How do you capitalize the titles of references in a math paper? Would you rather write:

Global smooth solutions of the Navier-Stokes equations


Global Smooth Solutions of the Navier-Stokes Equations

? The latter capitalization is the usual capitalization, where every non-grammatical word, and all names, are capitalized. But the former variant seems to be common in the references. The only exception seem to books, which are usually capitalized as on their titles.

I have been skimming over the list of references in mathematical papers by well-regarded researches, but I have not found a definitive pattern. In fact, in many publications, neither the author nor the editor seems to actually care.


Every journal has its own preferences for this. Use a citation management package like BibTeX or EndNote, and follow the style guide of the journal you submit to. In the end, it doesn't truly matter as long as your readers can find the article, but it's best to follow the journal's instructions in the case that they do actually care.

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    To add a little bit, my experience is that even if you don't follow the journal's style, there will be a copyeditor who will make the necessary changes. – Sasho Nikolov Oct 19 '14 at 2:28

Bill Barth is right in that this choice is typically made by the journal's style files and/or copy editor, not by the author. However, just in general, my experience is that the first form (capitalize only first word and proper nouns) is more common when referencing papers, while the second form (capitalize all but "little" words) is used when referencing books.

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You are right: in math, neither the author nor the editor is likely to really care. Most math papers are prepared with specialized software (TeX or LaTeX, using BibTeX of AMSRefs) which formats the references automatically. So we just trust the software, and focus our attention on more important things.

This must sound crazy to people who are used to fretting over some particular style - APA, Chicago, etc. Their concern over something so minor, which can be so easily automated, is equally mysterious to us.

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    I don't trust BibTeX for capitalization. Specifically, it seems to enthusiastically de-capitalize things, so that the example in the question is in danger of ending up as "Global smooth solutions of the navier-stokes equations" unless a human being intervenes. – Andreas Blass Oct 19 '14 at 23:14
  • That is a good point - capitalization and diacritics do need careful attention. I recently noticed that AMSrefs does the opposite with respect to capitalization: it keeps the capitalization that is entered, even for words that "should" be converted to lowercase. – Oswald Veblen Nov 2 '14 at 16:00
  • @AndreasBlass The standard solution is to edit BibTeX entries and write things like title="Global Smooth Solutions of the {N}avier-{S}tokes Equations}". So you'll have Navier-Stokes even with a BibTeX style file (.bst) that uses lowercase. – Blaisorblade May 24 '17 at 0:19
  • @Blaisorblade Right, that's what I meant by "a human being intervenes." – Andreas Blass May 24 '17 at 14:04

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