While looking over a friend’s bioethics paper, I noticed the following citation:
(Samways, 261, 1993)
It looks like a normal citation, but wait– what is that number in the middle? Is that a page number? Yes, it is!
This immediately brought back memories of 9th grade when I was formally trained how to take notes and cite sources. In those days of MLA, providing a citation with the page number was key to fighting plagiarism, the enemy of original thought, and what is more valuable to education than that? (I guess funding, but that’s beside the point ).
You see, I miss page numbers. I haven’t seen page numbers since my literary criticism classes in college, where a page number showed that yes, you did read all of those sources you listed in the bibliography. Or at least the important parts of them.
Oftentimes, a page number is all that stands between looking up a single sentence or spending hours rifling through hundreds of pages trying find that one stupid sentence.
Why don’t we use page numbers in science? Is it because it’s a lot of work? Or is it because page numbers aren’t useful anymore, as most of us read online publications as soon as they are released in our efforts to stay up to date with the cutting edge of science?
Though I understand that online sources can be more easily navigated with “Ctrl-F”, I think that page numbers are still immensely useful in citations. It communicates to your reader that you are not just making things up and attributing them to someone else—it shows that you did get that fact from somewhere, and that you can show exactly where you got it from. It shows that you can be held accountable for your work, and that you can back up what you’re saying with more than just an author name and year.
Page numbers are more than just a courtesy to your readers––they facilitate your readers’ own research by directing them towards relevant portions of other relevant research. And isn’t clear communication our responsibility as scientists?
Page numbers are also immensely helpful to the author. Haven’t you ever fallen into the trap where you read something but forget where it was in the paper, and you know it’s in there, but you can’t find it ?
I don’t think that adding page numbers is a waste of time, especially when you’re doing citations anyway. In fact, the simple act of jotting down the page number can save time when you need to go back to the original source and check something, and suddenly don’t have to reread the entire source to find that one thing you were looking for.
Give page numbers a chance, and try it out for yourself—what’s the worst that can happen?