Citing Full Titles vs. Short Titles


15 March 2014

How we cite a title can vary according to the circumstances. Of course, "vary" doesn't mean "Oh, just do whatever you please." There are long-established rules that cover those variances—and very good reasons why they exist.

In our working notes, we copy each title precisely, making no alterations in spellings or abbreviations. When we begin writing our narrative—or when we enter records and sources into a data-management software—we have choices to make between the use of full titles or short titles. The guideing principles are these:

  • Source List Entry: Use full title.
  • First Reference Note: Use full title. (But see EE 12.56 for an exception.)
  • Subsequent Reference Note:  Shortening of a long title may be practical after our First Reference Note cites it fully.

Shortening Titles

When we create short titles for publications, that short title should

  • draw from the first few words of the title;
  • clearly convey the subject of the book; and
  • distinguish that book from other works with similar titles or other works by the same author.

In other words: our alterations should be made thoughtfully, to ensure that neither our readers or ourselves at a later date become confused as to exactly what book is being cited.

If we shorten a title by leaving out words in its middle, we should indicate the omission with three evenly spaced dots (ellipsis points). If we shorten a title by leaving out words at the end of the title, we omit those ellipsis points entirely.

As for how those diddly-dots are rendered: Traditionalists insist that each ellipsis point should have a space before and after it. The engineers who developed modern word-processing software clearly did not like that old rule. Some have felt so strongly about it that they've designed their software to ignore whatever we type and substitute their preference.  In our working notes, we can live with their standard or override the software. If we are writing for a specific publication, then we follow the editor's preference, of course.