I’m compiling a bibliography and want to know if I should standardize the capitalization within the titles of the articles. I understand that copying mistakes/typos, etc., is one thing, and usually the correct thing to do is to simply duplicate them. But in this case I have, for example, two article titles:

  1. “The Cat in the House”,
  2. “The Dog In The Barn”.

After checking the original articles, I’ve discovered that they are both indeed capitalized in these two different ways.

Since there is no changed meaning by standardizing, is it acceptable to format in a way that achieves consistency for my biography, as exampled below?

  1. “The Cat in the House”,
  2. “The Dog in the Barn”.
  • Consult your style guide. For example, the Publication manual of the APA (4th Edition) states: "Capitalize only the first word of the title and of the subtitle, if any, and any proper names; ...".
    – Dan D.
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 0:18
  • @DanD. I don’t think that applies; he wants to know whether to use the exact capitalization used by the article in its own title, or whether he is allowed to rewrite it. I am pretty sure that article titles must not be edited, but one should consult with one’s local Writers Guild to be sure.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 0:45
  • For Reference lists in our journals, we standardize all titles in cited works so that they follow our style guide. Our style happens to be, as Dan D. mentions, that we capitalize only the first word of all titles, unless the word is a proper name. So for your examples, we would list these titles as: The cat in the house. The dog in the barn.
    – JLG
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 1:09
  • I think, if there is any significance to the certain way anything was capitalized it should be noted in foot- or end- notes, but the presentation should be standardized.
    – theUg
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 2:35
  • What style guide are you using? That may have bearing on the answer. Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 18:58

2 Answers 2


The key to your question lies in the phrase no changed meaning by standardizing.

The designer of the original publication might have elected to set all article titles in a Gothic font to align with other design elements on the page. We do not feel compelled to retain that font choice when referencing the article; why should capitalisation be treated any differently.

As others have noted, the exception arises when the initial capital serves more than a decorative purpose (such as marking a proper noun).


I would not change capitalization to conform to some standard. You are quoting someone else: you should quote him as accurately as possible. The original writer may or may not have had a good reason for capitalizing in that way. I don't think it's your perogative to decide that he didn't.

Occasionally when quoting we change capitalization to make a sentence look right. When we do, we normally put the changed letter in square brackets as a clue to the reader that we have changed something. For example, suppose the original said:

While living in London, his brother always carried an umbrella.

You wish to quote that without the restrictive clause. You could write:

"[H]is brother always carried an umbrella," Mr Jones reported.

Even when there is something in a quote that is clearly and obviously an error, we do not simply change it. Usually we leave the error, and if we feel necessary to make clear that the error is in the original and not introduced by us when copying it, we put "[sic]".

To take the extreme: I think we would all agree that it would be flat wrong to deliberately change the meaning of a sentence being quoted because we disagree with what the original writer said. Like if we are quoting someone who said, "Stalin was a great leader", then no matter how much you or I do not like Stalin, we do not have the right to change the quote to "Stalin was a terrible leader". You certainly could say that you disagree with the person you are quoting, buy you don't have the right to change his quote.

Well, obviously changing "great" to "terrible" completely changes the meaning of the quote. But I think the same principle applies to lesser changes. Once you say that a change is so small that it doesn't matter ... what's the limit? Who decides? Best to say "never".

Changing capitalization is unlikely to change the meaning of a quote: clearly we're at the very low end here. Still, writers do sometimes intend capitalization to convey meaning. There might well be a difference in intent between, "Mr Jones was a great leader" and "Mr Jones was a Great Leader".

In the particular example you give, I don't see any significance. But maybe the writer did. Maybe it is just a detail of style. And maybe not. I wouldn't touch it.

  • "I would not change capitalization to conform to some standard." This may or may not be up to the writer if a style sheet specifies otherwise. Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 18:59
  • @NeilFein Possibly. But in general style sheets don't apply to a quote. Like if the style sheet says, Don't use foreign words, if you quoted someone who used a foreign word, I don't think the editor would expect you to reword the quote. But someone might.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 15:56

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