[Show/Hide Right Column]

Lindsay Gallimore

Lindsay Gallimore
Read Blog
View Profile

A Cite for Sore Eyes

Published by lindsay_gallimore@sympatico.ca on 2011-12-03

Now that I have finally sat down (or, more accurately, lay down) to write about David Bellos’ Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the meaning of everything, I find myself in a pickle of a jam. I hate making a works cited list, I always forget the rules. But for an e-book, I don’t even know the rules! While this book obviously exists in print, I happen to have read it on my Kobo. I am planning to use quotes from Bellos’ work, and normally I would provide a page number. But e-books don’t have page numbers! Lots of people on the interwebs are discussing this problem. I’ve sifted through the rants, the blog posts and the style guide FAQs to try and figure out what the consensus is. Then, and only then, will I get on with my comments about the delightful book that inspired this post in the first place.


Citing e-books is, of course, a fairly recent quandary for academic writers. I remember back when I had to write research papers (I make it sound like it was in the Stone Age, but my last one was actually about a year ago), I would sometimes find useful information via Google Books. In my works cited list, I would just pretend as if I had had the actual, physical copy of the book in my hands. Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to do that.


Here’s how my works cited would look in all three formats, according to Booksprung.com:



David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the meaning of everything (Toronto: Penguin Books, 2011), Kobo edition.



Bellos, David. Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the meaning of everything. Toronto: Penguin Books, 2011. Kobo.



Bellos, D. (2011). Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the meaning of everything Kobo version. Retrieved from kobobooks.com.


Alright, that I can handle. It’s in the in-text citations that are a problem. There is no consensus on what to do. The goal is for your reader to be able to verify your quotation by finding it in the same version you used. APA suggests giving the information you have, such as chapter name or number, section heading if applicable, even paragraph number. This could lead to your citation being longer than the quote itself. I read another idea to help you convert the percentage of e-book read at the point of the citation (the Kobo tells you what percent you are at) into a page number based on how long the print version is. (So if your quote appears when you have read 50% of a book whose print version is 100 pages long, your quote is theoretically on page 50.) There’s even an online tool to help with this conversion.


My guess is that as this technology becomes more and more common place, writing conventions will simply have to change. Or, perhaps e-book producers will find a solution. Since most e-readers have a “search” function, perhaps the page number is a moot point.


Apparently some profs do not accept references from e-books. I know that in the last class I took that required readings and citations (Lecture critique des traductions), we were specifically told not to use e-books for our papers. This seems to be the case for a lot of the people in the blogosphere who are discussing the issue of e-book citation.


For those of you still doing a degree, what do you think about citing from e-books? Should professors allow it? Who should conform: the e-book publishers or the style guides?

And, the big debate: e-book versus paper….. whose corner are you in?


And, as an e-book related aside, I just found out that the BANQ loans e-books!