How Should You Cite from Kindle?

I just got an interesting question, one that professors and students will no doubt be asking with increasing frequency: how should we be citing, and requiring others to cite, material read on an e-reader such as a Kindle?

Kindles do not have page numbers, though they do have line numbers. In light of this, The Masters Seminary has outlined the following policy:

Citation of e-Book Sources:  There are a number of electronic book sources now  available for general use and some materials only exist in that format.  When  citing an electronic book of e-Book the reference must contain the actual type or  model of e-Book being used (Amazon Kindle, Microsoft, Sony, etc.) and the  location number of the quote (since actual page numbers are not created) .  For example:

1  D. Brent Laytham, ed., God Does Not…: Entertain, Play Matchmaker, Hurry, Demand Blood, Cure Every Illness (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008), Kindle e- book, locations 552-53.

In addition students must be aware that a professor may request to see the device and examine the quotation and that the student must be able to comply with this request.

My gut reaction is that, as a professor, I want to know citation data that will enable me to check on the quote without purchasing an e-reader version. That is, I think I would tell a student to go to Google Books or Amazon “Search Inside” to find out the page number of the print edition.

What do you think? Is now the time to allow an e-reader-only citation for books that have print counterparts? Is that day coming? What would you require of your students in a class right now? What do you think you should do in your own writing?

28 thoughts on “How Should You Cite from Kindle?”

    1. Often it’s only parts you can see. But if you’re searching for something you can typically find most or all the occurrences of what you’re looking for (or, even if the page doesn’t display, find the page number you’re looking for). Also, books available in e-reader formats tend to have more available content in my experience.

  1. Funny, just this quarter I graded my first book report based on the Kindle version. I agreed to allow the kindle line citation for two reasons. First, I am familiar with the book so I don’t have the same checking problem you present. Second, to me it is the same issue as a student using the second edition while I am familiar with the sixth edition. Some of the page numbers might be different but I don’t require the student “translate” page numbers to my edition of the book.

  2. This has actually been a big problem for me since I mostly buy books on Kindle. None of my profs have a Kindle (actually most of them look at me funny when I even say Kindle). So, they have been very unwilling to accommodate me since they have no way of validating my citations. This is very frustrating because I have literally saved hundreds of dollars buying Kindle books (actually, I just buy more books!). Also, another annoying problem is assigned reading. When a class requires pgs 30-142 I have to find a ‘real’ book so that I know where I start and stop.

    (In order to be precise, I don’t actually own a Kindle. I read the books on my Iphone and hopefully on my Ipad.)

  3. Amazon and other ebook platforms need to include in the source code the actual page numbers of print versions of books. Not just for essays, but newspaper articles, blurbs, blogs, reviews, and the odd person who wants both a print and e-copy.

  4. The books I get for my Sony Reader are digital facsimiles of the print editions, complete with page numbers, so I cite them just as the print editions.

    I think we have reached the day when we need to accept ebook-only citations from students, because they won’t always have access to Amazon Search Inside and/or a Library copy for every book they use in Kindle, and it’s not the customer’s fault that Amazon has made the ridiculous choice not to make physical page numbers available in Kindle editions. (Jon is completely right that this needs to change — perhaps enough pressure from academic users, whom Amazon does not yet adequately value as a core constituency, will make them see the light.) The Masters’ policy strikes me as a sensible compromise to enable the professor to check references, although it is somewhat cumbersome to have to arrange to view the device. The rest of us probably need to start putting ebook citation policies in our syllabi. (Oh, goody; another thing for students not to read.)

    However, we are far from the day when ebook-only citations are appropriate in material for publication, precisely because they do not provide adequate information for a reader who does not have the same device. I think we have decades of change ahead before ebook location indicators are standardized enough and digital devices are ubiquitous enough for such citations to be acceptable, and fields like ours with a deep love of Really Old Books will be the last holdouts.

    1. Rachel, you make some good points.

      I’m not sure, though, that students are very often far from Amazon Search Inside and Google Books. Typically when they’re writing they’re sitting at a computer, and that usually with internet access. It would seem to be an exception rather than the rule that they couldn’t find what they needed quickly online.

      I agree, though, that Kindle needs to find some way to embed page number info into their coding. Otherwise, I’ll have to keep comparing percentages between Moby Dick and Deliverance of God on my FB status rather than page numbers. :)

  5. Currently, I am writing a paper on a Renaissance play. My professor has allowed me to continue citing my Kindle locations for the parts written by the editor or simply to record the act and scene within the play.
    To help him check my sources, I am highlighting any lines I quote in my Kindle book and then I will allow him to borrow my Kindle for a few days.

    I hope this helped your discussion as far as current use goes!

  6. I am studying in Germany, though I am an American. I got to this site because the question came to me and I wanted to see if there was general knowledge about this. This has been great, though I will have to confirm with my “doktor vater,” to determine the best way to handle this problem. The problem is that it creates for me an additional expense and time. But…well, you do what you have to do. I am writing my dissertation.

  7. As I am working on my doctoral dissertation, this question has suddenly become one that is very pertinent for me. Sadly, having reviewed the latest editions of the Chicago Manual of Style and the latest edition of Turbian, there is no standard for citing from e-readers. None of my professors are willing, at the doctoral level, to accept such citation. The burden falls (and rightly so, I guess) to the student to locate a hard copy or other valid source so that true page numbers can be applied. Some have proposed (and I am in favor of) continuing to apply pressure to Amazon to provide page numbers. Another idea is to pose the question to the editors of the Chicago Manual of Style (or other academically accepted format manuals) to provide an accepted means of citing e-reader documents. In the same way that they eventually provided the means to cite websites, audio files, and other media, they might provide an accepted means to do so with the Kindle. I’m note sure which tactic would be more successful.

    1. From the Chicago Style Manual, online edition:

      “Book published electronically

      If a book is available in more than one format, cite the version you consulted. For books consulted online, list a URL; include an access date only if one is required by your publisher or discipline. If no fixed page numbers are available, you can include a section title or a chapter or other number.

      1. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (New York: Penguin Classics, 2007), Kindle edition.
      2. Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, eds., The Founders’ Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), accessed February 28, 2010, http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/.
      3. Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
      4. Kurland and Lerner, Founder’s Constitution, chap. 10, doc. 19.

      Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007. Kindle edition.
      Kurland, Philip B., and Ralph Lerner, eds. The Founders’ Constitution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Accessed February 28, 2010. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/.”

  8. Thank you for this. I am a seminary student. Am beginning to use the Kindle and Nook readers on my laptop. I’ve used Google books plenty of times but for some reason was not familiar with the Amazon search in book feature. Someone mentioned it in one of the comments. Thanks!

  9. I find that citing Kindle books isn’t that hard art all. The problem is for a professor to veify it, but the actual citing is easy. I use a ‘slightly altered’ version of the APA-style. An example:

    In the bibliography:

    If I just cite a chapter, I write:
    Hahn: 2009: chap. 3:3

    If I cite, or quote, a specific passage, I write:
    Hahn: 2009: chap. 3:3; loc. 598-603.

    If this is the first time I cite a Kindle or Mobipocket book, I also write this:

    (This is a book published in Kindle/Mobipocket format. All quotations from, or citations of, such books refer to sections or precise locations (loc.) in the text, and not page numbers.)

    In the bibliography:

    Carson, D.A. & Moo, D.J., S. (2009). An Introduction to the New Testament. Mobipocket Edition 2009 (Second print Edition 2005). Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan [Retrieved from Amazon.com, April 21th 2010]

    In the footnote:

    Carson & Moo: 2009: chap. 13:9
    or
    Carson & Moo: 2009: chap. 13:9; loc. 12411-12422

    If this is the first time I cite or quote Kindle book, I will add this:

    (This is a book published in Kindle/Mobipocket format. All quotations from, or citations of, such books refer to chapters, sections or precise locations (loc.) in the text, and not page numbers.)

  10. Something happened there. Just delete this:

    In the bibliography:

    If I just cite a chapter, I write:
    Hahn: 2009: chap. 3:3

    If I cite, or quote, a specific passage, I write:
    Hahn: 2009: chap. 3:3; loc. 598-603.

    If this is the first time I cite a Kindle or Mobipocket book, I also write this:

    (This is a book published in Kindle/Mobipocket format. All quotations from, or citations of, such books refer to sections or precise locations (loc.) in the text, and not page numbers.)

  11. I bought a textbook for Kindle and shocked to see no page numbers! Not good when the professors asks you to read pages XX-XX.

    Found out that eTextbooks for the NookStudy DO have page numbers that match the physical book. The reason is that they are PDFs. Text can be copied out and the search function is available with hitting ctrl-F.

    Though, eBooks (which are not PDFs but EPUB files) for the NookStudy do not always match – it varies. Same with the Sony Reader. Sometimes they are there and sometimes they are not, it depends on the publisher.

    Two of my professors didn’t like location numbers in citations, but since the NookStudy has page numbers they don’t really mind if they match the physical book or not, as long as I indicate it is the Nook edition.

    Out of about 15 books this semester, only 1 is not on the nook.

  12. Thanks for all the great input – I was greatly relieved – to find this discussion. Students might want to bookmark their citations with a code for the paper they’ve written so they can quickly and easily present the professor with the citations. also – if it is possible to loan the ebook to the prof. with the bookmarks intact that would help. But the best thing would be to code the ebooks so one could identify the printed page number.
    However – I had a problem once when I quoted a printed edition that differed from the one my professor had (he didn’t notice the edition difference). Not a big deal but a deal.

  13. I was very happy to see this discussion, which brings up points that are important for us to consider in this era where ebooks are playing a larger and larger role in how we read all kinds of long-form text.

    I realize that I am coming late to the party here, but since this discussion is one of the top hits if you do a Google search for “Chicago manual kindle citation” I thought other latecomers might be interesting in seeing what the Chicago Manual’s website has to say on the matter.

    I found the following question and answer at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/CMS_FAQ/Documentation/Documentation_questions04.html:

    Q. Are there any conventions yet for citing a text on Kindle? That is, because the type size is variable, there are no page numbers in a Kindle edition; instead, there is a running locator at the bottom of each screen. I’m wondering whether it would be permissible to cite these location numbers rather than look up my quotes in a hard copy of the text.

    A. Yes, you can cite the location numbers, although unless a reader has the Kindle edition of that work, the numbers will be of little use for finding the text. Like unpaged online content, Kindle editions are best cited with reference to chapter titles or numbers, subheadings, or a unique phrase that can be located by searching.

  14. Sure, there’s ways to cite Kindle in all writing formats, but this is unacceptable in graduate and postgraduate work. Scholars want footnotes and endnotes that point to concrete sources for quick and efficient access in their library systems. Citing a chapter or section doesn’t cut it in history, philosophy, theology, religion, anthropology, and a host of other sciences. Also, professors need quick ways of checking for plagiarism, which Kindle w/out page numbers doesn’t supply. I do heavy research for a living, and the only reason I don’t have a Kindle is because it doesn’t have the page numbers that match the book I can check out or ILL from my library. My colleagues and students are in the same boat. In fact, I’ll say it like this: THE FIRST EREADER THAT COMES OUT WITH ACCURATE PAGE NUMBERS WILL BREAK THE MARKET WIDE OPEN. No other ereader will be able to compete, and every student, professor, or professional in the world would have one. The fact that ereaders ignore this entire market is absurd; and the fact that after 6 years of research on the Kindle they still haven’t listened to page number complaints bothers me. How ironic that Kindle is strictly for books yet it cuts out the academy who read, study, and research more books than anyone because it doesn’t have page numbers that can be easily accessed by the scholarly community.

    1. Just saw what seems to me to be a good way to cite Kindle: by chapter and paragraph number (almost like the Bible, which is never referenced by page number because of multiple editions, languages, etc.). But this would mean two significant changes, one for Kindle and one for paper publications. Kindle would need to drop their idiotic reference system and embed new codes for paragraph numbering; and paper copies of books, journals, etc., would need to have page numbers and paragraph numbers for easy access, especially for such items as yearly volumes of periodicals referenced in the library. What do you think?

  15. As an English major with a Nook, I come across this problem frequently when writing papers on novels that we read in class. I generally download it on my nook instead of buying a hard copy, because (a) it’s cheaper or free, (b) I can carry it all with me at once, and (c) I feel like it’s better for the environment, though I may be wrong about that.

    One of my professors requires that we keep a reading log throughout the semester and include quotes that we feel are important. When we first handed them in, she asked me why I didn’t include page numbers. A number of people here have mentioned that there are page numbers on the Kindle, and there are also page numbers on the Nook; however, with the large number of formats available–you can change both the font and the font size–the page number that you found a quote on won’t necessarily be the same from person to person, even if they do have the same e-reader. In order for the professor to verify the quotation, she would have to own each e-reader that a student owned and download each book. The student would have to cite the font and size, and my professor would have to buy a nook, download The Great Gatsby on it, set the font to Amasis Small and then head to page 80 if I had (Fitzgerald 80) after a quote. That seems like an awful lot of extra work!

    Due to pressure from my professor, I ended up writing my papers using hard copies that I or my family already owned instead of e-books, but that, of course, limited me to those. Also, I realized that the professor probably doesn’t own the same copy that I do, as we’re not required to buy a specific copy (especially when many of them are so commonly owned books already and people might have a copy somewhere), so is it any easier for her to check my hard copy of the book, which was printed in 1953, than the e-reader? Probably not!

    I imagine this is a much greater problem in graduate studies, but in my position, I highly doubt my professor is verifying every student’s reference to the same book that she’s probably taught 20 times by now and knows almost by heart. It seems silly to require us to cite hard copies of commonly known (and easily verifiable) books; I feel that in these situations, citing an e-reader with the model, page number and font would be plenty of information should they feel the need to verify the quotes. Perhaps it would be helpful, for these situations, for the universities to invest in a few copies of the readers for the benefit of professors who need to check things on them.

    Wow, that was long. Back to Gatsby!

  16. This is the electronic age, therefore citing from e-readers must be allowable! Many students only purchase the e-book, sometimes for convenience, sometimes due to price. Kindle (this is the one I am familiar with since I have owned one for 2 1/2 years) cannot have a way to to embed page numbers because the font size can be changed…it would be extremely difficult, I would think. Neverthess, when citing location, the font size should be added because the location is different for every font size.

  17. Actually the kindle does have page numbers. You hit “menu” while on the section you want to highlight. The page number shows up at the bottom, if there is a non-kindle edition of the book. You can then cite the non-kindle edition and page numbers as you normally would. For academic papers I wouldn’t suggest using books that ONLY come in kindle format.

  18. Yes, I had trouble with this just last week when writing a term paper on the authorship of Hebrews. What I ended up with a strange method to determine the page number. The ebook used citation itself and it had an author index with all the page numbers associated. So I would find the nearest citation in the ebook, find author’s name cited, go to the author index and find the page number. I would click on the page number to verify that it brought me back to the page I was citing. What a mess, but I got through it. I also noted the location number in my preparation notes, just in case I need to find it again in the kindle. I think a great app to develop would be on to enter the isbn, location, and ereader into the app. The app would return back the print copy equivalent page number.

  19. The real problem here is the idea of “page” numbers as the ideal format. It’s tied to a very particular presentation scheme that plainly is about to become out of date. The whole idea of “pages” ought to be dropped and we should concentrate on the texts themselves.

    I’m a classicist. We have standard editions of each text in which each is given a canonical numbering scheme, usually along the line of book/chapter/sentence. E.g. Livy 5.51.5 “Intuemini enim horum deinceps annorum vel secundas res vel adversas; invenietis omnia propoera evenisse sequentibus deos, adversa spernentibus”. Epic poetry is typically quoted as book and line number, e.g. Vergil, Aenid, 1.278-9 “His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono; imperium sine fine dedi”, or for collections of poems, book/poem/line. Horace Carm. 2.3.1 “Aequam memento rebus in arduis”.

    Publishers should be now assigning each text a ‘standard edition’ way of citing the text and if necessary, embedding that information into the text itself if the ebook formats won’t support it. This way it won’t matter if the reader uses a Kindle, or a Kobo, or iBooks or even a printed version; the text references are constant.

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