I am currently writing a paper, for which my title and core problem is spelled differently in American and British English.

I don't worry about my professor preferring one way of writing over the other, as I'm not residing in an English-speaking country, but:

After all, my paper is being written in English, even it won't be published. Thus I wonder:

Is there a "standard procedure" for such cases, at least in US Ivy League universities or in certain citation styles? (I am currently using APA, 6th (our prof. didn't prescribe any specific citation style) as it suits my personal preference of how a reference should be cited and displayed.)

I will definitely mention both words in the "keywords" area, but other than that I will go with one spelling, namely the American English one. The word is "harmonization", if that should be important.

Sorry for my lack of initial research, I found this SE question though.

  • 44
    Advice I was given on this is to use American spelling when in doubt. Because if you use American spelling, Brits will say "They are using American spelling". If you use British spelling Americans will say "Who is this moron who can't spell 'center'?". Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 15:57
  • It might help to be more precise about your question. Is it "Should I use the American or British spelling for harmonization in the title of my paper that won't be published?" Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 16:17
  • @Neal I don't know who misspelled British, wasn't me. ;) Happy to see that this question found some interest / upvotes. DJClayworth: That makes sense. Fuhrmanator: I sure agree with you! But I am really interested in the general conflict (what happens next time otherwise?) and more so I think the SE community is. My specific case is really not that interesting, it is just a starting point IMHO. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 16:22
  • I have to add: Unfortunately the OECD as well as the original publication(s) on which most of my research is based use the British spelling: dl.dropbox.com/u/16751/harmonisation.jpg Considering this, would this influence your stance? Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 10:15

8 Answers 8


Whatever style guide your use, citations should be cited exactly in the original spelling. Doing otherwise would defeat the whole purpose of citation: uniquely identifying an existing publication.

I could find no direct quote from APA to justify this (except that, well, they don't indicate that you have the liberty to edit the title of cited works!). However, multiple secondary sources make it clear, as for example:

Notes: Please "copy" the title of a book/an article/whatever (as far as the spelling of words such as "behavior"/"behavioral" are concerned) […] exactly as in the original.

Citation style guides tend to be more explicit for foreign language works, where most of them explicitly state (in some wording or another):

Give the original title, and, in brackets, the English translation

  • 6
    The question seems to be about which spelling the OP should use for their own title, and how to handle the fact that searches for on may not find the other, not in which spelling to use in their own references.
    – user568
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 15:10
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    The question in bold is: “Is there a standard procedure for such cases […] in certain citation styles?”… but I agree it's not entirely clear what is asked.
    – F'x
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 15:13
  • F'x it is true, I actually didn't think about the implication of "citation" vs.(!) "citation style". But after my recent look into the Chicago and other style, those "big players" meanwhile offer a whole "styling guideline" for the rest of the academic paper, unless I misunderstand and e.g. the "Purdue OWL" content is entirely "made up" and not founded on APA guidelines (cf.: owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01). Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 16:26
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    This doesn't answer the question. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 16:27
  • 1
    @grunwald2.0 you're asking someone to prove a negative :) The title is the title, and when you're quoting someone, you're not supposed to edit what you quote, period. (Or you mark it as such, and there are rules.) I've edited my answer to add what little relevant information I could find.
    – F'x
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 10:12

I typically don't worry about this question as a writer. For what it's worth, I'm based in the United States, so I default to American English. I always spell check my papers, but in the more than 25 papers that I've submitted, I've never gotten any feedback about using American spelling rather than British spelling; this question is very relevant for me since many of my papers are on graph colo(u)ring. It may be useful to note that in the journals that I submit to and read, I've seen both American and British spelling. (I think many editors typically let the authors choose which they prefer.)

So my suggestion is this: choose either American or British spelling and stay consistent throughout your paper. Don't lose any sleep over this. It will not be the deciding factor in whether your paper is accepted.

However, for doing a literature review, I feel your pain...

  • 1
    Would you recommend adding keywords in the other language, or really stick to one or the other ? Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 20:49
  • 2
    I would recommend sticking with one spelling per keyword. For human readers, there will be no confusion. For me, listing both alternatives would be a bit of an eyesore. Hopefully, if this becomes a significant issue, we'll see search engines that automatically check for spelling variants... (but I'm not holding my breath).
    – Dan C
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 21:27
  • 1
    I would recommend using a single consistent spelling standard for the entire paper (except the bibliography, where you should always cite verbatim). American titles and British keywords in the same paper would likely raise eyebrows.
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 3:25
  • Dear JeffE, interesting point of view! Why would they raise eyebrows? Keywords are certainly intended to help find and classify a document, or aren't they? Then again, this would be the ONLY exception from the rule (aside from my reference section) that I would make too. Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 6:39
  • I strongly agree with "Don't lose any sleep over this." The people who write search engines do know about the issue. I just typed a search with the English word "colour" in the US version of Google, and the results included hits for the American word "color". Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 14:33

If your question were about the -our/-or distinction, or the -re/-er distinction, it would be a real question, but with -ise/-ize there's no contest: go with the Z form, as it's accepted on both sides of the Atlantic.

The International Organization for Standardization favours British spellings, and uses the -ize form. (This is known as Oxford Spelling.)


For references, F'x is correct: citations should be given in the spelling used in the original publication.

Beyond that, however, when writing the main text of your article for submission to a journal (or for any other work submitted to a professional publisher), you should follow the style guidelines they set out. Pretty much every journal should have a statement about which set of spellings they prefer (usually based on its country of origin).

For instance, the textbook I am using to teach a course this semester is written by Americans but published by Oxford, a UK publishing company. The word "center" is spelled "centre," and so on.

  • "Pretty much every journal should have a statement about which set of spellings they prefer" - this! But: "you should follow the style guidelines they set out" - that was basically my question: Do they? Are the specific examples, i.e. who can (if legal) point me to the section of a style-guide or an author guide of a major publisher, where this is specified? Because your example "they spelled it BE" is not an explicit rule set for authors, we just witness a matter of fact. Further, most papers won't end up in a (text)book, so I dare to say we're really just talking about the academia "niche". Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 16:29
  • As an example, Taylor and Francis journals specify either UK or US spellings as preferred in their author instructions. ACS and AIP journals regularly prefer US spellings (ACS's style guide is published as a book).
    – aeismail
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 14:25

I think this is really a non-issue. Any decent search engine will return hits for your paper, even if one searches for harmonisation (the spelling more common in Britain) rather than harmonization (the spelling used in the USA, and also valid, though less common, in Britain) as long as a literal search isn't used.

Example search.

I'm amending my answer to address the part of your question about whether specific journals require certain spellings. A Google search limited to the .edu domains finds lots of author guidelines that address this issue to various degrees, but nothing shows me that there's a single way to go.

  • Thanks, good point, I noticed that meanwhile too. That was only part of my question though. And I think we will have to check on other search engines then just Google Scholar to verify that this is indeed the case. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 16:30
  • England is in Britain, in case you hadn't noticed.
    – TRiG
    Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 1:14
  • I should have said "American spelling" rather than "English spelling" in my first posting. Thanks for the sarcasm and the edit. Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 2:24

One key factor would be who you main audience will be.

If I was writing an article to be released in Spain i would not write it in French.

If you are writing for mainly Americans then use American English, and the same goes for if it will mainly be for British then go for English.

If this is for all people who speak English then the correct one to use would be British English (which is known as just English, not British English), this is due to the fact that American English is simply at the most basic level a dialect of British English.

Also English comes from England not "Britain".

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    I am neither writing for Britons nor Americans. (As) English is a WORLD language, I hoped (and frankly expect) that there would be a track of thoughts that extends beyond just the USA and UK! (And other major native English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, South-Africa etc.). Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 6:35
  • I think you don't see those additional tracks of development because the spread of English to most other countries has been relatively recent, and therefore the trend was to default to whichever variant was the one first introduced (BE versus AE; BE is naturally more prevalent, given the extent of the British Commonwealth). There hasn't been really enough time linguistically for an entirely new set of usage patterns to arise.
    – aeismail
    Commented Oct 22, 2012 at 12:14

If the intent of the writer is clear and the content is clear, who cares? As long as the message is clear, the writer has performed his duty. I know this is a short putt, but, bottom line, communication rules. If you can't be understood, why bother to try to be understood?

  • 3
    What about consistency throughout? e.g. 'optimisation', and 'optimization' -- If there are 5 occurrences of this word (3 of one, 2 of another one), then would not reader be unhappy about it.
    – Coder
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 10:25

The best thing is to pick and choose the sensible spellings from both dialects. I'm Canadian, but I refuse to write neighbour, a synthetic spelling which has a superfluous letter. On the other hand, the American spelling center (rather than centre) holds no advantage of brevity, and betrays only ignorance of the Latin root centrum in which tr aren't separated.

Regarding -sation endings versus -zation, these are a favored in a handful of languages like French, Dutch, German. However, not in others like Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Croatian, or Czech.

-sation is bad etymology. For instance the Online Etymology Dictionary gives us this for the word organization:

mid-15c., "act of organizing," from M.Fr. organisation and directly from M.L. organizationem (nom. organizatio), noun of action from pp. stem of organizare, from L. organum "instrument, organ" (see organ). Meaning "system, establishment" is from 1873. Organization man is from title of 1956 book by American sociologist William H. Whyte (1917-1999). Related: Organizational.

As you can see, the original Latin has a z. Since we don't gain any brevity, again, we should go with the spelling which respects etymology. In this case, it is the American one.

Forget borders: respect etymology and favor brevity, but do stop short of writing night and light as nite and lite.

I would hang a footnote on the occurrence of a word with a contentious spelling, explaining my position on spelling and that is that. Academics do not have to be tied to other people's conventions based on national borders.

  • 3
    English is not logical. Following logical (as opposed to nationally consistent) spelling rules will only frustrate the reader.
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 3:28
  • Interesting part on "-sation is bad etymology.", yet my conclusion from this is to go with American English, as that was the question. I can't just create a new standard of English when publishing, I'm no linguist or language researcher. Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 6:38
  • We are not discussing journals here, but there are journals that require consistency of spelling, so this "best of both worlds" approach does not work much in practice. Actually, some journals also specify which of American and British spelling to use. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 11:43
  • Unless your paper is on etymology, nobody wants to see it cluttered with footnotes about spelling. Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 22:57

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