How to Get the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #3

Is it even possible to document references to works researched using your Kindle?

Sure. But the technique isn’t conventional. While there are no page numbers, there are location numbers for every line of text. These appear at the bottom of each Kindle page. And they remain constant regardless of the font size you adopt for reading.

So the only thing you have to do differently when documenting a quotation from the Kindle edition of a book is give the location number where you would indicate the page number of a standard book.

This issue has been thoroughly discussed at various sites, including Amazon’s own Kindle blog. Many who write about this seem to be ill-informed.

Some books exist only in e-book format; indeed, some exist only in Kindle format. E-books are legitimate sources of information. It ought to be possible to cite them and to do so accurately and clearly. Even an academic paper evaluating e-books and reporting research about their contents would have to include specific documentation, even if the researcher was arguing that they are not a legitimate form of information dissemination.

There are e-books aplenty, and scads of formats among them. The Kindle has a proprietary format. Amazon’s well-known presence and general reputation worldwide should ensure that this format comes to be widely accepted.

Kindle and the Purpose of Citations

Let’s remember why citations are required in the first place. First, and foremost, they give credit to whom credit is due. This is not merely a matter of paying respects. It is a matter of protecting someone else’s intellectual property.

A secondary reason for documentation is that it is an aid to readers who might wish to chase down the reference and study the larger context of what is cited.

Both of these objectives are easily accommodated by using location numbers for Kindle citations.

A Possible Liability and Its Remedy

One liability of referencing material as it appears in an e-book rather than a traditional book has directly to do with the variability of formats from one e-book publisher to another. Readers of material that cites an e-book will often have more difficulty finding the specific source.

A partial remedy is to be sure to indicate that the source you cite is the Kindle edition of a book. This will prevent confusion about which e-book is cited. But the Kindle is not yet ubiquitous. A majority of readers may not yet have access to one. So they’re a bit stuck until the Kindle becomes more widely used—as it surely will. They’re only a bit stuck, though, because they may not have much trouble following up on a citation within a traditional book version of the material.

What about Citing a Kindle Book for a Term Paper?

Some have advised students to take care to consult their teachers before citing a Kindle book in a research paper with footnotes and a bibliography. That’s not a bad idea.

I must say that if one of my students submitted a paper with Kindle book citations, and without first confirming my approval, I would be very reluctant to deprive her of that option. There’s nothing irresponsible about what she’s done. But the student should be certain that her teacher’s syllabus does not explicitly prohibit the citation of Kindle books.

What about Citing a Kindle Book in a Book or Article for Publication?

There should be no concern that an author risks being accused of plagiarism if he cites a Kindle book, as long as he provides all the information needed to confirm his source.

Publishers themselves often have special citation requirements, a standard way they handle each kind of citation for their books, journals, or magazines. It’s an author’s responsibility to provide all the necessary bibliographical details when submitting a manuscript for publication. It’s recommended that he use the publisher’s guidelines for formatting. If a publisher doesn’t address the question of formatting e-books, the author has two choices, enter the data in a format that can be understood and revised by the copy editor, or consult the publisher for guidelines about the matter.

If a publisher refuses to allow Kindle book citations, get another publisher. Alternatively, if there’s a good chance you’ll wish to cite a Kindle book in what you’ll be writing for a specific publisher, discuss it with the publisher before signing a contract. A publisher will most likely accommodate you, and even express their approval in the contract for publication.

A Future for Kindle Books Among Scholars

Every time I see my high school daughter leave for school with a book bag loaded with heavy textbooks I wonder how she manages. Wouldn’t it be great if she could get those same books on a Kindle and just carry that in a shoulder bag or something? All it would take would be for Amazon to perpare Kindle versions of those books.

I can assure you that Amazon is pursuing this avenue. As it is, they already have a growing list of textbooks available in Kindle version. I’ve been surprised to see many philosophical texts used at the university level available in this format. The day may come when a student can get every textbook on a Kindle . . . and get a substantial discount to boot.

Here’s an advantage that hits closer to home for me. If I wish to conduct sabbatical research at a remote location, it would be unrealistic if I had to ship all the books I think I might wish to consult. I have friends who have done this, but time and cost would be prohibitive for me.

What I might do, though, is browse the Kindle inventory at Amazon for books related to my research. I could download these before I leave on sabbatical, or on location while on sabbatical. The crucial thing for me would be to be able to quote accurately from a source of valuable material. A Kindle version would make that possible. After returning from sabbatical, I could, if I felt the need to, check my Kindle citations against traditional book editions and convert the documentation. (Or I could assign this to a research assistant.)

New to Kindle? Check it out here.

For a good resource on electronic documentation, see Diana Hacker’s book Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age

Related Posts:

Kindle Your Reading Habits

How to Get the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #1

How To Get the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #2

How to Get the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #4

About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

7 Responses to How to Get the Most Out of Your Kindle—Tip #3

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for this tip and the link to detailed guidelines for using the Kindle to download and read blogs.

    I hope you’ll share other things you learn in your own use of this powerful and convenient tool.


  2. David says:

    If you use Google Reader, you can access the mobile version from your Kindle. Comes in handy for reading lengthy blog articles.

    I followed these instructions to access the feature:


  3. Doug Geivett says:


    Lighter, cheaper and more convenient. That’s the potential the Kindle offers.

    University professors get stuck in their ways. I know—I am one. But I also know that they can buck trends for only so long.

    Don’t tell me, the faculty that are most resistant to the use of e-books for your courses are older faculty? The twenty-somethings and the thirty-somethings—even some of the forty-somethings—have grown up with and learned to trust technology to a much greater degree. And they adapt quickly. At my university, where students almost never check email, but have a virtual addiction to Facebook, faculty often provide supplementary course instruction and resources through Facebook. I believe many students opt in.

    I don’t see quality as a serious problem. Self-publishing in hard copy form is also on the rise, and teachers know that excellent resources (e.g., professional journals) are increasingly available online. It’s part of the job of the professor to assist students in the development of skills for distinguishing the good and reliable from the bad and ill-informed.

    What about text-books? How about you send me a list of your textbooks for this semester? I’ll check out the e-book options for them. One way to persuade faculty to get on board is to demonstrate that even the textbooks they assign are increasingly available in this way.

    Other books: almost all the e-books I read are also available in standard book format. When there’s a book I want to read, because I already know something about it, I see if it’s available on Kindle. I don’t automatically go for the Kindle edition. I weigh the value of having it on Kindle versus the value of having a hard copy. Then I place the order or not.

    My daughter is a college student. Sometimes she can’t get the assigned textbooks for a class very early in the semester. For any number of reasons, they haven’t always been available in the university bookstore the first week of class. But if the book is available on Kindle . . . .


  4. Laura says:

    Wow, wide-spread use of electronic versions of textbooks? That would be the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me in my lifetime! It’s not easy hauling four 900 page books around campus…

    Up the hill to the College of Science, down the hill to the Library, up the other hill to the Engineering building, across campus for lunch, then back up a different hill to the student center, then across the quad for seminars, and up FIVE flights of stairs for my final class of the day… then I do it all again the next four days of the week. Oh, let’s not forget binders for each class, paper, pens, and any other essential items that one might need. A simple, all in one device with all my textbooks would not only be easier to manage but probably cheaper! One quarter I spent more on books than I did on tuition! While, you could not participate in book buyback, at least now you’ll have all your texts in one easily manageable system.

    What would be even more amazing is if the Kindle had highlighting/note-taking options, etc.

    I do see how students might be confused about the validity of e-books as sources, and while e-books are considered a legitimate source of information, I have had a couple of professors explicitly state that they would not accept e-books as a source, unless, an e-book is the only format that the information is available in, which I find is rare. I come across this restriction mostly in science and mathematics courses.

    I wonder though, with the use of e-books, it will probably become easier and easier for people to publish their own books, and therefore, the use of some unreliable sources, i.e. self published books, may come into play. While freedom of information is key and everyone has the right to publish their ideas and opinions, I wonder if it will become harder for a student to successfully distinguish between “reliable” information and simply trash. It is important to research every aspect of a topic but it may become tricky to determine what professors will consider “good” and “bad” information in a sea of words. I guess that is up to the discretion of the student but I hope that professors and students will work to create guidelines for using such sources.


  5. Doug Geivett says:


    Thanks for letting me know. Since I influenced you to take the plunge, and you may even have followed the link from here to Amazon to get your Kindle, I’d hate to be responsible if you weren’t happy. It sounds like you’re plenty happy.

    You’ve already been using the Kindle in ways I haven’t. For example, I haven’t played with the web stuff on Kindle yet. Thanks for the heads-up. I’ll try it out!


  6. David says:

    Ok I finally purchased the Kindle last week after much debate. I must say I’m absolutely thrilled with it so far. I’ve already emailed myself about 50 Word Docs and html files that were sitting on my hard drive waiting to be read. Just in the past week I’ve already noticed that my tendency at the computer is to read very fast and I often bookmark articles for later because I don’t want to invest the time. The Kindle is all about reading though, so I have no excuses when I pick it up its go time!

    I found a very scarcely documented feature that you may already know about. When in the experimental web browser and connected to Whispernet: you can hit ALT+1 to see your current location on Google maps. It uses cell phone towers to triangulate your approximate location – probably a little buggy but a cool feature to show off to friends! 🙂 You can also use ALT+2 and ALT+3 for finding nearby restaurants and gas stations.

    I’m wondering if Amazon will continue to provide this access simply from the cost of purchasing the unit itself? I can check my Google Reader, download content, and even search the web occasionally all with no subscription fee…hurray!

    Anyways figured you would be glad to know you helped me cross the decision threshold with all the tips and such. Bon Weekend!


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