Is it acceptable to be very specific in IEEE-style citations (always providing the section or paragraph)?

In the IEEE Reference Guide, there are examples on how one can use IEEE-style citations to refer to which part of the reference the reader should look at.

Doing some research, I learnt that, when citing a work using other styles, one may be specific about which part of the work they want to reference (example).

More specifically, I am considering using citations that look like this:

  • [1, Para. 1]
  • [2, Abs.]
  • [3, Sec. 1]
  • [2, Review and Suggestions sec.]

The details about which section or paragraph readers should look for has the benefit of making it easier to find that part in the reference.

However, I have not seen this used much. Such citations could make the paper look cluttered and perhaps reading would be cumbersome for people not interested in the citations.

Is it, in the end, bad practice?


This is not necessarily a bad thing. The rule of thumb I have is "how hard is it to find the said result in the citation". In older papers which might have theorem numbering starting fresh for each section (without a section prefix), I'd include the most accurate citation I can provide. In a paper whose introduction states "This paper is devoted for X", I would not bother in case I only refer to the general proof of X.

Ultimately, you need that the readers will be able to verify that the reference you cite say what you say that it says. When this is easy and the reference is "general enough", I think it should be fine to just give the citation; and when the reference is a complex body of work, it is better to pinpoint the citation.

You want to use citations as photographic evidence in court. The resolution should be sufficient that the jury can see the image and understand it properly; additional markings (e.g. arrows pointing the attention to something) can often be useful. However pointing to a specific pixel is not always useful. And most importantly, don't fake evidence.

(If you are not sure, err to the side of more detailed citations. The worst that could happen is that the referee or the editor will remove some of the details.)

  • So when the reference is small (a short article/webpage) this is not necessary right? Also inconsistency due to including such details at times and not at others is not an issue? – hb20007 Feb 18 '17 at 11:19
  • If the reference is a two pages paper, there isn't necessarily a reason to pinpoint the exact location of what you're referring to. Again, this is about context. Of course, if you're not sure, err on the side of more details. – Ink blot Feb 18 '17 at 11:20

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