The APA citation basics write:

If you refer to the title of a source within your paper, capitalize all words that are four letters long or greater within the title of a source: Permanence and Change. Exceptions apply to short words that are verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs: Writing New Media, There Is Nothing Left to Lose.

(Note: in your References list, only the first word of a title will be capitalized: Writing new media.)

(my highlighting).

I realize that this is a matter of choice and convention, but as I read scientific publications in Computer Science, it strikes me how often these practices are mixed. In the document, the "capitalized" version is predominant, but in reference lists, they are quite often mixed.

When I was in school I remember being taught that this was the right way of writing headlines, so I understand those who force bibtex to cite this way by curly-bracketing first letters.

But what is the reason for this convention? Is it fair to say that it is incorrect? Otherwise, how can it be argued to use small caps in the reference lists?

  • "capitalize all words that are four letters long": at least in scientific papers, I try to avoid four-letter words :-) Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 11:46
  • 3
    Note that Capitalizing All Words in a Title is heavily culture dependent - in many languages, titles are always typeset in sentence case (capitalization just like a normal sentence), and to non-native English speakers, Title Case may look like the writing of a 6-year old.
    – Sanchises
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 11:49
  • 6
    It's not really surprising that the American Psychological Association style is not strictly followed in all CS publications...
    – user9646
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 12:40
  • It might make more sense if you look at the ACM Journals Word Style Guide. They provide standard templates that abstract those pesky formatting decisions away for you.
    – tonysdg
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 15:51
  • The reason I used APA guidelines was simply to provide an example of the problem. It was easier than showing the actual reference list of a publication. There are numerous publications in many disciplines, also my own (CS) where you can observe mixing of these two ways of doing it. My interest is more theoretical, i.e., what is correct from an English philology standpoint. Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 9:36

2 Answers 2


Each venue has its own set of rules. Sometimes it can change from within the same publication (on special issues and such).

Therefore, sorry, there is not straight answer. Check the guidelines of the journal/conference you are currently aiming...

ps: I don't remember ever mentioning the title of any work in my articles. At most "The method X was introduced by A et. al [1]".

  • Please note that I was not referring to people mentioning the full title in the actual articles, but rather that the conventions used for titles and headings inside the document differ from the ones used in the reference lists of the articles. Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 10:33

As Fábio says, it is very unusual in academic writing to mention the title of a work in the main text of an article. In the rare event that you do this, I suppose I can understand the rationale for capitalising most words (using "title case"): it makes it easier to distinguish the title from the surrounding text. Other ways to achieve this, IMO preferable, would be to put the title in italics, or within quotation marks.

However, when listing the title in the bibliography, the usual standard is simply to reproduce capitalisation of the title exactly as it appears in the published work. (In most cases only the first word, and terms derived from proper nouns, will be capitalised.)

You mention small caps at the end of your post. Using small caps is not inconsistent with maintaining normal capitalisation. Small caps doesn't mean everything is capitalised; it is simply a font style where capitalisation is distinguished by size, rather than shape. Only the full-size caps are genuine capital letters; the small-size caps are lower-case letters.

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