:

Do not use references with indication of page numbers (e.g., [52, pp. 210-214]), this is very uncommon.

Is this really true (in computer science)?

Am I wrong to include the page numbers in the reference?

The reference in question is a 400+ page book that broadly covers a whole subject area and I thought knowing which pages I actually refer to might help the reader. There are several other (and longer) sources, such as technical standards, which I cite in the same fashion.

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    I can't address how common citing page numbers in books is in computer science, but it certainly ought to be standard. I'd recommend ignoring the reviewer's comment. Oct 23, 2014 at 12:47
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    Yes, it's uncommon; no, you're not wrong to do it.
    – ff524
    Oct 23, 2014 at 12:59
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    This is uncommon for a reason. You should not reference by page number unless there is really no better way to reference the part you need (which means that the book is badly organized). The book might grow by a couple pages in a new edition and your page-number references are screwed. Oct 23, 2014 at 16:24
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    @darijgrinberg: Based on the answers, I'm not sure this question is particularly asking for page numbers as such, rather than for any kind of further specification where to find the particular cited statement in the referenced work. Oct 23, 2014 at 17:20
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    @darijgrinberg - So long as you're careful to cite the edition in your references, that shouldn't be a problem. If the author says "pp 210-214" in the citation, and the reference says "3rd edition," then I can figure out that all bets may be off for page numbers in later editions. Plus, the page numbers may still be helpful; if I have the fifth edition on my bookshelf, I might still be able to find the relevant passage if I can just get a table of contents for the earier edition.
    – J.R.
    Oct 23, 2014 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


Many computer science venues are fairly picky about their citation styles and also use highly abbreviated citation styles that don't give any option for including additional information like a page number.

If page numbers are critical to your citation, then you have two options for how to include them while conforming to the required style:

  1. If you only use one narrow set of pages in the book, use an "in-book" style citation (@inbook in BibTeX) that includes the page numbers in the reference.

  2. Alternately, or if you refer to more than one set of pages, you can include the pages in the text rather than the citation:

Bla bla is considered very important, as described on page 210--214 of [52].

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    ACM, for example, does not include page numbers in the in-text reference style.
    – Bill Barth
    Oct 23, 2014 at 13:10
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    Thanks @jakebeal and @bill-barth! This seems to be a good solution for my problem. Interestingly, the IEEE style guide uses the "in-book" style, but also [52, pp. 210-214] (see page 7).
    – joergl
    Oct 23, 2014 at 13:23
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    @JukkaSuomela I've happily used inbook for a long time. Perhaps you can provide a reason that it should not be used, beyond the ad populum fallacy in the linked post?
    – jakebeal
    Oct 24, 2014 at 1:32
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    "The best way to conform to computer science citation styles is to use the LaTeX packages" - when relying on that rule, contrary to what @BillBarth suggested, all three LaTeX packages from the linked ACM site happily display page numbers in the in-text reference style, when citing in the \cite[page]{source} style. Oct 25, 2014 at 22:50
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    @O.R.Mapper Awesome. Then I would totally trust ACM's machine-interpretable de facto standard over their human-readable and ambiguous documentation.
    – jakebeal
    Oct 25, 2014 at 22:52

Specifying which part of a long book or article you are referring to in your citation is a sound practice, but in general section, theorem or equation numbers are more common than page numbers for this task: [52, Section 3.5] or [52, Equation 3.23] rather than [52, Page 132-134].

Personally I use page numbers only as a last resource where nothing else is available: that is, when the section or equation I want to refer to does not have a number of its own.

I do not have a compelling reason for this, if not that section numbers are more robust to minor pagination changes, but this is the behaviour that I have seen more commonly.

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    Why are section numbers more stable than page numbers? For a formally published work (i.e., not on ArXiv), neither should ever change, except by the publication of a new edition of a book. But, in new editions, it's very common for section and theorem numbers to change, too. Oct 23, 2014 at 16:40
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    @DavidRicherby: in a preprint, the pages are numbered 1, 2, 3, ... but in the published paper they are numbered in sequence with all the other papers, so the pages might be 140, 141, 142, ... The section numbers will be the same, however. So in fields where preprints are common, citing sections or theorem numbers has practical advantages. Oct 24, 2014 at 1:03
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    @DavidRicherby I am not claiming that this works universally and with formal guarantees, but there are many real-world cases where section numbers are indeed more stable than page numbers. For instance, different reprints of a book differing only by misprint corrections, or faithful translations in another language. Also, many journal allow for the publication on arXiv of a postprint, that is, a paper in its final post-refereeing state. A postprint has the exact same content of the final paper, but different style and pagination. Oct 24, 2014 at 7:40
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    @DavidRicherby: They could be in principle, but the page numbers are essentially guaranteed to be different, while the section numbers are relatively likely to be the same, in my experience. Things would be different in fields where they don't release preprints. Oct 24, 2014 at 13:37
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    Just to be clear, I am not saying "you should cite section numbers from an arxiv version without checking that the ones on the published version are the same"; I am saying "you should cite section numbers from the published version, not page numbers, so that in 99% of the cases a reader without access to the published version can use the arxiv one". Oct 24, 2014 at 13:56

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