It would be most uncharacteristic of me to miss out on the opportunity to have a good whinge about something and yesterday’s post provides the perfect platform. Those well versed in academic literature will know that some journals demand the use of abbreviated journal titles in the reference list. So ‘Journal of Vertebrate’ Paleontology might appear as ‘J. Vert. Paleo.’. This was obstensibly done to save space I assume, though I recall at least one journal that used this system while wasting acres of space by not running articles together on a page so anything that crept over by a couple of lines would have an a near blank page below it.
However it never seemed to save very much at all, and with the vast majority of research taking place as PDFs these days it seems increasingly irrelevant (much like numbered references). However, they do hold sway in a few outposts at least and for me at least, they’re very annoying. It’s never quite clear how you’re supposed to abbreviate journals (after all, I’ve never come across any form of standardised list or guidelines as to how many characters or syllables to save), but more importantly it’s not always easy to work out what a journal was from the abbreviation.
Sure, plenty of them are obvious enough and if you work in vertebrate palaeontology you’ll know plenty of the papers themselves let alone the journals. Others can be tracked down by the rest of the reference and especially with online search engines things get a lot easier. But there are still masses of old, obscure and especially foreign journals that are hard if not impossible to work out from the few letters that are often afforded. This of course only gets harder when you move outside of your usual field and want to track don something a little unfamiliar. As noted yesterday there’s plenty of overlap between all manner of fields and there are for example papers in maths, physics and engineering journals that relate to flight for example. But working out what they are is going to be pretty hard unless you’re well versed in the literature of that subject.
In short it’s all a bit of a pain. It doesn’t really save space (after all, many journals have short names that cant really be abbreviated, or huge lists of authors or long titles that mean even saving a few letters on a journal name doesn’t do much) and can make finding references really difficult. So it’s hard for me to work out exactly what purpose it serves these days. I’d gladly see the back of them and I can’t imagine I’m the only one.