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While preparing a bibliography, I have noticed that some authors' journal titles have not used diacritics correctly. For example, some authors have written "Miguel Angel Asturias" in their titles rather than Miguel Ángel Asturias.

Should I be referencing these titles exactly as they have written it, or should I correct them?

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    On the one hand, correcting the typographical errors/limitations of the past feels like the right thing to do. On the other hand, the sole purpose of your reference is to allow other people to find that particular source which has those particular errors or limitations. – Jon Custer Oct 24 at 13:15
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    Used incorrectly: correct it. But, no diacritics used at all: leave as-is. For example, "Arzelà" is often seen with the wrong accent on the final "a" or an accent on the "e" instead. Correct those. But do not correct "Arzela". – GEdgar Oct 24 at 16:07
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    @GEdgar This seems prevalent but I haven’t yet found a good explanation: “Arzela” isn’t any more correct than “Arzelá”. Both are simply equally wrong. Transliteration isn’t really a valid argument in the age of Unicode. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 25 at 9:10
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    Are we talking about (mostly) non-English names in the titles (diacritics in the titles of paper), or other about authors of other papers incorrectly citing other, non-anglophone, author names? – penelope Oct 25 at 13:29
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In my opinion you shouldn't change the title.

The purpose of your reference is letting your readers find the referenced work, so changing the title (even if it is to correct a mistake) may make this harder or even create inconsistencies in scientific indexing services.

  • I'm pretty sure, though not positive, that search engines are sensitive to this issue. – Buffy Oct 24 at 13:30
  • I would expect you to be right. But then, you are citing a title and not re-writing the same sentence, so I feel it is best to leave the original title as-is – Pronte Oct 24 at 13:54
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    @Buffy Changing a couple of characters in a long-ish string will make little difference to a modern search engine. They're already able to deal with spelling mistakes, and they're aware that some searchers and authors will use accents and some (especially those with English-language keyboard layouts) won't. As a simple test, Google and Bing both accept "Dónäld Trümp" as the president of the USA. "Ďôñåłđ Ţrümp" causes more problems: Google returns zero hits, whereas Bing returns what looks like a set of pages chosen by a random number generator. – David Richerby Oct 25 at 8:37
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    @DavidRicherby Internet search engines generally handle this well. Others … not so much. Case in point, my bibliography manager fails abysmally when faced with this issue, it only performs exact matching. I’m not defending this (and I strongly advocate correct spelling, including correct accents) but it exists, and is an actual problem. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 25 at 9:17
  • @KonradRudolph Argh, why is computer software so bad? – David Richerby Oct 25 at 18:26
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To add to the answers already posted: authors themselves sometimes avoid diacritics, presumably because they (used to) complicate indexing and search as well as increase the likelihood of citation errors. A colleague of mine decided to forego diacritics in his papers and on his Google Scholar profile for this reason. So if you suspect that might be the case you'd be better off not changing anything.

The situation is different when a reference to an old paper has been mangled through a citation chain. This happens fairly often with author names and can make it a nightmare to track down the original paper. And even if it doesn't, it is sometimes obvious that the paper is indexed incorrectly - for example, the first and last names of authors are inverted. These cases call for a correction although that doesn't seem to apply here.

  • A lot of journals these days have their complete archives digitized. One can very often find the correct citation data just by Googling the paper's title, leading to the original publication. – David Richerby Oct 25 at 8:40
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    Yes but in many old papers citations only contain the first author's name, a journal abbreviation and little else. I've often run into cases where one of these was misspelt which made it really hard to track down the original. – Vibex Oct 25 at 12:49
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This is really opinion based. I am happy my surname contains one letter beyond basic ASCII table...

The reasons I purposedly ommit the accent are:

  • Inconsistent encoding. You know, UTF-8, CP1250, Latin2,... All of them use the space beyond plain ASCII but in completely different manner and no-one knows what are the default settings.
  • There are many accents that may look simillar or same for different people while the sorting algorithms may not see the similarity at all
  • There are many font families that does not support the accents properly, draws some random glyphs or leads the setter using completely different font or return the character code.
  • Many people may struggle even more reading my name when faced with the additional complication (accent).

Imagine what can go wrong if your surname is Štěpánek (Stepanek, %C5%A0t%C4%9Bp%C3%A1nek). Please, try to read aloud the name before folowing the link to wikipedia, where the pronounciation is shown.

From the cited author's perspective, I'd be happy to be cited using plain ASCII charset. My name won't be crippled by encoding issues. I'd be also happy when my name will be dispayed in same way through whole document, the correct way preferably.

From the referencing perspective, the thing that really matters is that the reader can find the cited resource properly. DOI, ISSN, ISBN, Journal tags etc. are the true keys to follow when looking for the references. Author Name(s) and Article Title fields are "optional extras" for the reader. I've seen many articles where the reference contained only the first author name and the Journal Tag (for example: S.H. Sheng et al. / Acta Materialia 61 (2013) 4226–4236).

My advice is:

  • Be consistent throughout your documents.
  • Be sure you use basic latin letters or the correct forms.
  • Be sure all the letters are printed properly. If in doubt go for the safe plain ASCII.
  • If in doubt, do not hesitate to contact the author what form is the correct one or what form they prefer.
  • Be sure there are identifiers independent on the (possible) name misspellings.
  • I know of one husband and wife who quite often write papers together: one has kept their diacritics and the other has dropped them. – David Richerby Oct 25 at 8:42
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    I don’t see how dropping the diacritics from Štěpánek would make the pronunciation easier. If anything, the existence of the diacritics alerts readers to the fact that the pronunciation might be unexpected. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 25 at 9:21
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    If the author didn't use diacritics it is absolutely wrong to add it. But if they did, you surely should not remove it just because it hard to pronounce for you. I do not use diacritics in my nickname here. I do use it in my papers. Please do not remove it from my name, it is my name and I do not want it to be bastardized in official places. – Vladimir F Oct 25 at 9:28
  • @KonradRudolph I've added the pronounciation only to jokingly show the struggles the weird-named ones have to face. On the other hand, I have 80% chance to pronounce you name wrong too. – Crowley Oct 25 at 9:31
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    @DavidRicherby now I remember where I've seen your name before! xD – Tasos Papastylianou Oct 25 at 10:17
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This is, perhaps, a judgement call. I would correct them. There may be "reasons" why the original wasn't accurate, even if it is just not knowing how to produce the letters of an expanded alphabet on your keyboard. I suspect, but don't know, that the diacritics might actually change the meaning in a few cases. But in this case it is proper to "honor" the person named even if it is a bit out of sync with the one doing the citing.

But others might disagree, believing that, when quoting, it is necessary to be precise.

A solution, of course, is to put the corrected name (or other word) in parentheses, following a quote. Or, some would write ... Angel [sic]... to indicate that the original is being preserved even though incorrect.


I'll also note that search engines seem to be sensitive to this issue and find the item correctly. For example searching Google or Duck Duck Go for "Gabriel Garcia Marquez" behaves correctly even when the name is in actual quotes. It also finds items that don't correctly accent the name. Likewise a search that has the proper accents finds items that don't.

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Should I be referencing these titles exactly as they have written it, or should I correct them?

Look for those authors' websites; other published work; and especially works they published all by themselves. If the lack-of-diacritics is an outlier, I'd say add them; otherwise leave them out.

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