There's a new pre-print paper called Pinpointing the problem: Providing page numbers for citations as a crucial part of open science by Leon Y. Xiao and Nick Ballou. It's a short, easily understandable paper, and well worth a read. I think I disagree with nearly all of its conclusions!
The main point, I agree with. Citing a whole paper is a lossy process. Saying "Smith, J (1963) Practical Time Travel, Gallifrey Press" is basically fine but it doesn't tell you where in the publication the bit is you're citing.
Xiao & Ballou contend that the answer is to add a page number to every citation. I think that's a simple solution - but almost always the wrong way to solve the problem.
Firstly, page numbers aren't stable. If you've got the large-print version of a paper, it will have a different page numbers than the regular print edition. Paperbacks and hardbacks have different numbers. The paper copy might be formatted differently from the digital copy.
Secondly, most modern documents simply don't have pages. Anything published as HTML / ePub won't have a page number. Page numbers are a skeuomorph in those contexts.
Finally, even if there is a stable page number - is that precise enough? A page may have several hundred words in multiple sections. Page numbers aren't granular.
I've ranted before about I consider Quoting Page Numbers from eBooks is Considered Harmful.
So what's the solution?
A properly formatted document should be accessible by sub-section. For example:
That takes us to the paper we want, and straight to the anchor heading we're discussing. This also works with the obsolete PDF format.
Now, not all papers have the correct markup to do this. That's OK! We can cheat using Text Fragments. That allows us to link to the first instance of a specific string of text in a document. For example:
example.com/papers/time-travel.html#:~:text=Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow
I genuinely think both of those solutions make more sense than hoping that your reader has a copy of a paper in exactly the same format as you do.
One of the things I found most frustrating during my MSc was how... old fashioned academia was. PDFs with two column layouts, unreadable fonts, paywalled knowledge trapped in moribund formats. Let's try to drag it into the late 20th Century, eh?