Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2010 May 17 | Sentence Case in Bibliography

As a PhD student, one of the first bibliographic annoyances I encountered was when I had to format a paper using the APA system, which requires titles to be in sentence-case. This means only the first word of a phrase and proper nouns are capitalized. Previously, I had kept the titles of my citations in title-case. The consequence of having to use the APA format was the need to then go in and manually lower case all words that were not proper-nouns in my bibliographic database. However, once this work was done, I realized keeping my data in sentence-case was preferable, as title-case essentially loses information. Yet, this still requires me to manually lowercase some words for automatically captured sources. I am not aware of any bibliographic software that handles this issue well, and the good folks at Zotero have an interesting bug ticket open on the issue.

On Friday, while I was doing my weekly fixes to the automatically captured sources in my field notes/mindmap/bibliography, I thought to myself that there are plenty of word lists around, such as those used by spellcheckers, and couldn't I finally automate this menial task? However, I knew that I use lots of proper nouns that probably do not appear in common dictionaries. Therefore, I applied Python's Natural Language Toolkit tokenizer and parts of speech tagger to the text of my dissertation to create a custom word list of proper-nouns that I use. These are used with the dictionary found on my system at /usr/share/dict/american-english to transform a title-cased sentence into a sentence-cased sentence. Basically, if the word is in my custom list, is in the word list only as a capitalized word, or not in the word list at all, it merits capitalization, else lower-case it. The code is available as a module to the Busy Sponge component of the Thunderdell bibliographic tools. It works fairly well and will certainly make that end of the week menial task all the more easier.

Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle