How to cite a paper with a typographical error in the title. In the reference list, should I correct it (and make it hard to find) or let it as is (and make an impression I was sloppy)?

  • 14
    In one of my papers, the publisher misspelled a word on the back cover but spelled it correctly on the first page of the article. This leaves me puzzled as to what the "official" title of my paper is. Fortunately, by using page and volume numbers and the title of the journal, I can inform others exactly what paper I an referring to.
    – user6726
    Oct 5 '15 at 21:13
  • 1
    @user6726, in that case I'd go with the version that gets more google hits when the entire title is in quotes. In fact that would be helpful (if not necessarily completely valid) in the OP's case.
    – Chris H
    Oct 6 '15 at 8:15
  • 1
    Who would perform this search if, say, a DOI is given?
    – Raphael
    Oct 7 '15 at 10:52
  • 2
    @Raphael a reader on paper? It's much easier to type a line of familiar words than a random string (some DOIs can be quite long). Also "*if a DOI is given" -- I choose not to assume that, as a general rule.
    – Chris H
    Oct 7 '15 at 20:06

This would be an excellent time to use the Latin sic:

("thus"; in full: sic erat scriptum, "thus was it written") inserted after a quoted word or passage, indicates that the quoted matter has been transcribed exactly as found in the source text, complete with any erroneous or archaic spelling, surprising assertion, faulty reasoning, or other matter that might otherwise be taken as an error of transcription. source

It is commonly used as a suffix in bracketed form after a citation e.g.

Charmley, John (2006). “The Princess and the Politicians[sic]

or used after an erroneous word or passage

She wrote, “They made there [sic] beds.”

  • 18
    "latin[sic] [sic]" -- should be "Latin [sic]", right? ...bah, I need to know how to refer to a source with typos and [sic] in it :)
    – onedaywhen
    Oct 6 '15 at 13:22
  • 7
    @onedaywhen: Backslashes?
    – Deusovi
    Oct 6 '15 at 15:09
  • 15
    What's wrong with "The Princess and the Politicians"? Oct 6 '15 at 22:58
  • 10
    Please stop suggesting edits to change Princess to Princes. The actual title is Princess, though one might expect Princes – that’s the entire point of this example (which was evidently well chosen).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Oct 7 '15 at 14:49
  • 7
    @onedaywhen English Stack Exchange on the case: How do you quote a passage that has used '[sic]' mistakenly?
    – blahdiblah
    Oct 7 '15 at 18:05

Do not correct it.

The purpose of references is to help readers locate your sources as easily as possible. Correcting titles might give the impression that you are referring to another work.

  • Additionally, Google Scholar will be more likely to match the title if it is an exact match: correcting it may cost the original authors a citation.
    – user38309
    Oct 7 '15 at 6:28
  • @schester Google Scholar is too clever to care. But the professional databases are not.
    – yo'
    Oct 7 '15 at 15:20
  • 2
    +1 a copy editor approves this answer. We do introduce typos, even in titles. That's life. There is no need to point out the fact that it was a mistake; that's irrelevant at this point.
    – yo'
    Oct 7 '15 at 15:22
  • @yo' True, the professional databases may curate these mismatches, but also have less coverage for some fields. Why not maximize the odds of a correct match in all cases by writing the title as the authors originally had? (They may even have made the "typo" intentionally.)
    – user38309
    Oct 8 '15 at 9:19

Do not correct it, if its only in the reference list then that's completely fine. If you actually refer to the name of the paper in yours, you may add "(Sic)" afterwards. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sic )


My personal solution to this is using square brackets, as often used for editorial adjustments. (In the sense of Brown: "This is a great idea." → Brown claims that "[t]his is a great idea.")

Similarly, you can cite

White, J. "A solution to the thee-body problem"


White, J. "A solution to the th[r]ee-body problem"

I think it's obvious enough that the [r] was inserted to improve an error and not the other way around. Also, if it were a play on words between "thee" and "three", it would be much more likely that round brackets were used, as in "th(r)ee". Outside formulae I would understand square brackets to be used for said "editorial adjustments" almost exclusively.

This best works when there is an extra or missing letter, but then all the typos I've come across in titles were of this type. For more serious errors, I would use [sic] or (sic). Also adding doi to a citation and paying attention to the issue numbers (which are sometimes not even printed on the published version) can help track down a paper with a misspelled title.

  • 4
    "Improve an error", now that is a new concept ;-)
    – vonbrand
    Oct 5 '15 at 22:10
  • 2
    And how would you improve the threee-body problem?
    – Davidmh
    Oct 6 '15 at 11:14
  • 4
    It's quite possible to write an article that has a bona fide "th[r]ee" in its title (both "thee" and "three" are correct English words). If I found your "solution to the th[r]ee-body problem", my first instinct would be to google it as-is. I don't think that "it should be clear enough" what is meant. Much better to use "sic", which serves exactly this purpose. Oct 6 '15 at 12:59
  • 2
    And a cut an paste search might fail because of the [r]. Oct 6 '15 at 13:37
  • 3
    @StephanKolassa I intentionally chose thee/three to be ambiguous. I still think that if this were a play on words, it would most likely have been written with round brackets, like "th(r)ee", and I perceive "th[r]ee" to be almost unambiguously an editorial correction.
    – Earthliŋ
    Oct 7 '15 at 22:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.