Reference Citations – Titles

I recently saw a reference citation that was formatted and punctuated thusly:
“The Long Title of the Petroleum Engineering Textbook.”
If you told me that was a bit of overkill, I would tell you that was an understatement.

You see, using all three methods of setting off a title in a citation, i.e., “quotation marks,” italics and underlining, is a bit much. One method will suffice. But which one?

The Engineer’s Standard Answer: That depends.

For the titles of short works (white papers) or for the titles of short pieces of longer works (chapters in a book or presentations in a conference proceedings volume), quotation marks are used. The preferred method for titles of long works is italics, but if that method is not practical or available (software does not support italics), then underlining should be used.

For example, if the toolpusher gets inspired to write a poem, “Ode to the Rathole,” he would put the title in double quotes. Then let’s say this poem is so moving that it inspires the roustabout, the mud logger, the driller, and the company man to write poems of their own. They may want to publish them all together in a book – an anthology – titled Ratholes, Doghouses, and Christmas Trees. However, they all typed their poems on a manual Remington typewriter (remember those?), which doesn’t have italics. So when the company man composes the cover letter to be sent to his buddy, the Gulf Publishing editor, who will decide whether or not to publish the book, he will suggest that the title be Ratholes, Doghouses, and Christmas Trees.

References are arguably the most difficult aspect of technical writing because they are done at the very end, usually when the deadline has already passed. So for the next few Tips of the Day we will be covering how to do references properly, working our way to Tip #200, which will be a special treat!

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