I wonder whether titles in the reference section be in title case, given that the publication venue's style files and publication instructions do not specify.

For example, which of the following should I use?

[Collobert2011] Ronan Collobert. 2011. Deep learning for efficient discriminative parsing. In International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, number EPFL-CONF-192374.


[Collobert2011] Ronan Collobert. 2011. Deep Learning for Efficient Discriminative Parsing. In International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, number EPFL-CONF-192374.


If the venue doesn't specify, then you should pick a style and stick with it. The venues I publish in tend to specify, so I just use the BiBTeX style associated with the venue (e.g., IEEE).


If they don't specify, then I would look at previous publications from that conference/journal. If that doesn't give you a consistent answer, then just pick one.

The styles I have used all take care of this for me. For example, ACM, IEEE, and APA appear to want references to be in sentence casing.


In the foreign languages, we often deal with conflicting capitalization norms. For example, English does title casing for titles, but Spanish does sentence casing. Portuguese switched about two decades ago from sentence to title. There are three approaches and both are relatively common enough:

  1. Apply consistently the capitalization style used in the primary language of the paper.
  2. Apply the capitalization style on a per-reference basis, according to the norms of the language used.
  3. Refer to the titles verbatim, regardless of current capitalization norms in the language(s).

None of the choices are really wrong, as there's very valid reasons for using each. That said, the second option is the most common one that I see, with the third being reserved for titles where the capitalization is seen as for some reason important/significant.

When in doubt, see what others who use your same style guide or journal tend to do. If you don't see consistency, choose one and do it consistently for your paper.

  • "None of the choices are really wrong" - I would argue that in languages that do not have a concept of capitalization styles, and instead consider only exactly one capitalization as orthographically correct, then applying #1 to the respective titles is at least very questionable. Jan 5 '16 at 15:07
  • @O.R.Mapper Certainly, and I don't disagree with you. But I think it's an unfortunately common enough solution that "makes sense" from strict adherence to a single set of rules which is easier for most than learning many different systems. I'm not sure how well, for instance, Bibtex can handle sources in English, German, Spanish, and Irish which all have very different rules— including mid-word capitalization for Irish as in *Sliabh na mBan*— and readers may interpret some of the differences from the primary language style as errors, despite not being so. Jan 5 '16 at 18:11
  • Well, I have made it a habit to always completely enclose German titles in braces, because there is only one capitalization that is correct (beside all-caps, and I've never encountered a style that wanted all cited titles in all-caps), which should always override that imposed by the style. Maybe something similar is required for Irish. BibTeX itself probably doesn't "handle" them at all, because .bib files usually contain no indication about the language of an entry (let alone single strings - book/proceedings/journal title and chapter/paper title can have different languages!). Jan 5 '16 at 18:27

If they don't specify the format, then I would tend to follow the capitalisation used by the authors of the papers. The rationalisation for this is that I think the capitalisation should be considered an integral part of the title of the paper, and that in the absence of any overriding format specified by the publication venue, you should respect the preferences of the authors of the papers you're citing (in the same way as you should respect the way in which they write their names).


  • This is inevitably a subjective answer (it's not really possible to answer this question objectively).
  • Doing what I'm advocating takes somewhat more work than imposing a capitalisation scheme of your own choice (because you have to manually hardcode the title capitalisations for all the papers you're citing, rather than just downloading the BibTeX citations and choosing a style).
  • I'm aware that some people dislike this scheme because the references then look inconsistent, even though that accurately reflects the inconsistencies between different authors.
  • I'm aware that there are many people (perhaps the majority) who don't view the capitalisation as being integral to the title of the paper. I don't agree with this view, but it's not unreasonable.
  • As others have pointed out, there are problems with this scheme when a venue imposes an all-caps style on the titles of its publications, because you then don't know what the original authors intended. In that case, I would probably make a subjective choice, e.g. using title case, but there's no real reason for doing that beyond personal preference.
  • 3
    Sometimes (IEEE), the authors don't get a choice since the venue mandates a style. Also, you should always look at every reference you cite.
    – Bill Barth
    Jan 5 '16 at 2:01
  • 1
    accurately reflects the inconsistencies between different authors – Apart from this rarely being the author’s choice: Title casing is just a typographical choice. How would you cite papers whose title is set in all caps?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jan 5 '16 at 8:35
  • 1
    It's not even unkown to have different case conventions between the downloaded PDF, the downloaded citation, and the journals web page for the paper. Which would you pick? Which one did the authors choose (if any of them)?
    – Chris H
    Jan 5 '16 at 11:29
  • 1
    "the capitalisation is an integral part of the title" I disagree. Some words in titles are proper nouns, so should always be capitalized. However, beyond that, the very fact that different journals have different capitalization styles for titles is clear indication that the capitalization is not viewed as being a significant part of the title. Jan 5 '16 at 11:51
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper: Given examples like that, it does look as if I'm digging a hole for myself :) To be honest, I'd probably put those in title case if I was citing them, because it looks like they're done that way because the publication venue insists on it (rather than because the authors chose that), but that's arguably gratuitously inconsistent and indefensible. Oh well! Jan 5 '16 at 15:55

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.