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APA Page Numbers Explained

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Student writers often send us questions about page numbers: When do I need to include a page number in a citation? What if there is no page number? What if there is no page number and no paragraph number? Can I include a page number with a paraphrase?

The Shorter Answer

Explanation of using page numbers

The Longer Answer

When directly quoting a source, you’re using the author’s words, word order, punctuation, and even mistakes in the same way they appear in the source. If a reader wants to find that quotation, perhaps to see the context around the quotation in the original source, he or she is going to want to find the quotation quickly and will need a page or paragraph number to do so.

When you paraphrase, however, you are often using information or ideas that appear in more than one place in a source. Pointing readers to all 21 pages where they can find the information you paraphrased would be more annoying than helpful. Just imagine if all of your citations looked like this: (Shiell, 2013, p. 3, 4, 5, 15, 17, 20, 21, 22, 34, 41, 42, 43, 47, 59, 60, 64, 65, 98, 101, 102, 103). However, to direct readers to the exact location of the information you’re paraphrasing—perhaps a statistic, for example, or a small portion of a large work—APA suggests including a page or paragraph number in your citation.

What if the Source Doesn't Have a Page or a Paragraph Number?

Web pages typically do not use page numbers, so students often mistakenly label a web page as p. 1. Or, they might print the web page and use the page numbers assigned by their printer. The trouble with this method is that different printers assign different numbers to the pages, potentially creating confusion for readers.

If the source doesn’t have a page number, APA says to use a paragraph number. Many web pages don’t have numbered paragraphs, though, and can contain numerous paragraphs. If the purpose of providing a page or paragraph number is to easily direct readers to the information you used, expecting readers to count each paragraph in the source until they find para. 103 defeats the point. In such cases, APA says writers can use a heading or a section description and count the paragraph underneath it.

Here's an example. Like many webpages, the CDC page on Worker Safety During Fire Cleanup page does not have page numbers or numbered paragraphs, but the information is organized by sections with headings. To cite information about the primary types of electrical injury, which is located in the first paragraph after the heading Electrical Hazards, your parenthetical citation would look like this: (CDC, 2013, “Electrical Hazards,” para. 1).* Readers familiar with APA will know (or can figure out) that the citation points to the first paragraph after the Electrical Hazards heading.

Screenshot of CDC website

*This citation assumes that this is not the first time you are citing the CDC in your paper. For information on how to format citations for sources that use an acronym, see this page.

For more detail on these page and paragraph number rules, see pages 171-172 and 179 in the 6th edition of the APA manual. Do you have other questions about page and paragraph numbers? Let us know in the comments!

Other posts you might like:

Demystifying In-Text vs. Parenthetical Citations

APA Citations: The Method to the Madness

What's the Citation Frequency, Kenneth?

Citing an Author Throughout a Paragraph: Notes on a Tricky APA Shortcut

When to Use an Author Name in the Body of a Sentence and When to Keep It in the Parenthetical Citation

Anne Shiell is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She also coordinates the center's social media resources.

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