While references usually refer to page numbers, e.g.

  • Smith, J. On a a certain subject. In: Obscure Journal 2022, pp. 75-81.

it is sometimes (e.g., in some lexicons) necessary to refer to text columns instead of pages (in German: Spalten, abbreviation Sp.). What is the correct abbreviation to be used in English in that case? My guess is "col." or perhaps "clm."? And would the plural form be fomed with plural -s ("cols." or "clms.") or by reduplication (as with "pp." for pages: "coll." or "clmm.")?

  • Smith, J. Supercalifragilism. Encyclopedia Obscura, cols. 1032-1035. ?

An online research appeared inconclusive to me.

  • Why would you need to refer to columns? All the style guides for references I know tell you to refer to the page number. Are there books without page numbers? If so it is such a rare case that you should just write out in full.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 22:08
  • I do not know if any general solutions; however, in older language references like The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, I think the practice is to use the page number followed by a lower case letter referring to one of the two columns, for example, using "p. 28b" to refer to the second of two columns on page 28. Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 22:26

1 Answer 1


You should use page numbers

If you’re citing a specific part of a source, you should also include a locator such as a page number.

If no page numbers are available in a printed source this is an exceptional situation. If, instead, the columns are numbered you should write the word out in full "(Smith, 2020, column 583)" In APA style the locator only goes in the text citation, not in the bibliography, but other referencing guides may differ.

While this it is very rare for printed sources to not have page numbers, the locator might be a timestamp of a video source or audio source. With web sources, the ability to search alleviates the issue of including locators in text citations.

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