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I work in a discipline where titles of published conference proceedings are notoriously inconsistent. (Perhaps all disciplines are like this?) For example, various years' proceedings of the same annual event may be officially titled a dozen different ways:

  • Proceedings of the First Annual Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket Weaving
  • Proceedings of the 2nd Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket Weaving
  • Proceedings of the 1998 Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket-Weaving
  • SUBW '99: Proceedings of the Annual Conference
  • Papers from the Fifth International Conference for Underwater Basket Weaving (SUBW 2000)
  • Society for Underwater Basket Weaving: Papers from the 6th Annual Conference in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  • SUBW 2002: Past Successes and Future Directions
  • (etc. etc.)

Sometimes the titles aren't even consistent in the same volume of proceedings—different names may appear on the cover and the inner title page!

My question is, where one's publisher expresses no preference on how one's bibliography is formatted, is it better to keep such titles as-is, or to normalize them? For example, one possible way of normalizing the above entries would be as follows:

  • Proceedings of the 1st Annual Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket Weaving (SUBW 1996)
  • Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket Weaving (SUBW 1997)
  • Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket Weaving (SUBW 1998)
  • Proceedings of the 4th Annual Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket Weaving (SUBW 1999)
  • Proceedings of the 5th Annual Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket Weaving (SUBW 2000)
  • Proceedings of the 6th Annual Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket Weaving (SUBW 2001)
  • Proceedings of the 7th Annual Conference of the Society for Underwater Basket Weaving (SUBW 2002)

The disadvantage of doing this is that your bibliography is no longer an accurate reflection of what's printed in the proceedings themselves. If any libraries hold copies of the proceedings, they may catalogue them under the original titles, so a reader wouldn't be able to find them there by searching for one of your normalized titles.

However, I think normalization has some significant advantages. For one, it's always clear which conference of which scholarly society you are referencing—something which isn't always the case when using the original titles. Since many proceedings nowadays are published online only, normalizing the titles could make it easier for readers to find the society's web page, and through it the proceedings. Nowadays many proceedings can be uniquely identified by ISBN or DOI; including these identifiers in the bibliography makes it less important to faithfully transcribe the title. Using consistent titles also makes it easier for readers to search your bibliography for references to papers in proceedings volumes of interest, without having to know or remember their original titles.

A third option would be to list both the original title and the normalized version, though I think this is rather cumbersome, particularly when the two versions differ only slightly.

Am I missing any more advantages or disadvantages? Do any popular style guides speak to this issue?

  • 1
    What about using the official title, but always also including the abbreviated title? It is usually the abbreviated title (e.g., SUBW) that people recognize (in my field), anyway. – user38309 Oct 20 '15 at 8:55
  • I would think “annual conference” is not going to appear in the title of the first one and then disappear in subsequent iterations. Usually it’s the other way around. :p – Thomas Apr 7 at 15:01
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The Conference on Precision Electromagnetic Measurements (CPEM) is one conference in my field that suffers from the same problem, complicated by the fact that the proceedings are called conference digest, instead (digest is put sometimes at the beginning, sometimes at the end). I have never seen works from this conference cited in the same way, and given that this conference started in 1962, if there were serious problems in finding the proceedings in the libraries, probably some form of standardization would have come out along the years.

In general, I try to be consistent, at least within a paper. Your example, composed of both the full and the abbreviated titles, seems fine to me: in any case it gives the reader, even one not familiar with your field, all the possible search keys to identify the volume (and one familiar with the conference would probably not care anyway).

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One issue is setting precedents for reporting inaccurate bibliographic information. Some authors are sloppy or eccentric, and I don't want to offer them any flexibility or encouragement. (Of course some of them will be sloppy or eccentric anyway, but it's still useful to have a clear rule.) Even for careful and sensible authors, it can be difficult to judge what the most recognizable, searchable, or useful form of a title is. The answer may be rather different for experts and non-experts, or now vs. a hundred years in the future. Standardizing on the exact title as published is the simplest and most systematic way to resolve this issue. To the extent there's a consensus on this issue, I believe it's using the original title. (A bibliographic entry should be a factual assertion.)

You can always add clarifying information in square brackets as you see fit. For example, you could append "[SUBW 2001]" to "Society for Underwater Basket Weaving: Papers from the 6th Annual Conference in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan".

The trickiest case is when a conference's name has actually changed. For example, the Symposium on Switching Circuit Theory and Logical Design, Symposium on Switching and Automata Theory (SWAT), and Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS) are all the same conference at different points in time. It would be really problematic to standardize "Third Annual Symposium on Switching Circuit Theory and Logical Design 1962" to "3rd Annual Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS 1962)". That would be in line with the present-day conference name, but it would be incredibly confusing for anyone who actually looked the paper up and found no mention of FOCS at all.

Of course the examples listed in the question are substantially less problematic, but I feel it's safest to draw the line at the actual title.

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Sorry, but this seems like it will create, rather than prevent, chaos. If you don't use the "official" name of a conference or its proceedings and, instead, use one that you prefer, you create two negative effects.

First, you complicate search. People reading your work will want to check your references. Without the official titles, this becomes harder. Giving both the official and your "preferred" title just makes things messy, not neat.

Second, if you can do this so can others. So, you "regularize" a list of conferences in one way and I "regularize" it in a different way. Again, chaos.

But perhaps the names are given for a purpose that you don't recognize or understand but you want to place your judgement over those of a lot of other people, including the conference committees and the organization's officers.

If you want the stated problem to go away, then work within the sponsoring organizations to regularize the names of things so that the issue starts to go away.

  • I agree with this answer, and just want to note that one additional thing one may consider doing is put an explicit note in the bibliography that the conference proceedings have gone by a variety of names and you are explicitly using the official name of each. – JoshuaZ Apr 7 at 15:20
  • Without the official titles, this becomes harder — [citation needed] First, Google is actually quite good at finding the right title, even if you get it slightly wrong. Second, even publishers themselves are inconsistent; for example, ACM conferences often have slightly different titles on the actual physical cover, in the ACM Digital Library, and in DBLP and other standard indexes. – JeffE Apr 7 at 17:29

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