Citing eBooks

eBooks have gained such a popularity that people can no longer avoid citing them in papers.

Why do people avoid eBooks for papers?  One reason: many people have a little bit of difficulty categorizing them, are they a book or electronic source?  However, the major reason many people have avoided using eBooks is the lack of page numbers.  So, either fearful of plagiarism or a poor grade, students avoid citing eBooks.

So where do they go?  Are they a book?  An electronic source?  Both, technically.  However, you’ll find the entry under books.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) states, “Begin the entry in the works-cited list like the entry for a comparable printed work and end it with a designation of the medium of publication. The medium is the type of electronic file, such as Kindle file, Nook file, EPUB file, or PDF file. If you cannot identify the file type, use Digital file.”

Rowley, Hazel. Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage. New York: Farrar, 2010. Kindle file.

But what about page numbers?  MLA says, “Most electronic readers include a numbering system that tells users their location in the work. Do not cite this numbering, because it may not appear consistently to other users. If the work is divided into stable numbered sections like chapters, the numbers of those sections may be cited, with a label identifying the nature of the number”.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt began their honeymoon with a week’s stay at Hyde Park (Rowley, ch. 2).

Lastly, MLA says, “If the work is a PDF file with fixed pages, cite the page numbers. If the work lacks any kind of stable section numbering, the work has to be cited as a whole”.

While MLA is one of the most common citation methods, it is not the only one.  The American Psychological Association (APA) format follows the same advice, but the entry is slightly different.  It says, “The reference list entry for a whole e-book should include elements of author, date, title (with e-reader book type in square brackets if applicable; italicize the title but not the bracketed material), and source (URL or DOI):”

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of book [E-reader version, if applicable]. Retrieved from http://xxxxx

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of book [E-reader version, if applicable]. doi:xxxxx

The APA recommends the following if there are no page numbers:

  • a paragraph number, if provided; alternatively, you can count paragraphs down from the beginning of the document;
  • an overarching heading plus a paragraph number within that section; or
  • an abbreviated heading (or the first few words of the heading) in quotation marks, in cases in which the heading is too unwieldy to cite in full.

So why can’t you just cite the location in the eBook?  The APA explains:

As of March 2011, many Kindle books now have real page numbers that correspond to those in print editions (as far as we know, this applies only for Kindle third generation products and going forward). These real page numbers are appropriate to use in academic citation (as are the page numbers of other paginated e-books). Kindle “location numbers,” however, should not be used in citations because they have limited retrievability.

The Purdue OWL details how you can cite an eBook in Chicago Style.  There are several other types of citation formats, but they are not as common as MLA and APA.

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