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Many times, the page number in pdf is different than the printed page number. How to make sure the other person doesn't get confused when we say "it's on Nth page".

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Refrain from referring to the printed/PDF page number at all, and refer to something more concrete, like "in section X" or, of course, a particular figure number if you're referring to a figure.

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If you're talking about the PDF of a paper published in an academic journal, then the answer is unambiguously: refer to the journal page numbers, i.e. the numbers at the bottom of each page. Those are the ones features in (almost all) citation styles.

Otherwise, if the document is a random PDF found on the web (not coming from a journal), just avoid referring to pages. If you absolutely must, refer to the page numbers printed on the paper, as it is the only thing that makes sense to someone who would print the document.

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  • Thanks. How to refer to a particular paragraph (in informal discussion)? – user13107 Mar 12 '13 at 8:32
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    Give its position in the section (“in the third paragraph of section II.C”). If that's too hard, quote its beginning (“in the paragraph starting with ‘We report here work performed at the Mars Permanent Bases in 2034’, the authors …”) – F'x Mar 12 '13 at 8:54
  • Some journals number each individual paragraph, but I've never seen a citation mentioning a particular paragraph. Most papers seem to not refer to any page or specific figure at all when citing results. Of course one may still wish to do so in other contexts. – gerrit Mar 12 '13 at 13:16
  • "See the discussion after Theorem 3." – JeffE Mar 12 '13 at 13:34
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In informal communication like email I use a notation along the lines of "page X (PDF page Y)". By providing both numbers, it is easy for whoever is browsing the PDF to figure out if X or Y is referring to the internal page numbers or the PDF page, and then use whichever one they want to find the content.

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