Titles and Silent Corrections



9 February 2014

A blogger's weekly list of recommended articles contained a real headscratcher. One of the recommended titles was (and I quote exactly): "Small Groups Of Friends Are The Key To Influence Not Swaying Influential People."

Hmhh. Are we saying that influence doesn't sway influential people? Or that small groups of friends build influence that doesn't sway influential people?  Or ....? 

EE 2.76 explains the problem: "Titles of published works ... are often typographically designed titles that break up the title across several lines and omit punctuation marks at the ends of those lines. When we convert those titles to a sentence-style citation, we are expected to add the proper punctuation for clarity.

That, precisely is what happened in the present case. The recommended article placed the title on two lines.

Small Groups of People are the Key to Influence

Not Swaying Influential People.

The needed punctuation mark (an em dash) would have fallen at the end of the first line. Because that first part of the title took up the entire space available on that line, the author just omitted the punctuation. The author's meaning remains reasonably clear, because the line break in the title creates a pause and a mental readjustment.

However, citing the title without the line break, and with no silent correction of the punctuation, created an ungrammatical title whose meaning could be read in all sorts of ways.

Bottom line: When we convert those display titles to a sentence-style citation, it is permissible—and desirable—to add the proper punctuation for clarity.