When should long titles be shortened within in-text citations?

In-text citations usually supply the author(s)’ last name to reference their work, but when the source has no known author or more than one source by the same author is cited, the title of the source is inserted instead. When an in-text citation refers to a work with a long title, a shortened phrase from the title should be used.

Care should be taken to shorten the title in such a way that it does not compromise the reader’s ability to locate the source on the Works Cited list.

How should long titles be shortened within in-text citations?

Ideally, the shortened title should use the first two or three words of the original title, but in some cases, these first few words may not be descriptive enough. In this instance, the shortened title should utilize key words from the title that can help readers identify the correct source on the Works Cited list. When possible, eliminate articles and prepositions (e. g., a, the, of, on, in) from the shortened title.

Let’s look at these examples:

When a work with a long title is cited:

  • Original title: “Eyes off the Road: How Texting while Driving Affects Driver Response Time”
  • Shortened title: (“Eyes off the Road” 4)
  • Original title: The Effects of Homelessness on Adults and Children in Suburban Populations
  • Shortened title: (Effects of Homelessness 27)

When more than one source by the same author is cited:

In the following paragraph, the writer references two works by the same author and has appropriately shortened the titles in the in-text citations:

Theorist Bill Brown explains that our relationship to things cannot be explained simply by our cultural ties to capitalism because we use objects to make meaning in our culture and for ourselves outside of these objects’ production value or use (Sense 5). [1] For “thing theorists,” our ability to find meaning in and through objects is possible because there are “ideas in things” (“Thing” 7). [2] While ideas are untouchable and enigmatic, objects and things are tangible; therefore, it’s easier for subjects to understand objects because we can physically interact with them. By giving physical form to ideas, they can be thought about and understood more completely.

Note: The author’s name in the signal phrase, keywords, and format of the shortened titles in the parenthetical citations make it easy to identify which source is referenced.


[1] Brown, Bill. A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 2003. Print.

[2] -----------. “Thing Theory.” Critical Inquiry 28.1 (2001): 1-22. JSTOR. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.